I‘ve held the Citi Advantage Executive Credit Card since the day it was announced. In fact my wife and I were in Mexico applying on separate computers at the same time and it was the first premium card for each of us. But it’s time to downgrade the product and here are the reasons why.
To be clear, I do not have any credit card links, and I will not receive any compensation for any cards you choose to keep, apply for or cancel. My experiences and opinions are my own and are not driven by any remuneration.
There were four advantages to the card when I signed up but all of them have been diminished for me personally.
- Sign-up bonus (100,000 miles) and ongoing earning.
- Admirals Club Lounge Access.
- 10,000 Elite Qualifying Miles (EQMs) after spending $40,000.
- Mileage redemption rebate of 10% of miles used, up to 10,000/year (This benefit has since been retired from this card, HT: CS).
Sign-up bonuses are always once per the life of the card and that’s nothing new, but the value of those original points and the ongoing earning has drastically changed.
Our most popular redemption has been coach saver fares to Europe (20,000 miles one-way at the time) and roundtrip business class from the US to Southeast Asia (110,000 miles at the time). While the coach award from Europe to the US increased just over 10% in cost, roundtrips to and from “Asia 2” increased more than 27% and first class redemptions are unreasonably expensive. In essence, the sign-up bonus is worth less than it once was even if there was still a current bonus for 100k available (there isn’t) – it still wouldn’t be worth as much as it once was because of the devaluations.
The ongoing earning rate of 1 mile per $1 (2 miles per $1 on AA flights) is exactly the same as offered on every other AA card. There’s no reason to use the Citi Executive over any other card.
Over the last 18 months, the best improvement was that lounge access became available to any Executive card holder, not just the principal member. This allowed me to get some additional cards for family members (up to 10 – though I didn’t get anywhere near that number) and extend the benefit to others which added value to me. Other travelers I know have split the annual fee of the card over 9 other registered users as a way of getting a full Admirals Club membership for 10% of the $450 annual fee.
However, more and more I find that my travel patterns have changed. I am flying on more business class tickets internationally because of their relative cost advantage (prices have been drastically lower than years past). I don’t need paid lounge access for those flights, access is included in the ticket. But even on coach tickets with my Executive Platinum status I have access for free on international itineraries so it’s nothing I wouldn’t already have anyway. Domestically, I have found that I am more or less stopping by the lounge on a connection more to get value out of the card and not because I need it or have a long layover.
When I signed up for the card, I also believed that I would be able to derive value out of 10,000 EQMs after significant spending in the card. However, achieving 100,000 EQMs in a year is no longer the challenge for me, it’s spending $12,000 on base airfare that is the issue. In truth, because the $12,000 Elite Qualifying Dollars only applies to base fare, in my experience, a traveler really needs to spend closer to $14,000 on purchases to net $12,000/year in EQDs. This card doesn’t help me overcome that challenge at all and the fact that this hasn’t been updated given Barclays offering is shocking.
Lastly, the mileage redemption rebate of 10% is definitely valuable to me. I discussed earlier that redemption costs are higher, but earning rates for me personally are also lower. That creates a significant chasm compared with my expectations when signing up for the card. This makes the mileage redemption more important, but competing cards offer the same benefit without the hefty Citi Executive fee so while the benefit is more important, it’s no longer exclusive to this card and I receive it elsewhere.
Generally, I prefer to have flexible points. Here are the five types of flexible spending points accounts I hold in no particular order:
- US Bank FlexPerks
- Ultimate Rewards
- Membership Rewards
- Citi Thank You
- Capital One Venture
Capital One Venture is essentially a 2% cash back card when offsetting travel purchases. The US Flex Perks program is an odd duck that allows redemptions through their portal in fixed amounts. Customers could select up to $400 in airfare in exchange for 20,000 points and increase the limit in intervals of $200 per 10,000 points redeemed. Later this year it changes to a flat 1.5¢/point valuation which will make intermediate point levels more valuable, and former threshold amounts less valuable.
Membership Rewards from American Express (using premium Platinum cards, business or personal) allow transfers to up to 17 different programs. The personal card earns 5 points per $1 spent on airfare on any airline (edited, thanks Mark). Substantially more valuable to me (while they offered it) was their 50% rebate on points used as cash on business and first class tickets (now 35%).
This year I booked a cash ticket on Qatar for less than 75,000 Membership Rewards points that will take me more than 20,000 miles roundtrip in business class, earn $4200+ in EQDs, 34,000 EQMs and 20,000 redeemable miles using my AMEX Platinum business card. AMEX also offers superior lounges to American Airlines’ and has locations in Miami, Dallas, Los Angeles and coming soon to Philadelphia. The only hub where I wouldn’t be able to use either an AMEX lounge or a Priority Pass lounge (that comes with the AMEX platinum card as well) but would be able to use my Citi Executive card is Charlotte.
Chase Ultimate Rewards allows redemptions of their points at a value of 1.5¢/point if you have the Reserve and 1.2¢/point for all others. That’s comparable to American Express’ business rebate offer, but better in that you don’t have to maintain twice the required points for the redemption (only to have the points rebated back to you). But the Chase Sapphire Reserve also earns 3x points per dollar on travel and dining, the Ink card 5x at Office supply stores, so while a true cash rate is better with AMEX on business and first class, those points are also harder to earn, whereas the Ultimate Rewards points come easier. Regardless of the pissing match between Ultimate Rewards and Membership Rewards, they both blow the Citi Executive out of the water.
Lastly, I’ll touch on the Citi Thank You card. I haven’t found these cards to be personally valuable but at minimum they are flexible and can move to a variety of airlines. The real miss here is that they do not allow transfers to American Airlines despite Citi having a substantial contract for the miles. The premium Citi Prestige used to previously offer Admirals Club access but no longer does, I am yet to find a significant value to these points that is in some way unique or greater than either Membership Rewards or Ultimate Rewards.
What I’ll Switch To
I’ll move my card down to a free version of the Thank You to keep me in a flexible account. This will also allow me to sign up for a new American card in the future and receive a bonus as well. I won’t likely collect any points in this Thank You account unless there is a suitable promotion to drive my activity.
While I considered upgrading my Barclays Aviator from Red to Silver I haven’t. My thought process was that for an extra $100/year over the Aviator Red (keep in mind I’ll be saving $450 on the Citi Executive annual fee) I’d still get 10% back on miles used up to 10,000/year. I’ll lose lounge access but I’m covered by using other card provided memberships. I’ll earn the same rate with a Barclays Aviator Silver as I would with the Citi Executive, but I’d also now be able to accumulate $3000 of EQDs when spending $25,000 in a year. That’s far more achievable (than Citi’s $40,000 requirement) and generates a valuable advantage to me far in excess to the minor increase in the card annual fee (25% reduction in required EQDs).
In fairness, I haven’t done any of that with my Aviator card – it sits in a drawer because Barclays has given me no reason to put it into my wallet. I have focused my efforts instead on my Chase Sapphire Reserve earning 3x on most of my purchases, 5x on the others through my Chase Ink, and remaining purchases are put on my personal AMEX Platinum.
Will Citi innovate their Advantage Executive card offering other than simply adjusting the sign-up bonus? What would you want to see to make the card more competitive?