Bank makes rewards harder to earn with card changes

Citi logoWe've written recently about some tricky things credit card companies do that can whittle away at the value of your hard-earned rewards, and recent news reported in the Consumer Reports blog illustrates that banks are still trying -- and trying very hard, in some cases -- to keep you from getting those perks.

Consumer Reports says that Citigroup recently switched most holders of its Dividend Platinum Select MasterCard over to its Citi Dividend World MasterCard. One major difference between the two cards is that the Platinum Select offered 2% cash back in several commonly used retail categories like supermarkets, gas stations and drugstores. The World has a different rewards structure that puts the onus on the customer to keep earning their rewards.

With the World rewards program, users can earn 5% cash back on hotels and rental cars. This blog post says most of the new rewards are travel related, which is in line with the new card's enhanced benefits of trip insurance, lost-baggage reimbursement and the like. But if you got the card hoping to earn a nice cash-back bonus at the grocery store, you're out of luck. But there's an even bigger caveat: The reward categories change every quarter, some have lower redemption rates (in line with the old 2% rate) and - here's the kicker - customers have to remember to sign up for them every three months. No sign-up, no rewards.

Linda Sherry, director of national priorities for advocacy group Consumer Action, blasts the practice. "The idea of having to contact the company at quarterly intervals to continue your rewards is inconvenient and seems designed to avoid paying rewards," she told WalletPop via e-mail. What's more, she added, there's nothing in the CARD Act that prevents card issuers from pulling these kinds of switcharoos after you've already gotten established with your card. "This is precisely the reason we believe restrictions on one-sided contractual agreements is so important," Sherry said. "The current practice leaves consumers as sitting ducks."

Perhaps even more frustrating to the changes in the reward program is the fact that Citi issued new card numbers for every customer. In other words, if you had the old card and had any auto-bills or recurring payments set up, you'll have to tell all of those vendors the new card info or risk having your payment not go through.
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