Citi ThankYou Rewards doesn’t get as much attention here as its competitors (Chase Ultimate Rewards, American Express Membership Rewards, and Starwood Preferred Guest). However, with the recent announcement that Citi will add eight new transfer partners to the program, I thought it was time to revisit and share with readers what I think are its strengths and shortcomings.
Like the other major reward currencies, Citi ThankYou Points are earned mostly through credit card spending, and have a variety of redemption possibilities (which I’ll discuss later). Citi also offers its checking customers opportunities to earn ThankYou Points with certain types of accounts and banking activity, but the returns are pretty meager and you have to watch out for fees. Currently available Citi cards that earn ThankYou Points, along with their benefits and current sign-up bonuses, include:
- Citi Premier: 50,000 bonus points (20,000 after spending $2,000 in the first three months, plus 30,000 more after spending $3,000 in the first three months after card renewal; 3x points on dining and entertainment, 2x points on airfare, hotels, and travel agencies, 1x points elsewhere; $125 annual fee (waived first year).
- Citi Prestige: 30,000 bonus points after spending $2,000 in the first three months; 2x points on dining, 1x points elsewhere; up to 50% annual relationship bonus on earned points (with additional requirements); $200 statement credit for airline fees; access to Admirals Club and Airport Angel lounges; complimentary 4th night at luxury hotels; $450 annual fee.
- Citi Preferred: 20,000 bonus points after spending $1,500 in the first three months; 2x points on dining and entertainment, 1x points elsewhere; 0% APR for first 12 months (then 12.99%-22.99% based on credit worthiness); no annual fee.(There’s also a student version formerly known as the Citi Forward card.)
- CitiBusiness ThankYou: 15,000 bonus points after spending $3,000 in the first three months; 3x points on rotating quarterly categories (currently airlines, hotels, and car rentals), 1x points elsewhere; anniversary bonus on earned points (1% first year, 2% second year, 3% thereafter); 0% APR for first 6 months (then 13.24%); no annual fee.
The 3x points categories on the CitiBusiness ThankYou card are respectable for a no-fee option, though I prefer the Chase Freedom (which offers 5x points in the form of more valuable Ultimate Rewards), and I’d rather not have two cards with rotating categories to keep track of. The Preferred card offers an okay bonus for the low spend, especially if you’re looking for a 0% APR and no annual fee. Both the Premier and Prestige cards have larger sign-up bonuses and list some other intriguing benefits, but as you’ll see, they really shine on the redemption side.
Like Ultimate Rewards, Membership Rewards, and SPG, the Citi ThankYou Rewards program has its own travel center through which you can book flights, hotel rooms, rental cars, and local activities. ThankYou Points are generally worth 1 cent apiece toward travel, but the upper tier Citi cards can improve that redemption value substantially. Citi Premier cardholders can redeem ThankYou Points for travel at 1.25 cents apiece, while those with the Citi Prestige get 1.33 cents, or a friendly 1.6 cents per point for travel on American Airlines or US Airways.
Citi ThankYou Rewards also offers the usual array of gift cards, statement credits, and retail purchases that typically provide a value of 1 cent per point or less. Unfortunately, without the Premier or Prestige cards (or the presently unavailable Citi Chairman card), that’s the most you’re going to get for your ThankYou Points. However, ThankYou accounts from different cards can be combined, so those who have both eligible and ineligible cards can pool points from the Citi Preferred, CitiBusiness, or Citi Forward cards with points from the Premier, Prestige or Chairman cards, and redeem them all at the higher rate.
As mentioned previously, Citi just announced the addition of 8 new airline transfer partners to go along with its one hotel partner, Hilton. ThankYou Points now transfer 1:1 to Cathay Pacific, EVA Air, Etihad, Garuda Indonesia, Malaysian Airlines, Qatar, Singapore Airlines, and Thai Airways. The new points transfer feature is again limited to Citi Premier, Citi Prestige, and Citi Chairman cardholders, though points from other cards can be transferred when combined with points from an eligible account.
Citi reps informed me that points transfers to partners are instantaneous, though I have seen anecdotal evidence that suggests otherwise. If it’s true, the transfer option becomes even more useful in situations where you need points for immediate redemption. Chase and Amex offer instantaneous transfers in most cases, while SPG is all over the map with transfer times. Guaranteeing instantaneous transfers would help give ThankYou Rewards some clout compared with the other programs. Despite what Citi reps say, I’ll believe it when I see it.
One of the outstanding features of ThankYou Rewards is that points can be transferred between accounts with almost no restrictions. Unlike Amex, which limits Membership Rewards transfers to spouses or additional cardholders, or Starwood, which limits transfers of Starpoints to accounts at the same address, Citi allows you to transfer ThankYou points freely and instantaneously to any other ThankYou Rewards member. All you need is the other member’s full name and his or her ThankYou Member account number, or the corresponding credit card or checking account number.
There are a few crucial stipulations. First and foremost, while ThankYou points normally do not expire, shared points expire after 90 days. That means you should only share points that are going to be used immediately, or you run the risk of losing them entirely. Second, shared points cannot be re-shared (e.g., if you send points to your mother, she can’t then share them back to you or with someone else; she has to use them herself). Similarly, shared points cannot be refunded, so once you share them, there’s no going back.
Points can be shared among all ThankYou Rewards members, not just those with the Citi Premier or Citi Prestige cards. This is helpful for couples or families who might not want to pay annual fees for two cardholders. If one of you has an old Citi Forward card, the other can get a Citi Premier and you’ll still be able to pool points as you see fit.
Another great aspect of the share points feature is that you can transfer odd numbers of points with no cap. So if your brother just needs 41 more points to redeem for an award flight, you don’t have to send him 1,000 or some other round number. If he needs 109,901 points, you can send him exactly that amount too so long as you have the points on hand.
While Citi’s website is poorly designed and difficult to navigate for banking and managing credit accounts, the ThankYou Rewards site is pretty functional. Booking travel, sharing and transferring points, and shopping options are all straightforward. It seems like those with multiple points earning credit cards who have chosen not to combine ThankYou accounts must log out of the system completely in order to access points in each respective account. It would be nice to see Citi update this, but it’s just a mild inconvenience.
Personally, I’m excited to see Citi stepping up their game in the flexible points arena. I’ve barely written about ThankYou Rewards lately because, frankly, there hasn’t been much worth writing about. I still value Ultimate Rewards, Membership Rewards, and Starpoints over ThankYou Points, but I gave them a big boost in my latest monthly valuations. There’s room to go higher, especially if the program continues to add transfer partners and innovative benefits to the line of ThankYou credit cards, but either way Citi is now back in the conversation.
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