Citigroup escalates credit card wars with boost to top card's dining, air travel rewards

  • Citigroup is boosting rewards earned to 5 points for every dollar spent on dining and air travel starting in January, an increase of at least 67 percent from the current rate.
  • The move comes amid intense competition among card issuers including J.P. Morgan and American Express.
  • "We continuously strive to enhance the benefits our card-members use and value most," said Chris Fred, who runs Citi's proprietary cards group, in a statement.
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The big banks' credit card wars are heating up again.

Citigroup, one of the largest issuers of U.S. credit cards, is revamping the rewards structure for its top-tier card to compete with offerings from J.P. Morgan Chase and American Express, according to a statement obtained by CNBC.

Banks have been fighting to entice big spenders to use their cards for years. That battle escalated in 2016 when J.P. Morgan introduced its Sapphire Reserve card, which came with lavish perks and was so popular the bank initially ran out of the metal used for the cards. That forced American Express, which is more heavily dependent on spending by affluent users, to increase the rewards rate for its premium cards.

Now, Citigroup is joining the fray with a card that more heavily incentivizes users to funnel all their dining and air travel purchases through it. The bank froze applications for its Prestige card this summer as it reviewed how to make it more compelling. Affluent spenders prioritized bigger bonuses on dining and air travel, where they spend a combined $13,000 a year, the New York-based bank found.

"We continuously strive to enhance the benefits our card-members use and value most," said Chris Fred, who runs the bank's proprietary cards group, in a statement.

Starting in January, users of Citi's Prestige card will earn 5 rewards points for every dollar spent on dining out and air travel, a boost of at least 67 percent from the current rate, according to the statement. The card currently offers 3 points for each dollar spent on airfare and hotels and 2 points for dining and entertainment.

The revamped card will also offer 3 points per dollar spent on cruise lines. It changed a $250 annual credit for air travel to be usable for more types of travel. Other perks including trip-delay insurance are remaining.

The bank is limited some perks, though. It currently offers unlimited free hotel stays for the fourth night of a trip when paid for with the Prestige card; starting in September that will be limited to two stays a year. Additionally, the card offers a 25 percent bonus for air travel redeemed through Citi's portal; that bonus is going away. Also, the card's annual fee is rising to $495 from $450 a year.

The industry's battle has come at a cost. J.P. Morgan said that increasingly savvy card users forced the bank to issue more rewards points than the bank originally anticipated, causing a $330 million charge in the second quarter of this year.

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