Review: Citi ULTIMA credit card

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Citi's top-of-the-line card claims to be "A Club of One", but can cardholders really get their money's worth?

The Citi ULTIMA is part of the “elite four” segment in Singapore, a group of ultra-premium, invite-only credit cards. Membership usually requires an annual income of at least S$500K, extremely high levels of spending, four-digit annual fees, and initiation rites that would put the Illuminati to shame.

Suffice to say, you won’t see these offered at a roadshow near you anytime soon.

I last reviewed the Citi ULTIMA in 2018, and figured it was time for an updated look at the benefits of this card. Has the value proposition changed, and is it worth the hefty price of admission?

tl;dr
The Citi ULTIMA is a good choice if you regularly buy First/Business Class tickets or book luxury hotels. However, you can’t help but feel you could get better benefits on cheaper cards
The good The bad
  • Buy-one-get-one hotel nights
  • Up to three Priority Pass memberships
  • Companion airfare program
  • No charge for supplementary cards
  • Very restrictive limo benefit
  • Lackluster dining benefits
  • No guest benefits for lounge
  • Mediocre overseas earn rate
As with every super premium card, there are bound to be some unpublished and ad-hoc benefits. If you’re familiar with these, do share them in the comments below.

How do you qualify for a Citi ULTIMA?

The Citi ULTIMA’s website proudly proclaims it to be a “Club of One”, an exclusive offering only for the creamy-de-lah-creamy of society.

In more concrete terms, qualification requires you to:

  1. Earn a minimum annual income of S$500,000 or
  2. Have a minimum of S$2M AUM with Citibank and spend at least S$20,000 a month for the past 3 months on any credit card

These are just general guidelines, and I imagine there’s flexibility to consider other high-profile individuals, like captains of industry, politicians, or that guy who survived a day-trip to Yishun

Citi ULTIMA Basics

Income Req. Annual Fee Miles from Annual Fee FCY Transaction Fee
S$500,000 S$4,160
150,000 3.25%
Local Earn FCY Earn Special Earn Points Validity
1.6 mpd 2.0  mpd N/A No expiry

Assuming you can get a foot in the door, you’ll pay a non-waivable annual fee of S$4,160 for the privilege of holding a Citi ULTIMA. As per the cardmember’s agreement, supplementary cards are free of charge. It’s not specified exactly how many, but based on what I hear you’ll get at least two.

ULTIMA cardholders receive 375,000 ThankYou points (150,000 miles) for paying the annual fee each year. This makes the Citi ULTIMA’s miles:annual fee ratio the most favorable among the S$500K segment.

Card Annual Fee Miles CPM
Citi ULTIMA S$4,160 150,000 2.77
DBS Insignia S$3,210 100,000 3.21 
UOB Reserve S$3,852 100,000 3.85 
AMEX Centurion S$7,490 N/A N/A

The ULTIMA earns 1.6/2.0 mpd on local/overseas spend. The local earn rate is the highest in the market, but the overseas earn rate lags behind many other cards. You could do better with the OCBC 90N (2.1 mpd), OCBC VOYAGE (2.3 mpd), UOB PRVI Miles/Reserve (2.4 mpd) and the BOC Elite Miles (3.0 mpd), for example.

Points earned on the Citi ULTIMA card do not expire, and all conversion fees are waived. Citibank has the widest variety of transfer partners in Singapore, and Citi ThankYou points can be transferred to 11 different frequent flyer programs and 1 hotel partner at a 5:2 ratio.

  Transfer Ratio
(Points: Miles)
5:2
5:2
5:2
5:2
5:2
5:2
5:2
5:2
5:2
5:2
5:2
5:2

The wide variety of transfer partners allows you to access great sweet spots, like Turkish Airlines to Europe, British Airways short-haul awards, and Etihad Guest’s harem of partner airlines.

However, do remember that Citibank does not pool points, so you’ll still need to pay separate transfer fees if you own any other Citi credit cards.

Buy miles at 1.25 cents each

Citi ULTIMA cardholders can buy miles at just 1.25 cents each when they use Citi PayAll, thanks to the 2% admin fee and a 1.6 mpd earn rate.

As far as buying miles goes, this is one of the cheapest rates you can find in Singapore. The catch is that you need to have a bona fide payment to make- this isn’t like the UOB Reserve’s “no questions asked” facility, which admittedly costs significantly more at 1.9 cents per mile.

As of today, you can pay rent, education expenses, taxes, condo management fees and electricity bills via Citi PayAll. Unfortunately, insurance payments are currently not available.

Three Unlimited Priority Pass cards

Priority Pass Lounge Jakarta

Principal ULTIMA and the first two supplementary cardholders each receive an unlimited-visit Priority Pass. However, this does not cover guests, who will be charged at the usual US$32 rate.

As an interesting counterpoint, the Citi Prestige only grants the principal cardholder an unlimited visit Priority Pass, but it comes with an additional guest free of charge. This means there’s more flexibility with the Citi Prestige as your traveling partner can change each time, and you’ll still be able to guest him/her in. With the Citi ULTIMA, the only way to bring a “guest” is to give that guest a supplementary card- feasible for a spouse, not so much for a colleague.

That said, the Citi ULTIMA is well ahead of the UOB Reserve and DBS Insignia, which only offer lounge access to the principal cardholder.

Complimentary airport limo transfers and fast track

Disembodied hand opening a door

ULTIMA cardholders who purchase a Business or First Class ticket using their card will be entitled to a complimentary one-way airport limo transfer, and fast track immigration services where available.

Country Airport Service Available
Airport Meet & Assist Fast Track
Australia Sydney Kingsford-Smith Airport  
  Brisbane Airport  
  Melbourne Tullamarine Airport  
  Perth Airport  
Cambodia Phnom Penh Airport
China Beijing Capital International Airport ✔(airside)  
  Guangzhou Baiyun International Airport ✔(airside)  
  Hangzhou Xiaoshan International Airport ✔(airside)  
  Shanghai Pudong International Airport ✔(airside)  
  Shanghai Hongqiao International Airport ✔(airside)  
India Bangalore Kempegowda International Airport ✔(airside)  
  Mumbai Chatrapati Shivaji International Airport ✔(airside)  
  Delhi Indira Gandhi International Airport ✔(airside)  
Indonesia Jakarta Soekarno-Hatta International Airport
  Denpasar Bali Ngurah Rai International Airport
Hong Kong Hong Kong Chek Lap Kok Airport ✔(airside)  
Japan Osaka Kansai International Airport ✔(landside)  
  Tokyo Narita Airport ✔(landside)  
  Tokyo Haneda Airport ✔(landside)  
Korea Seoul Gimpo International Airport ✔(airside)  
  Seoul Incheon International Airport ✔(airside)  
Macau Macau International Airport
Malaysia Kuala Lumpur International Airport
New Zealand Auckland Airport ✔(airside)  
Singapore Singapore Changi Airport ✔(airside)  
Thailand Bangkok Suvarnabhumi Airport ✔(expedited for Economy Class) ✔(only for Business and First Class)
  Phuket International Airport
Vietnam Hanoi Noi Bai International Airport
  Ho Chi Minh City Tan Son Nhat International Airport

This benefit can be used on either the outbound or return leg, with no cap on the maximum usage. However, the benefit only applies when you travel on a full-service carrier; budget carriers are ineligible.

You also won’t be eligible for this benefit when you redeem a First or Business Class ticket with your miles, even if you pay for the taxes and surcharges with your ULTIMA card.

It surprises me that the airport limo benefits offered on these supposedly elite cards are substantially weaker than what you’d find on cheaper ones. The OCBC VOYAGE (S$120K income req.), for example, offers up to 24 complimentary airport transfers per year, each with a minimum spend of S$3,000 per month. Similarly, the UOB PRVI Miles (S$30K income req.) gives you two free rides with a minimum of S$1,000 overseas spend in a quarter.

So it seems awfully restrictive that Citi ULTIMA cardholders must buy a First or Business Class ticket to enjoy a free airport limo transfer. At least the UOB Reserve allows cardmembers to redeem a ride with at least S$2,000 spent on hotels or airlines in any cabin (although to be fair that’s capped at a measly four times per year). The DBS Insignia does not offer any airport limo benefit that I’m aware of, but if you get the card by virtue of being an Treasures Private Client then you enjoy unlimited airport transfers anyway.

Book one hotel night, get one night free

Four Seasons Hotel Singapore

Citi ULTIMA cardholders will receive one free night with a minimum of two nights booked at hotels participating in the Visa Infinite Luxury Hotel Collection.

This benefit cannot be utilised in Singapore, and bookings must be made between 72 hours and 6 months prior to your stay. The cost of the complimentary night will be computed as the average nightly rate for the entire stay, so if one night costs S$300 and the other S$500, you’ll get a S$400 rebate. You’ll still be responsible for taxes and surcharges on the “free” night.

Cardholders get a maximum of two complimentary nights per outward bound trip from Singapore. It’s unclear to me how they’re defining outward bound trip though, especially when they don’t have access to your flight itinerary.

Citi has slightly devalued this benefit since the last review I wrote. Before May 2019, cancellations or amendments could be made up to 72 hours before arrival. From May 2019, cancellations or amendments must be made at least 7 days before arrival.

That said, it’s still better than what the UOB Reserve offers. UOB Reserve cardholders get 2 free nights when they book 2 nights through the Inspired Lifestyles portal, but rates here are strictly non-changeable and non-refundable, and tend to be more expensive than competing OTAs.

Companion airfare program

British Airways New Business Class

Citi ULTIMA cardholders receive a complimentary companion ticket when they purchase a full fare First or Business Class ticket on the following eight carriers:

  • American Airlines
  • British Airways
  • Delta
  • Etihad Airways
  • Japan Airlines
  • Lufthansa
  • Qantas
  • Qatar Airways

On the surface, it sounds great: a 50% discount!

The problem is, your paid ticket is charged based on the highest fare class (whereas the free ticket is based on the lowest fare class), and you’re still on the hook for taxes and surcharges. Here’s an illustration of how the benefit works:

Singapore to New York (Business Class Return) ULTIMA Main Cardholder Your Travel Companion Final Cost
Airfare S$9,800 S$0 S$9,800
Tax & Airline Surcharge S$1,579 S$1,579 S$3,158
Ticket Issuance Fee* S$80 S$80 S$160
Price S$11,459 S$1,659 S$13,118
*This fee is charged as US$60

The fact that you can’t book discounted premium cabin fares means your actual savings will be more in the region of 20-30%. You’ll save less when you fly on airlines that build a larger amount of the total cost into fuel surcharges, or when you fly from airports with high taxes (eg London).

One stop-over is allowed in the itinerary, and all flights must start and end in Singapore. Travel dates must be between 72 hours to 6 months from booking.

In addition to the companion airfare discount, single travelers will get 10-15% off flights with the same eight carriers. Fortunately, this is based on the best available fare, so you may realise some better savings here.

Complimentary APEC Business Travel Card

Image result for apec business travel card

Note: As per the T&C, the APEC application fee rebate is only for applications submitted in 2017. However, the benefit still appears on the card’s landing page, so one of the two is out of date. 

The APEC Business Travel Card can be an absolute lifesaver when travelling, and if you’re eligible, you owe it to yourself to get one. Cardholders can use fast-track immigration queues in Australia, Brunei, Chile, China, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Japan, South Korea, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Peru, Philippines, Russia, Singapore, Taiwan, Thailand, Vietnam, USA, and Canada.

The card has an application fee of S$100, which Citi will refund…provided you spend at least S$200,000 on the ULTIMA in the 12 months prior.

Yes, that’s right. To get a S$100 statement credit, you need to spend S$200,000. Given that members are forking over S$4,160 for the annual fee, this seems needlessly stingy.

Dining benefits

Esquina

The ULTIMA doesn’t come with any dining vouchers or memberships, but cardmembers can expect discounts or special privileges at the following restaurants:

  • Esquina (8-course tasting menu at S$168++)
  • Restaurant Jag (10% off + complimentary glass of champagne)
  • Origin Grill and Bar (15-20% off)
  • NAMI Restaurant & Bar (15-20% off)
  • Shang Palace (15-20% off)
  • Shophouse by Shangri-La (15-20% off)
  • The Line (15-20% off)
  • The Lobby Lounge (15-20% off)
  • The Rose Veranda (15-20% off)
  • Waterfall Ristorante Italiano (15-20% off)
  • SKIRT (25% off + one bottle of wine per 4 guests)
  • the kitchen table (25% off + one bottle of wine per 4 guests)
  • WOOBAR (50% off on house pours)
  • Chihuly Lounge & Colony at The Ritz-Carlton Millenia (15% off)
  • Zafferano Italian Restaurant & Lounge (15% off)

It’s nowhere near as impressive as the Love Dining program that American Express cardholders can take advantage of, and it’s decidedly underwhelming for a card of this caliber.

Miscellaneous benefits

Mission Hills Shenzhen

Citi ULTIMA cardholders enjoy complimentary green fees at 280 participating golf clubs worldwide. This is capped at a maximum of 3 times per year.

They’ll also receive a 1-year complimentary subscription to Robb Report, The Peak, ICON and Harper’s Bazaar.

How does the Citi ULTIMA compare to other S$500K cards?

The Citi ULTIMA is certainly a more compelling offering than the UOB Reserve. The UOB Reserve may be cheaper, but it also has 50,000 fewer miles, only one Priority Pass, charges for supplementary cards, and a much more restrictive complimentary hotel nights offer.

However, I’d think the DBS Insignia would give the ULTIMA a close fight. The Insignia is almost S$1,000 cheaper (albeit with 50,000 fewer miles), and comes with two free luxury hotel nights a year, private club access and a Club at the Hyatt membership. We’ll take a closer look at this when I update the Insignia’s review (the old one is from 2016!).

Needless to say, the AMEX Centurion’s benefits wipe the competition off the map- but it’s always difficult to bring this in as a comparison, given the much higher annual fee of S$7,490 (plus a first year initiation fee of a further S$7,490).

Conclusion

There could be people who derive a lot of value from the Citi ULTIMA, but it requires a very specific pattern of travel- specifically, that you regularly book revenue hotel rooms at luxury properties, and buy First/Business Class tickets. Needless to say, that goes against the travel hacking philosophy but then again, this card wasn’t created with that audience in mind.

I do feel that for the amount you’re paying, you’d be right to expect better limo, lounge and dining benefits. It feels like the AMEX Platinum Charge would be a much better deal in that respect, with the Love Dining program and unlimited lounge access for principal & supplementary cardholders.

So if I personally was somehow offered a Citi ULTIMA, I most probably wouldn’t take it up. It’s not a card that compliments the miles and points strategy very well, and the benefits don’t justify the cost in my opinion .

Aaron Wong
Aaron founded The Milelion with the intention of helping people travel better for less and impressing chiobu. He was 50% successful.

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Depends on Usage

Nice review. If we value miles at 1.8 cents each then that’s $2700 down leaving $1460. The hotel benefit is up to 2 nights so I usually get 4 nights for about the price of 2.4 which is about right for a short trip. Staying at the Mandarin Oriental in Tokyo or the Peninsula in Hong Kong or the Four Seasons in Paris or the Bulgari in Milan usually pays for the $1460 in one trip – I typically get upgraded to a suite on these stays with the usual Amex-type benefits such as property credit breakfast etc. I use… Read more »

Depends on Usage

I agree with you. And I think it is reasonable to say that the majority of cardholders in this category (a level or two below owning jets and holiday villas) will value choice and convenience, then savings if possible. Miles wouldn’t be the goal but rather the side-perk for having these cards. For many in this bracket, time is probably worth more than money (not just in terms of earning power per hour but also how much time an older person has remaining……. yes morbid I know but something the 1% consider important when they hit their 50’s and the… Read more »

Happy Camper

Super well stated… All banks/ cards should be looked at as a ‘tool shed’ and there’s no such thing as one Swiss Army Knife that does it all.. Not everyone can make use of it, but if you can, Amex’s EXTRA Partners are unrivaled for 7.8mpd up to $16k p.a. and thereafter 3.9mpd to no limit.. And as you’ve pointed out.. either UOB Reserve or Citi Ultima or DBS Insignia.. depending on how much credit limit they give (no one knows how individual banks work this out), even for these ‘ultra’ cards, can be as low as under100k to.. well..… Read more »

Depends on Usage

Oops sorry double post by mistake….. I agree with you. And I think it is reasonable to say that the majority of cardholders in this category (a level or two below owning jets and holiday villas) will value choice and convenience, then savings if possible. Miles wouldn’t be the goal but rather the side-perk for having these cards. For many in this bracket, time is probably worth more than money (not just in terms of earning power per hour but also how much time an older person has remaining……. yes morbid I know but something the 1% consider important when… Read more »

CK KHOO

I have both the Ultima and Amex and I use them to great effect. I charge my workplace rent and personal Income Tax to CitiPayall and that gives me lots of Thank You points that can be converted to miles (5:2 ratio). Redeem Business tickets for travel on almost all airlines ( Citibank ), then use the Buy 1, get 1 night free for the hotel stay ( unfortunately, they usually don’t upgrade the room, and so the Amex hotel privileges of Hilton and Shang may help ). Apply for APEC card as a Singaporean and you will breeze thru… Read more »

Nice

Looks like you’re getting value on the Ultima with workplace rent. Wish I had something like that to charge too. I prefer SCB IRAS instead for the GIRO and better mpd but that’s another annual fee (balanced by GIRO savings). Totally agree on the hotel bonus and the APEC card though. Got upgraded a few times (once double upgrade to corner suite during sakura season) so I think it just depends on the room situation and asking at check-in. Better deal than FHR IMHO. Also totally agree on the Amex 50% on dining. Centurion’s better on hard to book places… Read more »

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