ThankYou Premier vs Sapphire Preferred: Best Premium Travel Card?

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In the tussle for rewards card supremacy, the focus is often fixed firmly on ultra-premium travel credit cards such as the Citi Prestige® Card, The Platinum Card® from American Express, and Chase Sapphire Reserve®. With the launch of the Sapphire Reserve, the addition of 5X points on airfare on the Amex Platinum, and Citi adding additional transfer partners, the travel rewards card space has a lot going on.

Citi ThankYou Rewards

But what’s often lost in all the clamor surrounding ultra-premium cards is, well, not everyone wants a $450+ annual fee credit card.

With that in mind, we decided to put two of the best premium rewards cards into battle to decide which has the best signup bonus, points earning capacity, travel partners, and benefits to see if there’s a clear winner in this travel card category.

The Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card has long worn the crown as the preferred rewards credit card for many travelers, however, the Citi Premier Card has some fantastic bonus categories, similar benefits, and access to all of Citi’s transfer partners.

Signup Bonus: Sapphire Preferred vs. Citi Premier

  • Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card – Earn 80,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $1,000 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®.
  • Citi Premier Card – Earn 60,000 bonus ThankYou® Points after you spend $4,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening.

One of the first items to measure when signing up for a new travel card is the signup bonus. Typically, the bigger the bonus, the higher the minimum spend required to achieve it. In this case, the Sapphire Preferred has a much higher value welcome bonus, but a similar minimum spend.

Points Earning & Bonus Category: Sapphire Preferred vs. Citi Premier

  • Sapphire Preferred – Earn 2X points on travel and dining at restaurants, eligible delivery services, takeout and dining out & 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases worldwide.
  • Citi Premier – Earn 3 points per $1 spent on travel including gas stations. Earn 2 points per $1 spent at restaurants and on entertainment. Earn 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases.

If you were to redeem points through the Ultimate Rewards travel portal, points could be redeemed for 1.25¢ per point towards the cost of airfare, hotel, car rental, cruises, or activities in the case of the Sapphire Preferred.

Points can also be transferred to a variety of travel partners allowing you to achieve a higher potential return on points.

There're a couple of things to note in the bonus categories. In addition to receiving an extra point on travel spend, the Citi Premier receives 3X points on gas and also picks up a 2X bonus on entertainment.

The 3X points on gas alone can have a big effect on the balance of your rewards account, and while, overall, we rate Ultimate Rewards points slightly more valuable than ThankYou Points (explained below), the Citi Premier comes out on top in the battle of the bonus categories.

Transfer Partners: Sapphire Preferred vs. Citi Premier

Both Ultimate Rewards points and ThankYou Points are known as flexible or transferable rewards currencies, which increases the value of points earned through these programs. How?

Because rather than only redeeming points through a travel portal for a fixed return, when transferring points to partner programs you can take advantage of a variety of redemption options, which can have a higher cent-per-point return if you do your homework right.

For an example of this in action, and how point values can vary, see our post on flying free to Hawaii using points and miles.

Partner ProgramTime for Points to Transfer
Aer Lingus AerClub (Avios)Instantly
Air France/KLM Flying BlueInstantly
British Airways Executive Club (Avios)Instantly
Emirates SkywardsInstantly
Iberia Plus (Avios)Instantly
JetBlue TrueBlueInstantly
Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer1 Day
Southwest Rapid RewardsInstantly
United MileagePlusInstantly
Virgin Atlantic Flying ClubInstantly
World of HyattInstantly
IHG Rewards Club1 Day
Marriott Rewards2 Days

Although ThankYou Rewards has more transfer partners than Ultimate Rewards, not all of those partners offer excellent value for your points. Citi is great if you are aiming for one of the Singapore Airlines luxury redemptions by transferring to KrisFlyer, and Flying Blue also offers some top value with a huge array of partner airlines.

Citi ThankYou Rewards Transfer Partners

Partner ProgramTransfer Ratio (ThankYou Points to Program Points)Time for Points to Transfer
Avianca LifeMiles1,000:1,000Unknown
Cathay Pacific Asia Miles1,000:1,0001 Day
EVA Air Infinity MileageLands1,000:1,0002 Days
Etihad Guest1,000:1,0006 Days
Air France/KLM Flying Blue1,000:1,0002 Days
JetBlue TrueBlue1,000:1,000TBD (Up to 14 Days)
Garuda Indonesia Frequent Flyer1,000:1,0002 Days
Jet Airways JetPrivilege1,000:1,000TBD
Malaysia Airlines Enrich1,000:1,000TBD (Up to 14 Days)
Qantas Frequent Flyer1,000:1,0002 Days
Qatar Airways Privilege Club1,000:1,0002 Days
Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer1,000:1,0002 Days
Thai Airways Royal Orchid Plus
1,000:1,0004 Days
Virgin Atlantic Flying Club1,000:1,0002 Days
Sears ShopYourWay®1:12TBD (Up to 14 Days)
Transfer ratios listed are for ThankYou Premier, Citi Prestige, or Citi Chairman credit card holders.

But, the reality is, Ultimate Rewards has some of the best transfer partners and rates of any loyalty program in the world, which is what makes them so valuable.

The ability to transfer points to World of Hyatt, which can then be redeemed for between 2/4 cents each, or United, providing access to a decent domestic transfer partner, give the Sapphire Preferred a lead in the transfer stakes.

For a full breakdown on how to use your Ultimate Rewards points check out our guide to UR transfer partners.

Additional Benefits: Sapphire Preferred vs. Citi Premier

Update: Unfortunately, Citi recently announced dramatic changes to retail and travel benefits that take effect on September 22, 2019. This includes the removal of almost all travel and purchase protections and it affects almost all Citi cards, including the Citi Premier.

Following the huge devaluation in Citi Premier travel and purchase protection benefits, the Sapphire Preferred is the go-to card for travel purchases, and you should only pull out your Citi Premier if you are collecting ThankYou Points for a specific redemption.

Travel protection benefits on the Sapphire Preferred include:

  • Primary Rental Car Collision Damage Waiver (CDW) included globally without country exclusion
  • Trip Interruption/Cancellation – up to $10,000/trip and covers personal illness of you, your traveling companion or immediate family that may not be traveling with you.
  • Trip Delay Reimbursement – up to $500 if you're delayed for 12+ hours or overnight.
  • Baggage Delay – $100/day for up to 5 days ($500 total) if your bag is 6+ hours delayed
  • Lost Luggage – Up to $3,000/trip/person
  • Travel Accident Insurance
  • Coverage applies when you use Ultimate Rewards to pay or the card for all or part of your travel

Final Thoughts

The cards are relatively evenly stacked with the exception of the lackluster travel and purchase protection benefits on the Citi Premier. While the Citi Premier wins in the bonus categories, the Sapphire Preferred wins when it comes to the signup bonus, has a nose in front when comparing transfer partners, and leaves Citi in the dust when comparing travel benefits.

The best card is always going to be a subjective decision, particularly in this case with such contrasting transfer partners offering different value depending on where you travel.

But as these card's stand now, the winner's gong goes to the Sapphire Preferred.

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  • Really considering getting the Citi because of the entertainment bonus category but seems like the transfer partners and the overall value of the points is much lower. Really disappointed as it seems ThankYou Points would be quite awesome instead of UR Points

    • Rob, the transfer partners with Rob have value, but in many cases, it is less obvious or requires a little extra leg work to find excellent value. Air France and Singapore are fantastic for SkyTeam and Star Alliance awards however — don’t fully discount the program.