The Citi Custom Cash℠ Card is one of the most popular cash back cards around thanks to the high rewards rate it offers in cardholders’ top eligible spending category, with groceries just one of several lucrative options.

But this no-annual-fee card is often overshadowed by other grocery credit cards, especially the Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express — often considered the best grocery card around. That’s because the Blue Cash Preferred offers the highest cash back rate you’re likely to find for purchases made at U.S. supermarkets and also rewards you for spending in other popular everyday categories.

But the Blue Cash Preferred has an annual fee of $95 after the $0 intro annual fee for the first year. Despite its impressive rewards rate, some people may have trouble earning enough cash back to offset that fee and make the card worthwhile. Others may not think an annual fee is worth the cost, especially at a time when inflation is having such a significant impact on our personal finances.

In many cases, the Citi Custom Cash Card could be a better option to help you maximize grocery rewards. Since it doesn’t carry an annual fee, the Custom Cash may help you earn more cash back overall than the Blue Cash Preferred Card once that card’s annual fee kicks in in year two. That’s especially likely if you pair the Custom Cash with another no-annual-fee rewards card that fits your spending habits.

Citi Custom Cash Card details

Lightbulb
Quick highlights
  • Rewards rate: 5 percent cash back (on up to $500 each billing cycle, then 1 percent) on your top spending category each billing cycle
  • Welcome offer: 20,000 ThankYou Points — worth $200 in cash back — after spending $1,500 on purchases in the first six months
  • Annual fee: $0
  • Purchase intro APR: 0 percent for 15 months
  • Balance transfer intro APR: 0 percent for 15 months
  • Regular APR: 17.74 percent to 27.74 percent, variable

Saving money on groceries with a rewards card

The average household spends a little over $5,000 per year on groceries, based on data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That’s over $400 a month. But with inflation sending the prices of everyday essentials soaring, that amount doesn’t get you as much at the grocery store as it did just a few short years ago.

That’s where grocery rewards cards could help. The best credit cards for groceries can get you anywhere from 3 percent to 6 percent cash back on your groceries. That could mean around $300 back per year, based on the average household spend. Getting money back on your purchases is one of the main reasons why rewards cards can help you fight against inflation.

Why the Citi Custom Cash has better long-term value than the Blue Cash Preferred

With the Blue Cash Preferred card, you earn 6 percent cash back on up to $6,000 per year on purchases made at U.S. supermarkets, then 1 percent cash back. The Citi Custom Cash Card gives you 5 percent cash back on up to $500 in purchases in your top eligible spending category (including groceries) each billing cycle (then 1 percent cash back). That averages out to essentially the same annual spending limit of $6,000.

One of the biggest differences between the Citi Custom Cash Card and the Blue Cash Preferred Card is the annual fee. The Citi Custom Cash Card gives you the chance to earn one of the highest rates around on your grocery spending if that’s your top spending category — but without having to worry about paying an annual fee. Meanwhile, the Amex Blue Cash Preferred Card doesn’t charge an annual fee in year one but then costs $95 per year

To offset the Blue Cash Preferred card’s annual fee via cash back in year two and beyond, you’d have to spend about $1,584 at U.S. supermarkets each year. While that should be easy enough for most cardholders, if you went with the Citi Custom Cash Card, you won’t have to worry about offsetting an annual fee. Here’s a look at how that can work in your favor:

Citi Custom Cash℠ Card Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express
Average yearly spending at U.S. supermarkets $6,000 $6,000
Cash back rate 5% 6%
Cash back earned each year $300 $360
$0 $95 ($0 intro annual fee in first year)
Total cash back (first year) $300 $360
Total cash back, minus annual fee (second year) $300 $265

With the $0 intro annual fee, the Blue Cash Preferred Card comes out on top, besting the Citi Custom Cash Card by $60 if you spend $6,000 per year on groceries — but only in year one. Once that first year is up, the Citi Custom Cash card earns $35 more per year just for grocery purchases since it doesn’t carry an annual fee, giving the Custom Cash Card greater long-term value in this respect.

Best cards to pair with the Citi Custom Cash Card

The other main difference between the Citi Custom Cash Card and the Blue Cash Preferred Card are their rewards categories. The Custom Cash card only has one eligible bonus category that earns a high cash back rate, with all other purchases earning just 1 percent back.

Meanwhile, the Blue Cash Preferred Card gives you plenty of chances to earn bonus rewards in several everyday spending categories, not just groceries: 6 percent on select U.S. streaming subscriptions, 3 percent cash back on transit and at U.S. gas stations, and 1 percent cash back on other purchases.

It’s incredibly convenient to have all these categories on one card, and this variety gives the Blue Cash Preferred Card an edge over other cards if you prefer to only carry one card in your wallet and can take advantage of its bonus categories.

But depending on your spending habits, you may not use all the bonus categories. Also, the Blue Cash Preferred Card may not meet all of your needs, especially if you tend to spend a lot on dining, online purchases or even cellphone plans. That’s why pairing the Citi Custom Cash Card with the right no-annual-fee rewards card could earn you just as much cash back or more in the long run on your everyday spending.

Best pairing for groceries and gas: Citi Custom Cash Card and Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American Express

If groceries and gas are your main spending categories, the Citi Custom Cash Card paired with the Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American Express gives you a powerful combination.

With the Everyday card, you get 3 percent cash back in multiple categories, including U.S. gas stations and U.S. online retail purchases, on up to $6,000 in spending per year in each bonus category, then 1 percent. That annual spending threshold allows you to earn impressive cash back on up to $500 per month in gas purchases, which is far more than most households spend on average (almost $180 per month according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics).

Since the Everyday card gets you the same great rate on U.S. gas purchases as the Preferred card, pairing it with the Citi Custom Cash Card could allow you to avoid annual fees and still earn more cash back than you would with the Blue Cash Preferred card after the first year.

Here’s how things would shake out after the first year if you spent $6,000 per year at U.S. supermarkets and $1,800 per year at U.S. gas stations using either the Blue Cash Preferred or a combination of the Citi Custom Cash and Blue Cash Everyday cards:

Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express Citi Custom Cash℠ Card  + Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American Express
Spending at U.S. supermarkets / U.S. gas stations $6,000 / $1,800 $6,000 / $1,800
Cash back rate 6% / 3% 5% / 3%
Cash back earned each year $360 / $54 $300 / $54
Annual fee $95 ($0 intro annual fee in first year) $0
Total cash back (first year) $414 $354
Total cash back, minus annual fee (second year) $319 $354

As you can see, when it comes to groceries and gas, the combined power of the Citi Custom Cash Card and the Blue Cash Everyday Card beats the Blue Cash Preferred Card after the first year, when the latter’s annual fee comes into play.

And if online shopping is an important part of your budget, the Everyday card’s 3 percent cash back on U.S. online retail purchases (on up to $6,000 per year, then 1 percent) could bring in enough cash back to rival the Blue Cash Preferred Card in the first year while running away with the cash back prize in the following years.

Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express Citi Custom Cash℠ Card + Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American Express
Average yearly spending at U.S. supermarkets / U.S. gas stations / U.S. online retail purchases $6,000 / $1,800 / $2,000 $6,000 / $1,800 / $2,000
Cash back rate 6% / 3% / 1% 5% / 3% / 3%
Cash back earned each year $360 / $54 / $20 $300 / $54 / $60
Annual fee $95 ($0 intro annual fee in first year) $0
Total cash back (first year) $434 $414
Total cash back, minus annual fee (second year) $339 after $414

As you can see here, the Blue Cash Preferred Card’s total earnings fall even further behind those of the Citi Custom Cash and Blue Cash Everyday card combo when you factor in online purchases and annual fees. Since the Amex Everyday card rakes in 3 percent bonus rewards for online spending while the Blue Cash Preferred Card only offers 1 percent for online purchases, you may not even have to wait until year two to start raking in more cash back with this combo if you do a lot of online shopping.

Best pairing for groceries, transit and streaming: Citi Custom Cash Card and Wells Fargo Autograph℠ Card

If you don’t want to give up the Blue Cash Preferred Card because transit and streaming services are a big part of your budget, the Wells Fargo Autograph℠ Card has you covered. The Autograph Card boasts more everyday bonus categories than most cash back cards, offering 3X points on dining, travel, gas, transit, popular streaming services and phone plan purchases — all with no annual fee and no spending limits.

Pairing the Citi Custom Cash Card with the Autograph℠ Card could allow you to earn cash back on your groceries as well as in a versatile mix of bonus categories that can cover more of your essential purchases than the Blue Cash Preferred Card. And while the Autograph card can’t match the Blue Cash Preferred Card’s 6 percent cash back on U.S. streaming services, its bonus categories may be a better fit for your budget, especially if you spend more on travel, dining or even cellphone plan payments than you do on streaming services.

Here’s a look at how your dining purchases and phone plan payments can give the Citi Custom Cash Card and Wells Fargo Autograph Card combo a better edge over the Blue Cash Preferred Card.

Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express Citi Custom Cash℠ Card + Wells Fargo Autograph℠ Card
Average yearly spending for U.S. supermarket / select U.S. streaming / transit / dining and phone plans $6,000/ $600 / $600 / $2,000 $6,000 / $600 / $600 / $2,000
Cash back rate 6% / 6% / 3% / 1% 5% / 3% / 3% / 3%
Cash back earned each year $360 / $36 / $36 / $20 $300 / $18 / $18 / $60
Annual fee $95 ($0 intro annual fee in the first year) $0
Total cash back (first year) $452 $396
Total cash back, minus annual fee (second year) $357 $396

The short-term value of the Blue Cash Preferred card continues to be unmatched in the first year, but once the annual fee kicks in, there’s a good chance you earn less money with the Blue Cash Preferred Card than you would pairing the Citi Custom Cash Card with the Wells Fargo Autograph Card.

It all comes down to your spending habits and whether you take full advantage of all the bonus categories offered by the Autograph card. Since the Blue Cash Preferred Card only earns 1 percent cash back on travel, dining and phone plans, you have more chances to rake in a higher amount of cash back thanks to all the bonus categories offered by the Autograph card and the rewards you earn with the Citi Custom Cash card on grocery purchases.

Bottom line

The Citi Custom Cash card isn’t just a great cash back card. If you make groceries your top eligible spending category, it’s one of the best grocery cards around — potentially even better than the Amex Blue Cash Preferred Card when it comes to long-term value.

That’s because the Citi Custom Cash Card offers 5 percent cash back in your top eligible spending category on up to $500 in spending per billing cycle, without saddling you with an annual fee. If your top spending category is groceries, that rate can put more cash back in your wallet overall after the first year compared to the Amex Blue Cash Preferred Card with its ongoing annual fee.

And when you pair the Citi Custom Cash Card with another no-annual-fee cash back card, you can earn bonus rewards on more than just your grocery spending. The right combination of cards that fit your spending habits can help you match or even beat what you might earn with the Blue Cash Preferred card.