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Today TPG Contributor Jason Steele looks at travel possibilities with the newly expanded list of Citi ThankYou Rewards transfer partners, focusing on the unique options of EVA Air and Malaysia Airlines.
Last month, Citi announced that it would be adding eight airline transfer partners to its ThankYou rewards program, joining the ranks of three existing flexible reward transfer programs: Chase Ultimate Rewards, American Express Membership Rewards, and Starwood Preferred Guest. Citi had previously only offered points transfers to the Hilton hotels HHonors program, but has now expanded transfer options for Citi Premier Card, Citi Prestige, and Citi Chairman cardholders.
While this was exciting news, it was tempered by the fact that none of the eight new airline transfer partners are based in North America, and two of them don’t even offer flights to any destinations here. Furthermore, some of the carriers they offered transfers to make it nearly impossible for Americans to redeem award tickets. For example, Garuda Indonesia requires members of the Garuda Miles program to visit an airport or ticketing office in person before their award flights can be ticketed. Since Garuda offers no service to the United States, Americans must journey to one of their four ticketing offices in Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston, or New York.
The good news
On the other hand, Garuda was one of three foreign frequent flier programs whose miles became newly available to American credit card users, which is to say that they are not part of the other three transfer programs, and they do not even offer a co-branded credit card in the United States. The other two are Malaysia Airlines and EVA. In this post I want to examine the award travel options on those two carriers to illustrate how you can maximize your Citi ThankYou Rewards points.
EVA is a Taiwanese carrier that offers service to North America via New York-JFK, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Toronto, Seattle, and Vancouver. EVA is also a member of the Star Alliance, but it doesn’t have any non-alliance partners other than its own UNI regional subsidiary.
When examining its Star Alliance partner award chart, it becomes clear that EVA requires more miles for every award out of North America than fellow Star Alliance member Singapore. Singapore’s Kris Flyer program is not only another ThankYou Rewards transfer partner, but also is the only airline that’s a member of all four major transferable point programs.
Unfortunately, their web site doesn’t appear to have a separate award chart for flights operated by EVA Air. So I contacted their reservations department and learned that they charge 120,000 miles round trip for economy class, 195,000 miles for premium economy, and 225,000 miles for business, which is very uncompetitive. In contrast, Singapore will issue the same tickets for 90,000 in coach and 175,000 in business (there are no premium economy awards issued by Singapore). I was also quoted fuel surcharges of $325 for a round-trip flight from JFK.
Transferring points to EVA really doesn’t really offer any value or advantage compared to Singapore Airlines. In fact, the best values I found were coach flights within Europe, South America, or China for 30,000 miles round-trip. That’s not a bad deal at all, yet Singapore awards were still 5,000 miles less. Therefore, holders of ThankYou points should only consider transfers to EVA if they need to top off an existing mileage balance.
Until the tragic events of this year, this OneWorld carrier was best know for its policy of forbidding children in first class on some of its flights. Following the loss of two long haul aircraft, Malaysia Airline’s future is somewhat in doubt, and it was just announced that the carrier would be nationalized by the Malaysian government. In a gesture to retain as much goodwill as possible, Malaysia recently offered refunds on all 2014 flights (although that offer expired on July 24th).
Malaysia does not offer service to the United States (although it has in the past), and it uses a distance based award chart for redeeming miles from its Enrich frequent flier program on its partners. Other than members of the OneWorld Alliance, its only non-alliance partners are its regional subsidiaries MAS Wings and Firefly.
Unlike, EVA, there is some value here. For example, a round-trip award flight between two cities of 500 miles or less is 18,000 miles in coach, so long as you are flying a single carrier. Flights of this length include Miami to Charleston South Carolina, or Washington D.C. to Toronto, which can be just 18,000 miles instead of 25,000 miles with an award from American or US Airways. When booking awards on multiple carriers, the chart is a little less generous. The least expensive award is 30,000 miles in economy for a total round trip distance of less than 1,000 miles.
Still, distance based award charts like this are can be great when you have a short flight that crosses regional zones on traditional frequent flier programs. For example, a flight on Iberia from Spain to Morocco is not very far, but most airlines will consider it as an intercontinental flight between Europe and Africa, and charge far more miles than a distance based award. That said, British Airways Avios is also a distance based program, and tends to require fewer miles for similar distances. British Airways is not a ThankYou points transfer partner, but it is a partner of the other three major flexible point transfer programs.
When looking at the award chart for flights operated by Malaysia airlines, the best deals I found are round-trip flights covering Zone 1 distances of up to 1,000 miles in business class between Asia and Europe, which cost 110,000 miles round trip, or are available one way for half the mileage. Furthermore, Malaysia offers a 15% discount for online redemption of award flights it operates, much like Singapore does. That would bring the round-trip price to 93,500 miles, or 46,750 miles one-way. The slightly more expensive Zone 2 flights (up to 2,400 miles) are also a good value at 60,000 miles each way in business class (or 51,000 with the 15% discount).
While there are some situations that might make sense to transfer points to the Malaysia Airlines Enrich program, I don’t see it as a really exciting option. Cathay Pacific’s Asia Miles program is also a OneWorld Partner with a distance based chart, and it generally (but not always) has lower prices. The 15% discount for online redemption makes this program most compelling when using ThankYou points for flights operated by Malaysia itself.
Overall, while the new transfer partners have added a lot of value to Citi ThankYou Rewards, the program needs to connect with a few more useful airlines in order to truly compete with Ultimate Rewards, Membership Rewards, and SPG. With some great bonus categories, the American Express Gold Card has a lot going for it. The card offers 4x points at US restaurants, at US supermarkets (up to $25,000; then 1x), and 3x points on flights booked directly with airlines or through amextravel.com. It is currently offering a welcome bonus of 35,000 bonus points after you spend $2,000 in the first three months.
With some great bonus categories, the American Express Gold Card has a lot going for it. The card offers 4x points at US restaurants, at US supermarkets (up to $25,000; then 1x), and 3x points on flights booked directly with airlines or through amextravel.com. It is currently offering a welcome bonus of 35,000 bonus points after you spend $2,000 in the first three months.