I arrived late to the “premium” (i.e. $450 or higher annual fee) game. Initially, I didn’t see the value, though I finally sprung for the Citi Prestige card in June, 2015. At the time, the card carried a 50,000 point sign-up bonus. Plus, at the time, my wife and I flew enough in a year that the Admirals Club/Priority Pass access came in handy. Indeed, the first year proved most lucrative. Two $250 travel credits, a Global Entry reimbursement, and half a dozen lounge visits more than covered the fee. But now, my Citi Prestige renewal is up in a couple of weeks. And with last year’s devaluation and a change in lifestyle, I’ve been on the fence about keeping it. In the end analysis, though, I actually get more benefit out of this card than I thought.
Citi Prestige Renewal – Why I’m Not Sold
Citi downgraded three top benefits of the card, which I now need to take into account.
Free Golf Benefit Eliminated
Arguably, though overlooked by many bloggers, the free golf benefit represents the second most valuable benefit of the card. I say second best, because the fourth night free (discussed later) provides more value if used correctly. The golf benefit provided three free rounds per year at a wide selection of courses. One such course is the very nice TPC Craig Ranch in McKinney, a short drive from home. Greens fees at Craig Ranch run $135. So, if you utilized all three free rounds, you more than make up the annual fee assuming you also use the $250 airfare credit. Simply put, the loss of this benefit represents a large devaluation of the card.
I don’t play golf, though. The elimination of the benefit might stop me from taking lessons. It doesn’t, however, really influence my Citi Prestige renewal decision.
Fourth Night Free Benefit Adjusted
Ironically, we’ve never actually used the card’s best benefit, fourth night free. Basically, call the Citi concierge to book any “hotel” for four nights, and Citi credits you for the full charge for the fourth night. Historically, Prita and I preferred not to say in one place for more than 2-3 days. With the baby, though, moving around so much is a PITA. Thus, we probably will spend four nights in a single spot more often going forward. (But see below – still no dice, 10 months later.)
Citi’s devaluation involves the calculation of the benefit. Previously, the rebate equaled the rate AND taxes and fees for the fourth night. Going forward, however, Citi excludes taxes and fees from the calculation. Plus, it is based on the average rate for the four nights, not just what you pay for that night. This looks to hit areas subject to higher weekend rates and “resort” fees especially hard. The “free” night in a place like Hawai’i, for example, could easily cost $60 or more a night due to taxes and fees.
I guess if you use the benefit regularly, it’s still a good deal. The question is how much we actually will going forward.
No More Admirals Club Access
The Prestige previously included both a Priority Pass Select membership, as well as Admirals Club access for the cardholder plus 2 guests or immediate family. Effective June 20th, though, Admirals Club access disappears. Based in an AA fortress hub, I probably got the most benefit from this perk. Back when we flew 4-6 times a year, that meant 8-12 Admirals Club visits. Given the presence of four Admirals Clubs at DFW, it was a nice benefit to have. Then again, with all the “enhancements” to AAdvantage and nearly non-existent Saver availability, I’ve completely given up on loyalty to AA at this point. So maybe it doesn’t make a difference to this Citi Prestige renewal, anyway.
Of course, placing a value on Admirals Club access is tough. No, I don’t think the $50 cost of a day pass represents an accurate valuation. But I do find value in a quiet place to spend an hour, and enjoy a drink or two, before my flight. $10 per person per visit seems like a fair value to me.
Most of All – Life Happened
Those of you who are long-time followers of the blog know we were blessed with a baby boy last August. I wouldn’t trade him for the world, but it does mean we no longer fly 4-6 times per year. In fact, we’re not flying at all the next 2 years, except for perhaps 2 trips a year for me for blog material.
That means while I still benefit from the $250 airline credit, I’ve largely lost the lounge benefits. The value, then, rests on whether or not I use the fourth night free and insurance benefits. That remains possible – though in the 10 months we’ve had Ashok, we’re yet to use fourth night free. I find it hard to justify a $450 fee when I don’t actually use the benefits.
Citi Prestige Renewal – Why I Might Stay
Despite the negatives, the Prestige does still provide some compelling reasons to stay.
$250 Airline Credit Remains
The main reason I chose the Prestige over the Amex Platinum: it’s a ton easier to use the airfare credit. The $250 credit covers any charge, including airfare, and you don’t have to pick one airline. Not just “fees” like the Amex, and I don’t like playing games by buying gift cards and hoping they don’t notice. I still fly a couple of times a year for blog material, so the airfare credit still gets used.
As far as the argument that the airline credit isn’t really an annual fee offset – I get it. But I view it as “prepaid” airfare, just paid to Citi instead of a specific airline. If I’m spending the $250 anyway, it’s not really an added expense.
Top Notch Travel Insurance
Though we’re not flying, we still road trip, and we plan to take cruises sooner rather than later. While road tripping, we often stay in B&Bs and national park that require nonrefundable deposits. And let’s just say, I’ve had enough health issues within my family that I always buy trip insurance. The Prestige offers very good trip insurance, certainly comparable to what I used to buy on my own. Comprehensive insurance for a $3,000 cruise for three typically runs $100-200. That’s a valuable benefit, and one we might use as early as November.
And yes, I do value Citi’s insurance as marginally better than Chase. Chase limits interruption/cancellation coverage to $10,000 per trip. Citi, however, applies a $5,000 limit per traveler. For our family of three, that’s an extra $5,000 of coverage.
No Admirals Club, but Priority Pass Remains
Citi’s Priority Pass Select membership provides access for the traveler plus 2 guests at all PP clubs. While PP lounges vary widely in quality, DFW does have an option. The Club at DFW is OK, and it’s not like most Admirals Clubs are great. Plus, once we start flying internationally again, PP does have some decent lounges overseas, like the Erste Premier Lounge in Prague.
Overall, though, Priority Pass has little bearing on this year’s Citi Prestige renewal. At most, I might get to take advantage 2 or 3 times this year.
Thank You Points Still Valuable
The earnings structure of the card remains unchanged, with double points on dining and triple points on travel. All other spend earns one point per dollar. You can redeem Citi Thank You points for airfare, though the better value comes from transfer opportunities to airline partners. I must confess, I never really paid attention to how much spend I put on this card. In the last membership year, I amassed 34,412 points. I value Thank You points at ~1.3-1.4 cents each, yielding roughly $465 of points value at the midpoint.
So wow – I actually earned back my entire annual fee without realizing it. Now, I expect earnings to drop next year. In the last year, I acquired both the Chase Ink Plus card (now discontinued), and the Amex Blue Business Plus card. Both promise to steal quite a bit of spend this coming year. Assuming we call the $250 airline credit a wash, and we “use” $100 worth of trip insurance, I’d need $150 of TYP to break even. That’s a little over 11,000 points. Assuming we do take that cruise, that’s a very doable number.
The card also includes a grab bag of other stuff, such as rental car insurance and concierge services. You can get most of these on similar cards, though, so I consider these of de minimis value.
Citi Prestige Renewal – The Final Analysis
I figured for sure this would be a tough decision. But after crunching the numbers, it’s a closer call than I expected. That’s even if using fourth night free remains an elusive pipe dream. It really boils down to whether or not we take that cruise. If we do, the value of the insurance and 3x travel points gets us very close to break even. If not, it becomes an iffier proposition. Most likely, I’ll call and see what Citi Prestige renewal retention offers are out there. I’ll most likely renew anyway, though, and re-assess next year.
I’m guessing several of you find yourselves in a similar predicament. I have a very different strategy for diversifying points across all three convertible currencies. Basically, I don’t do the multiple $450 travel cards thing. Instead, I specifically try to exploit different bonus categories with each issuer. If, however, you hold the Amex Platinum and Chase Sapphire Reserve in your portfolio, it gets trickier. It really comes down to whether or not you value the trip insurance (I do, and regard Citi’s as superior to Chase), and how much travel spend you plan to put on the card. I can justify a break-even based on a little more than $3,700 of travel spend – attainable based on my typical airfare/hotel spend. Your mileage may vary.