Citi, Chase, and American Express have some of the most flexible credit card rewards programs around. While Chase and American Express have historically made it easier to rack up rewards through multiple cards in the same program, Citi recently became more competitive.
In September 2019, Citi announced that Citi Double Cash cardholders can convert their cash back into ThankYou points via a linked ThankYou Rewards account. In other words, you can combine the premium perks of the Citi Prestige, the valuable airline redemption value of the Citi Premier, and the rewards earning power of the Citi Double Cash.
What’s more, you can better maximize the value of your rewards through Citi’s airline transfer partners.
What is the Citi trifecta?
A credit card trifecta is a group of three cards offered by the same issuer that allows you to maximize the rewards program to the fullest — that includes earning as many points as possible through different bonus categories, gaining access to transfer partners or potential redemption bonuses, and taking advantage of luxury travel perks.
|Citi Prestige||Citi Premier||Citi Double Cash|
|Intro bonus||Earn 50,000 bonus points after spending $4,000 within 3 months of account opening||Earn 60,000 bonus points after spending $4,000 in the first 3 months||None|
|Earning rate||5X points on airline purchases and restaurants; 3X points on hotels and cruise lines; and 1X points on all other purchases||3X points on travel, including gas; 2X points on restaurants and entertainment; and 1X points on all other purchases||up to 2% cash back on all purchases: 1% as you buy and 1% as you pay|
How to use the Citi trifecta cards together
The best way to maximize the value you gain from the Citi trifecta is to use the Citi Prestige and Citi Premier for their bonus rewards categories and the Citi Double Cash for everything else. That way, you’ll always be earning at least 2 points per dollar (after conversion).
For example, let’s say you spend the following amount each year in common spending categories:
- Dining out: $3,000
- Gas: $4,000
- Air travel: $2,000
- Hotels: $2,500
- Other travel expenses: $1,200
- All other expenses: $25,000
If you have all three cards, you can use the Citi Prestige for dining out, travel and hotels, the Citi Premier for gas and other travel expenses, and the Citi Double Cash for everything else. If you did this, you’d earn 98,100 annually in rewards points. If you were to just use the Citi Double Cash, which offers the highest base rewards rate, you’d earn 75,400 each year.
One of the best ways to redeem your rewards is by transferring them to one of Citi’s airline partners, which includes:
- Asia Miles
- Avianca LifeMiles
- Etihad Guest
- EVA Air
- Flying Blue (Air France & KLM)
- JetBlue TrueBlue
- Malaysia Airlines Enrich
- Qantas Frequent Flyer
- Qatar Privilege Club
- Singapore Airlines
- Thai Royal Orchid Plus
- Turkish Airlines Miles & Smiles
- Virgin Atlantic Flying Club
The most you can get when redeeming points for air travel through Citi is 1.25 cents per point, and that’s only if you have the Citi Premier. But if you transfer points to one of these airline programs, you could potentially get much more value than that.
Also, using the Citi Prestige in tandem with the other cards allows you to get a better travel experience through airport lounge access, expedited security and customs clearance, and more.
How the Chase and Amex trifectas compare
Although the Citi trifecta offers some incredible value to cardholders who can manage the three cards effectively, some may gain more value through the Chase trifecta or Amex trifecta instead.
The Chase trifecta is typically made up of the Chase Freedom, the Chase Freedom Unlimited and the Chase Sapphire Reserve. If you’re a business owner, you may be able to swap out one of the Freedom cards for the Ink Business Preferred.
One thing to keep in mind with the Chase trifecta is that it’s not easy to get all three cards if you’ve opened multiple credit card accounts in the past couple of years. Chase’s 5/24 rule makes it hard to get approved if you’ve opened five or more new credit cards in the last 24 months.
If you can get all three cards, however, you can take advantage of a solid base rewards rate, lucrative bonus rewards categories, flexible redemption options, and premium perks.
With the Chase Freedom Unlimited, you’ll earn unlimited 1.5% cash back on all purchases, and the Chase Freedom offers 5% cash back in rotating bonus categories (up to $1,500 in combined purchases per quarter) and 1% cash back on all other purchases. The Chase Sapphire Reserve will give you 10X points on Lyft rides, 3X points on travel (excluding $300 travel credit), 3X points at restaurants, and 1X points per $1 spent on everything else.
By using the Freedom and Sapphire Reserve for their bonus categories and the Freedom Unlimited for everything else, you can rack up rewards quickly.
When it comes to redemption, you’ll get 50% more value on travel bookings through Chase with the Sapphire Reserve, so consider transferring your points earned with the other cards to your Sapphire Reserve account to take advantage of that perk.
Alternatively, you can transfer your points to the Sapphire Reserve account and then transfer them to one of several airline and hotel rewards programs, which could get you even more value.
While the Freedom cards don’t offer any major travel perks to speak of, the Sapphire Reserve will give you several, including a $300 annual travel credit, complimentary Priority Pass airport lounge access, an application fee credit for TSA PreCheck or Global Entry, and more.
If you prefer American Express Membership Rewards points over Citi ThankYou Rewards or Chase Ultimate Rewards, the Amex trifecta can make it worth your while. It usually includes the Blue Business Plus Credit Card from American Express, the American Express Gold Card and the Platinum Card from American Express.
With the Blue Business Plus Card, you’ll earn a flat 2X Membership Rewards points on business purchases up to $50,000 each year, and 1X points on purchases after that, making it a solid option for much of your everyday spending.
With the Amex Gold Card, you’ll earn4X Membership Rewards points at U.S. supermarkets (up to $25,000 per year) and at restaurants worldwide, 3X on flights booked directly with airlines or on Amextravel.com, and 1X on all other eligible purchases.
Finally, the Amex Platinum offers 5X points per dollar spent on eligible airfare and hotel purchases, and 1X points per dollar on all other eligible purchases.
With these rewards rates, it makes sense to use the Platinum Card for air travel and hotels, the Amex Gold for dining out and U.S. supermarket purchases, and the Blue Business Plus for everything else.
The only thing to keep in mind is that you need a business to qualify for the Blue Business Plus. However, anything you do to earn a little extra money on the side could be considered a business for that purpose.
All three cards allow you to transfer your points to several airline and hotel rewards programs, and you don’t need to worry about pooling your points earned with each card because Amex does that for you.
When it comes to redemption, transferring your points is likely your best chance of squeezing as much value out of them as possible — travel redemptions through Amex generally offer a value of 1 cent per point.
Consider the Amex trifecta if your top priority is to get as many valuable perks as possible. The Amex Gold, for instance, offers up to $120 in annual dining credits and a $100 annual airline fee credit, and the Platinum Card comes with the following:
- A $200 annual airline fee credit
- Up to $200 in annual Uber credits
- A $100 annual Saks Fifth Avenue shopping credit
- Complimentary access to several airport lounge networks
- An application fee credit for TSA PreCheck or Global Entry
- Elite status with Hilton Honors and Marriott Bonvoy
- Complimentary rental car privileges, including discounts and upgrades
Citi vs. Chase vs. Amex trifectas: Side-by-side
Here’s a quick summary of all three card issuer trifectas to help you compare them side to side.
|Citi trifecta||Chase trifecta||Amex trifecta|
|Total annual fees
Which trifecta should you choose?
None of the credit card trifectas are ideal for every cardholder, so it’s important to know what your preferences and spending habits are. People who spend a lot on groceries and dining out, for example, will likely benefit most from the Amex trifecta on those everyday spending categories. It’s also best for people who prioritize travel perks over other card features.
If you want to maximize your rewards on gas and travel-related expenses, the Citi trifecta may be the better choice. The card issuer doesn’t provide as many perks as the other two, however.
If you want more flexibility with the categories you earn bonus rewards on and redemption options, the Chase trifecta may be worth considering. The card issuer offers more perks than Citi but not Amex.
To determine which trifecta is right for you, take some time to think about your travel and spending habits, preferences for perks, and your ability to pay the card annual fees.
The bottom line
If you’re looking for opportunities to maximize your travel rewards and take advantage of valuable perks, the credit card trifectas from Citi, Chase, and Amex are worth considering. If you’re not ready to get credit cards with high annual fees, consider starting with the no annual fee card in each group and then apply for the other cards when you’re ready.