Well this is interesting.
Back in 2015, Citigroup and Mastercard signed a 10-year agreement under which Citi would progressively migrate the majority of its credit and debit cards to the Mastercard network. Co-brand and commercial cards, however, would continue to be issued across networks (i.e Visa and AMEX).
|The Citi Cash Back+ initially launched as a Visa card, but was quietly migrated to Mastercard just weeks after launch.
This leaves Citi’s three co-brand cards (Lazada, SMRT, M1) as the only Visas in the personal card portfolio:
Wait a minute…didn’t Citi just demarket the Citi Rewards Mastercard?
I find this development particularly interesting for the Citi Rewards card, because it wasn’t too long ago that Citi demarketed the Mastercard version.
In 2018, the Citi Rewards Mastercard disappeared from the Citibank website, but it was still possible to apply via the MGM portal. Then in 2019, the card disappeared from the MGM portal, but it was still possible to apply via an offline form. Last I heard, the form was no longer accepted, spelling the end of the product.
Normally, you’d be largely indifferent between the Visa or Mastercard versions of a given card. Both are widely accepted, and I can’t think of a merchant who accepts one but not the other.
However, there have been well-documented issues with the Citi Rewards Mastercard. Numerous Milelion readers have reported that online transactions which should earn 10X points (at least they do on the Visa version) don’t actually do so. Some community-sourced data points of unsuccessful 10X transactions on Citi Rewards Mastercard include (not an exhaustive list):
- Amazon SG
- Amazon Prime Now subscription
- Shopee Wallet
- Circles Life
- Guardian Online
- FairPrice ON
- PayPal (merchant accounts)
- Playstation Network
By right, these should all be earning 10X under the revised T&C of the Citi Rewards card. However, customers have had to call up Citibank and appeal for the points to be manually credited, creating a tracking headache. It doesn’t help that some Citi CSOs still haven’t gotten the message, insisting that 10X only applies to “bags, shoes and clothes”.
To be fair, this quirkiness sometimes worked out in your favor. There were instances where the Citi Rewards Mastercard would inexplicably award 19X points instead of 10X, on certain merchants which shall remain nameless.
On the whole however, the Citi Rewards Mastercard is way more problematic than its Visa twin, which means we’re now in a bit of a quandary.
What happens to existing Citi Rewards Visa cards?
|Update (31/3): Here’s an official statement from a Citibank Singapore spokesperson
“In 2015 Citi announced a global partnership with Mastercard to align the company’s consumer proprietary credit and debit portfolios to the Mastercard network. As Asia’s largest credit card issuer this partnership will support further leadership in driving payments innovation. We have been working closely with our clients to ensure this seamless transfer will further make payments simpler, easier and more secure. Our customers can continue to use their existing cards till expiry. Upon expiration, we will seek customers’ consent on converting to a Mastercard and transfer their remaining rewards points to the new card.”
There are two things that can happen here.
The first is that Citibank simply lets existing Citi Rewards Visa cards run their course, replacing them with Mastercards when they expire.
This would be the best outcome, insofar as customers don’t have to deal with the 10X issues on the Mastercard, and don’t need to change any of their existing GIRO/billing arrangements.
The second is that Citibank starts closing off all Citi Rewards Visa accounts in the weeks after 30 March, replacing them with Mastercards (in that case, all ThankYou points would presumably be transferred into the newly-opened Mastercard account).
This isn’t ideal, not just because of the 10X issues, but because we’d lose the ability to earn 4 mpd on GrabPay top-ups. Mastercard started processing GrabPay top-ups through MCC 6540 last year, which pretty much killed off all points earning opportunities (6540 designates a prepaid account). On the other hand, Visa cards can still earn points for GrabPay top-ups, because they’re processed under MCC 7399.
If past practice is any indicator, when Citi discontinued the PremierMiles AMEX in November 2019 they also closed off existing card accounts in the weeks that followed. That said, the PremierMiles AMEX was a very different product from the Visa version, in terms of earn rates, income requirement and annual fee. This may have boosted the case for terminating the remaining AMEX cards early, in order to harmonize the portfolio. Apart from the 10X issues, the Citi Rewards Visa and Mastercard are virtually identical, so perhaps that makes a difference?
What else is different between Visa and Mastercard?
While there shouldn’t be much difference between Visa and Mastercard in terms of acceptance, there are still a few points you should take note of.
By switching from Visa to Mastercard, cardholders lose access to the Visa Luxury Hotel Collection. Bookings made through this channel enjoy special benefits like a room upgrade, complimentary breakfast, late check-out, and a US$25 F&B credit.
Cardholders will also lose access to the Hilton Gold fast track offer for Visa Signature/Infinite cardholders, if/when it returns. The offer last expired on 31 Dec 2019, but it’s been renewed many times in the past. It’s not too much of a stretch to think that Hilton will run it again, when the Covid-19 madness dies down.
Visa cardholders also enjoy some generic benefits, like dining and hotel discounts, but Mastercard will have its own version of these too. FYI: the three Citi cards in question are at the Visa Signature tier, which means they should be mapped to World Mastercard.
There’s no real need to rush out and do GrabPay top-ups now; even if the existing Visa cards are cancelled, they won’t do it literally at the moment of announcement- you’ll likely have some time to sort things out. That said, it does mean you should keep an eye on this, and not get caught off guard.