Best ways to redeem Citi ThankYou points on Star Alliance airlines
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Citi ThankYou is one of the major transferrable points programs. While not as well-known as some major players like Chase Ultimate Rewards or American Express Membership Rewards, the program has an assortment of unique transfer partners that you can use to book high-value award tickets in premium cabins.
If you're hoping to use Citi ThankYou points for flights on Star Alliance carriers, you have plenty of options. Citi partners with five airlines in the alliance and each one has its own award chart sweet spots. Further, Citi also partners with Etihad, a non-alliance airline that has partnerships with six Star Alliance members.
With so many options, though, it can be difficult to know which points to use when booking Star Alliance award tickets. In this article, I'll walk you through all of Citi's Star Alliance transfer partners and discuss when you should use each of them.
Earning Citi ThankYou points
Before you can transfer Citi ThankYou points to Star Alliance partners, you'll need to earn some first. Here are a few Citi ThankYou point credit cards you can use to beef up your account balance. The cards listed below are considered premium cards, so you can transfer the points directly to Citi's various airline transfer partners.
Citi Premier® Card
Earn 80,000 bonus ThankYou® Points after you spend $4,000 in purchases within the first three months of account opening. Earn 3X points per dollar on air travel and hotels, gas stations, restaurants, supermarkets.
The card has a $95 annual fee. For more information, read our review of the Citi Premier.
The card offers 50,000 bonus points after spending $4,000 within three months of account opening. Plus, you'll 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 (which will be capped at twice per year starting in September 2019). There's a $495 annual fee for this card. For more information, read our review of the Citi Prestige.
The information for the Citi Prestige has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.
Citi Rewards+® Card
The Citi Rewards+ Card currently offers new applicants 20,000 ThankYou bonus points after spending $1,500 on purchases within the first three months of account opening. For a limited time, earn 5 ThankYou points per dollar at restaurants up to $6,000 in the first 12 months; then 1 point per dollar spent thereafter. It earns 2x ThankYou points on the first $6,000 spent at supermarkets and gas stations each year (then 1x). These points are not transferable on their own. However, you can "convert" them to fully transferable points if you also hold one of the premium cards we discussed earlier.
The card will also round up your purchases to the nearest 10 points, meaning even $1 purchases will earn 10 points. You'll also receive 10% of your redeemed rewards back up to 100,000 points per year.
The Citi Rewards+ Card has no annual fee. For more information, read our post on Citi Rewards+ Card review.
Redeeming Citi ThankYou points
While you can redeem your Citi ThankYou points for gift cards, merchandise and to cover paid travel, we don't recommend it. These redemptions will give you 1 cent per point in value at the most, which is 0.7 cents per point lower than TPG's most recent valuation.
If you're looking to redeem your Citi points for maximum value, your best bet is to take advantage of Citi's various transfer partners. Doing this lets you take advantage of all the sweet spots in the ThankYou Rewards program, like booking low-cost domestic awards and almost free tickets in international first and business class.
Avianca LifeMiles has long been one of the best ways to redeem points for flights on Star Alliance partners. It's the loyalty program of the South America-based Avianca, and has a few incredible redemption sweet-spots. Even better, the LifeMiles frequent flyer program is one of the few that never imposes fuel surcharges on their awards, so you won't have to pay more than $100 or so to redeem points for most award tickets.
Among the best award options for LifeMiles points are:
Short-haul United tickets: LifeMiles charges just 7,500 miles for one-way United flights within a single North American Zone. For example, Colorado and California are in a single zone, as are Montana and Georgia. So are Illinois and Florida, which is a potentially lucrative option given United's hub at Chicago-O'Hare.
Lufthansa first class: Use 87,000 miles for a one-way Lufthansa first class ticket from the U.S. to Europe. Note that these tickets can only be booked within 14-days of departure.
Business class to the Middle East: Fly to the Middle East for just 78,000 miles in business class.
Business class to Europe: Redeem 63,000 miles for a one-way ticket to Europe in business class on airlines like Austrian Airlines, Swiss, Lufthansa and United. This is more than what Turkish Miles & Smiles charges, but you'll save big on fuel surcharges.
Keep in mind that you can potentially drop the cost of long-haul, premium class flights even further by booking shorter connections in a lower class of service.
For example, if you're flying on a connecting ticket from New York-JFK to Tel Aviv (TLV) via Frankfurt (FRA) in Lufthansa first class, you'll pay 91,060 LifeMiles one-way when you book the Tel Aviv to Frankfurt leg in business class. This is roughly 15,000 miles cheaper than booking a non-stop first-class ticket from New York to Tel Aviv.
You can also transfer points from American Express Membership Rewards, Capital One Venture Rewards and the Marriott Bonvoy to Avianca LifeMiles at various transfer ratios, so it's easy to top-up if you don't have quite enough ThankYou points for an award.
Etihad isn't a member of the Star Alliance, but it has non-alliance partnerships with six Star Alliance partners, including Air New Zealand, Air Canada, ANA, Asiana Airlines, Brussels Airlines and SAS. Each of these has a different award chart and not all are worthwhile, but there are a few excellent deals to be had. Here's a look:
Air Canada to/from the U.S.: 5,000-mile one-way economy flights on Air Canada award tickets under 500 miles. This includes routes like Newark (EWR) to Montreal (YUL), Chicago-O'Hare (ORD) to Toronto (YYZ) and Portland (PDX) to Vancouver (YVR).
Business class to Seoul: 59,000-mile one-way business class flights from Los Angeles (LAX) and San Francisco (SFO) to Seoul (ICN) on Asiana Airlines.
East Coast to Europe: 44,000-mile one-way business class flights from New York-JFK, Washington-Dulles (IAD) and Toronto to Brussels (BRU) on Brussels Airlines.
Short-haul from Brussels: 5,000-mile one-way short-haul economy flights departing Brussels on Brussels Airlines. Some routes include Brussels to Prague (PRG), Berlin (TXL) and London-Heathrow (LHR), amongst others.
Short-haul from Scandanavia: 6,000 to 10,000-mile one-way short-haul economy flights departing Copenhagen (CPH), Oslo (OSL) and Stockholm (ARN) to select destinations around Europe. See Etihad's SAS partner page for eligible routes.
One thing to note about Etihad Guest, though: You can't book partner awards online. Instead, you have to find award space using your favorite Star Alliance award search tool and call Etihad to book the ticket. This process is tedious but worthwhile, given the low award cost.
Unfortunately, EVA Air's Infinity MileageLands program isn't very useful. You'll consistently find lower prices with the other Star Alliance frequent flyer programs listed here, so we'll skip redemptions with this program.
Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer
Singapore's KrisFlyer program is the only way to redeem Citi points for long-haul awards in Singapore Airlines' ultra-premium first and business class products, including its famous Singapore Suites first class.
Do note that transfers to Singapore Airlines can take up to a week to process, but you can request a free award hold on itineraries operated by Singapore Airlines. We highly recommend doing this before you transfer points, to be sure that you can actually book your ticket once your mileage transfer processes.
Here's a look at some of the best Singapore Airlines redemptions:
Singapore Suites New York to Frankfurt: Coming as a surprise to many, Singapore Airlines flies between New York-JFK and Frankfurt with its Singapore Suites-equipped A380 aircraft. You can book this route for 86,000 miles in first class and 72,000 in business class, making it one of the best ways to fly transatlantic from the New York area.
West Coast to Tokyo and Hong Kong: The airline also operates two fifth-freedom routes to Asia: San Francisco (SFO) to Hong Kong (HKG) and Los Angeles (LAX) to Tokyo-Narita (NRT). The Hong Kong route costs 89,000 miles in business class and 104,000 in first class while the Tokyo route costs 92,000 and 107,000 miles respectively.
Newark to Singapore (SIN) nonstop: Singapore Airlines relaunched nonstop service from Singapore to Newark using its A350-900ULR aircraft in 2018. You can book a one-way ticket on the route for 99,000 miles one-way in business class.
You can also transfer points to Singapore Airlines from American Express Membership Rewards, Chase Ultimate Rewards, and the Marriott Bonvoy program.
Thai Royal Orchid Plus
Thai recently filed for bankruptcy, so we don't recommend transferring miles to the airline right now. That said, you're not missing out on much: Star Alliance awards to Europe cost 70,000 miles round-trip in economy class, so you can do much better with LifeMiles and Turkish Airlines' loyalty program — more on that soon.
Turkish Airlines Miles & Smiles
Turkish Airlines' Miles & Smiles loyalty program is one of the most under-utilized Star Alliance loyalty programs. TPG's Richard Kerr recently called it the hottest loyalty program of 2020, and it's not hard to see why. It has some of the most generous Star Alliance award charts — here are a few ways to maximize it:
Fly transcontinental in United Polaris: You can book domestic United tickets for 15,000 miles round-trip in economy and 25,000 in United First. This includes transcontinental flights in Polaris business class — a ticket which usually costs over $2,000 round-trip.
Cheap flights to Hawaii: Even better, Turkish's U.S. domestic award chart specifically includes Hawaii, so you can book awards to Hawaii at the same prices we discussed earlier. This includes long-haul flights from Chicago and Newark to Honolulu, which is operated by a wide-body aircraft with lie-flat seats
Fly to Mexico: Flights from the U.S. to Mexico on United Airlines cost just 10,000 miles one-way in economy and 15,000 in business class. These flights generally operate with domestic United First seating, but it's easy to justify the upgrade for 5,000 miles.
45,000 miles to Europe: You can book tickets to Europe in business class for just 45,000 miles one-way on Star Alliance partners like United, Lufthansa and more.
North America to India: These awards cost just 52,500 miles one-way in business class, making it the best way to fly to India from the U.S. with points and miles. You can fly these routes nonstop with Air India and United or fly through Europe with other partner airlines.
The only issue with these amazing awards? Fuel surcharges. The airline doesn't pass along fuel surcharges for United-operated flights and flights operated by Turkish Airlines are pretty reasonable. On the other hand, flights operated by other partners like Austrian Airlines and Lufthansa can have fuel surcharges of $600 or more.
In these cases, ask yourself how much you value the points savings versus booking with Avianca LifeMiles. If you value the miles saved more than the money spent, it makes sense to book with Turkish. On the other hand, it may be worth spending more miles to book with LifeMiles if you'd rather save the cash.
Citi is Turkish Airlines' only credit card transfer partner, but you can also transfer points in from Marriott Bonvoy at a 3:1 transfer ratio. As with all Marriott transfers, you'll receive 5,000 bonus miles for every 60,000 points you transfer.
Tips for Transferring ThankYou Points
Like American Express Membership Rewards, Citi frequently offers transfer bonuses that can stretch your rewards even further. In the past, this has opened up 26,000-mile business class tickets to Europe with Turkish Airlines transfers, which is an incredible deal when compared to other transfer partners.
Further, always keep transfer times in mind before you transfer points. The last thing that you want is to transfer points only to find the award you wanted to book is gone by the time the miles post to your account.
To help with this, we looked at Citi ThankYou point transfer times for all of Citi's transfer partners and found that Avianca miles posted immediately, Singapore and Turkish took a day and Etihad took a week. Always try to put your award ticket on hold if the partner offers it, but have a backup plan in place too.
The Citi ThankYou Rewards program offers amazing value for awards on Star Alliance carriers, especially when it comes to transferring your points to Avianca LifeMiles and Turkish Miles & Smiles. Premium redemptions with Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer can be great too — especially if you're lucky enough to fly in Singapore Suites.
That being said, always run the numbers on your redemptions and make sure that it makes sense to book with miles before you transfer. We recommend paying for a ticket if you get under 1.7 cents per point in value, but you'll want to calculate your own valuations based on your travel habits and points earning.
After you read this article, be sure to check out our guides on redeeming Citi ThankYou points with other airline alliances:
- Best ways to redeem Citi ThankYou points on Oneworld airlines
- Best ways to redeem Citi ThankYou points on SkyTeam airlines
Feature photo by Agent Wolf/Shutterstock