Best ways to redeem Citi ThankYou points on SkyTeam Airlines
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The Citi ThankYou Rewards program currently offers 15 different airline transfer partners, and each of the major alliances is represented. However, if you’re looking to book a flight on any one of the 19 SkyTeam carriers, you’ll find the thinnest coverage of the three. In fact, Flying Blue, the frequent flyer program for Air France, KLM and others, is one of only two SkyTeam members in the list, sharing the stage with little-known Garuda Indonesia.
Fortunately, all hope is not lost, as there’s a third transfer partner that can be a fantastic option for select SkyTeam flights.
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Intrigued? Keep reading to learn more about the best ways to use Citi ThankYou points for award flights on SkyTeam carriers.
Earning Citi ThankYou Points
Before you can even think about transferring your Citi ThankYou points, you need to earn them. At the time of writing, you can earn transferable ThankYou points through two different credit cards:
- Citi Premier® Card: Earn 60,000 points after you spend $4,000 on purchases within the first three months of account opening. Earn 3x points on air travel including gas, hotels, restaurants, and at supermarkets. There’s a $95 annual fee for this card. For more information, read our review of the Citi Premier.
- Citi Prestige® Card: Earn 50,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases within the first three months of account opening. Earn 5x points on air travel and at restaurants, 3x points on hotels and cruises and 1x on all other purchases. You’ll also enjoy cell phone protection, Priority Pass Select membership and a fourth night free on paid hotel stays twice per year. There’s a $495 annual fee for this card.
In addition, Citi offers a handful of other credit cards that accrue ThankYou points. However, in order for these earnings to be transferable, you must have a Citi Premier or Citi Prestige and combine points into that “premium” account:
- Citi® Double Cash Card: While this card has no sign-up bonus, you will earn 2% cash back on all purchases (1% when you buy and 1% when you pay your statement balance). Traditionally a cash-back credit card, Citi added the ability to transfer your Double Cash earnings into a full ThankYou Rewards account in 2019, meaning that you can earn 2x ThankYou points on all purchases — and pay no annual fee. For more information, read our review of the Double Cash card.
- Citi Rewards+℠ Card: Earn 15,000 points after you spend $1,000 on purchases within three months of account opening. Earn 2x points at supermarkets and gas stations on your first $6,000 spent each year (then 1x). The card will also round up your purchases to the nearest 10 points, and you’ll receive 10% of your redeemed rewards back (on the first 100,000 points you redeem per year). There’s no annual fee for this card. For more information, read our review of the no-annual-fee Citi Rewards+ Card.
- Citi Rewards+℠ Student Card: The student version of this card offers 2,500 points after you spend $500 on purchases within the first three months of account opening. Like the standard version, it also offers you 2x points at supermarkets and gas stations on your first $6,000 spent each year (then 1x). Likewise, it will round up your purchases to the nearest 10 points, and you’ll receive 10% of your redeemed rewards back (on the first 100,000 points you redeem per year). There’s no annual fee for this card.
- AT&T Access Card from Citi: Earn 10,000 points after you spend $1,000 in purchases within three months of account opening. You also earn 2x points for purchases made online at eligible retail and travel websites, and for products and services purchased directly from AT&T. There’s no annual fee for this card.
The information for the Citi Rewards+ Student Card, Citi Premier, Citi Prestige, and AT&T Access Card has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.
Air France-KLM Flying Blue
Flying Blue is the joint frequent flyer program for not just Air France and KLM but also Kenya Airways, Tarom and Transavia. This used to be a fantastic program, but in 2018, it removed its fixed award chart and shifted to dynamic pricing. Now, you’ll find an award calculator that will tell you the starting price of your desired route, but this can frequently result in much higher award prices along with some bizarre features when you actually search.
Occasionally you can find some good values — like when TPG Editor Nick Ewen used 53,000 miles to fly from Miami (MIA) to Venice (VCE) in Air France business class — but often you’ll find prices several times higher than you would expect.
The program’s primary strength is its monthly Promo Rewards, which can offer 25 to 50% savings on flights to Europe from select cities — though note that these have been temporarily halted during the coronavirus outbreak. Unfortunately, a 25% discount on an expensive dynamic award price might not be a good deal, and recent deals have had limited options in North America and few to no business class deals available from the U.S. or Canada:
One quirk that can help sweeten the deal is that Flying Blue has traditionally used unique geographical classifications when it comes to pricing awards. For example, Israel has generally priced the same as flights to Europe for the purposes of booking award travel, while Aruba, Bonaire and Curaçao are usually considered part of North America. Flying Blue has also traditionally priced Delta awards to Hawaii at significantly lower rates than you’d get booking through SkyMiles, though it’s also had issues displaying Delta award availability at times. However, if you’re looking to book a Flying Blue award on any dates or routes not covered by the rotating monthly promos, expect to see a wide variation in prices (potentially five fold or more) within a single week.
TPG last reviewed this program back in 2014, and it doesn’t appear to have changed much since. It still has a distance-based award program that makes the most sense when you are crossing regions of traditional award programs. For example, flights to Mexico and the Caribbean that are under 1,000 miles are just 15,000 miles each way. In comparison, other SkyTeam carriers could charge significantly more. This is also a good opportunity to use miles for relatively short-haul flights between Asia, Europe and North Africa. The biggest problem is that you’ll have to call to book these awards.
Virgin Atlantic Flying Club
The final option for booking SkyTeam flights isn’t actually a member of the alliance, but for U.S.-based travelers, it just may be the best option. Virgin Atlantic has independent agreements with multiple airlines around the world, including SkyTeam member Delta. As a result, you can earn and redeem Flying Club miles on Delta-operated flights around the world, often for significantly fewer miles than you’d need to redeem through Delta SkyMiles.
In addition, we’ve found that Virgin Atlantic tends to have more access to Delta awards than SkyTeam members (which could be explained by the fact that Delta actually owns a large stake in Virgin Atlantic). For example, last fall TPG Senior Contributor Ethan Steinberg was able to book a one-way award ticket in the new Delta One A350 suites from Detroit (DTW) to Shanghai (PVG) for just 60,000 Flying Club miles.
Other sweet spots for Delta awards include:
- Europe for 100,000 miles in business class, round-trip.
- South America for 45,000 miles in economy and 90,000 miles in business, round-trip.
- Domestic first class for 45,000 miles, round-trip.
- Africa, the Middle East and Asia in business class for 120,000 miles.
- Hawaii in first class for 37,500 miles.
Just note that Virgin Atlantic uses additive pricing for Delta award flights, so you’ll be charged separately for every segment you book. You should therefore look for direct, nonstop flights whenever possible.
Delta flights are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the Flying Club program, so for more information, check out these guides:
- Unlock incredible value with Virgin Atlantic Flying Club
- How to book cheap Delta awards with Virgin Atlantic Flying Club
While the above transfer partners can help you get an outsized value from your ThankYou points, they require you to hunt for and successfully find award space. Another option worth considering is a direct redemption through the Citi travel portal, especially if you have the Citi Premier card. Premier cardholders receive a 25% bonus on these redemptions, making their points worth a respectable 1.25 cents each. Most importantly, you can book any flight you want this way, regardless of whether there’s award availability. Because these are treated as cash bookings, you’ll even earn redeemable and elite-qualifying miles on them, helping you increase your redemption value even further.
Citi’s ThankYou Rewards program doesn’t have the same level of fanfare as Chase Ultimate Rewards and American Express Membership Rewards, and its points fall below those two in our monthly valuations. Of the major alliances, SkyTeam has the thinnest coverage among Citi’s transfer partners. However, you may be able to find a decent value with Flying Blue’s monthly Promo Rewards, and I’d highly recommend considering Virgin Atlantic’s Flying Club program if you’re considering a nonstop Delta flight.
Hopefully these tips will help you use ThankYou points for your next award trip.
Featured photo by Fabrizio Gandolfo/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images.
Ethan Steinberg contributed to this post.
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