Both the Citi Custom Cash℠ Card and the Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express offer generous cash back rewards programs. They each come with a strong welcome offer, too. So what sets these cards apart, and which one is right for you?
As usual, it comes down to your monthly spending. Do you spend a lot in one particular category, such as groceries, gym memberships or streaming services, each month? Or do you spend a lot in several categories? And how willing are you to pay an annual fee while earning your cash back bonuses?
The answers can help you decide whether the Blue Cash Preferred or the Citi Custom Cash deserves a space in your wallet.
|Cards||Blue Cash Preferred Card from American Express||Citi Custom Cash Card|
|Welcome bonus||$150 cash back after spending $3,000 in first 6 months of opening your account; 20 percent back on Amazon.com purchases, up to a maximum of $200 back, within the first 6 months||$200 cash back after spending $750 in first 3 months of opening your account|
|Rewards rate||6 percent back at U.S. supermarkets (up to $6,000 per year, then 1 percent); 6 percent back on select U.S. streaming services; 3 percent back on U.S. gas station and transit purchases; 1 percent cash back on all other purchases||5 percent cash back on spending category of your choice, including groceries, streaming services, gas stations and restaurants; 1 percent cash back on all other purchases|
|Intro APR||0 percent on purchases for 12 months.||0 percent on purchases and balance transfers for 15 months|
|Annual fee||$0 intro annual fee for the first year, then $95||No annual fee|
Amex Blue Cash Preferred vs. Citi Custom Cash highlights
Welcome bonus winner: Citi Custom Cash
Both the Citi Custom Cash and the Blue Cash Preferred cards offer solid welcome offers. The Custom Cash card’s offer, though, is higher and easier to earn.
With the Blue Cash Preferred, you can earn $150 cash back if you make $3,000 in purchases on your card within the first six months of opening your account.
You can also earn 20 percent back on any Amazon.com purchases you make with your card within the first six months of opening your account. You can earn up to $200 through the Amazon offer, meaning you’ll hit your cash back limit if you charge $1,000 on Amazon.com purchases during the first six months of opening your Blue Cash Preferred card.
If you reach both spending goals—$1,000 on Amazon.com and $3,000 in overall purchases with your card—you’ll earn a $350 welcome bonus.
The Custom Cash card offers a $200 cash back welcome bonus. But you have to spend only $750 within the first three months of opening your card to earn it.
This bonus might be smaller than the $350 total you can earn with the Blue Cash Preferred card, but you’ll have to spend significantly more with American Express to hit that $400 maximum—$4,000 to be exact. You might prefer spending just $750 to get a $200 cash back bonus.
Rewards rate winner: Blue Cash Preferred
You can earn plenty of cash back with either of these cards, but the Blue Cash card’s cash back program offers more flexibility.
With the Custom Cash card, you choose one category in which you’ll earn 5 percent cash back. You can choose from restaurants, gas stations, grocery stores, select travel, select transit, select streaming services, drugstores, home-improvement stores, fitness clubs and live entertainment.
You’ll earn the 5 percent cash back on the first $500 you spend in your special category during each monthly billing period. If you go over that limit, you’ll earn 1 percent cash back on all other purchases in this category until your billing cycle starts again. You’ll also earn 1 percent cash back on all other purchases.
The Blue Cash Preferred card provides 6 percent cash back on all purchases you charge at U.S. supermarkets up to $6,000 a year. If you surpass that limit, you’ll earn 1 percent cash back on all U.S. supermarket charges throughout the rest of the year. You’ll also earn 6 percent cash back on select U.S. streaming subscriptions and 3 percent cash back at U.S. gas stations and on transit purchases such as rideshares, parking, tolls, trains and buses. You’ll earn 1 percent cash back on all other purchases.
Both cards’ cash back programs are valuable, but the Blue Cash Preferred’s 6 percent in two categories gives it the edge.
Annual Fee winner: Citi Custom Cash
The Citi Custom Cash Card charges no annual fee, while the American Express Blue Cash Preferred charges a $95 annual fee. The Blue Cash Preferred does offer $0 intro annual fee for the first year, but that $0 annual fee by the Custom Cash card is difficult to beat.
Foreign transaction fee winner: Blue Cash Preferred
The Blue Cash Preferred card charges a foreign transaction fee of 2.7 percent of each transaction after conversion to U.S. dollars. The Custom Cash card’s foreign transaction fee is higher at 3 percent of each purchase transaction in U.S. dollars.
Which card earns the most?
Custom Cash vs. Blue Cash Preferred spending example
How much you earn from either of these cards depends upon your monthly spending habits. If you tend to spend regularly in one particular category, you might do well with the Custom Cash card.
Say you choose restaurants as your 5 percent cash back category. If you spend $500 during your billing cycle at restaurants, you’ll earn $25 cash back. If you spend another $1,000 during your billing cycle on all other categories, you’ll earn $10 more. That’s because those additional purchases earn 1 percent cash back.
That brings your cash back total for charging $1,500 with the Custom Cash card to $35. The drawback here is that you can only spend up to $500 a billing cycle in your selected 5 percent category before that cash back bonus drops down to 1 percent. If you spend too much each month in your special category, the Blue Cash Preferred card might make more sense.
Depending on how you use your card, you can earn more with the Blue Cash Preferred by spending the same amount of money each month. Say you spend the same $500 at grocery stores during your billing cycle. You’d earn 6 percent on that $500 with the Blue Cash Preferred card, which comes out to $30 cash back.
Say you spend an additional $200 at the gas station. You’d earn 3 percent on that amount, which comes out to an additional $6 in cash back. And if you spend $100 in streaming subscriptions during your billing cycle, you’d earn $6 more in cash back.
If you then charged $700 in other purchases, all of which would earn 1 percent cash back, you’d generate an additional $7. That would bring your total for the month to $49. For this example, that’s $14 more than you would have earned with the Citi Custom Cash card.
Of course, depending on how much you spend on streaming services, grocery store buys and at the gas station, you might earn far more cash back during the month. If you spend $800 at the grocery store, $400 at the gas station and $200 on streaming services, for example, you’d earn $72 in cash back during this billing cycle.
It’s also important to spend wisely with the Blue Cash Preferred because it comes with a $95 annual fee after the first year. Be sure to generate enough cash back bonus dollars to pay back the annual fee, ideally in two to three months.
Why should you get the Citi Custom Cash card?
The Citi Custom Cash card is, aside from its cash back bonuses, a fairly basic card, meaning it doesn’t offer a wealth of perks. You can set up automatic alerts if you are getting too close to your spending limit and the card does come with a mobile app. It also lets you choose your own payment date. Other perks include identity theft protection, fraud warnings and free access to your FICO credit score.
The Custom Cash card awards you in ThankYou reward points that you can then redeem in different ways. You can turn them into cash back as a statement credit, direct deposit or check. You can also redeem ThankYou points for gift cards, purchases on Amazon.com and travel reservations.
Recommended credit score
Citi doesn’t list a minimum credit score for the Custom Cash card. Your odds of qualifying for this card, though, are better if you have a solid FICO credit score of 700 or higher.
Why should you get the American Express Blue Cash Preferred card?
The Blue Cash Preferred card offers a wider range of benefits than you’ll get with the Custom Cash card. You’ll get access to American Express’s Global Assist Hotline, which can help you if you lose your passport while traveling, need a lawyer when you are overseas or come down with a serious illness while traveling. You can use the hotline as long as you are at least 100 miles from your home.
The card also comes with car rental loss and damage insurance; purchase protection, which provides coverage if you accidentally damage or lose covered purchases; and return protection, which provides a refund if you try to return a newly purchased product and the merchant won’t take it back.
American Express also offers dispute resolution services. If you discover a fraudulent or incorrect charge on your billing statement, American Express will work with you to resolve the issue.
Purchases with your Blue Cash Preferred card will earn you reward dollars. You can receive these dollars in the form of a statement credit.
Recommended credit score
American Express doesn’t list a specific FICO credit score that you’ll need to qualify for the Blue Cash Preferred card, though it does say that this card is reserved for consumers with good to excellent credit. As with the Citi Custom Cash card, you should shoot for a FICO score of 700 or higher if you want to apply for the Blue Cash Preferred card.
The bottom line
Which card is better? Again, it depends on how you spend. If you spend a lot at grocery stores, on streaming services and at gas stations, the Blue Cash Preferred card might be the smarter choice. If you tend to spend heavily at restaurants or you travel frequently, the Citi Custom Cash card, which lets you choose your own top cash back category, might be the better fit.
The Blue Cash Preferred comes with more perks, while the Citi Custom Cash card offers a welcome bonus that is easier to achieve and charges no annual fee.
The bottom line? Your own spending habits will determine which of these cards is best for you but both cards have the potential to earn you significant cash back each month.