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How to Make the Most of Your Citi Points When Flying Coach

Aug. 14, 2017
12 min read
United 777-300ER 77W Economy Preview
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For many travelers, opening and using top travel rewards credit cards is a great way to unlock terrific awards like for premium-class flights or luxurious hotel rooms. However, others prefer to focus their redemption strategies on economy tickets, as the lower award rates could get you two or even three round-trip flights for the same cost you'd pay for a single business or first-class award. Today I'll continue my series that looks at each of the three major transferable point currencies and analyzes the best way to redeem for coach award flights. After starting with American Express Membership Rewards and Chase Ultimate Rewards, I'll turn my attention to Citi ThankYou Rewards.

Before diving into the details of the program, there are basically two different ways to redeem your ThankYou points for free flights:

  1. Redeeming directly through the Citi travel portal
  2. Transferring to one of 13 airline partners

Prior to July 23, it was possible to redeem Citi points for 1.6 cents apiece for American flights and for 1.33 cents apiece on other airlines if you had the Citi Prestige Card. However, now all cards get you a redemption value of 1.25 cents per point when you book directly through Citi's portal. However, since you'll typically get more value by transferring your points to partners, that's where I'll focus my analysis today.

That being said, I always recommend checking both redemption choices to see which offers a better redemption value. There's no sense in transferring 30,000 points to a partner to book a round-trip award flight when the same flights would cost $250 (or 20,000 points) if you paid! Remember too that you'll still earn points or miles when booking directly through ThankYou Rewards, sweetening the deal even more.

Overview of Transfer Partners

The ThankYou Rewards program currently has 13 airline transfer partners covering all three major alliances and a handful of non-alliance carriers. Here's a quick overview of how the partners can be categorized:

Asia Miles (Cathay Pacific)
Malaysia Airlines Enrich
Qantas Frequent Flyer
Qatar Privilege Club

Air France/KLM Flying Blue
Garuda Indonesia Frequent Flyer

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Star Alliance:
Eva Air Infinity MileageLands
Singapore KrisFlyer
Thai Royal Orchid Plus

Non-Alliance (with key partners):
JetBlue TrueBlue
Etihad Guest - partners with American
Jet Airways JetPrivilege
Virgin Atlantic Flying Club - partners with Delta

Unfortunately, your points won't actually appear right away with many of these partners. In fact, some could take close to a week, whereas most Membership Rewards and Ultimate Rewards transfers happen instantaneously. Nevertheless, there are a few unique partners here that don't align with either of the other programs, so the extra time may be worth it.

For today's post, I'll go through each partner with worthwhile awards (note that some just don't make sense) and identify a redemption or two that's worthwhile when booking an award flight in coach.

Asia Miles

Cathay 773
Cathay Pacific may be best known for its first and business-class products, but redeeming Asia Miles for economy may work out well for you.

Asia Miles is one of just a handful of frequent flyer programs to offer distance-based awards, and the award charts can be a bit confusing, as the one you use depends upon the exact carriers you’re flying. In addition, the booking process can be a bit challenging, as only certain airlines are bookable online, and phone agents seem hard-pressed to consistently enforce even the program’s own rules. I’d strongly suggest reading Richard Kerr’s detailed post on Everything You Need to Know About Cathay Pacific Asia Miles before even considering an award flight, but here are a couple of examples of solid ways to make the most of your economy redemptions:

  • Book two one-way awards and enjoy a stopover on each: One unique aspect of Asia Miles is that you can score a stopover on one-way award tickets. For example, you could fly from Orlando (MCO) to Amsterdam (AMS) on British Airways with a stopover in London-Gatwick (LGW), take a train to Brussels, and then fly back from Brussels (BRU) to Orlando (MCO) on Aer Lingus with a stopover in Dublin (DUB), all for just 50,000 miles.
  • Book a Oneworld multi-carrier award and enjoy five stopovers and two open-jaws: If you book a ticket with two or more Oneworld carriers, you can build in up to five stopovers and two open jaws. This can be especially useful to hop around Europe (with a combination of British Airways, Iberia, Air Berlin and Finnair) — if you can keep your total mileage under 4,000 miles, you’re looking at just 35,000 miles.

Qantas Frequent Flyer

American Airlines, Airplane, USA, Airport, Miami, Passenger, Miami International Airport, 2015, Asphalt, Economy, Florida - US State, Gulf Coast States, Horizontal
Using Qantas points for short-haul American flights can offer some solid value for your ThankYou points. Image courtesy of ROBYN BECK via Getty Images.

Qantas was added as a new Citi transfer partner back in 2015, prompting TPG Senior Points & Miles Contributor Richard Kerr to write a post on 5 Reasons Not to Transfer ThankYou Rewards to Qantas. While the carrier's program isn't the most valuable in the Oneworld alliance, it too offers a distance-based award chart, and there are a couple of redemptions that could bring you some decent value:

  • Short-haul American flights: The best Oneworld program when it comes to booking short-haul routes is the British Airways Executive Club thanks to the very lucrative distance-based award chart. However, if you're short on Avios and looking to book short-haul American flights, consider transferring to Qantas. One-way flights up to 600 miles in length are just 8,000 Qantas points, while flights 601 to 1,200 miles in length are 12,000 points.
  • Emirates flights: Qantas is a good choice especially when it comes to medium-haul flights. For distances of between 2,401 miles and 3,600 miles, you'll only need 22,500 points. This range covers almost every European route from Dubai except far western cities like Lisbon and Dublin, so it can be a great way to get from the Middle East to the continent with a relatively small outlay of miles.

Air France/KLM Flying Blue

The first SkyTeam partner (and the only one worth pursuing) with Citi is Flying Blue, the loyalty program of Air France and KLM. It was added as a transfer partner of ThankYou Rewards in August 2015 and offers a great way to redeem your points for flights on SkyTeam airlines but also partners with several non-alliance airlines. There are many ways to make the most of the Flying Blue program when it comes to redeeming your miles for economy flights. Here are a couple of my favorites:

  • Flights to Mexico, the Caribbean or Central America: If you can find award availability on Delta or AeroMexico, you can book round-trip economy flights from anywhere in the US to Mexico for just 25,000 miles; the price jumps to just 30,000 miles for flights to the Caribbean or Central America (Delta charges 35,000 miles for each of these redemptions).
  • Promo Awards: Another great option is the program's Promo Awards, which change monthly and offer up to half off the normal awards. At the time of writing, there are specials for routes like Europe to St. Maarten on Air France (45,000 miles round-trip, a 25% discount) and Europe to Oslo on KLM (16,800 miles round-trip, a 20% discount).

Singapore KrisFlyer

Swiss 777-300ER Tour
Singapore is a great option for economy flights from the US to Europe on Star Alliance partners like Swiss.

The most valuable Star Alliance partner of ThankYou Rewards is Singapore Airlines and its KrisFlyer loyalty program. Even though the program was devalued earlier this year, there are still some great options for making the most of the program for coach flights, including the following examples:

  • Flights to Hawaii: While Flying Blue gives you one option for getting to Hawaii on Delta, Singapore opens up the option of flying United to the Aloha state. The angle here is to book award tickets on United-operated flights, as you'll only be charged 17,500 miles each way (United would charge 22,500 miles each way).
  • Flights to Europe: KrisFlyer is also a great option for flights to Europe. If you book the nonstop flight from New York-JFK to Frankfurt, you'll only pay 22,500 miles each way. However, even other Star Alliance flights are just 27,500 miles each way, and almost all of the carrier's Star Alliance partners allow one-way awards.

Etihad Guest

One of the interesting non-alliance programs that partners with Citi is Etihad Guest. If you’re willing to go through the hassle of booking with inept agents, you can get some great value from the program. Etihad has started removing the true gems of its award chart (like JFK to Brussels in business class for 36,620 miles round-trip), but there are still some good options out there. Here’s one of my favorites:

  • American Airlines flights: Etihad has a separate award chart for American, and for the most part, these prices have not been adjusted following last year’s AAdvantage devaluation. For example, off-peak coach flights to Europe are just 20,000 Etihad Guest miles (compared to 22,500 AAdvantage miles) one-way, while off-peak coach flights to Japan or Korea are 25,000 Etihad Guest Miles (compared to 32,500 AAdvantage miles). If you’re booking during peak dates, other regions will save you miles, including South America Zone 1 and the South Pacific.

Virgin Atlantic

The other non-alliance airline that partners with ThankYou Rewards and does offer some value is Virgin Atlantic. While the carrier is probably most well-known for its Upper Class experience and Clubhouse lounges, the Flying Club program is notorious for the fuel surcharges it adds to award tickets, especially in premium classes. As a result, transferring your points to Virgin Atlantic for economy award tickets could make a lot of sense, and here's a prime example of where this can get you some great value.

  • Off-peak ("Standard") flights: Virgin Atlantic adjusted its redemption scheme at the beginning of this year to include both peak and off-peak (or what the carrier calls "Standard") award pricing. A full breakdown of when these different levels apply is available here, but the main takeaway is that if you can travel during one of these off-peak times, you can get a steal of a redemption. It'll only cost you 20,000 miles to fly round-trip from Boston, Newark, New York and Washington to London, and the price jumps to just 25,000 for South and Midwestern gateways (including Atlanta, Miami and Orlando) and 30,000 miles for the West (such as Las Vegas, Los Angeles and San Francisco). In many cases, this is fewer miles than you'd pay for a one-way ticket on other airlines, making in a fantastic deal for getting to Europe.

Earning ThankYou Rewards

If you currently don't have an account with ThankYour Rewards (or if your balance is lower than you'd like), there are a few credit cards that offer some nice sign-up bonuses, generous perks and solid earning rates on everyday purchases:

  • Citi Prestige Card: 75,000 bonus points after you spend $7,500 in purchases within three months of account opening plus numerous other benefits like a fourth night free on hotel stays, an annual $250 travel credit, lounge access and 3x points on airfare and hotel purchases (just be aware that some benefits recently changed)
  • Citi Premier® Card: 60,000 points after spending $4,000 on purchases within three months of account opening plus 3x points on travel purchases (including gas)

Keep in mind that if you have a "lesser" ThankYou card (like the Citi ThankYou Preferred Card) that doesn't normally allow transfers to travel partners, you are able to designate a primary card and then combine points from all cards into that one ThankYou Rewards account. You also have the ability to transfer ThankYou points with anyone who also has a ThankYou Rewards account, though any points you transfer will expire within 90 days.

Bottom Line

As you can see, the Citi ThankYou Rewards program offers some solid value for economy-class award tickets, even though several of the program's partners don't have much value at all (like Thai Royal Orchid Plus, for one). The majority of the redemptions above will often get you better value than booking directly through the ThankYou Rewards online travel site, though as always, I recommend that you check both options to make sure that you are redeeming the fewest number of points possible.

How have you redeemed ThankYou Rewards points for coach award tickets?

Featured image by The Economy cabin on a United Boeing 777-300ER (Photo by The Points Guy)