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Citi ThankYou Rewards has improved greatly over the last year, and as a result, interest in the program has increased. I routinely get emails from readers who aren’t sure how to maximize their ThankYou points, so today, TPG Contributor Richard Kerr offers examples of some of the best (and worst) redemption options.
In TPG’s latest monthly valuations, Citi ThankYou points are listed at 1.6 cents each. From interactions with fellow award travel enthusiasts, I get the impression that there’s a certain level of skepticism and confusion when it comes to Citi ThankYou Rewards. Citi has made great strides to improve the program, but is still solidly behind Starwood Preferred Guest, Chase Ultimate Rewards, and American Express Membership Rewards. Still, there’s plenty of value to be had, so today I’ll give a brief recap of how to earn ThankYou points, and then show you how to redeem those points for maximum value.
Earning ThankYou Points
Logically, Citi credit cards are the main avenue for earning points. Somewhat like Ultimate Rewards, the value of your ThankYou points varies based on which card(s) you hold.
Citi Prestige Card — This premium card currently has an increased sign-up bonus of 50,000 points after spending $3,000 in the first 3 months of account opening. The card carries a hefty annual fee of $450, but offers an impressive array of benefits, including enhanced redemption opportunities for ThankYou points.
You can redeem points directly through the Citi ThankYou Travel Center for flights on American Airlines and US Airways at a rate of 1.6 cents per point, on other airlines at a rate of 1.33 cents per point, and for all other air, hotel, rental car, activity, and cruise reservations at a rate of one cent per point. You can also transfer points at 1:1 to any of the 11 airline partners, or to Hilton HHonors at 1:1.5.
Citi Prestige earns 3X ThankYou Points on airfare and hotel purchases, 2X points at restaurants and on entertainment purchases, and one point per dollar spent elsewhere.
Citi ThankYou Premier Card — Citi’s 2nd tier card currently also has a sign-up bonus of 50,000 points after spending $3,000 in the first 3 months of account opening. The new lower annual fee of $95 is waived for the first 12 months. Premier cardholders can redeem points for 1.25 cents apiece through the Citi ThankYou Travel Center, and also have transfer capability.
Citi ThankYou Preferred Card —This basic no annual fee card comes with a 15,000 sign up bonus after spending $1,000 on purchases within the first three months of account opening. Without the Premier or Prestige card, ThankYou points earned here are worth a flat 1 cent apiece.
There are a few other cards that earn ThankYou points, but they generally have low sign-up bonuses and offer very few benefits.
You can purchase ThankYou points directly from the Citi ThankYou website for $25 per 1,000 points (2.5 cents per point). You can buy up to 100,000 points in a year. I would only recommend doing this if you’re just barely short of a redemption when transferring your points to a partner airline or Hilton.
You can also earn ThankYou points after meeting certain requirements with an eligible Citi checking account. You won’t earn a ton, but it’s easy pickings if you already bank with Citi.
If you don’t have either the Premier or Prestige card, you’re looking at a flat redemption rate of 1 cent per point by redeeming for gift cards or travel through the Citi ThankYou Travel Center. You can also use your points for retail shopping or statement credits, but you’ll get less than 1 cent per point, so those aren’t good options.
For Premier and Prestige cardholders, I’ll cover your redemption options and give examples of good and bad rewards for each category.
Citi allows you to redeem points for a pretty extensive array of retail merchandise. However, as is the case for most merchandise redemptions, it’s one of the worst options.
Unique to Citi is the ability to order items from Best Buy and go pick up instantly from your local store. While it’s convenient, you’ll still get less than 1 cent per point, and should avoid this use of your points at all costs, especially since you can just as easily redeem for Best Buy gift cards at 1 cent per point. Shopping at Amazon or Live Nation gives you a poor 0.8 cents/point flat value.
Good Redemption – Holding on to your points and using a card with a spending category bonus to purchase what you want is the only win here.
Bad Redemption – Take your pick: a 16 GB, Wi-fi only, iPad Air selling for $399 will cost you 50,000 points (0.8 cents/point). The complete Harry Potter 8 DVD collection selling for $52 on Amazon will set you back 9,100 points (0.6 cents/point). A Tumi Voyageur Sumatra Crossbody selling for anywhere between $156-$200 in the color offered is 27,000 points (0.6-0.75 cents/point).
2. Gift Cards
Good Redemption – Again, those who don’t have ThankYou Premier or Prestige can expect to receive the 1 cent per point maximum value by redeeming for store and travel gift cards. Several restaurants, retail stores, and travel companies offer gift cards starting at 2,500 points for $25.
Bad Redemption – A few gift card options (such as $10 of credit to online games for 1,500 points) offer less than 1 cent/point value. Don’t use your points for these.
3. ThankYou Travel Center
Non-premier and prestige cardholders can redeem points for travel at a flat 1 cent per point. Flights booked with ThankYou points will be treated as revenue fares, so you’ll earn miles for flying a free ticket. This will give you a slightly higher net value.
Premier cardholders can redeem points for travel at 1.25 cents each, and Prestige cardholders can redeem points at 1.6 cents apiece for American Airlines flights, or 1.33 cents apiece toward other air, hotel, car, activity, and cruise bookings.
Good Redemption — Flying Chicago to Atlanta round-trip from June 9-16 reveals a direct American flight from the Citi ThankYou Travel Center costing $217.50. This means as a Prestige cardholder the flight would cost just 13,594 ThankYou points — much better than redeeming 25,000 AAdvantage miles for the same free flight. You’d also earn 1,212 AAdvantage miles and EQMs in the process.
Bad Redemption – If you’re booking a flight with an airline that’s also a ThankYou transfer partner, make sure you calculate whether it would cost you fewer ThankYou points to redeem through the Travel Center or to transfer to the airline’s program and book a free ticket.
For example, a Premier cardholder can book a domestic Delta round-trip ticket for 25,000 Flying Blue miles. If the cost of the ticket is less than $312.50 (25,000 points), then it makes more sense to book through the Citi travel center. If it costs more than that, then it’s better to transfer 25,000 ThankYou points to Flying Blue and book a free ticket that way.
Citi’s ThankYou Travel Center is not known for giving the best prices around. Ensure you search elsewhere first before redeeming ThankYou points for a flight that is much more expensive on Citi than it is elsewhere.
4. Transfer to Partners
Citi is working hard to put together a group of airline loyalty programs you could utilize to fly around the world. Thus far, it’s not the most spectacular group of programs that provide huge value, but there are some options that can really be golden. I wish Citi would add another hotel transfer partner besides Hilton. Even at a 1:1.5 transfer ratio, Hilton still requires too many points for a free night.
Good Redemption(s) — Transfer 51,000 ThankYou points to Singapore Krisflyer and you can fly Singapore’s A380 Suites from Singapore to Tokyo Narita.
Transfer 25,000 points to Etihad and you can fly American Airlines domestic round-trip for the same cost as in the AAdvantage program.
Fly from the East Coast to Hawaii for 15,000 Flying Blue miles one-way.
Bad Redemption – Some of the transfer partner’s programs are not competitive when looking at the number of miles required for free flights.
Good Redemption — Combine your points with anyone through the Share Points option on ThankYou.com. It’s a great option since (unlike Chase Ultimate Rewards) you can combine with any other ThankYou Rewards member. The catch is that shared points expire 90 days after transferring, so ensure you have an immediate use for the points. Point transfers occur instantly.
This means that as a ThankYou Preferred cardmember, you can share your points with a Prestige or Premier cardholder in order to redeem at a better rate.
Bad Redemption — Hear me out on this one: Citi has a donate to charity option using third party vendor PointWorthy. Donating to charity is certainly a worthy cause, though you’ll only get a flat rate of 1 cent/point using this service. There are more valuable ways to use your points, so unless you’re just draining the last few points from your account, you’re better off giving $10 to the charity of your choice and using your 1,000 points toward airfare.
Good Redemption — You can call Citi and ask for a mortgage/student loan payment check at a 1% cash back rate. Overall there are better ways to use your points, but when it comes to getting cash, this is the best option. Call 1-866-908-8778 and ask for them to send you a check.
Bad Redemption — You can redeem points for credit card statement credits at 0.5 cents per point. This sacrifices way too much value to even be worth considering.
Citi also offers a Points Concierge option where you can tell them almost anything you would like to pay for using your points. Experiences, sporting events, Broadway shows, vacation rentals, etc. are all options. You give as much detail as possible to third party company Circle Company Assoc, Inc. which will get back to you with a price in points for your request. I’m still waiting to hear back on my baseball trip weekend request, though I’m expecting the quote to be for 1 cent per point or less based on the revenue cost of my request.
If you’re a Premier or Prestige cardholder, look for opportunities to transfer your points to airline programs for maximum redemption value. As a Prestige cardholder, you can also come out ahead redeeming points for American Airlines or US Airways flights at 1.6 cents per point while earning EQMs and AAdvantage miles. For other cardholders, redeeming points at 1 cent apiece for free flights that still earn frequent flyer miles is a respectable deal.
How do you use your ThankYou points?