Key takeaways

  • The Citi Custom Cash® Card offers automatic cash back rewards on your top spending category each billing cycle, with one category being travel.
  • Further, you can earn a generous welcome bonus for use toward travel purchases through Citi's portal.
  • If you have a costly trip coming up, you can also take advantage of the card's introductory APR on both purchases and balance transfers.

While the Citi Custom Cash® Card is marketed as a higher-earning cash back card, there are quite a few reasons frequent travelers also sign up.

The card’s popularity with travelers is partly due to the type of rewards the card earns, which can be used within the Citi ThankYou program. Meanwhile, the earning rate on the Citi Custom Cash can be very competitive compared to other travel credit cards. This is especially true given the Citi Custom Cash’s lack of an annual fee.

Read on to learn the why the Citi Custom Cash is great for travel and how everyday cardholders can use this card to level up their rewards game.

Rewards rate that highly favors travel purchases

The Citi Custom Cash is unique because it offers 5 percent back on up to $500 spent in your top earning category each billing period (then 1 percent back), as well as 1 percent back on all other purchases. Ultimately, this means you’ll get a whopping 5 percent back in whatever category you spend the most in, provided it falls within an “eligible” spending category.

Fortunately, maximizing a Citi Custom Cash travel category is easy since a range of purchases can count. In the travel category specifically, eligible spending for the top earning rate includes purchases made with airlines, hotels, cruise lines, car rental companies, trains, subways, parking garages and taxis.

If you max out the $500 in bonus spending on travel purchases each billing period, you can earn $300 in rewards on this front alone each year.

Generous welcome bonus

In addition to up to 5 percent back on various bonus categories, including travel, this card’s welcome bonus is another great way to save on travel. This bonus gives you 20,000 ThankYou points — worth $200 in cash back — after spending $1,500 on purchases in the first six months.

Not only is the spending requirement extremely reasonable for the time allotted, but, like your rewards, it’s also in the form of Citi ThankYou points.

However, all of Citi’s no-annual-fee cards (including the Custom Cash card) earn “basic” ThankYou points, which cannot be transferred to travel partners for a potentially higher value. However, further below, we’ll cover how you can get around this restriction with a card-combining strategy.

Easy redemptions for travel and other purchases

If you only plan to carry the Citi Custom Cash, you can keep things simple and redeem your rewards for direct deposit, a check or statement credit. This gives you the chance to redeem rewards to cover travel purchases made with your card, including things like airfare, hotel stays or even vacation packages.

However, you can also use your rewards to book travel through Citi’s travel portal. This lets you use your points to book certain types of travel directly, which can include flights, hotel stays and cruises, to name a few options.

Other options include redeeming your points for gift cards, eligible purchases on Amazon, merchandise and some Citi loan products. These options can come in handy when you aren’t traveling as much and simply don’t have a need to cover your travel spend with card statements or deposits from your rewards.

Option to pool points for advanced travel redemptions

With another Citi credit card that earns standard ThankYou points in your wallet (rather than “basic” points), you can even transfer your rewards to Citi travel partners.

An example of a card you can pair with is the Citi Premier® Card, which is currently offering 60,000 points to new cardholders who spend at least $4,000 on purchases within three months of account opening.

Citi travel partners are wide and varied, and they often let you extract even more value from your rewards. Most partners let you transfer points at a 1:1 ratio as well, with the exception of programs like Choice Privileges and Sears Shop Your Way.

Pay off a big trip without any interest (for a limited time)

Rewards aside, Citi Custom Cash travel benefits can help you pay down vacation costs, if you use it responsibly. Let’s say you have a big vacation to plan, and you don’t have quite enough cash to make it happen. In this case, the Citi Custom Cash can help you earn rewards while giving you the chance to pay off your balance interest-free for a limited time.

Specifically, the Citi Custom Cash offers a 0 percent intro APR on purchases and balance transfers for 15 months, followed by a variable APR of 19.24 percent to 29.24 percent. Just keep in mind that you’ll need to pay off the full balance on your card before the intro period is over. Otherwise, you’ll pay off any remaining balances at the card’s high regular variable rate.

The bottom line

The Citi Custom Cash might not seem like the most exciting rewards credit card around, but it can be pretty useful if you want the chance to earn travel rewards with a cash back credit card. Plus, you can pair this card with a travel credit card from Citi to unlock a range of advanced travel redemptions.

If you’re just beginning to seek out award travel, you’ll also be happy to know this card doesn’t charge an annual fee. This means you can keep it for the long haul whether you’re traveling often or not, and you’ll never have to justify its cost based on how much rewards value you earn and redeem.

These are just some of the reasons the Citi Custom Cash can be worth it for frequent flyers and travelers who love to book weekend getaways closer to home. Read more about the card and available Citi Custom Cash benefits before you decide for yourself.