From an Indian perspective, I’ve always maintained there are three cards that complete the holy troika: American Express Platinum Charge Card, Citi Prestige and HDFC Bank Infinia/Diners Club Black. They have all got their own benefits. Out of these, the oldest torchbearer has been Citi Prestige. I’ve held the card since before its official launch in India. Back in the day when Citi Prestige launched in 2014, the following benefits were offered:
- 10,000 airmiles per membership year
- INR 10,000 worth of hotel vouchers for Taj/ITC Hotels per membership year
- Up to 15% savings on F & J tickets with 7 participating airlines
- 4th night free at participating hotels
- Complimentary meet & assist service, and one-way limo transfers twice a year
- Unlimited Priority Pass
- Complimentary Golf
- Up to 20% off at select hotels in India & select spa
- Complimentary Taj Inner Circle Gold & Epicure Plus Plan
- Complimentary Etihad Guest Gold Membership & 5000 bonus miles, along with 6000 miles bonus on 20,000 miles conversion
- Complimentary Upgrade on BAEC Club Membership & 5000 bonus miles
- Complimentary Discover Sailing with Aquasail
- Complimentary Overseas Medical Insurance of USD 50000
- Relationship bonus for CitiGold & Citi Private Client
- Double Points on International Spend
The benefits have dwindled over the past five years and nothing has been added to replace those benefits. The first strike came in 2016, where the following benefits were taken away:
- Up to 15% savings on F&J tickets with 7 participating airlines
- Up to 20% off at Select Hotels in India
- Complimentary Etihad Guest Gold Membership & 5000 Bonus Miles, along with 6,000 miles bonus on 20,000 miles conversion.
- Complimentary Discover Sailing with Aquasail
Over the years, more benefits went away. For instance, Citi Prestige moved away from the top-shelf Ten Group concierge to another provider, removed Delta as a transfer partner, diluted the Fourth Night Free benefit by moving it from direct bookings to OTA bookings, and making it an average of four nights rather than 4th night itself. It seems after the original team that created the product moved out of Citibank India, the whole product seem to fell apart (some went to Amex no less!)
This year, Citibank has been slamming customers with changes left right and centre, and in no case have we seen this as beneficial for the consumer. Earlier on in the year, Citi Prestige relationship bonus of 30% bonus points was converted from a feature to a promotion. Subsequently, Citi has made changes to CitiGold methodology where people are no longer able to keep their Demat balances and Home loans as a part of the relationship. Not just that, Citi cutaway points for Insurance and Utilities. I have been surprised by the backlash on this last change, given I talk to people on a daily basis for their miles and points. No such hard feelings on the others except for Citi in their hearts for this change.
Citi Prestige Benefits being withdrawn in 2020
Having said that, Citi has now made the mother of all changes for 2019/2020 on the Prestige Cards, which will be valid from January 1, 2020. In the most amusing fashion, this was dropped overnight on Saturday morning, as if Citi never wanted their customers to find out about this change. The best part, the email said that these benefits have been revised to suit our needs:
- 4th night free at select hotels, only two times a year.
- Complimentary Airport Transfers & Meet & Assist withdrawn.
- Complimentary Green fees at select Golf Courses abroad withdrawn.
For context, Citibank had curtailed the 4th-night free benefit in the USA with effect from September 1, 2019, so it was only a matter of time that the 4th-night free benefit got curtailed in India as well. As a direct booker usually, I’ve only used the benefit once myself, and Shipra has used it once or twice as well. But I know of many members who would use this benefit a lot.
The Airport transfers & Meet & Assist benefit were one of my top-rated benefit for the card. I’ve used the Airport Transfers in Sydney, Hong Kong, Ho Chi Minh City, Tokyo, Melbourne, Delhi and Bangalore, and this was a great benefit to have. For context though, it was an expensive and good benefit from the customer perspective, and bad on the pockets of the Bank. Each car transfer in my case (outside India), would have usually run Citi into 10’s of thousands of rupees. I found the Meet & Assist useless mostly in India given they could not expedite much, so hardly ever used that benefit, but after getting the email, I booked it for the heck of it on an upcoming trip.
Citi Prestige also provided complimentary Golf Green fees at many golf courses around the Asia Pacific, for instance, the Sentosa Golf Club in Singapore, 3-4 Golf Courses in Malaysia and then some more. To many C-level folk and entrepreneurs, this was the reason they kept the card in the pocket. Citi had over the years built many safeguards around the feature, to ensure people used it fairly, such as no incessant bookings, and a minimum time of 7 days between two bookings. Also, Citi curtailed it to just three free rounds over the years.
Unfortunately, all of this is gone. The complimentary Golf in India continues, unlike how some people who don’t have the card have inferred this benefit on the internet. The common thread amongst the three benefits gone is that Citi used to use Visa to negotiate and offer these benefits to their members. So is it Citi killing these benefits or Visa stopping to offer them is something I don’t know.
Needless to say that this is not something Citi Prestige Cardholders such as me like as a benefit. Most of these thinning benefits are taking out the lifestyle out of the Lifestyle Credit Card that Citi launched globally with much fanfare 5 years ago, and just leaves it as a mile earning card. Citi badly needs to add benefits and the glamour back to the product otherwise it will never be able to compete with what I think is a revitalised Amex these days.
What do you make of the Citi Prestige Benefits changes coming on January 1, 2020? Would you keep or cancel the card after this move?