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Which Card Should I Get? Part 3 – Citi Bank

The Military Churning Guide to Citi Bank

This Part 3 lineup only grants $250 in travel and American Airlines Club membership every year, but it is essential to fill in the missing pieces for the top 3 banks’ premium cards and the top 3 airlines’ lounge access cards.

BLUF: Get Three Citi Cards.

1. The Prestige

2. The American Airlines Executive Card

3. The American Airlines Platinum Card

Citi Application Rules

You can get unlimited cards as long as they approve you, Limit of 1 card every 8 days, Limit of 2 cards every 65 days, Only 1 bonus per ThankYou Point card family every 48 months, 1 bonus per AA card every 24 months. You can product change ANY Citi card to ANY OTHER Citi card after a year.

Citi and Waived Annual Fees

Oh Citi, you fickle mistress. Citi has toyed with our military emotions for years with the selective or completely arbitrary application of SCRA benefits. Chase was a bit of a wild card for a while but paled in comparison to the roller coaster of mystery Citi had in its military department. Then the MLA came around and Citi toed the line with MLA annual fee waivers from roughly Dec 2017 – March 2018. Then they stopped for reasons no one can decipher and all of us that got cards with MLA waivers during that short window held our breaths for the card anniversary to see if the waivers would still happen. Some did, some didn’t, and the speculations went wild. But then, suddenly, maybe around February 2019, they started again and even extended benefits to spouses. Since then, data points seem to be mostly positive with MLA waivers for most, a few speculative denials here and there for both service members and spouses, but no issues at all with TDWise.

UPDATE 01FEB20: Citi has yet again thrown a curveball at MLA fee waivers. I do not know if this applies to previously waived accounts or just new accounts opened since around Dec 2019, but there is now a more letter-of-the-law approach to fee waivers. I’ve said before MLA was loosely written and Citi just took all legal advantage of it. In order to comply with MLA, a bank cannot charge a military member or spouse over 36% interest to include fees. That means you have to have some sort of debt to calculate 36% from, otherwise, it’s just an account fee and not interest (he said with confidence while just speculating). So Citi is now taking the account statement that your annual fee will post to, looking at the statement balance, and determining if the annual fee is over 36%, allowing them to charge it.

Avoiding Citi Annual Fees (The Goldilocks Zone)

(Disclaimer: this is a current working theory, Citi may be overly generous or find tighter bounds at their discretion. I’m just trying to find best-fit guidance for you, the readers.) On all Citi credit card accounts with an annual fee, you must show a non-zero statement balance on the statement that would be charged the annual fee. You ALSO must show a balance that is less than your AF divided by .36. This creates a Citi Goldilocks Zone defined by 0<statement balance<(AF/.36). For example, the Citi Prestige, with annual fee of $495, has a Goldilocks Zone of 0<balance<$1375. You must keep your statement balance in the Goldilocks Zone on the statement that your AF charges in order to get AF reimbursement. Note that those are “less than” symbols, not “less than or equal to” symbols.

Citi Card Strategy

  1. Get the Prestige card for that sweet $250 annual travel credit and 4th-night free benefit. They have a lot of other cool card features too that I’ll write about when I get around to making that card’s blog page. If I’m being honest, which we pledge to do for you, dear readers, it’s not as motivating to write card pages without the ability to refer them *stomps foot while aggressively glaring at Citi.* At this point, as with all the other banks, give the Citi SCRA unit a ring here and get that MLA applied, hopefully.
  2. The AA Executive card, which is coincidentally also sans blog page at the moment, is all about the lounge access and sign-up bonus. Citi is pretty cut and dry, except when they aren’t.
  3. The AA Platinum Card is just here for the sign-up bonus and future product change to another Prestige.

You’ll notice above in the rules that you can product change any card to any card, an advantage to Citi not found in other banks. This kind of opens the floodgates with what you can do from here. You may not be getting signup bonuses if you stick to the AA and ThankYou Point family since, again, it’s 1 bonus per card or card family every 24-48 months, but you could seek other cards outside the family or just get cards in the family, wait a year, and change to the Prestige. Citi is now your oyster, right up until they aren’t.

Also of note for strategy is how to never forget about your annual fee statement needing to show a Goldilocks Zone balance. I’m sure a lot of us are used to sock drawer-ing cards and never using them but that zero balance will cost you. I’m sure you could set up iPhone reminders annually but I’ve just decided to switch all my subscriptions (Netflix, Hulu, Internet, Cell Bill, Winc…) to individual Citi cards. This guarantees I have a small statement balance every month and never miss an AF waiver. It also gives me cell phone insurance if my cell bill is charged to my Prestige card.

4 Comments

  1. So, FWIW, I just called Citi and spoke to a very nice lady. Unlike Chase and AMEX, Citi looks at your application and decides if they’re going to waive the fees for you, apparently they do this for each and every account, and the lady I spoke to said that even she doesn’t know what’s in the secret sauce in the back room. In other words, there’s apparently no way to know if you’ll be waived before you apply.

    Grrrr…..

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