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Both the Citi Custom Cash® Card and the Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express offer generous cash back rewards structures and worthwhile welcome bonuses. So, what sets these cards apart, and which option 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? Or do you spend a lot in several categories? Further, are you willing to pay an annual fee? Your answers to these questions can help you decide which one of these top cash back cards deserves a space in your wallet.
|Cards||Citi Custom Cash Card||Blue Cash Preferred Card from American Express|
|Welcome bonus||20,000 ThankYou Points (worth $200 in cash back) after spending $1,500 on purchases in the first 6 months||$250 statement credit after you spend $3,000 in purchases on your new card within the first 6 months|
|Intro APR||0% intro APR on purchases and balance transfers for 15 months (19.24% to 29.24% variable APR thereafter)||0% intro APR on purchases and balance transfers for 12 months (19.24% to 29.99% variable
|Annual fee||$0||$95 ($0 intro annual fee for the first year)|
Citi Custom Cash vs. Amex Blue Cash Preferred highlights
Welcome bonus winner: Amex Blue Cash Preferred
With the Amex Blue Cash Preferred, you can earn a $250 statement credit after you spend $3,000 in purchases within the first six months. The Citi Custom Cash, however, offers 20,000 Citi ThankYou points — worth $200 in cash back — after spending $1,500 on purchases in the first six months.
You’ll need to spend $500 for six months to earn the Blue Cash Preferred’s bonus and $250 for six months to reach the Citi Custom Cash’s bonus.
Rewards rate winner: Amex Blue Cash Preferred
You can earn plenty of cash back with either of these cards, but the Blue Cash Preferred’s rewards structure offers more flexibility.
The Blue Cash Preferred offers 6 percent cash back on purchases made at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $6,000 in spending per year, then 1 percent back). You’ll also earn 6 percent cash back on select U.S. streaming subscriptions, 3 percent cash back at U.S. gas stations and on transit (such as rideshares, parking, tolls, trains and buses) and 1 percent cash back on everything else.
With the Citi Custom Cash, you’ll earn 5 percent cash back on your top eligible spending category, including restaurants, gas stations, grocery stores, select travel, select transit, select streaming services, drugstores, home improvement stores, fitness clubs and live entertainment. That 5 percent cash back rate applies to the first $500 you spend in your top category during each monthly billing period. If you go over that limit, you’ll earn 1 percent cash back on those purchases until your billing cycle starts again. You’ll also earn 1 percent cash back on non-category purchases.
Both cards’ rewards programs are valuable, but the Blue Cash Preferred’s 6 percent back in two categories and 3 percent back 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 ($0 intro annual fee for the first year). The Citi Custom Cash’s $0 annual fee is hard to beat.
Foreign transaction fee winner: Amex Blue Cash Preferred
The Blue Cash Preferred charges a 2.7 percent foreign transaction fee, while the Citi Custom Cash charges a higher 3 percent foreign transaction fee.
Which card earns the most?
The amount you can earn from either of these cards depends on your monthly spending habits. If you tend to spend regularly on one particular category, you might do well with the Citi Custom Cash.
Citi Custom Cash vs. Amex Blue Cash Preferred spending example
Say your top spending category during a particular billing cycle is grocery stores, and you spend $500 on those purchases, fully maxing out the Citi Custom Cash’s 5 percent category. In doing so, you’ll earn $25 in cash back. If you spend another $1,000 during that billing cycle on non-category purchases (for example, $500 on gas and another $500 on online shopping), you’ll earn an additional $10 in cash back. That’ll bring you to $35 in cash back earnings for that billing cycle. The drawback here is that you can only spend up to $500 per billing cycle in your top category before the cash back rate drops from 5 percent to 1 percent.
Say you spend the same $500 on U.S. supermarket purchases over the course of a month with the Blue Cash Preferred. Doing so will net you $30 in cash back. To fully match the example above, say you spend an additional $1,000 that month ($500 on gas and $500 on online shopping). Since U.S. gas station purchases earn 3 percent cash back with this card, that’s an additional $15 in cash back earned. Online shopping would classify as non-category spending, earning you an additional $5 in cash back. In total, that’s $50 in cash back earnings for the month with the Blue Cash Preferred versus $35 in cash back with the Citi Custom Cash.
Why should you get the Citi Custom Cash?
The Citi Custom Cash is a fairly basic rewards card, meaning it doesn’t offer a wealth of benefits. You can set up automatic alerts if you’re getting too close to your spending limit, and the card does offer access to the Citi mobile app. It also lets you choose your own payment date. Other perks include identity theft protection, $0 fraud liability, access to Citi Entertainment and free access to your FICO credit score.
The Citi Custom Cash card technically awards you in the form of basic Citi ThankYou points, which can be redeemed for statement credits, direct deposits, checks, gift cards, Amazon.com purchases and travel through Citi.
Recommended credit score
Why should you get the Amex Blue Cash Preferred?
The Blue Cash Preferred offers a wider range of benefits than you’ll get with the Citi Custom Cash. You’ll get access to American Express’ Global Assist Hotline, which offers 24/7 emergency assistance while traveling. You can use the hotline as long as you’re at least 100 miles from your home. The card also comes with car rental loss and damage insurance, purchase protection and return protection.
Cash back is earned in the form of Reward Dollars, which can be redeemed for a statement credit to your account.
Recommended credit score
The recommended credit score range for the Blue Cash Preferred is good to excellent (670 to 850).
The bottom line
So, which card is better? If you spend a lot on grocery store purchases, streaming services, gas and transit, the Amex Blue Cash Preferred might be worth it — especially since this card lets you earn an unlimited amount of rewards on select U.S. streaming subscriptions, on transit and at U.S. gas stations, in particular. But if you tend to spend a good amount in niche categories like live entertainment, fitness clubs and home improvement stores, the Citi Custom Cash might be the better fit. Your own spending habits will determine which of these cards is better for you, but both have the potential to earn you significant cash back each month.