February 25, 2021

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It’s Time to Fly

Which mid-tier travel card is better?

10 min read


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Editor’s note: This is a recurring post, regularly updated with the latest information. 

As premium credit cards have raised annual fees, many cardholders are turning to mid-tier cards for earning travel rewards — especially while travel is in a lull for most. Two issuers who offer strong contenders in the mid-tier card space are Chase and Citi. The Chase Sapphire Preferred Card is one of the most popular credit cards on the market, for both rewards beginners and seasoned travelers. Citi, on the other hand, offers a comparable option in its Citi Premier® Card.

Both cards offer rewards in similar categories and a comparable sign-up bonus — but which is better for your wallet?

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In This Post

Comparison overview

Card details Chase Sapphire Preferred Citi Premier
Annual fee $95 $95
Sign-up bonus 60,000 points after you spend $4,000 in the first three months

Up to $50 in statement credits towards grocery store purchases within your first year from account opening

60,000 points after you spend $4,000 in the first three months
Earning structure 5x points on Lyft (through March 2022)

2x on travel and dining (including eligible delivery services, takeout and dining out)

2x on grocery store purchases (up to $1,000 per month between Nov. 1, 2020, and April 30, 2021)

1x on everything else

3x points on restaurants, supermarkets, gas stations, air travel and hotels

1x on everything else

(Note: If you applied for this card on or before April 9, 2020, you’ll still earn 3x points on all travel and 2x on entertainment purchases through April 10, 2021)

Other benefits 25% redemption bonus when you book travel through the Chase portal

Complimentary DashPass membership through DoorDash

Get up to $60 back on Peloton membership (through Dec. 31, 2021)

Robust travel protections

$100 off a single hotel stay of $500 or more when booked through the ThankYou travel site directly (available once per calendar year)

Personal concierge service

Citi Entertainment access

25% bonus when using your points through the the ThankYou travel center

(Note: If you applied for this card on or before April 9, 2020, you’ll still receive a 25% bonus when using your points through the ThankYou travel center through April 10, 2021)

As you can see, both cards offer a similar rewards structure, sign-up bonus offer and comparable benefits options. They are definitely geared toward the same type of traveler. But there are a few differences to consider before applying for one over the other. Let’s dig into the details of both of these great mid-tier travel cards.

Sign-up bonus

The Chase Sapphire Preferred and Citi Premier both offer 60,000 points after you spend $4,000 in the first three months. The Chase Sapphire Preferred, however, goes one step further with their offer where you can also receive a $50 statement credit toward grocery store purchases within your first year from account opening.

While the sign-up offers are pretty close to identical on paper, we actually value one higher than the other.

TPG values Ultimate Rewards points at 2 cents each, making the Sapphire Preferred welcome offer worth $1,250 ($1,200 from the points earned, plus the $50 statement credit). After subtracting the $95 annual fee, you’ll walk away with a net value of $1,155. TPG only values ThankYou points at 1.7 cents each, making the Premier’s bonus worth $1,020. After accounting for the $95 annual fee, your bonus value is $925.

While the sign-up bonus certainly isn’t the only factor you should consider when choosing a credit card, it is important — especially when comparing two cards as similar as the Chase Sapphire Preferred and Citi Premier.

Winner: Chase Sapphire Preferred



(Photo by Eric Helgas/The Points Guy)


© The Points Guy
(Photo by Eric Helgas/The Points Guy)

Earning

Sign-up bonuses come and go, but it’s important to pick a card with strong bonus categories that will help you continue to earn points year after year. This is where the Citi Premier and Chase Sapphire Preferred start to differ.

The Chase Sapphire Preferred offers a standard 2x points on all dining and travel purchases, and Chase defines both categories broadly. Travel includes a wide range of expenses, such as airlines, hotels, campgrounds, car rentals, home-sharing platforms like Airbnb, transit like rideshares and ferries, cruise lines and more. Dining includes standard restaurants, bars, breweries, coffee shops, vending machines and even many restaurant delivery services.

Chase also recently added an additional bonus category to the Preferred in the wake of the issuer’s partnership with Lyft. Cardholders will earn 5x total (2x on travel plus an additional 3x on Lyft) on all Lyft rides through March 2022.

Related: How to maximize points and miles through Lyft partnerships

Considering the 2-cents-per-point valuation for Chase Ultimate Rewards points, that means you’re getting a 4% return on dining and travel and a 10% return on Lyft expenses.

The Citi Premier offers the opportunity to earn a significantly higher 3x points at restaurants, supermarkets, gas stations, air travel and hotels. Despite TPG only valuing Citi ThankYou points at 1.7 cents each, you’re still getting a 5.1% return on these category bonus purchases. This means not only are you earning more on many restaurant and travel-related purchases (those that fall within the airfare and hotel categories), you are also earning a significantly higher number of points on your groceries and when filling up your gas tank.

(Note: If you applied for this card on or before April 9, 2020, you’ll still earn 3x points on all travel and 2x on entertainment purchases through April 10, 2021).

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Winner: Citi Premier

Redeeming

While the Chase Ultimate Rewards program doesn’t have as many transfer partners, it stacks its roster deep with a number of high-value options. Points transfer 1:1 (and in most cases, instantly) to Chase’s three hotel and 10 airline partners. Familiar programs such as United MileagePlus and British Airways Executive Club can be great options for redeeming award flights both domestically and internationally, but you can also find incredible value with some lesser-known programs such as Virgin Atlantic Flying Club. On the hotel side, you can transfer your Chase points to Hyatt for some truly incredible redemptions.

Related: How to maximize your Chase Ultimate Rewards points

Transferable points are valued for their flexibility, and while you’ll usually get the best value by transferring to one of the aforementioned partners, sometimes you need to be on a specific flight and there’s no award availability. In this case — or if you find a cheap cash fare — you can consider booking directly through the Chase portal. Sapphire Preferred cardholders get a 25% bonus when booking airfare, hotels, car rentals and cruises through the Chase Ultimate Rewards travel portal, giving your points a value of 1.25 cents each. Better yet, these redemptions code as cash tickets, so you’ll continue to earn miles and credit toward elite status on your flights booked in this way (though not on most hotels).

Citi ThankYou Rewards offers 15 transfer partners, but JetBlue is the only American carrier on the list, and you generally won’t get outsized value from JetBlue TrueBlue points. Still, there are plenty of ways to find value here, especially with programs including Avianca LifeMiles, Virgin Atlantic, Singapore KrisFlyer and Etihad Guest. Just bear in mind that none of these valuable partners are unique to Citi (in the way that Hyatt is to Chase). All of the programs I mentioned are also transfer partners of other major programs such as American Express Membership Rewards or Capital One miles.

And unfortunately, with the changes that occurred in 2020, Citi Premier cardmembers will no longer receive a 25% bonus on bookings make through the Citi travel portal. This makes their points not as valuable as they used to be if you are looking for full flexibility. (Note: If you applied for this card on or before April 9, 2020, you’ll still receive a 25% bonus when using your points through the ThankYou travel center through April 10, 2021).

Related: Redeeming Citi ThankYou Points for maximum value

This is a close call, but Ultimate Rewards rank higher in TPG’s valuation series for a reason. While Citi has valuable transfer partners, it offers no unique value that can’t be replicated in another program. The 25% bonus for booking through their travel portal is also a nice advantage.

Winner: Chase Sapphire Preferred



a plane flying over a body of water: Both of these cards offer access to transfer partners that can help you redeem for flights worldwide. (Photo by Darren Murph/The Points Guy)


© The Points Guy
Both of these cards offer access to transfer partners that can help you redeem for flights worldwide. (Photo by Darren Murph/The Points Guy)

Perks and protections

You’re not going to get as many perks or the same level of protections on a $95-a-year card as you will with a premium card that costs $450 or more, but both of these cards offer a number of great travel benefits that are worth keeping in mind.

The Chase Sapphire Preferred offers cardholders at least one year of complimentary DashPass membership through Chase’s partnership with on-demand food platform DoorDash. The membership gives you free delivery on orders over $12 at eligible restaurants, reduced service fees and more.

In addition, the Chase Sapphire Preferred offers the following:

  • Primary rental car insurance: May provide reimbursement up to the actual cash value of the vehicle
  • Trip delay protection: May reimburse up to $500 per ticket for delays of 12 hours or more, or overnight
  • Baggage delay protection: May reimburse up to $100 per day for up to five days when baggage is delayed more than six hours
  • Purchase protection: Covers your purchases for 120 days against damage or theft, up to $500 per claim and $50,000 per account
  • Extended warranty protection: May extend the manufacturer’s warranty by an additional year on warranties of three years or less



a piece of luggage sitting on top of a suitcase: If travel protections such as luggage delay insurance are a priority for you, the Chase Sapphire Preferred is the better option for you. (Photo by asiandelight/Getty Images)


© The Points Guy
If travel protections such as luggage delay insurance are a priority for you, the Chase Sapphire Preferred is the better option for you. (Photo by asiandelight/Getty Images)

The Citi Premier was among the Citi cards that cut the vast majority of travel and shopping benefits in September 2019, which means it’s severely lacking in this aspect. However, Citi does offer some other benefits.

Citi offers what’s called Citi Entertainment, which gives cardholders access to presale tickets and exclusive events. This is an often-overlooked benefit that can be incredibly valuable — in a normal, non-pandemic year — when you live in a city where popular concerts and other events tend to sell out quickly if you do not have access to presale tickets.

Related: Best credit cards for entertainment

It’s also worth noting that Citi is a World Elite Mastercard and therefore receives those benefits, including savings with partners such as Lyft, Boxed and ShopRunner. While Mastercard advertises cellphone protection as a benefit, multiple Citi Premier cardholders have reported that their card was not eligible for these benefits when they called Citi and Mastercard to file a claim.

Both cards offer a concierge service to help cardholders make dinner reservations, find tickets for entertainment events and more.

Winner: Chase Sapphire Preferred

Which card should you get?

There is a lot of value to be had with both of these mid-tier cards. As is the case with most cards that share similar benefits, which card is right for you depends on your spending and travel habits.

On paper, the Chase Sapphire Preferred is the more valuable card. You’re getting a higher sign-up bonus, unique transfer partners, flexible redemption options and a host of travel protection benefits that Citi does not offer cardholders. And for many beginner travelers, the Chase Sapphire Preferred does make more sense — there’s a reason it’s won best travel rewards credit card for the third straight year at the 2020 TPG Awards.

However, Citi does offer a higher return on spending on many more bonus categories.

Something else to note is which cards you already have in your wallet. The Citi Premier pairs well with other Citi credit cards while the Chase Sapphire Preferred pairs well with other Chase cards. If you have a Citi® Double Cash Card, for example, you’ll be able to convert your Double Cash rewards to ThankYou points by having the Citi Premier, which increases the overall value. Chase Freedom Flex and Chase Freedom Unlimited cardholders, on the other hand, can pair each with the Chase Sapphire Preferred to turn those rewards into Ultimate Rewards points.

Related: Pairing the Chase Sapphire Preferred and Chase Freedom Unlimited

Bottom line

The Citi Premier and Chase Sapphire Preferred are the clear leaders when it comes to affordable, entry-level cards that earn valuable transferable bank points. Each card wins in different categories in our analysis, so the best card for you will depend on the other cards currently in your wallet and which benefits you value most.

Related: The best credit cards with annual fees under $100

Additional reporting by Jennifer Yellin. 

Feature photo by The Points Guy staff.

SPONSORED: With states reopening, enjoying a meal from a restaurant no longer just means curbside pickup.

And when you do spend on dining, you should use a credit card that will maximize your rewards and potentially even score special discounts. Thanks to temporary card bonuses and changes due to coronavirus, you may even be able to score a meal at your favorite restaurant for free. 

These are the best credit cards for dining out, taking out, and ordering in to maximize every meal purchase.

Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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