What Is The Cheapest Way To Earn Heaps Of Citi ThankYou Points?

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Cheap Citi Points:  How to Efficiently Amass ThankYou Points

Citi recently surprised us by unveiling the Premier’s 3x ThankYou point earning at grocery stores almost three months early.  Upon Citi’s original announcement of the Premier’s 3x earning at grocery stores, I outlined my initial strategy for earning ThankYou points based on the changes.  Now that Citi and many other card issuers are offering bonus earning opportunities on everyday spend, I’m exploring how to most cost-effectively earn cheap Citi points.  Let’s take a look!

Citi Premier at Grocery Stores

First, I’ll get into the biggest Citi news lately, 3x ThankYou point earning at grocery stores with the Premier card.  Unfortunately, the rewards return on spend at grocery can’t be made with one simple calculation.  We’ll look at a few different scenarios to determine various return rates.

Premier Cardholder Without Rewards+

With the Premier card alone, I conservatively value ThankYou points at 1.25 cents per point.  I attribute this value primarily to the 25% additional value I get with the points when redeeming for Disney World tickets and resorts via their Cruise and Tours Department.  Many of you get much more value out of ThankYou points via transfer to travel partners.  But for this exercise, I’ll stick with my rather conservative valuation.  Another assumption I’m making for this grocery store example is the prevailing Visa Gift Card (VGC) fee of $5.95.  Some of us have access to cheaper grocery store options, but I’ll use $5.95 for the widest audience.  Here’s how the math breaks down:

  • $505.95 VGC (value and fee) * 3x ThankYou Points per dollar = 1,518 ThankYou points
  • 1,518 ThankYou Points * 1.25 cents per point (cpp) = $18.97 rewards value
  • $18.97 – $5.95 = $13.02 net rewards value
  • $13.02 / $505.95 = 0.02573 = 2.57% return on spend

    Cheap Citi Points
    For better ThankYou point value, easily add a Rewards+ card to your Citi portfolio via product change!

Premier Cardholder With Rewards+

The Citi Rewards+ card provides cardholders with 10% of their redeemed points back, up to 100,000 points redeemed annually.  Therefore, holders of both the Premier and Rewards+ enjoy a bit more point value, and hence, a slightly higher return.  Of course, this specific valuation only applies to individuals who redeem exactly 100,000 ThankYou points annually; tweak your calculations accordingly.  Here’s my math:

  • $505.95 VGC (value and fee) * 3x ThankYou Points per dollar = 1,518 ThankYou points
  • 1.25 cpp * 1.1 Rewards+ points back = 1.375 cpp for Rewards+ cardholders
  • 1,518 ThankYou Points * 1.375 cpp = $20.87 rewards value
  • $20.87 – $5.95 = $14.92 net rewards value
  • $14.92/ $505.95 = 0.029489 = 2.95% return on spend

Citi Double Cash at Gift Card Mall

In my opinion, Citi allowing 1:1 transfer of Double Cash rewards to ThankYou points has been one of the most positive bank moves for consumers in this hobby recently.  Unfortunately, we’ll only be able to leverage this with the additional 25% Premier value until April 10, 2021.  Bravo again to Citi for the advance notice a few months ago, which gave us about a year to plan and redeem accordingly.

I’ve long enjoyed acquiring VGC’s with the Double Cash via Gift Card Mall.  I’m able to scale in a time- and cost-efficient manner via GCM, as I’m sure many of you are, as well.  And the portal payouts help, too!  Let’s run through three examples.  All of the below examples also assume that an individual holds the Premier in addition to the Double Cash.  Let’s use a 19 card VGC order for each example.

Cheap Citi Points
Solid cash back and great travel rewards with the Citi Double Cash!

Citi Double Cash Without Rewards+ and Using the Rakuten Cash Portal

  • $9,624 (value, fees, and trackable shipping) * 2 cents in Double Cash Rewards (transferrable 1:1 to ThankYou points) = 19,248 ThankYou points
  • 19,248 ThankYou Points * 1.25 cents per point (cpp) = $240.60 rewards value
  • $124 – $95 portal rewards = $29 net fees
  • $240.60 – $29 net fees = $211.60 net rewards value
  • $211.60 / $9,624 = 0.021986 = 2.2% return on spend

Citi Double Cash With Rewards+ and Using the Rakuten Cash Portal

  • $9,624 (value, fees, and trackable shipping) * 2 cents in Double Cash Rewards (transferrable 1:1 to ThankYou points) = 19,248 ThankYou points
  • 19,248 ThankYou Points * 1.375 cpp = $264.66 rewards value
  • $264.66 – $29 net fees = $235.66 net rewards value
  • $235.66 / $9,624 = 0.024486 = 2.45% return on spend

Citi Double Cash With Rewards+ and Using Rakuten Membership Rewards Portal

This is my preferred method for Gift Card Mall purchases.  As an American Express Platinum Card for Schwab cardholder, I receive a minimum of 1.25 cpp value through the Rakuten Membership Rewards portal.  This substantially lowers my out of pocket costs for VGC acquisition.

  • $9,624 (value, fees, and trackable shipping) * 2 cents in Double Cash Rewards (transferrable 1:1 to ThankYou points) = 19,248 ThankYou points
  • 19,248 ThankYou Points * 1.375 cpp = $264.66 rewards value
  • $124 – $118.75 portal rewards cashout equivalent = $5.25 net fees
  • $264.66 – $5.25 net fees = $259.41 net rewards value
  • $259.41 / $9,624 = 0.02695 = 2.7% return on spend

Cheap Citi Points
The Citi Premier brings it all together!

Citi Premier at Gas Stations

Finally, I’ve consistently picked up Vanilla VGC’s at gas stations in my area.  Until the recent grocery store addition, gas stations were the only Premier option for 3x ThankYou point earning on VGC purchases.  Finding gas stations who stock these cards, and who also let you buy them with a credit card, can be challenging.  But keep trying – they are out there!  I like that Vanilla VGC’s at gas stations are widely available with a $4.95 fee, and sometimes even cheaper than that!

Premier Cardholder Without Rewards+

  • $504.95 (value and fee) * 3x ThankYou points per dollar = 1,515 ThankYou points
  • 1,515 ThankYou Points * 1.25 cpp = $18.94 rewards value
  • $18.94 – $4.95 fee = $13.99 net rewards value
  • $13.99 / $504.95 = 0.0277 = 2.77% return on spend

Premier Cardholder With Rewards+

  • $504.95 (value and fee) * 3x ThankYou points per dollar = 1,515 ThankYou points
  • 1,515 ThankYou Points * 1.375 cpp = $20.83 rewards value
  • $20.83 – $4.95 fee = $15.88 net rewards value
  • $15.88 / $504.95 = 0.03144 = 3.14% return on spend

Cheap Citi Points
I plan to redeem as many ThankYou points as possible at Disney World and their resorts by April 2021.

Cheap Citi Points – Analysis

While earning 3x at grocery stores for VGC purchases sounds great in principle, Premier cardholders only receive 2.57% return, primarily due to the high VGC fee.  Rewards+ cardholders’ returns are a bit better, but still under 3%.  Earning 3x ThankYou points at grocery on the Premier is a “wow”; the actual 2.95% return is more like a “meh”, especially given the other current bonus options at grocery stores.

As I had previously calculated, Gift Card Mall purchases provide solid, reliable returns.  I’m particularly satisfied with a 2.7% rate while not leaving my house.  In my situation, the lower rates are satisfactory due to this method’s time efficiency.  Gift Card Mall purchases have never been about a huge return rate for me.  I tend to use these purchases to supplement the other higher-margin returns that I get from cards in other bonus categories.  Reliability increasingly means more to me in this hobby; Gift Card Mall certainly provides that.

I was surprised (although I shouldn’t have been) at how comparatively lucrative VGC purchases with Premier at gas stations continue to be even after the new 3x grocery store category.  I’m still earning 3.14% return at gas stations, almost 0.2% better rate than the new grocery category.  This is just another illustration on how fees can drastically affect return rates.

My Updated Strategy

I plan to continue my routine Gift Card Mall orders with the Double Cash via the Rakuten Membership Rewards portal.  Likewise, my periodic pickup of a Vanilla VGC at gas stations will proceed as usual.  I’m currently putting all non-VGC grocery spend on the Citi Premier; this is providing a ~4.1% return.

While I will acquire VGC’s at grocery with the Premier now and then, I’m not doing so in great volume.  I was recently the victim of VGC fraud.  While it was resolved, I’m not looking to have that experience again.  Consequently, I won’t be buying in high volumes or making special trips to grocery stores; rather, I will probably pick up one or two VGC’s when I end up at the grocery store on unrelated errands.  Regardless, in comparison to my highly-scalable, time-efficient option of Double Cash orders via Gift Card Mall, I’m only giving up 0.25% by opting out of hitting grocery stores hard.

A Gentle Reminder

Focus your grocery store spending on the cards where you obtain both: a) the most value and b) the most immediate redemption.  Citi Premier may not be your primary option, or a worthy option at all.  For instance, Chase Freedom cardholders should max out grocery stores’ 5% bonus category during Q2, which ends up as an easy 7.5% cashout for Reserve cardholders.  If you value Delta and Hilton points and have a definite redemption planned, use your Delta Gold or Hilton Surpass/Aspire cards for 4x or 12x, respectively.  If you can’t otherwise complete your Amex Gold 4x spend capacity during other times of the year, continue to focus your grocery spending there.  And so on with other cards.  I’m only focusing on Citi ThankYou points because I have a definite redemption in mind, and I don’t require any more grocery spend on other higher-return cards currently.

Cheap Citi Points – Conclusion

Obviously, crunching the numbers can inform a more enlightened spend decision, whether it’s for cheap Citi points or other preferred currencies.  You may notice I didn’t include the Prestige in the above exercise.  Since there are no bonus spend categories that are scalable currently compared to the other Citi cards, I don’t consider spend here to be a worthy option.  But I encourage Prestige holders to crunch the numbers based on the unique benefits for their situation.  Are you spending on your Citi cards currently?  How so?

Benjy Harmon
Benjy is a fan of points, miles, and financial independence (FI). An experienced world traveler, husband, and father, he currently focuses on roaming throughout the USA expense-free (or close to it). He enjoys helping others achieve their FI and travel goals.

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12 COMMENTS

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12 COMMENTS

  1. To everyone, be careful hoarding to many Citi TY points especially when you are MS’ing I used to buy gift cards at the gas stations in my area and I would even make it way less obvious by using some cash so that every time I bought a card it wasn’t an even $504.95. I was earning 3.75 TY points per dollars with the bank bonus that gave me a %25 boost. Anyway I bought a ton of gift cards and then one day I get a letter saying my bank account had been shut down. and that’s our life line right there! I figured if they shut my bank account down my credit cards were next and I was correct, anyone who wants to hold a ton of TY points in your account and not speculate on transferring them out, do yourself a favor and make sure you have a bank account with Citi because the first thing to go will be that bank account and once that happens get all your points out posthaste. All 5 of my cards were shut down AA business, Citi double, Citi premier, Best Buy card, and 1 other I can’t think of. Anyway moral of the story have a bank account with Citi as your early warning device.

    • You didn’t think that $500+ transactions at one time at a gas station wouldn’t trip some kind of alarm. I mean, grocery is understandable as some folks have large families, but spending $200-500 in one swipe at a gas station seems to be asking for it. Shy of filling up an 18 wheel tractor trailer I can’t imagine anyone spending so much in one swipe at a gas station.

      I think folks can continue to use the gas station as a means of MS you just have to be mindful of the amount and at least try to make it a believable charge.

      • Where you misunderstood is when I paid cash in different amounts every time to get to total under $500 and I tried making look like Gas purchases. When they called me I told them I drove a big rig and my company reimbursed me for fuel purchases.i knew I could get shut down but b4 I did I earned 1.5 million points. My main point of this comment is to tell anyone MSing they should have a citi bank account as a early warning sign of a credit card profile shutdown. Any one I spoke to said they shut your bank account down and then your credit cards shortly there after. So I don’t care if it is at a grocery store have a free checking account and if they gets shut down get out ASAP and move your points fast.

  2. Looks like supermarkets will be the best game in town by far now that GCM will be limiting cashback portals to only $2K in orders per month.

  3. Thanks for the breakdown. I’m currently working on building my TYP balance as I have enough MR and UR points at the moment. My Citi setup at the moment is the Prestige, Premier, Rewards+, and Double Cash. Gonna drop the Prestige at renewal unless I get a worthwhile retention offer. Don’t need it now that the Premier get the job done.

    I know I’ll lose 2x on airfare and dining but end the end the most in those categories doesn’t amount to that much when comparing to my spend in those categories last year.

    • 2808 Heavy,

      You may be thinking of this already, but consider PC’ing the Prestige to another Citi card rather than closing the account. Citi has been remarkably liberal with PC’ing. You can cross card “families”; I PC’d an old AA card to my current Rewards+.

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