Greg’s point earning strategy


Shortly after Nick and I recorded our latest podcast, Citi’s awesome rewards program, it occurred to me that I should have explained how Citi’s card line-up fits into my overall point earning strategy.  At a high level, it goes basically like this: I earn Citi ThankYou points from regular day to day spend and I earn most other points (Chase Ultimate Rewards, Amex Membership Rewards, hotel points, airline miles, etc.) from welcome bonuses, retention bonuses, refer-a-friend bonuses, and miscellaneous promotions.  Ironically, earning travel rewards from actual travel is such a small percentage of my point earnings that it’s basically irrelevant.

Point Earning. Image shows chart projecting growth into the future.

Welcome Bonuses

Points earned from new-card bonuses dominate my point earning strategy.  I manage the card sign-up process for myself, my wife, and our adult son.  There are literally millions of points available through welcome bonuses at any given time (over 8 million on our Best Offers page at last count!).  And even though many cards have restrictions on whether you can get them again (or how long you have to wait before you can), I find that there are always great offers we can sign up for.

To meet the minimum spend requirements for these offers, I don’t use these cards for my day-to-day spend.  I find it too difficult to keep track of that spend.  Instead, I use these new cards to pay occasional large bills, including taxes, and I use various other techniques for increasing credit card spend.

Retention Bonuses

If you contact your card issuer to cancel a card, it’s common for them to try to keep your business through retention offers.  Offers often come in the form of either cash back (often to match the annual fee), lump-sum points (usually with a certain amount of spend required), or bonus points for spend.  After the agent gives me details about a retention offer, if any, I always ask if there are any other offers available.  It’s very common for the computer system to serve up a number of offers that you can choose from and they often offer very different value.  Additionally, if I have other cards with the same issuer, I’ll ask the retention specialist to check those other cards for retention offers.  It’s common for me to walk away with two or three retention offers from a single phone call.

Refer-A-Friend Offers

When working together with a family member or friend, it’s possible to earn many more points through refer-a-friend offers.  Amex lets you earn points on one card type even when referring someone to a completely different card (details here).  Your friend earns the standard welcome bonus and you earn a referral bonus.  Similarly Chase sometimes allows this within card families.  For example, if you have a Southwest card, you can refer friends to that Southwest card or a different one.  Or, if you have a Chase Ink business card you can refer friends to that Ink card or to a different one.  Recently, for example, each of the three of us in my family were approved for the Ink Business Preferred card after referring each other in a round-robin way.  As a result, we can each qualify for 100K points from the welcome bonus AND 40K points from the refer-a-friend bonus.  That’s a total of 420,000 bonus points for our family!  Read more about this here: 3 Inks approved again – 420K points “in the bag”.

Miscellaneous Promotions & Category Bonus Spend

Every now and then, a rewards program offers a big point-earning promotion that’s too good to ignore.  These range from huge portal bonuses to big hotel or airline promos.  When the deal is good enough (like the time when Marriott offered 40K points for any 4-night Homes & Villas booking with no minimum spend required), I’ll jump on it.

Additionally, now that I have the Bilt card, I’ll take advantage of their monthly Rent Day promos where they offer double rewards for spend, with a max of 10K bonus points.  When I’m not meeting minimum spend on new cards, I’ll wait for Rent Day to pay big bills, buy gift cards at my favorite restaurants, and pre-pay for some planned travel.  Unfortunately, I can’t use my Curve card’s Go Back in Time feature to maximize my Rent Day spend since Bilt doesn’t award points for purchases that go through Curve.

Finally, I frequently take advantage of the fact that the Chase Ink card earns 5x for office supply purchases on up to $25K cardmember year spend.

Day to Day Spend

This is where Citi comes in.  I have the old no-longer-available Citi Prestige card which offers 5x for dining and airfare, and 3x for hotels and cruises.  I also have many fee-free Citi cards which I use to pump-up my earnings on everyday spend:

  • Citi Prestige: I use this card primarily to earn 5x for dining.
  • Citi Custom Cash: I have multiple Custom Cash cards and I use these to earn 5x at grocery stores on up to $500 spend per billing cycle, per card.
  • Citi Double Cash: This is my “everywhere else” card since it earns 2x everywhere.
  • Citi Rewards+: I don’t spend money on this card. I keep this card because it gives me a 10% rebate when I redeem points (even those earned on other Citi cards) with a max of 10K points rebated each year.

I also use these non-Citi cards:

  • Wyndham Business Earner card: I use this to earn 8x at gas stations.
  • US Bank Altitude Reserve: I use this card only in Apple Pay in order to earn 3x for mobile wallet payments.
  • Bilt: In order to earn Bilt points from spend, it’s necessary to make at least 5 transactions per month with the card.  My approach is to use the Bilt card for small dining purchases (to earn 3x) but continue to use the Prestige card for larger purchases (to earn 5x).  On the first of each month, though, I’ll use the Bilt card for all purchases since they double rewards for “Rent Day” on up to 10K bonus points.

In order to manage all of my Citi cards, I use the Curve card as my go-to card for almost all spend.  Curve “fronts” my Mastercards.  That is, I use the Curve card for purchases and behind the scenes Curve sends these charges to my other credit cards.  With Curve, I’ve set up rules to send dining spend to my Prestige card (5x), grocery spend to my Custom Cash card (5x), and to default to my Double Cash everywhere else (2x).  This approach has a few awesome benefits:

  1. When traveling internationally, I do not incur foreign transaction fees even though the Double Cash and Custom Cash cards would otherwise charge these fees if I used them directly.  Unfortunately, the Curve card works only sporadically internationally.  In some countries it works perfectly, and in other countries it works sometimes, and in some countries it doesn’t work at all (I’m looking at you Macao!).
  2. When I exceed $500 spend on the Custom Cash card in a billing cycle, I can (and do) use Curve’s “Go Back in Time” feature to move the excess spend to another Custom Cash card.

Unfortunately, Bilt does not earn points from spend that goes through the Curve card.  So, instead, I keep the Bilt card in my wallet for when I want to use that card.

Wrap Up

I earn the vast majority of my points from welcome bonuses and refer-a-friend offers.  Amex and Chase dominate both of those categories.  But when it comes to earnings from daily spend, that’s where Citi shines.

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Mike Wise

One excellent use of the Citi Prestige card that has not been mentioned that I benefit from is 5X at travel agencies. We take 2-3 trips per year through Road Scholar. Five X at Road Scholar and dining make this an outstanding card!

Carmelita Harley

I’ve just started dipping into Citi cards. Wanted to collect a bunch of AA miles so I started with the Barclays Aviator 70K offer then the Citi AA Platinum for 80K (targeted mailer). Next I’d like to get the Citi AA Biz.

My plan was to continue going through the American cards between P2 and I, but thinking perhaps I should just get the Premier & Rewards Plus then the Double Cash.

P2 has a targeted mailer for the Citi Premier for 75K after $5k spend in 4 months. He’s also pre-approved for the Venture X whilst I wasn’t.

Since P2 is 4/24 and I’m 6/24 I thought we’d go for the Chase Ink Cash 90K offer first before getting any personal cards for him. Then move unto the Venture X and then the Citi offers.

My goodness….Decisions, decisions…

Jim Livesay

Thanks for this post, Greg–it’s very helpful. I’m interested in doing something like this setup. Two questions for you. 1. how hard is the Premier card to get these days? Are they still super sensitive to folks with a lot of inquires, etc.? 2. if my wife has say the Double Cash or Custom Cash, but I have the Premier card, could she transfer her ThankYou points to me, and then I would be able to transfer them out via my Premier card to partners? On that 2nd question, this would replicate the way we handle Chase points. She has a Freedom Unlimited and Freedom Flex, but I have the Chase Sapphire Reserve. Thanks!

Jim Livesay

Thank you!

eponymous coward

The problem is the Prestige is unobtainium for me, but that’s somewhat like my setup:

AMEX CS Platinum: 5x flights (no CSR and for my purposes the Plat’s
AMEX Gold: 4x dining/supermarkets

Citi Premier: 3x hotels, also some groceries (not supermarkets)
Citi Custom Cash: 5x gas (I would need multiple Custom Cash cards to maximize groceries, I have an AA citi Platinum that I think I will turn into one soon)

Capital One SavorOne: 3x movies/event tickets, also some groceries, 10x Uber
Capital One VentureX: 2x catchall (the fact that this has no international transaction fee is a big plus)
Bilt: 1x rent and enough transactions to trigger, also 5x Lyft

I think I may end up landing here though:

AMEX CS Platinum: 5x flights (no CSR and for my purposes
dump the Gold that went Gold->Platinum->Green->Gold and a Green that has gone Green->Gold-Platinum, and allocate dining/grocery spend among multiple Custom Cash cards/Premier/SavorOne/Bilt
Chase Ink Preferred: 3x general travel, start obtaining Inks
Capital One VentureX: 2x catch all


I’ve had very bad experience with Quill customer service and would not recommend anyone use them. Their online ratings are poor. Buyer of the gift cards beware!


I’m sure this has been addressed elsewhere, but it seems you can max out the custom cash 5x very easily by buying one $500 grocery vgc every month. Any risk to that approach?


I use my CCC every month to make a $500 payment on a cruise, and have not had a problem. Of course, $500 cruise payments may not look as suspicious as $500 grocery payments…


Hi Greg. How did you manage to get multiple CCCs when it states only 1per account? I’d love to get more.


The real cost is against cash back. As long as you get more than 2-3x on most spend you get the points for <1c and that is great. The true cost is the average cost of all spend and takes into account the annual fees and benefits as well.
I found that even with all the SUBs and the bonus categories, even with multiplayer mode, I am still using a BofA card for 2.625c cash back on most of my spend
When I did an analysis with a sheet, I still was paying 0.7-0.8c each – a good value, as long as I am traveling.
That brings up another issue as well. Just understand that for you it is a way of earning a living with a blog; for most people it may save some money on travel cost, but it is still a cost to play the game.


If you were setting up your strategy today with currently available cards, what would you do?

Stephen Knox

I use the same strategy, except I did not have the Citi Prestige or the Altitude Reserve. I do use the Rewards+ with Curve, but I have several Custom Cash between myself and P2. I supplement everything else with visa gift card. I don’t know why you don’t see more people doing this or at least talking about it.


i cannot do referrals from my Amex plat. I followed Stephens’s advice and reported the card stolen to see if that would fix it. It did temporarily but I again lost the ability to refer. For context I have not done any referrals for a year before I changed the card number, and none after the change. This is the case on my Amex plat, Delta plat cards


why does that happen?


I also used to not spend on the Rewards+ card, but a couple of months ago I got an email that if I don’t spend on it, the account will be closed. Something to think about.


Safe strategy for keeping credit cards alive is putting a 50 cent or $1 Amazon reload on the card once or twice a year.

In the case of the Rewards+, it may be tempting to go crazy with this due to its round up feature (10 points for 50 cents of spend), but the small quantity of points you’d earn from this plus the potential of account shutdown for abuse (it’s happened) makes it not worth it — or at least not going crazy with it.


Hey Greg, thanks for sharing your Citi CC strategy. I put my Apple iCloud subscription on my Citi Rewards+ ($2.99 per month) and the occasional $1-$2 CC purchase via ApplePay.

Since you have a few Custom Cash CCs, why don’t you use those for 5x dining instead of the 5x on your Citi Prestige? That would save you a big annual fee.

I have 3 Custom Cash CCs and alternate between grocery, gas, dining, and home improvement, depending my shopping needs each month.


Would converting DC to custom cash disqualify someone from earning a Citi Premier sign-up bonus in the future?


Citi Prestige 5x at restaurants is amazing for people who eat out a lot. Crazy that it’s still not available to new customers and curious how long it will last for existing.


I dedicate one custom cash to instacart (for Costco). Set it/forget it, Usually between $350-500 per month. 5x Costco without having to deal with the time loss of the drive & shopping is a great deal for us.


Most of it makes sense to me except the Prestige. Surprised that you still have that given the high fee. Amex Gold is a better deal IMO at 4x dining with lower fee. Maybe I do not eat out enough!
I always use the Rewards+ for parking meters and the other $1-2 transactions to keep it alive and because of the round up earning. Citi DC is my general card for non bonus spend


Gotcha, that makes sense. I pay the $95 AF on the Citi Premier just for the ability to transfer TYPs to travel partners. I just used the $100 Hotel Discount for the first time in years, otherwise this CC gets no use throughout the years.

Do you need to keep a large balance in a Citi Gold checking or savings account to receive the $145 rebate?


Gotcha, sounds similar to the Bank of America Preferred Rewards Platinum Honors Tier. Might be worth writing a post that compares the 2 programs.

Does your $145 cash back come from Amazon Prime, Hulu, Spotify, and Costco Citigold Subscription Rebate Program? (


Very cool, glad your Prestige is grandfathered into the Citigold rebate. I haven’t seen much written about the Citigold subscription rebate program, so I would be curious to read about your experience with the program.

Boise Ding

Citi Prestige is also my favorite card. I still get tremendous value from the 4th night free every year; focusing on independent luxury properties or ones with close to all inclusive packages. For example, even though I have Platinum status with Marriott I recently booked the 4th night free for a club room at the Ritz Carlton South Beach and came well ahead v booking direct and losing the marriott points since right now you get 10 points per dollar on The rate was much lower on than on Marriott.

Carmelita Harley

I noticed this as well on Amex FHR vs Marriott direct booking. The Ballantyne Luxury Collection in NC was cheaper on Amex FHR vs Marriot website. In addition, FHR comes with a slew of benefits including a $200 hotel credit that puts this booking ahead of Marriott and I’ll still have my elite benefits from staying.


Great info! It’s time for me to venture into the world of Citi’s program.