We like the Citi ThankYou Preferred Card for College Students since it offers decent travel rewards to consumers who’ve never owned a credit card before, and may otherwise find it difficult to qualify for one. With this card, students can get rewards valued between 1% and 2% back on their spending, as long as they redeem their points on travel and gift cards through the ThankYou program. There are also a few nice perks, such as tickets to concerts sold out elsewhere. As a cash back card, the Citi ThankYou Preferred for College Students offers subpar rewards (<1%). For individuals looking for pure cash rewards, we recommend going with either the Sallie Mae Mastercard, or the Discover it® for Students.
Features we like about the Citi ThankYou Preferred Card for College Students:
- Offers a fair welcome bonus of 2,500 ThankYou points
- Up to a 2% rewards rate when ThankYou points are redeemed for travel and gift cards
- Citi Services, which provide perks and useful payment management options
Where we think this card falls short:
- Rewards only valuable when redeemed for travel or gift cards through the ThankYou network
We rank the Citi ThankYou Preferred Card for College Students as one of the best student cards available, due to the high rewards it offers on entertainment and restaurant spending. These are two great categories for bonuses that undergrads will be able to use outside of their daily academic lives. While most credit cards in this category offer cash back rewards, the ThankYou Preferred for College Students breaks the trend by earning cardholders rewards points, which can be redeemed on anything from cash back to airline tickets.
While the card has a wide array of redemption options, we think very few of them are worthwhile. Only gift cards and airline ticket redemptions result in rewards rates above 1%. If you're a college student who wants to use the Citi ThankYou Preferred Card as a cash back credit card, we don't advise it (you have better options available). You would receive half the value you could get out of the card if using the rewards on airline tickets, for example.
There is a decent welcome bonus available to those who sign up for the Citi ThankYou Preferred Card for College Students. Users can earn 2,500 bonus ThankYou points if they spend $500 in the first 3 months of receiving their card – that’s a $25 value. While it’s nothing too crazy when compared to the best credit card bonuses, as far as student cards are concerned, this is well above average.
Cardmembers are also afforded access to certain ‘Citi Services’, which we count among the best features for any student credit card to have. These range from being able to buy tickets to sold-out shows, to being able to set your own payment due date. This last feature can potentially be of high value, since as a student you may be faced with a tighter budget certain days of the month. Setting your payment due date during a time you know you’ll have the money to pay for it can help you avoid late fees.
We like that the ThankYou Preferred credit card from Citi nicely complements life at college or university. We'll talk about how the rewards can match up with students' natural spending, how much they're worth, and other perks below.
|Annual Fee||No Annual Fee|
|Purchase APR||13.99%, 18.99% or 23.99% Variable|
ThankYou Points for College Students
How do students earn points with the ThankYou Preferred credit card from Citi? Undergraduates earn 2 ThankYou points per $1 on entertainment and at restaurants. They're useful for college students, since discretionary spending will likely fall into one of these two buckets. All other spending earns you just 1 point per $1. These points can later be redeemed for a variety of rewards including cash back, gift cards, flights, Amazon purchases, and more. As mentioned above, this is one of the only college credit cards to offer this kind of point system.
What qualifies in the “entertainment” category of spending? Entertainment is a broad term that encompasses many different merchants and retailers. Citi offers the following list of merchants they consider to fit the bill: live performences, sports promoters (such as sports stadiums), movie theaters, amusement parks, tourist attractions and museums, record stores, and video rental stores. Avid gamers will like that GameStop is classified as a “Video Amusement Game Supplies” merchant, meaning purchases there fall under the 2x point category as well. You get 2x the ThankYou points on this, regardless of whether its procrastinating from class work, or a treat and study break.
Welcome bonus: If you manage to spend $500 within the first 3 months of your account going live, you will also earn an additional 2,500 ThankYou points.If you redeem this bonus at a value of $0.01 per ThankYou point, it has the potential to be worth $25. For example, you could use this bonus to earn a $25 Best Buy gift card.
How much are ThankYou points worth? This depends highly on the way in which you choose to use your points. When used for cash back you need 10,000 ThankYou points to receive $50 in credit. This puts the value of a single point at $50 / 10,000 = $0.005. Since you earn between 1 – 2 ThankYou points per $1, this puts your rewards rate at 0.5% to 1%, which is low compared to some other cards.
To optimize the value you get out of spending, we advise you redeem ThankYou points where you are not getting less than $0.01 per point. You can get that kind of value when redeeming points for gift cards or flights. This way your rewards rate is boosted up to be between 1% and 2% - a much more competitive rate.
A full list of redemption options and their value can be found in the table below.
|Usage||Example||Value Per Point|
|Cash Back||$50 Cash Back: 10,000 points||.5 cents|
|Gift Cards||$25 Best Buy Gift Card: 2,500 points||1 cent|
|Redeem For Flights*||$450 fare: 45,000 points*||1 cent|
|Shopping||$829 Apple iPad Mini: 100,000 points||.83 cents|
|Statement Credit||$10 Statement Credit: 2,000 points||.5 cents|
|Select And Credit||$150 Credit: 20,000 points||.75 cents|
|Amazon||$80 purchase: 10,000 points||0.8 cents|
Citi® Private Pass®: Your Citi ThankYou Preferred Card for College Students gives you the ability to purchase tickets to concerts, sporting events and more - even when they're sold out to the general public. We see this benefit as being most useful to college-aged consumers, especially when it comes to getting access to shows which are hard to score tickets for. For example, Lollapalooza tickets tend to get sold out quickly. As a matter of fact, as of writing this review, all 3-day passes are sold out for this year’s show. However, Citi ThankYou Preferred Student card holders can still buy tickets via the Citi Private Pass website, which is a fantastic privileged access.
Personal Concierge Service: If you like you travel, Citi has you covered with complimentary concierge service. By calling up the service, cardholders can be given information about local hotels, restaurants, entertainment and more. While a nice feature to have, we recommend against putting too much weight towards it. These services are becoming less and less useful with smartphones being able to pull-up all sorts of information on-the-go.
Choose your payment due date: Since, as a college student, you may experience varying cash flow levels, being able to choose when in the month your bill is due can be a huge money saver – late payments can run up to $35. With this feature, you are able to select a date most convenient to you to pay your bill.
Intro APR: While not actually a standard Citi Service perk, we've included here to show some of the other benefits you get. The ThankYou Preferred card also offers students a 0% introductory APR for the first 7 billing cycles. If the ThankYou Preferred Card for College Students is your first credit card, you may have difficulty managing the new extended budget you’re working with – leading to not being able to fully pay off your bill on some ocassions. If that’s the case, these first 7 months will let you get settled in while not paying interest on any balances you carry. Though once the introductory period ends, your APR will jump up to somewhere between 14.24% and 24.24% - at this point we recommend cardholders to always pay off their balances to avoid needless interest fees.
Citi® Price Rewind: If you are someone who worries about items you buy going on sale the minute you buy them, Citi Price Rewind helps protect you from that. If an item you buy with the Citi ThankYou Preferred Card for College Students is found on a retailer’s website at a cheaper price within 60 days of purchase, you will be refunded the difference up to $300. This bonus has a maximum payout of $1,200 per year – though we doubt anyone will be unlucky enough to miss that much in discounts within the span of a year.
Citi offers two more purchase protection options worth noting. Cardholders get a 1 year warranty extension on any item with a warranty of 5 years or less. For this benefit, Citi will cover items under warranty for up to $10,000 per year. Additionally, eligible purchases will be covered for 120 days for up to $1,000 per item (capped at $50,000 per year). This benefit covers items that are accidentally damaged or stolen. Note that students residing in New York will only be covered for 90 days.
In order to get a good sense of a card’s worth, you must first understand what other credit card options exist for students. Luckily, there are a lot of different options out there, which allows the consumer to comparatively shop and select a credit card that best fits their spending needs.
Discover it® for Students offers users 5% back on purchases that fall within certain bonus categories that rotate throughout the year, up to a quarterly maximum, and 1% back on everything else. The 1% back is a pretty poor reward, and the Citi ThankYou Preferred Card for College Students will generally offer better value than that when spending on restaurants and entertainment. Since the Discover it® for Students best value lies with the 5% back categories, you should study the calendar to see if your spending matches up with these optimal cash back rewards. If a significant chunk of your spending has the ability to fall into the card's calendar, we recommend it over the Citi ThankYou Preferred Card for College Students. Of course, if your college is located in a smaller town setting or rural area, not many stores around you may accept Discover credit cards.
Consumers should also prefer the Discover it® for Students card if they want their spending rewards to be straight cash back. The Citi ThankYou Preferred Card for College Students offers optimal rewards when used towards travel and gift cards. When used for cash back, you will only be getting a rewards rate between 0.5% and 1%.
One upside to the ThankYou Preferred Card for College Students is in its 2,500 point bonus. There is no welcome bonus to speak off on the Discover it® for Students card, making the Citi card a much better short-term investment. Instead of a welcome bonus, however, Discover offers other perks. At the end of the first year, Discover it® for Students cardholders will get all of their cash back rewards doubled. Additionally, students who have a GPA of 3.0 or higher in a school year will receive an extra $20 in cash back (for up to 5 years).
The BankAmericard for Students is not a rewards card. That means any spending you do with it will not earn you any additional value. This credit card is meant for students who simply need a line of credit extended to them, at the lowest possible APR. If you’re interested in getting the most value out of your purchases, then there is no doubt that the Citi ThankYou Preferred Card for College Students is the better deal, thanks to the travel rewards you can earn.
As always, we recommend against getting a credit card if you’re going to be paying interest on your purchases. By paying extra interest, you are devaluing your purchases. Having said that, the BankAmericard Credit Card for Students does offer 0% APR for 15 billing cycles – that’s more than twice as long as that of the Citi ThankYou Preferred Card for College Students. If you are in a bind, and need to make a purchase that you know will take some time to pay off, then the BankAmericard for students is the way to go.
The U.S. Bank College Visa credit card is another non-rewards card. It is as plain as credit cards get, as a matter of fact – offering nothing more than a simple line of credit. The U.S. Bank College Visa card has no 0% introductory APR period to speak off, and it earns users no rewards from spending. We recommend applying for the Citi ThankYou Preferred Card for College Students over the U.S. Bank Visa Card any day of the week!
The only reason you might go with the U.S. Bank College Visa card over the Citi college credit card is if you’re having difficulty getting approved for other cards. Rewards cards are generally harder to get approved for (though most college credit card issuers assume applicants will have 0 credit history). Still, if for some reason you are getting rejected from applications, and are in need of credit we recommend trying to apply for either the Bank Americard for Students or the U.S. Bank College Visa card – in that order.
The Journey® Student Rewards from Capital One® from Capital One is one of the best credit cards available to college students. It offers a flat 1% cash back rate on all purchases – plus, there is a 25% bonus on the cash back you earn each month, if you pay your credit card bill on time. By doing so, your effective cash back rewards rate, with the bonus, is 1.25% - on top of this, your credit score will improve by not being late on payments.
As long as at least 25% of your spending falls into entertainment and dining, then the Citi ThankYou Preferred Card for College Students yields higher value. Otherwise, the flat 1% rate on all purchases of the Journey® Student Rewards from Capital One®, when coupled with the potential 25% bonus, is the better deal.
If you travel abroad at least once a year, and find yourself want to use your credit card while there, the Journey® Student Rewards from Capital One® is a great choice due to it having no additional costs for transactions in a foreign currency. With the Citi ThankYou Preferred Card for College Students you’ll pay an additional 3% foreign transaction fee whenever using your credit card outside of the United States.
The Journey® Student Rewards from Capital One® has a higher purchase APR (20.49% variable), whereas with the Citi college credit card you can get an APR as low as 14.24% if your credit score is good enough. This shouldn't factor too heavily into your decision, unless you know you will be unable to completely pay off your balance during certain months out of the year.
One final feature worth talking about, is the Journey’s CreditWise®. As with all Capital One credit cards, customers are able to check their credit score any time online, or view it on their monthly bills. This can be a great tool in building out your credit score as you’re able to see how certain purchases or financial actions affect it.
The Sallie Mae MasterCard is a cash back credit card offering anywhere between 1% and 5% back on purchases. With it you can earn 5% back on purchases at grocery stores and gas stations (up to $25 in savings each month), on book and physical Amazon.com purchases (up to $37.50 in savings each month), and 1% back on everything else (unlimited).
If you want to save more money on books than your dining and entertainment purchases, we recommend going with the Sallie Mae MasterCard. One of the biggest expenses facing college students is the cost of textbooks, and this card offers a great way to save on just that. Unfortunately there are caps on the savings, and a cap of $750 per month may not always cover the cost of all textbooks (depending on how expensive they get).
Since both credit cards come with no annual fee, we recommend trying to get approved for both the Sallie Mae MasterCard and the Citi ThankYou Preferred Card for College Students. You can use your Sallie Mae MasterCard on all the shopping categories it earns you 5% on, and the Citi card on everything else. The two categories don’t overlap, so you will not be missing out on any savings by using both cards.
The bonuses on both credit cards are comparable, though the Sallie Mae MasterCard bonus is much easier to get. You just need to use your card once and you get $25 in cash back statement credit. The bonus on the Citi ThankYou Preferred card has the same value if used correctly – 2,500 ThankYou points are worth $25 when redeemed at a rate of $0.01 per point.
We recommend the Citi ThankYou Preferred Credit Card to any student whose spending falls heavily into entertainment and dining categories. The card comes with no annual fee, and provides a decent overall value. The services offered by Citi also provide added incentive to sign up, if you are interested in attending shows and concerts that may otherwise be difficult to get into. In order to get the best value out of this card, you must be willing to redeem your ThankYou points on travel or gift cards. Otherwise, the value of ThankYou points earned tanks this card’s reward rate below 1%.
How do I apply? You can apply online by clicking here, or by calling 1-866-940-3276.
How do I know a merchant is considered 'entertainment'? If you are left in an ambiguous spot, you can always double check online. Look of a retailer's merchant code using this website. Then, you can look-up the merchant code here, to see its classification.
Comments and Questions
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How We Calculate Rewards: ValuePenguin calculates the value of rewards by estimating the dollar value of any points, miles or bonuses earned using the card less any associated annual fees. These estimates here are ValuePenguin's alone, not those of the card issuer, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the credit card issuer.