One way to maximize your credit card rewards is to sign up for a rotating-category rewards card. These cards offer high cash-back earnings (typically 5%) in select spending categories, such as groceries or dining out, that change every few months. But there’s a catch: You need to activate the bonus categories each quarter or risk losing out on those higher earnings.
Some people simply can't remember this chore, and if that's you, the Citi Custom Cash Card is a good choice. There's no need to sign up for the highest earnings rate because this card does that for you automatically, based on your spending. If in August you spend the most on groceries, that becomes your 5% earning category. But, say, in September, dining out is tops, then that becomes your 5% category.
No annual fee
Good introductory 0% interest offer
Competitive sign-up bonus
Foreign transaction fee
- No annual fee: You have the potential to earn a lot of rewards with this card, especially considering there's no annual fee to cut into your return.
- Good introductory 0% interest offer: This card comes with 15 months of 0% interest on purchases and balance transfers. Only a handful of cards in our database offer longer interest-free periods.
- Competitive sign-up bonus: For a no-annual-fee card, the sign-up bonus is respectable: $200. And you only need to spend at least $750 in the first three months to earn it.
- Foreign transaction fee: This isn't a card to bring with you if you travel abroad, as it charges a 3% fee for foreign transactions.
Citi Custom Cash Card's Bonus for New Cardholders
The Citi Custom Cash Card offers a sign-up bonus that's competitive with what other comparable cards are offering. If you spend at least $750 within the first three months after you get the card, you'll earn $200 in cash-back rewards. This isn't deposited into your account as straight-up cash back, though. Instead, you'll get a deposit of 20,000 Citi ThankYou points—worth $200—but you can use them for other rewards besides cash, too (see below).
Earning Points & Rewards
Like most cash-back rewards cards, this one lets you earn at least 1% cash back on all your purchases. Also like other rotating-category cards, you'll earn 5% cash back in certain categories. The Citi Custom Cash Card differs in two major ways from its competitors: You don't need to activate the bonus categories to earn the higher rate, and it resets on a monthly, rather than quarterly, basis.
The Citi Custom Cash Card offers 5% cash back on the first $500 you spend each month in one of the following categories:
- Gas stations
- Grocery stores
- Lives entertainment
- Home improvement stores
- Fitness clubs and gyms (not including digital services or streaming classes)
- Certain travel (cruise, hotel, airline, and travel agency purchases)
- Certain transit (most transit except for auto clubs, insurance companies, and bike or scooter rentals)
- Certain streaming services (many services such as Netflix, Spotify, and Amazon Prime Video)
Other rotating-category cards switch categories on a quarterly basis, and offer 5% cash back on the first $1,500 worth of purchases in that category. The Citi Custom Cash Card offers an equivalent amount of cash back ($500 a month is $1,500 per quarter), but switches up the categories every month according to where you're spending the most money. This gives you more flexibility in earning rewards because you're not potentially boxed into a category you don't often use for 25% of the year.
You don't technically earn cash back with the Citi Custom Cash Card—at least, not right away. You'll earn Citi ThankYou Points, with each point being worth 1 cent toward a cash-back redemption. So while your points can be redeemed for the equivalent of either 1% or 5% cash back, you'll need to specify you want to redeem them in this way. You can choose to redeem your cash as a statement credit, a check, or a deposit into your bank account.
You have other options for redeeming your points, although they may be worth less than 1 cent each:
- Gift cards
- Charity donations
- Pay with points at certain retailers
- Payments toward a mortgage or student loan
- Online bill pay (if you have a Citibank account)
We consider a rewards point value of 1 cent per point to be a decent value. Avoid redemptions worth less than that and look for redemptions that offer more, if you can.
You also have the option to transfer your ThankYou Points to an airline mileage rewards program at a 1:1 ratio in 1,000-point increments. A transfer will allow your rewards value to soar. That’s because instead of being worth 1 cent each as cash back, your rewards could be worth as much as 2.04 cents apiece on average with American Airlines, one of Citi's transfer partners.
How To Get the Most Out of This Card
Aside from making sure you meet the spending requirements to earn the sign-up bonus, there are a few ways you can maximize the value you get from this card. You have many options when it comes to redeeming your rewards and we recommend sticking with two. If you don't travel much, stick with redeeming your points for cash to get the most value.
Hitting the category maximum in a month translates to $25 cash back. And while $500 may seem like a low bar to reach, for many spenders, it may be a challenge. According to the 2019 Consumer Expenditure Survey compiled by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average U.S. household spends $387 per month on groceries and $294 per month on meals away from home (including takeout and delivery). Outside of housing and health care, these are two of the three biggest spending categories in the survey (vehicle purchases is the third).
If you travel, transferring your points to an airline partner is another way to maximize value. Remember that some airlines belong to alliances that let you book with other airlines. For example, transferring your ThankYou points to American Airlines potentially gives you the biggest return. It’s worth noting that American Airlines is a member of the oneworld airline alliance, so you can use your AAadvantage miles to book flights with Alaska Airlines, British Airways, Qantas, and several others.
Citi Custom Cash Card's Other Features
The card offers a meager array of perks compared to other cash-back cards.
- Sports, music, and event ticket presales, plus VIP access at some events
Citi ranked slightly below average in a 2021 J.D. Power survey of customer satisfaction among credit card users. Citi does offer 24/7 customer support, however, and a free FICO score update every month. You can also choose your own payment due date to help you manage your cash flow better.
Citi offers some nice security features, such as the ability to lock your card against new purchases if you lose it or it's stolen. You can also sign up for Mastercard ID Theft Protection with your card, which will provide free monitoring for signs of ID theft.