Citi's No Annual Fee Cards and the Strategy Behind How to Get Them

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With the world at a standstill, many of us are evaluating our rewards strategies. Now that we can’t leverage bonus categories like travel and dining, or take advantage of travel perks offered by premium cards for the foreseeable future, it's a great time to focus on earning valuable rewards points on everyday spending without paying annual fees.

There are two Citi cards that can add thousands of points to your balance each year despite not having an annual fee. However, it’s essential to understand the application strategy for each card and where it fits into your rewards game plan. If you don’t, you risk missing out on a big sign-up bonus in the future. This is particularly relevant if you currently carry a premium ThankYou card, and you are thinking of downgrading or canceling after reassessing your annual fee.

Citi® Double Cash Card
Citi® Double Cash Card
Annual Fee$0
Welcome Offer 0% intro APR on balance transfers for 18 months. (After that, the (Variable) APR will be 13.99% – 23.99% based on your creditworthiness.)
The Citi Double Cash is a dynamic, no-annual-fee cash-back rewards card that allows you to earn 2% traditional cash back, or convert your rewards to ThankYou Rewards points at a 1:1 ratio (2x ThankYou points per $1). When paired with a premium ThankYou Rewards earning card, the Citi Double Cash is now the best card available for everyday, non-bonus purchases.

If you're looking to pay down debt or finance a larger purchase, this card also comes with one of the best available introductory APR offers on balance transfers.
  • 2% cash back on every purchase - 1% when you buy + 1% when you pay
  • 0% intro APR on balance transfers for 18 months. After that, the (Variable) APR will be 13.99% – 23.99% based on your creditworthiness
  • No annual fee
This card makes earning rewards simple with no need to worry about keeping track of bonus categories for purchases with specific types of merchants. You'll earn 2% cash back on every purchase—1% when you buy and 1% when you pay. Citi cash rewards now also convert to ThankYou points at 1:1 ($10 = 100 ThankYou points).

If you haven’t yet ventured into the Citi ecosystem, or want to expand your ThankYou Rewards earning potential, the Citi Double Cash is one of the best everyday spending cards from any issuer and is an excellent place to start your journey. Cardholders earn 2% cashback on every purchase, with the option to convert those cash rewards to transferable points at a 1:1 ratio (1% is equal to 1x ThankYou Point) if you also hold a premium ThankYou Rewards earning card.

Card Highlights

  • No annual fee
  • Earn 2% cash back on purchases 1% when you buy plus 1% as you pay.
  • Intro 0% APR on balance transfers for 18 months. Then an APR rate of 13.99% – 23.99% (Variable).
  • Provides a super-flexible rewards strategy; 2% cashback is the “worst-case” scenario.
  • The best-case scenario is transferring points to ThankYou partners.

Combining Points With Other Citi Cards

The rewards earned with the Citi Double Cash can be moved to your ThankYou Rewards account. If you have the Citi Premier Card or Citi Prestige® Card, you'll have access to the full range of Citi ThankYou transfer partners.

The Citi Double Cash‘s 2% cashback is already one of the best returns available with no annual fee. Paired with one of the cards above, 2X transferrable points is the best earning rate you'll find on any consumer card in the industry.

Alternatives to the Citi Double Cash

If you are already actively collecting points with another transferable program, alternatives to the Citi Double Cash include:

Citi Rewards+℠ Card
Citi Rewards+ Card
Annual Fee$0
Welcome Bonus Earn 15,000 bonus points after you spend $1,000 in purchases with your card within 3 months of account opening; redeemable for $150 in gift cards at thankyou.com.
  • Sign-up bonus of 15,000 ThankYou Points after you spend $1,000 in purchases with your card within 3 months of account opening
  • Automatically rounds up to the nearest 10 points on every purchase with no cap
  • 2X ThankYou® Points at Supermarkets and Gas Stations for the first $6,000 per year and then 1X point per $1 thereafter
  • Top intro APR offer on purchases and balance transfers
  • 2X ThankYou® Points at Supermarkets and Gas Stations for the first $6,000 per year and then 1X Points thereafter
  • 1X Points on all other purchases
  • Automatically rounds up to the nearest 10 points on every purchase - with no cap

The Citi Rewards+ Card offers a competitive sign-up bonus for a no-annual-fee card and sports an unconventional earning structure that rewards small purchases. However, the hero feature is a 10% rebate on the first 100,000 points redeemed each year.

Card Highlights

  • 10% points back for the first 100,000 points redeemed each year, up to 10,000 points.
  • Solid sign-up bonus for a card with no annual fee
  • Intro 0% APR on purchases for 15 months. Then an APR rate of 13.49% - 23.49% (Variable)
  • Intro 0% APR on balance transfers for 15 months. Then an APR rate of 13.49% - 23.49% (Variable)
  • Every transaction is rounded up to the nearest 10 points making this the perfect card to pull out for small purchases.
  • Great card to supplement the Citi Double Cash or a premium ThankYou card

Points Rebate

Where the Citi Rewards+ provides outsized value is if you already have a substantial balance of ThankYou points at your disposal. One of the unique features of this card is that it gives you 10% points back on the first 100,000 redeemed points each year. That means you can earn a rebate of up to 10,000 points every year.

Provided you have all your ThankYou Points-earning cards linked, redeemed points include points transferred to airline partners. If you transfer 100,000 points to a Citi transfer partner, you’ll get 10,000 points back in your ThankYou account. If you value Citi points at ~1.7¢ per point, that’s roughly $170 worth of points back in your account for future award travel. That’s an amazing perk for a no annual fee card!

Application Strategy & Sign-Up Restrictions

If you are serious about collecting ThankYou Points, getting the sequencing right is critical. Long term, you want to get each of these cards in your arsenal:

The Citi Double Cash is the easiest. You can sign up for this card without affecting your chances of earning a bonus on one of the ThankYou Rewards cards. The Citi Rewards+ presents more of a challenge.

Citi won't let you earn a sign-up bonus on one of the ThankYou Rewards cards if you have opened or closed another card in the same family in the past 24 months. Here are the cards included in the rule:

When you apply for a card, you'll find language like this on the Citi application page:

“Bonus ThankYou® Points are not available if you received a new cardmember bonus for Citi Rewards+℠, Citi ThankYou® Preferred, Citi ThankYou® Premier/Citi Premier℠ or Citi Prestige®, or if you have closed any of these accounts, in the past 24 months.”

Since closing a card can reset the 24-month clock, you want to make sure you apply for a new card before you close one of these accounts. If you are not ready to open a new card, you may be able to downgrade from a high-fee card to a no-fee version without jeopardizing your ability to earn a sign-up bonus later. Unfortunately, this loophole doesn't seem to work in all cases.

Doctor of Credit reports that the sign-up bonus calendar can get reset when downgrading cards, depending on whether Citi issues you a new card number. If you retain the old card number, it doesn’t reset your 24-month clock. However, if Citi issues you a new card number when downgrading, it will reset the 24-month clock to get a ThankYou card sign-up bonus.

So, keeping all the applicable rules in mind, let’s roll out a couple of different application scenarios below and see where it makes sense to apply for Citi’s no annual fee rewards cards.

If You Don’t Currently Hold a Citi ThankYou Card

Start with the Citi Double Cash. You'll earn 2% cashback on all of your purchases without paying an annual fee. Since the Citi Double Cash isn't part of the 24-month rule described above, you'll still have the option to apply for the Citi Premier or Prestige Card and earn a lucrative bonus when you are ready to start transferring points out to airline partners.

Wait on the Citi Rewards+. Its most valuable benefit is the 10% rebate on points redemptions, so this card pays dividends once you have built up a significant ThankYou Points balance. Plus, instead of using your only ThankYou Point sign-up bonus for the next 24 months on a 15k bonus, you can hopefully pick up a 50K or 60K bonus sometime in the next 24 months.

If You Already Have a Citi ThankYou Card

Pay Lower Fees:

If you only hold the Prestige Card and you are concerned about the high annual fee: You could apply for the Citi Premier (assuming you your Prestige Card bonus posted at least 24 months ago). You'll earn the 60,000-point bonus, and you can downgrade your Prestige Card to a Citi Rewards+.

That will land you a significant bonus while significantly reducing your annual fees. You'll get a no-annual-fee card that returns 10% of the points you redeem each year up to 10K points, plus you retain the ability to transfer ThankYou Points to partners but with a significantly reduced out-of-pocket expense.

Eliminate Annual Fees:

The other option, if you want to avoid paying an annual fee altogether, is to apply for the Citi Rewards+ before downgrading or canceling your premium ThankYou card. This way, you earn the 15,000-point bonus on the Citi Rewards+ and keep your existing ThankYou Points alive. If you're considering going down this route, keep in mind that you won't be able to transfer points to partners, and you will lock yourself out of a ThankYou card sign-up bonus for 24 months.

Instead of applying for the Citi Rewards+ directly, you could downgrade your premium card to a Citi Rewards+. Before you finalize your request, you'll want to ask Citi if you'll be able to keep your existing card number. Reports on this strategy vary, but this should avoid resetting the 24-month waiting period.

The Citi Double Cash plays a fantastic supporting role in collecting Citi points, but you don't want it to be your only card if you already have a stash of ThankYou Rewards. If you're looking to trim annual fees, the Citi Rewards+ is a great tool to keep your ThankYou balance intact.

Final Thoughts

We think Citi ThankYou Rewards is widely underrated compared to its main rivals, Amex Membership Rewards and Chase Ultimate Rewards. With its current roster of ThankYou points earning cards, it’s arguably easier to build a sizeable balance of ThankYou Rewards than any other flexible currency through spending alone. And both these cards can potentially add tens of thousands of points to your balance every year.

Citi® Double Cash Card
Citi® Double Cash Card
Annual Fee$0
Welcome Offer 0% intro APR on balance transfers for 18 months. (After that, the (Variable) APR will be 13.99% – 23.99% based on your creditworthiness.)
The Citi Double Cash is a dynamic, no-annual-fee cash-back rewards card that allows you to earn 2% traditional cash back, or convert your rewards to ThankYou Rewards points at a 1:1 ratio (2x ThankYou points per $1). When paired with a premium ThankYou Rewards earning card, the Citi Double Cash is now the best card available for everyday, non-bonus purchases.

If you're looking to pay down debt or finance a larger purchase, this card also comes with one of the best available introductory APR offers on balance transfers.
  • 2% cash back on every purchase - 1% when you buy + 1% when you pay
  • 0% intro APR on balance transfers for 18 months. After that, the (Variable) APR will be 13.99% – 23.99% based on your creditworthiness
  • No annual fee
This card makes earning rewards simple with no need to worry about keeping track of bonus categories for purchases with specific types of merchants. You'll earn 2% cash back on every purchase—1% when you buy and 1% when you pay. Citi cash rewards now also convert to ThankYou points at 1:1 ($10 = 100 ThankYou points).

Citi Rewards+℠ Card
Citi Rewards+ Card
Annual Fee$0
Welcome Bonus Earn 15,000 bonus points after you spend $1,000 in purchases with your card within 3 months of account opening; redeemable for $150 in gift cards at thankyou.com.
  • Sign-up bonus of 15,000 ThankYou Points after you spend $1,000 in purchases with your card within 3 months of account opening
  • Automatically rounds up to the nearest 10 points on every purchase with no cap
  • 2X ThankYou® Points at Supermarkets and Gas Stations for the first $6,000 per year and then 1X point per $1 thereafter
  • Top intro APR offer on purchases and balance transfers
  • 2X ThankYou® Points at Supermarkets and Gas Stations for the first $6,000 per year and then 1X Points thereafter
  • 1X Points on all other purchases
  • Automatically rounds up to the nearest 10 points on every purchase - with no cap

For rates and fees of the cards mentioned in this post, please visit the following links: The Blue Business® Plus Credit Card from American Express (Rates & Fees)

The comments on this page are not provided, reviewed, or otherwise approved by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

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Comments

  • The answer to my earlier question turrs out to be: Call ThankYou (not Citi!) and ask them to “Combine Citi Accounts”. Once they did so, I did indeed get the points merged and having the benefits from both cards.

  • Just a note on these Citi cards – if you have a non-US address registered on your account (even temporarily), Citi will attempt to close your account.
    The letter advising you of such takes so long to arrive that by the time you find out, your account will already be closed!
    It takes a lot of phone calls to get them to reinstate you.

  • Great layout of key strategies here. Likely going to downgrade Prestige this summer before the next annual fee (first for me since the increase) to the Rewards+ to pair with the Premier then add the Double Cash.

  • Downsizing from annual fee to no annual fee cards is what I am doing. now. Citi Rewards Plus is on my close horizon.

  • I currently have just the Citi Premier card, and I’m not sure which card to downgrade to: the Rewards+ card or the double cash card.

  • If my Rewards+ and Premier cards are both shown on my Accounts page, does that mean they’re “linked”? I ask because the TYP balances for the 2 cards are listed separately.

    The only “Link” option I see on the page dredges up a couple cancelled cards and offers to link them.

    When I try to redeem using the “Rewards+” points, I see its total and can transfer only to JetBlue.
    When I try to redeem using the “Premier” points, I see its total and can transfer to a whole host of airlines.

    So they’re definitely being treated as neither getting the benefits of the other.

    What am I missing?

  • Good news. The best thing about ThankYou points is to transfer them to some partners like Air France, Qatar or Turkish Airlines.

  • Thank you for this info. I’ve been a long-time user of the Chase platform, but The Reserve (and Citi’s Prestige) for that matter have really been quite a high premium given the climate, so I’ll be looking to axe the higher priced cards.

    Prestige lost most (all) the benefits I’d use regularly or ones that would help substantiate the cost. The CSR as well.

  • Citi Double Cash card is great for any spend that does not earn bonuses with other cards. Only downside is I have to remember NOT to use it when outside of US as it charges at 3% foreign exchange fee.

  • Steven William Van Meter says:

    i like programs like this one. i especially like offers that have free luggage or TSA pre-check included. This un-necessary lockdown will end -hopefully soon, then we can get back to ravel!!

  • I am following this strategy myself. Just applied for and got the Premier. I will downgrade the Prestige when the annual fee comes due. (Good to know about asking for the same account #.) And this all works well with the (now defunct) AT&T More Thank You card.

  • Citi Rewards+
    Citi Premier
    Prestige Card

    This combo sounds great for the leisure travelers.

  • Such a valuable post, learned lots of unknown tricks. Thanks!

  • Allison L Caraway says:

    Also, don’t make the mistake of converting cards from other Citi product lines to one of the cards that excludes you from the Premier or Prestige bonus. I did that with an AA platinum card to a TY Preferred. I later decided I needed to apply for the increased bonus on the Premier so I could transfer to airline partners and I was DQed from the bonus on the Premier because they kept the original bonus earn date from the AA card attached the converted Preferred card. 🙁 Get the big card first to get those bonus points!

  • I love the citi double cashback, I combine that with my citi prestige to be able to get 2 transferable airline points per dollar spent, its the best deal out there.

  • When a Thank You program card is closed, the Thank You points accrued from it expire in 60 days or so. Learned this after Citi closed out one of mine for not being active in 18 months.

    • I’m actually surprised they’re not immediately forfeited and that you actually get 60 days to use them.

    • They closed an inactive card after 18 months? Causing a complete loss of points? I don’t like the sound of that at all. Is that actually the policy?

  • Very, very good info and detailed. A bookmarked page for sure. Thanks.

  • Thank you for such valuable info!!!