Citi says 'ThankYou,' but does it mean it?

Highway sign with the words Rewards-Next Exit

Citigroup has introduced four new ThankYou cards to its credit lineup, offering users some enticing new travel perks like 15% off airline tickets and free access to airport VIP lounges.

Citi says the new cards provide better "flexibility, control and convenience, and more opportunities to earn points faster and in more meaningful ways."

Of course, "faster and more meaningful" is relative. The points awarded per dollar spent are lower than on some cards Citibank plans to discontinue.

And while premium perks like free airport lounge access would be meaningful to just about anyone enduring air travel these days, is it meaningful enough to cough up the required $500 a year in annual fees?

Here's a closer look at Citi's four new card offerings, which will replace some existing rewards cards, including Simplicity Rewards and PremierPass:

ThankYou and ThankYou Preferred Cards

The basics: 0% APR for the first 12 months. After that, 12.99%-20.99% APR for the Preferred Card, based on applicant's creditworthiness, or 20.99% APR for the ThankYou Card. 0% introductory APR on balance transfers made in the first four months. No annual fees.

The perks: Users get one ThankYou point for every dollar spent.

In addition, cardholders earn anniversary bonus points that increase each year: 1% of purchase points the first year, 2% the second year and 3% each year beyond that. Points are unlimited and don't expire as long as you use the card once a year, which is a good thing, considering an 8GB iPod Nano will set you back 24,000 points, a device that retails for $149.

Cardholders who see a lot of concerts, love eating out or want to feel like an insider at upscale shops may find some utility in CitiPrivatepass Citi's concierge service, which is available to users of each of the four ThankYou cards.

The verdict: If you want to avoid annual fees, are looking to transfer balances from higher APR cards and can pay off the balance over the coming year, this is a card to consider.

Premier Card

The basics: 13.99%-21.99% APR, based on applicant's creditworthiness. Annual fees: $125 for each primary card member and $50 for each authorized user. Fees waived for the first 12 months.

The perks: Cardholders receive one ThankYou point for every dollar spent or 1.2 points for each dollar spent at supermarkets, gas stations, drugstores or on parking or mass transit.

Though 1.2 points on necessities is a better deal than you get on the introductory cards, it's less than some cardholders were reportedly earning on recently discontinued Citi cards. Bonus anniversary points start at 1% of purchases the first year and rise to 5% of purchases a year in the fifth year of membership.

With the higher annual fee comes more travel perks.

Cardholders get a free domestic companion ticket each year when booking through Spirit Incentives, Citi's travel provider. And, if you use your card to book flights through Spirit, you also receive 15% savings on airfare.

The card also covers $3,000 in lost luggage, $1,500 in trip cancellation or interruption and waives foreign transaction fees on overseas purchases, as well as providing coverage on rental cars.

Cardholders get one "flight point" for each mile they fly with tickets purchased on the card and still earn frequent flier points from the carrier. Flight points can be used alone or in combination with ThankYou points to book travel rewards.

The catch? It's a big one: Flight points aren't transferred to your account unless you've already earned an equal number of ThankYou points from purchases. So to redeem 10,000 flight points, for instance, you'd have to charge $10,000 on the card.

The verdict: If you fly frequently and are not loyal to one airline, this card can help you amass points across a number of carriers and redeem points on any airline. But if you already have a fee-free card that allows you to amass points on an airline you frequently use, paying for another might not make sense.

Prestige Card

The basics: 15.24% APR. Annual fees of $500 for each primary card member and $175 for each authorized user.

The perks: Cardholders receive one ThankYou point for every dollar spent or 1.3 points for each dollar spent at supermarkets, gas stations, drugstores or on parking or mass transit. Other perks are identical to the Premier Card, although the free companion ticket for Prestige covers international flights as well.

The real blue-chip reward here is the card's Priority Pass program, which offers cardholders access to 600 VIP airport lounges worldwide (70 in the U.S.), with complimentary access for two guests. The card also provides automatic gold status in the Hilton HHonors program, with benefits like free automatic room upgrades and free Wi-Fi at Hilton Hotels.

The verdict: If you spend a good deal of your work week in a teeming airport terminal, desperately wishing for the calm pampering found only in business- and first-class lounges, this may be the card for you.

Is the $500 annual fee worth it? Anyone can join Priority Pass via its website, but the Prestige Membership package will set you back $399 a year for unlimited lounge use, plus an additional $27 for each guest you gallantly rescue from airport chaos.

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