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Redeeming Citi ThankYou Points for Maximum Value

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With the gradual addition of some great airline transfer partners, Citi ThankYou Rewards has developed into a compelling transferable point program, offering some great redemption options. Below, TPG Senior Points & Miles Contributor Richard Kerr ranks the various ways to use your ThankYou points.

More than a year ago, we looked at the best ways to use your Citi ThankYou points, highlighting some of the top partners and best redemptions. Today, I’ll take into account loyalty program changes over the past year to revisit the strategies you should consider when it comes time to put your hard-earned ThankYou points to use.

EARNING CITI THANKYOU POINTS

The value of your ThankYou points depends on which Citi ThankYou points-earning credit cards you hold. Holding certain cards unlocks more capabilities for your ThankYou points. Regardless of which card you have, you can always redeem points for airfare, hotels, cruises, gift cards, loan payments or merchandise.

However, as we’ll discuss in a moment, you can usually get the most value for your ThankYou points by transferring to one of 13 travel partners. In order to be able to transfer your points to a partner’s loyalty program, you must hold one of the two following cards:

Citi Prestige Card 

This premium card currently has a sign-up bonus of 40,000 points after spending $4,000 in the first three months of account opening. The card carries a hefty annual fee of $450, but offers an impressive array of benefits which should quickly recoup that cost.

Make sure you understand the ThankYou perks of your specific Citi card.
Make sure you understand the ThankYou perks of your specific Citi card.

You can redeem points directly through the Citi ThankYou Travel Center for flights on American Airlines 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 1 cent per point. You can also transfer points at 1:1 to 11 of the 12 airline partners (Virgin America Elevate is 2:1), or to Hilton HHonors at 1:1.5.

The Citi Prestige Card earns 3x ThankYou Points on airfare and hotel purchases, 2x points on dining and entertainment purchases and 1 point per dollar spent elsewhere.

Citi ThankYou Premier

The second ThankYou points-earning card in Citi’s highest tier pulled its sign-up bonus earlier this year, so the biggest perk is the ability to transfer your points to ThankYou travel partners. The ThankYou Premier Card earns 3x points on travel including gas, 2x points on dining and entertainment and 1x points on all other spending. If you have the Premier Card, you can redeem your ThankYou points toward airfare, hotels, car rentals and cruises at a rate of 1.25 cents each. The card has a $95 annual fee that’s waived for the first year.

With the Premier or Prestige card, you can transfer ThankYou points you earn with the Citi Prestige to 13 travel partners.
With the Premier or Prestige card, you can transfer ThankYou points you earn with the Citi Prestige to 13 travel partners.

If you only have either the Citi ThankYou Preferred card or the AT&T Access More MasterCard from Citi, you will earn what I call basic ThankYou points. They are worth a flat 1 cent each when redeemed toward travel, student loan repayments, or mortgage payments and cannot be transferred to the ThankYou travel partners.

If you have multiple ThankYou point-earning credit cards, you can combine the ThankYou accounts online or over the phone and designate which you want as the primary card. If you make the Citi Prestige Card your primary card, any ThankYou points you earn with any of your cards will be eligible to be transferred to travel partners, redeemed for American Air tickets at 1.6 cents each or redeemed toward other airfare at 1.33 cents each.

You can also earn ThankYou points with targeted account-opening bonuses (your mileage may vary), continued banking relationships and additional relationship bonuses if you’re a CitiGold, Global Client, or Citi Private Bank customer.

With the earning side of ThankYou points explained, let’s look at the redemption options you should avoid, and those that will give you maximum value in return.

POOR-VALUE REDEMPTIONS

Statement credit, pay with points and more — Do not redeem your ThankYou points for statement credit or cash (via Rewards Account Numbers), merchandise; shop with points; or pay with points. These will all give you less than 1 cent per point in value, which is on the low side compared to redemptions I’ll discuss below.

Paying directly with ThankYou points at Best Buy will give you less than 1 cent per point, compared to redeeming points for 1 cent per each for Best Buy gift cards.
Paying directly with ThankYou points at BestBuy.com will give you less than 1 cent per point, compared to redeeming points for 1 cent each for Best Buy gift cards.

Select airline transfer partners — We previously covered the possibilities of utilizing ThankYou points for Garuda Indonesia, Qantas, EVA Air and Thai Airways redemptions and have concluded that you should avoid transferring to these partners except in unique and specific circumstances. This is due to several reasons, including high fuel surcharges, lengthy phone-booking processes and more. It could be worth checking out these partners depending on your travel plans, but make sure you evaluate other options as well.

Transfers to Hilton — Even with the 1:1.5 transfer ratio, this partner shouldn’t be your first choice. Why? Hilton decimated the HHonors program a few years ago and currently requires a relatively high number of points for a free night. There are properties that offer value, but overall the opportunity cost of using ThankYou points for Hilton instead of other options is simply too high.

DECENT-VALUE REDEMPTION OPTIONS

Citi ThankYou Travel Center Redemptions — If you’re a Citi ThankYou Premier cardholder, the option to redeem points at a flat 1.25 cents each toward airfare, car rentals, hotels or cruises represents an acceptable value for a few reasons:

  1. Airlines treat tickets booked via the ThankYou travel portal as paid fares, which earn you redeemable and elite-qualifying miles.
  2. You can avoid one of the biggest hurdles to award travel bookings: availability. Book any seat on almost any flight you want, rent any car, book any cruise or book any hotel room — free.
  3. Citi ThankYou Rewards is one of the few programs that lets you redeem points toward the cruise fare at greater than 1 cent per point. This includes beating cruise lines’ own co-branded credit cards, which offer 1 cent per point in cruise fare value.

If you’re a Citi Prestige Card holder, redeeming points for 1.33 cents each toward airfare on airlines other than American is an acceptable value due to the same reasons listed above, and now you’re getting even more value per point.

Transfers to Asia Miles — Cathay Pacific’s Asia Miles program has some very interesting redemption opportunities, thanks to its region definitions and routing rules. The hold-up is the significant amount of effort required and the complex rules you’ll have to decipher to get a ticket booked.

Asia Miles standard awards allow two stopovers, two transfers or one open jaw, unless you’re flying exclusively on Air China or Iberia, which allow no stopovers or open jaws. To qualify for a standard award, you can only use two Cathay Pacific airline partners. These routing rules mean you can fly business class on Aer Lingus and Air Berlin BOS-DUB-FCO-TXL-DUB-BOS for 85,000 Asia Miles.

If you’re willing to put in the effort, this could be a maximum-value redemption. Because so few take advantage, though, I’ll keep it in the decent-value category.

Cathay Pacific’s Asia Miles program has unique routing rules which could provide value, but booking requires a lot of effort.

MAXIMUM-VALUE REDEMPTION OPTIONS

Travel on American Airlines — Redeeming ThankYou points at 1.6 cents each toward revenue American tickets is fantastic. I’ve regularly done this over the last three months and notice I usually spend fewer ThankYou points for the ticket than the amount of AAdvantage miles I’d need to spend. On top of spending fewer points, I earn redeemable and elite-qualifying miles when I fly. Its a total win-win situation, again only available to Citi Prestige Card holders.

Transfers to Flying Blue — There are several fantastic uses of the Air France/KLM loyalty program, including 30,000 miles for round-trip economy tickets from anywhere in the continental US to Hawaii on fellow SkyTeam member Delta. Flying Blue also has promo awards on a regular basis that usually offer 25%-50% off economy or business-class awards from specific US gateways to Europe.

Fly to Aruba for 25,000 Flying Blue miles round trip from the US on Delta. Image courtesy of Shutterstock.
Fly to Aruba for 25,000 Flying Blue miles round trip from the US on Delta. Image courtesy of Shutterstock.

The program allows you to visit far-flung places like Papau New Guinea, and you can utilize creative routings to lower the price of your ticket or add additional segments at no extra charge. Definitely look at this program when considering how to use your ThankYou points.

Transfers to Singapore KrisFlyer — Singapore Suites and Singapore first class continue to be some of the top products in the sky, and they’re easily accessible via Singapore Airlines’ own KrisFlyer program. Prices are relatively reasonable for Singapore’s first-class routes servicing the US, including New York-JFK-Frankfurt (FRA) for 57,375 miles in Suites, Los Angeles (LAX)-Tokyo (NRT) for 74,375 miles in Suites and Houston (IAH)-Moscow (DME) for 57,375 miles in first.

Singapore Suites and first class will always been on the list of best uses of ThankYou points given the reasonable cost.
Singapore Suites and first class will always been on the list of best uses of ThankYou points given the reasonable cost and accesibility.

Singapore KrisFlyer also has a few sweet spots for booking Star Alliance routes, including 35,000 KrisFlyer miles in economy or 60,000 miles in first for a round-trip award from the US to Hawaii on United. By transferring to this program, you can use ThankYou points to fly Delta or United to Hawaii for cheaper than what Delta SkyMiles or United MileagePlus charges.

Etihad Guest — I’m a huge advocate of the Etihad Guest program. You can fly almost anywhere in the world for incredibly reasonable prices utilizing only Etihad Guest miles. This includes routes like JFK-KBP on Ukraine International Airlines (48,000 miles round-trip) and the new Air Serbia JFK-BEG route. You should also be able to fly Royal Air Maroc’s Dreamliner service to Africa on JFK-CMN for only 22,000 miles, however we recently encountered difficulty booking this award via an Etihad call center.

If you're still a nonbeliever of the Etihad Guest program, I encourage you to dig in to the award charts and research the value they hold.
If you’re still a nonbeliever of the Etihad Guest program, I encourage you to dig in to the award charts and research the value they hold.

Most applicable to us here in the States is the ability to book Etihad partner American award tickets at pre-AAdvantage devaluation prices. While American increased the rates of its own award tickets, Etihad has not updated the Etihad Guest American award chart. You can still fly American’s business class to Europe for 50,000 ThankYou points.

Bottom Line

As with most transferable-point loyalty programs, you’ll always get the biggest bang for your buck when you transfer your Citi ThankYou points to partner programs. However, the ability to book any American flight with a 1.6 cent-per-point value while earning miles in the process makes this a rare occasion when booking through the travel portal is a great redemption option.

That doesn’t mean there aren’t great transfer partners; if you were to only consider Flying Blue and Etihad Guest when deciding how to redeem your ThankYou points, you could reach almost any destination in the world given the large range of partners, and award tickets are fortunately reasonably priced.

Featured image of Waikiki Beach courtesy of Shutterstock.

What’s your favorite use of Citi ThankYou points?

Citi Prestige® Card

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  • $250 Air Travel Credit each year, and receive a statement credit, up to $100 every 5 years, as reimbursement for your application fee for Global Entry or TSA Pre √®
  • 4th night hotel benefit for any hotel stay at hotels booked through the Citi Prestige® Concierge.
  • Earn 40,000 bonus points after $4,000 in purchases made with your card in the first 3 months the account is open.
  • Points are redeemable for a $532 flight on any airline or $400 in gift cards.
  • Transfer points to a variety of travel loyalty programs from airlines to hotels.
  • Earn 3x points on Air Travel and Hotels
  • Earn 2x points on Dining at Restaurants and Entertainment
  • 1 ThankYou® Point per $1 spent on other purchases
Intro APR Regular APR Annual Fee Foreign Transaction Fee Credit Rating
N/A 15.49%* (Variable) $450 0% Excellent Credit