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If you got in on the 50,000-point sign-up bonus offers for the Citi Premier Card and the Citi Prestige Card — or if you simply have plenty of ThankYou points in your account, you may be wondering how to maximize your travel rewards. Below, TPG Senior Points & Miles Contributor Nick Ewen walks you through some of the best redemption options.
Back in 2014, the Citi ThankYou Rewards program made a significant leap toward competing with other transferable point currencies with the addition of eight airline transfer partners. The program has only gotten better since, adding Flying Blue, Virgin Atlantic, Qantas and (most recently) Virgin America. While these partners may not be as “mainstream” as those offered through Chase Ultimate Rewards or American Express Membership Rewards, ThankYou points are still quite valuable. Today I want to go through some of the best ways to redeem 100,000 Citi ThankYou points for free travel.
At first glance, this number may seem like it was completely pulled out of thin air, but it’s actually quite deliberate. I and many others in the points and miles hobby happened to open both the Citi Premier Card and the Citi Prestige Card last year when both were offering 50,000-point sign-up bonuses (note that the sign-up bonus on the ThankYouPremier card is currently 30,000 points for spending $3,000 in the first three months, and the Citi Prestige is currently offering 40,000 points for spending $4,000 in the first three months, with other cuts coming soon). If you met the minimum spending requirements on both of those cards, you’d take home 100,000 ThankYou points from the sign-up bonuses alone. You’d also gain access to some fantastic benefits like a $250 annual airfare credit, a fourth night free on paid hotel stays, Admirals Club access (through July 23, 2017) and Priority Pass membership.
In addition, keeping both cards past the first year may not be in your best interest. My Citi Premier Card just came up for renewal, and I (personally) decided that it wasn’t worth the $95 annual fee. Before canceling the card, I made sure to log in to my card account and combine the point balances of each card. This is a great option to enhance the value of your Citi points, especially if you have a lower-tier card like the Citi ThankYou Preferred Card.
Here’s the important thing to keep in mind, however. When you close an account, even if you combine the points with another card (as I did), you only have a limited timeframe during which to redeem them. From the ThankYou Rewards Terms and Conditions:
“If you have Points, and you voluntarily close your Citi Account, you must use your Points within 60 days after closing your accounts, or you’ll lose them.”
When I closed my Citi Premier Card shortly after moving the remaining points I had over to my Citi Prestige account, the phone agent even reminded me of this. The nice thing is that the program knows which points will expire first, so when you make a redemption, it’ll automatically pull those points with the soonest expiration.
So if you’re in a similar boat as me (or even if you’re not), what are the best ways to redeem 100,000 Citi ThankYou Rewards points? In no particular order:
1. Book directly through the Citi Travel Center
The first (and simplest) way to utilize ThankYou points is by redeeming them directly for flights through the Citi Travel Center. Once you log in to your credit card account, simply click on the ThankYou Rewards logo at the right side and then choose Travel and then Flights from the headings at the top of the ThankYou Rewards page. While many other credit cards restrict your points to a value of just 1 cent apiece when redeemed in this fashion, Citi adds some additional incentive, depending on the card you have:
- Citi Premier: Points are worth 1.25 cents apiece on all airlines
- Citi Prestige: Points are worth 1.33 cents apiece on non-American Airlines tickets, and worth 1.6 cents apiece on American Airlines — though starting July 27, 2017, points will drop to 1.25 cents apiece in value. So some of the redemption examples below won’t be available at the same value once this change goes into effect.
Here’s an example of what that looks like. My wife and I need to fly from Palma de Mallorca to Lisbon in November, and the best-timed flights are on Air Europa. The itinerary we want would cost $117.40 per person for the one-way flight, but since I’d be redeeming points as a Citi Prestige cardholder, I’d only need 8,827 points per person:
This works out to almost exactly 1.33 cents per point, so your 100,000 ThankYou points would get you $1,333 of free airfare on these redemptions.
You can get even more value by redeeming your points directly for flights on American. Here’s an example for a one-way itinerary from Miami (MIA) to Chicago-O’Hare (ORD) on Friday, August 19:
As you can see, the 5:59pm flight is the best deal, requiring just 8,631 points to cover the $138.10 fare. The 6:55am flight is priced a bit higher at 10,818 points for the paid fare of $173.10. In either case, you’re getting almost exactly 1.6 cents of value out of each ThankYou point, giving you a total of $1,600 of value from your 100,000 points.
The other great thing about using your points in this way is that the tickets book into a paid fare class, allowing you to both earn miles on the flight and utilize any elite status benefits to which you are entitled. While there are ways to get even more value out of the ThankYou Rewards program, it’s always nice to keep money in your pocket, and you’re guaranteed to get at least 1.25 cents of value when you book flights using ThankYou points from the Premier or Prestige cards.
2. Transfer to Etihad Guest
Another terrific redemption option involves transferring your ThankYou points to the Etihad Guest program and then redeeming those miles for various partner awards. Even though Etihad has some incredible premium-class products on its own flights (like The Residence and First Apartments on the carrier’s A380), those award flights are quite pricey when booked through the Etihad Guest program, so you’re best off looking at the carrier’s numerous partners spanning all three major alliances and numbering 26 at the time of writing.
Unfortunately, the process for booking partner awards with Etihad Guest miles is cumbersome, to say the least. None are bookable online, and each one has its own redemption scheme. Richard Kerr’s detailed post on booking partner award flights is a must-read before you even begin, and be prepared for a long and frustrating experience with the Etihad call centers. To make matters worse, it appears that Etihad doesn’t always have access to the same inventory released by partners, so while a service like ExpertFlyer can give you an idea of what’s available, there’s no guarantee that an Etihad agent will be able to confirm the itinerary.
However, if you’re able to tolerate the “second-world” booking process, there are some gems to be had:
Last year, Japan-based All Nippon Air Airways (ANA) made a major change to its Mileage Club program by shifting from a distance-based to region-based redemption scheme. However, Etihad’s published award chart for ANA still bases the number of miles needed on the total distance flown. First-class redemptions are pretty outrageous, but you may be able to find some solid value in the economy and business-class columns. Just be careful about the waitlist quirk in the ANA search engine!
- Sample redemption with 100,000 Etihad Guest miles: Two round-trip economy tickets from Honolulu (HNL) to Tokyo-Narita (NRT)
Even though the AAdvantage program underwent a big devaluation in March, there are still some spots on the Etihad Guest award chart that are cheaper than that of American’s. This includes the carrier’s new flights to Auckland and Sydney, as booking through Etihad will save you 5,000 miles/35,000 miles/75,000 miles for round-trip flights in economy/business/first class, respectively.
- Sample redemption with 100,000 Etihad Guest miles: One round-trip business-class flight from the US to Europe (115,000 miles if booked through AAdvantage)
Another great partner for award flights with Etihad Guest is Virgin Australia. You won’t get very good value on the carrier’s flights to North America, as you’ll have to spend 60,000/90,000/120,000 miles for one-way awards in economy/premium economy/business class, respectively. However, flights within Australia start at just 6,900 miles in economy, and you can also book short- to medium-haul international flights for just a bit more. I’m especially intrigued by flights from Australia to Auckland for 10,900 miles or to Nadi (Fiji) and Denpasar (Bali) for just 16,900 miles.
- Sample redemption with 100,000 Etihad Guest miles: A series of one-way economy flights starting from Sydney (SYD) and stopping in Melbourne (MEL), Adelaide (ADL), Alice Springs (ASP), Darwin (DRW), Perth (PER), Denpasar (DPS), Brisbane (BNE) and Auckland (AKL) before returning to Sydney, all for just 88,100 miles
3. Transfer to Virgin Atlantic
You can also consider transferring your ThankYou points to Virgin Atlantic’s Flying Club program. I’ve flown Virgin Atlantic Upper Class a few times and really enjoyed it, especially since it allows access to the fantastic Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse in London-Heathrow plus several others in airports around the world (Los Angeles is the most recent addition). However, even the carrier’s economy and premium economy classes of service are quite nice, and if you hold Platinum or Diamond Medallion status with Delta, you can access all Clubhouse locations even if you aren’t in business class.
The biggest problem with these awards is the set of fees and surcharges you’ll have to pay. Some of these are imposed by the government but others are completely under Virgin Atlantic’s control. While there are some ways to avoid these surcharges, you’re basically stuck paying them if you book Virgin Atlantic flights. Here’s a sample of what you’ll have to pay for a round-trip flight from New York-JFK to London-Heathrow (cash prices are from a sample trip in November):
- Economy: 35,000 miles + $433.66 (cash price: $723.76)
- Premium Economy: 55,000 miles + $731.36 (cash price: $1,414.46)
- Upper Class: 80,000 miles + $1,101.36 (cash price: $2,655.46)
As you can see, the economy-class redemption gives you the lowest value at just 0.83 cents per mile. Premium economy is a bit better at 1.24 cents per mile, while Upper Class gives you a much more respectable 1.94 cents per mile.
Here are some sample redemptions that you’d be able to get with 100,000 ThankYou points:
- Two round-trip economy awards from London to Johannesburg or Hong Kong
- One round-trip Upper Class award from anywhere in North America to the UK
Keep in mind, too, that Virgin Atlantic offers transfer bonuses for ThankYou points on a semi-regular basis. The most recent offer was a 25% bonus in March, similar to the one I utilized back in 2015 as part of my trip to Colmar, France. We’ve also seen the occasional promotion where actual award rates are discounted, like the 30% off economy award promotion we saw earlier this year or the 25,000-mile award sale from last year. Virgin Atlantic also partners with both Chase Ultimate Rewards and American Express Membership Rewards, so you have a multitude of ways to boost your Flying Club account balance.
4. Transfer to Singapore
A final great way to utilize 100,000 ThankYou points is by transferring them to Singapore’s KrisFlyer program. This will open up a ton of fantastic premium-class redemptions, since Singapore typically doesn’t release business and first-class space to partner airlines. You’ll also get a 15% discount when you redeem KrisFlyer miles online for Singapore-operated award flights, and the carrier just opened up premium economy redemptions as of May 24. You can even waitlist for your preferred flight, date or routing if it isn’t available at the time of booking.
In some cases, this can lead to hours and hours of in-air bliss, as TPG Editor-in-Chief Zach Honig discovered flying from Singapore to New York via Frankfurt in Singapore A380 business class for over 21 hours (a one-way flight that would only cost 72,250 KrisFlyer miles). There are many other ways to book luxurious products like Suites Class through the KrisFlyer program, and 100,000 ThankYou points opens up the following possibilities:
- A one-way Suites Class award from New York-JFK to Frankfurt to Singapore (93,500 miles)
- Three one-way first-class awards from Hong Kong to Singapore (31,875 miles apiece)
- One round-trip business-class award from Singapore to Sydney (93,500 miles)
- One round-trip business-class award from Houston to Moscow or New York-JFK to Frankfurt (97,750 miles)
Like Virgin Atlantic, Singapore also partners with Ultimate Rewards and Membership Rewards, so there are many additional ways to earn more KrisFlyer miles outside of the ThankYou Rewards program.
Many travelers consider the Citi ThankYou Rewards program to be a bit of a red-headed stepchild behind Chase Ultimate Rewards and American Express Membership Rewards. While the program doesn’t have a high-profile US-based transfer partner, there are still some terrific ways to make the most of your ThankYou points, especially if you hold the Citi Premier Card or the Citi Prestige Card. Just be aware that when you cancel one of these cards, the 60-day expiration clock starts ticking on the points you’ve earned on that card, so hopefully this post has given you some inspiration for how to put them to good use.
How would you redeem 100,000 ThankYou points?
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