Citi Extra Cash offers some deals, some duds

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If you’re a Citibank credit card holder, you might have received a promotional mailing recently announcing that you have been awarded $100 in Citi Extra Cash.

Your first thought might have been, "Great! An extra $100 in cash back and I didn’t even have to do anything to earn it! What a nice surprise!"

Not exactly.

Citi Extra Cash is different from other credit card cash-back rewards. You can’t exchange your rewards for a check, a statement credit or a gift card.

Well, you can sort of exchange it for a gift card.

Here’s how the program works.

Think of Citi Extra Cash like a coupon. You earn these coupons based on the amount you charge to your credit card each month (10% of your monthly spending).

If you want to buy a $100 gift card to Bloomingdales, Sephora, Kohl’s, Macy’s, Zappos or a number of other stores, you can pay for part of your purchase with Extra Cash.

The program dictates how much Extra Cash you can use, depending on what you’re buying.

Gift cards for retail stores, restaurants and travel all offer what amounts to a 10% discount, meaning that you can get a $100 gift card for $90. You pay $10 with Extra Cash and the $90 balance with the Citi card that’s linked to your Extra Cash account.

The 10% discount is a decent deal if you were planning to shop at these stores anyway or if you like to give gift cards as presents.

This discount is, of course, no discount at all if you don't pay off your credit card in full each month.

Some deals offer more significant savings. You can save 28% to 35% off movie theater tickets at Edwards, Cinemark, United Artists, Loews, Regal and AMC theaters when you buy a movie theater gift card using Extra Cash. You could pay $68 for $105 worth of Edwards Theatres movie tickets, for instance.

If you buy a lot of movie tickets, Citi Extra Cash gives you a way to get significantly cheaper seats.

The shipping charges on the movie theater gift cards are a downer. It doesn’t cost more than the price of a postage stamp to mail a gift card, yet the shipping charge for a single movie theater gift card is $2.99. If you buy multiple movie theater gift cards in a single transaction, the $2.99 shipping charge is multiplied by the number of cards.

That being said, you’re still saving a lot of money, even after the excessive shipping fee, and the shipping charges on retail store gift cards are significantly lower at a reasonable 59 cents per card. To the program’s credit, the shipping charges are clearly stated when you look at your shopping cart.

You can also use Citi Extra Cash toward merchandise or travel, but because the prices for these items can vary significantly in the broader marketplace, it’s hard to tell if you’re getting a deal when you buy them through the Extra Cash program.