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“Reader Questions” are answered twice a week — Mondays and Fridays — by TPG Senior Writer Julian Mark Kheel.

Flexible bank points such as Citi ThankYou Rewards and Chase Ultimate Rewards are useful not just for transferring to travel partners, but for buying airfare directly. Except what happens if your airline doesn’t appear on the bank’s travel portal, as TPG reader Katya asked us via email…

Can I buy Norwegian tickets using Citi’s ThankYou points or Chase’s Ultimate Rewards?

TPG Reader Katya

Most bank travel portals such as the Citi ThankYou Travel Center and Ultimate Rewards Travel are basically just online travel agencies (OTAs) like Orbitz and Expedia. And like those OTAs, they’re limited to the airlines that participate in global distribution systems (GDSes) like Sabre, Amadeus and Apollo.

So if an airline like Norwegian doesn’t participate in one of the widely used global distribution services, its flights won’t appear on most OTAs, including bank travel portals. That’s why you can’t find or book Norwegian flights online using Ultimate Rewards, ThankYou Rewards or Membership Rewards.

But there is a workaround — if you call the bank travel center directly, the phone agents can sometimes book flights for you on airlines that don’t appear on their online portals.

CHICAGO - APRIL 3: A Southwest Airlines jet takes off at Midway Airport April 3, 2008 in Chicago, Illinois. Officials from Southwest and other airlines will testify at a safety hearing on Capitol Hill today following recent cancellations of flights by Southwest, United, American and Delta airlines as jets were taken out of service for safety inspections. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
Southwest is another airline that doesn’t appear on bank travel portals but can usually be booked with points by calling.

Not every airline is going to be available and an agent can’t always get the fare or flight you want. But often the agent can use an alternate system that gives them access to airlines that aren’t on their GDS, such as Southwest (which is another popular choice when booking by phone). I recently called and had both Citi and Chase phone agents tell me they could book Norwegian flights if I wanted them. Unfortunately the Amex Travel agent couldn’t do the same, though he said the Membership Rewards team might be willing to manually deduct the points for a ticket after the fact if I wanted.

So it can be worth calling and checking, depending on which airline you’re trying to book. Here are the phone numbers for the travel centers for each of the three major flexible point programs:

Chase Ultimate Rewards Travel
(866) 951-6592

Citi ThankYou Travel Center
(800) 842-6596

American Express Travel
(800) 297-2977

Enjoy your low-cost flights to Europe, Katya, and thanks for the question. If you’re a TPG reader who’d like us to answer a question of your own, tweet us at @thepointsguy, message us on Facebook or email us at info@thepointsguy.com.

Featured image courtesy of Francis Dean/Getty Images.

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Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser’s responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.