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How Citi Cheated Me Out of 50,000 ThankYou Points

It was in May of this year that I first considered applying for a Citi ThankYou Rewards credit card. The card in question was offering a 50,000 point bonus, which would be almost enough to cover my business class flight back to the US for Christmas via one of Citi’s many transfer partners. The requirements for receiving this bonus were reasonable: Just $4,000 of spend over the course of three months. My rent would get me most of the way there!

I filled out my application and within minutes, got approved for a Citi rewards card. Once I received the Citibank rewards card a few days later, I immediately started using it for all my purchases—tens of thousands of Citi Bank rewards points would soon be mine!

Or would they?

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How to Earn a Citi ThankYou Bonus, in Theory

In most cases, the webpage or blog post where you see a Citi rewards card advertised will mention the Citi bonus amount and the spend required in order to receive it. As I mentioned in the intro to this post, I applied for a Citi ThankYou Premier card, which promised 50,000 bonus points upon completing $4,000 of spend within 90 days of account opening; I used the same strategy I have every other time I’ve opened an account for this purpose.

Which is to say I did it the right way. Rather than resorting to “manufactured spend” or other shady means of meeting my minimum spend requirement, I began working toward my big Citi ThankYou points transfer using legitimate purchases. From every day items like groceries and dining, to travel expenses such as hotels and rental cars, to recurring monthly bills like my cellphone plan and condo rent, these charges added up to well over $4,000 by the time I’d had the card three months.

When my August statement closed, however, I logged in to my online account to find that my Citi ThankYou rewards hadn’t posted. Curious, but not yet worried, I dug deeper.

The Citi ThankYou Fine Print

On the surface, I should’ve had my promised Citibank travel card rewards. My spend during my first three statement cycles totaled $4,533, and I’d paid every bill on time and in full. Not wanting to deal with a customer service representative on Saturday morning, I decided to open my latest statement and see if there was anything I could find. One irregularity immediately stood out.

According to the statement overview, which organized the purchases I’d made using my Citi ThankYou card into a color-coded pie chart, I’d spent nearly $2,000 on “Cash Advances.” Only that wasn’t possible—I’d never receive a PIN and, beyond that, I’ve never found the fees associated with cash advances (usually, between 3-5 percent of the transaction amount) to be justifiable. Even stranger, these transactions seemed to be the ones via which I’d sent rent to my landlord—they were most certainly payments.

Still not wanting to deal with someone over the phone, I sent a cordial private message to Citi via Twitter. To my surprise and delight, a representative named Jody responded almost immediately. She’d need to contact me via phone in order to verify some information, she told me, and set up a call Monday evening Bangkok time. Her voice was cherry and she seemed optimistic that this had all been a mix-up, but I had a bad feeling about ever seeing 50,000 bonus Citi ThankYou rewards in my account.

The Strange Way Citibank Says “Thank You”

I spoke to Jody the evening of August 20; she told me she’d need until the morning of August 24 (at which point I’d be in Switzerland, where it would be evening) to see what exactly had happened to my Citi ThankYou rewards points. Sure enough, I received a Twitter message Friday around 4 pm asking for my Swiss phone number. Only Jody wasn’t as sunny as she’d been earlier in the week.

“We can’t offer you any Citi Bank rewards points,” she said diminutively, “but we can offer you a $100 statement credit. Is that OK?” For a moment I couldn’t breathe, and not just because of all the animal dander floating around inside my best friend’s apartment.

“Actually that’s not OK,” I told Jody as calmly as I could, explaining to her that when I factored in a transfer to one of Citi’s airline partners, the Citi reward credit card points I had rightly earned were worth several times that.

She seemed empathetic, admitting that the consolation prize she’d offered didn’t come close to canceling out the Citi card rewards I’d lost, but apologized that there was nothing more she could do, insisting that it was the merchant who processed my rent payments as cash advances, even though said merchant’s website clearly states that banks and credit card companies determine this. She offered to let me speak to a supervisor if I’d be willing to hold a few minutes—there wasn’t any music, which caught me off guard.

Why I Closed My Citi ThankYou Premier Account

The supervisor, who provided neither her name nor her position title, was cold and clinical in her speech—a million miles from Jody, though for all I knew they worked in the same building. In spite of this, I explained my situation to her just as I had to Jody, adding at the end that if I needed to complete additional spend—while I had her on the line, if necessary—to see the Citi rewards points I had already rightfully earned deposited into my account, I would be happy to do so.

My entire escalation of this matter had been in good faith, but the supervisor was cruel and condescending. “It’s pretty irresponsible, as a consumer, not to read your entire statement in detail every month,” she scolded. “Perhaps if you’d been doing this from the beginning, rather than blindly paying your balance in full, you’d have realized your error in time to get your points. Better luck next time, I guess.”

With a pause, the woman swapped this belittling babble for a canned closing question. “Anything else I can help you with?”

“There sure is,” I said defiantly, without missing a beat, or dwelling on the flight awards with Citi ThankYou transfer partners I’d now be missing out on. “I’d like to close my account right now.”

The woman seemed genuinely taken back, noting that I would potentially forfeit the points (a paltry 5,000 or so) I’d already earned. My dignity, however, exceeded the Citi ThankYou points value by a large amount; I instructed her to proceed with account closing, and went online to pay my balance in full as soon as the call ended.

How Citi Could Fix This

I won’t back down from the truth: I earned my 50,000 bonus Citi rewards, fair and square, without resorting to the shady methods many other travel hackers do. I only lost them because of a technicality that is entirely due to Citibank’s own transaction processing—Chase, for its part, never considered my rent payments as cash advances. Although I contacted Citi in good faith and offered to do whatever was necessary to hold up my end of the bargain, even if it meant nearly doubling my overall spend, they pissed and shat in my mouth.

I don’t regret canceling my Citi ThankYou Premier card; my trusty Platinum Card from American Express is not only more attractive, but offers better rewards on plane tickets, which account for the majority of my spending in a given year anyway. I’ve had to be creative in making up for the Citi ThankYou points I’d been planning to have at my disposal since I opened my account in May, but it’s whatever.

Unfortunately for Citi, I’m a master at SEO; this article will appear high up in searches for prospective customers interested in Citi credit card rewards, even those that don’t pertain to travel. If you work for Citi and are reading this, give me my points and I’ll consider taking it down. Until then, as your unnamed phone supervisor snidely told me, better luck next time I guess.

The Bottom Line

Although the Citi ThankYou Rewards card I applied for didn’t sound too good to be true—50,000 points is a pretty standard bonus these days—it was. Citibank cheated me out of these points thanks to an anachronism in the way it processes certain transactions, but denied culpability even when I presented them proof of it. Though I did have the opportunity to speak to someone high up the food chain about my Citi rewards plus card, she did little more than condescend me, serving me up a word salad of legalese dressed in attitude with the intent of tripping me up. If you aren’t careful then, like me, all you’ll earn from ShittyBank is 50,000 bonus FuckYou points.


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