Citibank and Bank of America Merrill Lynch Make Earning No Interest Sexy, If You Also Hold Their Travel Credit Cards

Citibank and Bank of America Merrill Lynch Make Earning No Interest Sexy, If You Also Hold Their Travel Credit Cards

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In this low interest environment, the major money center banks have been offering next to nothing in interest for years. Citibank and Merrill now give you a reason to keep your cash with them.

It is tough to earn next to nothing in a savings account and be excited about it.  Provided you keep $100,000 in total assets with Merrill Lynch or $50,000 in cash with Citibank, you can now make up a lot of lost interest in the form of travel rewards by pairing your account with credit cards that extend certain benefits for preferred customers.

The Bank of America Travel Rewards card offers 1.50% cash back in the form of a direct credit on travel expenses for each dollar spent on the card.   While this offer does not compare favorably to other travel and rewards cards on its face (see the best cards for spend here), the cash back amount is augmented by 75% for those holding balances over $100,000 at Bank of America, Merrill Lynch or Merrill Edge accounts (whom the bank designates as Platinum Honors for credit card purposes).  The 75% augmentation takes the cash back percentage to 2.65%.  While BestCashCow’s own rankings indicate that other travel and rewards credit cards offer value on spend in excess of 3%, the 2.65% return on spend is well in excess of what is offered through any cash back program.  It is also highly desirable for those seeking maximum flexibility in how they redeem spending credits that they have earned through their credit cards as it does not require membership in an air miles or hotel point program, or trying to find those rewards through the program that maximize redemption value.   You’ll also get 10,000 points – worth $100 – just for signing up for the card.

While qualifying for Bank of America’s Platinum Honors status does not make sense if you are holding $100,000 in cash at virtually no interest, it can make a lot of sense to hold and use this card if you qualify through holding equities, debt instruments or other securities in a Merrill or Merrill Edge account.

Full details on the Bank of America program and what is required to qualify for Platinum Honors status are available here.

Citibank offers the Prestige Card that delivers 3 points for travel (including gas), 2x for restaurants and entertainment and 1x for everything else.  BestCashCow.com rates this card and the Citi ThankYou Premier card, its first year no fee sibling, as outstanding travel and rewards cards for recurring spend and for their 50,000 point sign up bonuses.   In particular, BestCashCow.com sees at least 3 cents per point in value on Singapore Airlines Krisflyer, but points can also be worth 1.6 cents each when redeemed against charges from American Airlines.

For a $450 annual fee, the Prestige Card offers an array of benefits including a $250 annual air travel credit (which over two years more than covers the fee), entry to American Admirals club, global entry reimbursement, a fourth night free on consecutive hotel stays and four rounds of golf that the regular ThankYou Premier Card does not offer (read more on the difference between the two cards here).  For those with CitiGold status (ordinarily $50,000 in account balances), the points earned through the Prestige Card are augmented by 15% so that travel earns 3.45 points, restaurants earn 2.30 points and everything else earns 1.15 points.  Moreover, the annual fee is reduced to $350 and the signup bonus increased to 60,000 points (although it should be noted many non-Citibank account holders have reported getting these benefits simply by applying for the card in a branch).  The reduced fee and the increase in points make an already outstanding travel and rewards card still better for Citigold members.

Full details on qualifying for CitiGold are available here.

The augmented credit card rewards that Bank of America and Citibank are offering to their cardholders who maintain qualifying accounts are interesting.  However, before account holders at these banks rush into these cards, it makes sense to run the numbers, comparing these cards with the rewards that you might accumulate through other credit cards.  If you are qualifying by holding cash, you should also factor in the loss of interest you would otherwise be earning.  Leading online banks pay over 1% more in interest in the savings accounts (see the best rates here). 

Compare travel and reward credit card sign up bonuses.

Image: Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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