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Over the last couple years, both the Citi ThankYou program and the cards that earn ThankYou points have changed quite a bit. New transfer partners have been added; redemption values have decreased; and sign-up bonuses have come and gone. Despite some negatives, Citi points remain a valuable transferable currency, especially for those looking to book award flights on international carriers. Today, I’ll share the strategies you should consider when it comes time to put your hard-earned ThankYou points to use.
Earning Citi ThankYou Points
You can earn ThankYou points from Citi credit cards in the ThankYou portfolio or from targeted account-opening bonuses (although actually receiving the bonuses can be a headache), continued banking relationships and additional relationship bonuses if you’re a CitiGold, Global Client or Citi Private Bank customer.
The value of your ThankYou points depends on which Citi ThankYou points-earning credit card (or cards) you hold. Holding certain premium cards unlocks more capabilities for your points. Regardless of which card you have, you can always redeem points toward the revenue cost of airfare, hotels, cruises, gift cards, loan payments or merchandise at a redemption value of at least 1 cent per point.
Here are the Citi ThankYou point-earning cards:
- Citi Prestige
- Citi ThankYou Premier
- Citi ThankYou Preferred
- Citi ThankYou Preferred Card for College Students
- AT&T Access Card from Citi
- At&T Access More Mastercard from Citi (no longer avail for new sign-ups, but product transfers are still possible)
As we’ll discuss in a moment, you can usually get the most value for your ThankYou points by transferring to one of the program’s 15 travel partners. In order to be able to transfer your points to a partner’s loyalty program, you must hold either the Citi Prestige or Citi ThankYou Premier. As long as you hold one of those two cards, you can even combine your ThankYou points earned from one of the lower-tier cards in order to transfer those as well.
If you only have either the Citi ThankYou Preferred Card (or the for College Students variety) or the AT&T Access More MasterCard from Citi, you will earn what we call “basic” ThankYou points. They’re worth a flat 1 cent each when redeemed toward travel, student loan repayments or mortgage payments and cannot be transferred to the ThankYou travel partners. Let’s look at the two premium Citi ThankYou cards.
Citi Prestige Card
The top-tier Cit ThankYou card is not currently offering a sign-up bonus, but we saw a 75,000-point offer last year. The card carries a hefty annual fee of $450, but offers an impressive array of benefits such as a fourth night free on paid hotel stays that can quickly recoup that cost.
You can redeem points directly through the Citi ThankYou Travel Center for airfare at a rate of 1.25 cents per point and at a rate of 1 cent per point for hotels, car rentals and cruises. You can also transfer points at 1:1 to 14 of the 15 airline partners (JetBlue is 5:4). The Citi Prestige Card earns 3x ThankYou Points on airfare and hotel purchases, 2x points on dining and entertainment purchases and 1 point per dollar spent elsewhere.
Citi ThankYou Premier Card
The lower-tier ThankYou points-earning card has an on again, off again sign-up bonus. Currently it’s offering a fantastic 50,000 points after you spend $4,000 in the first three months of account opening. The ThankYou Premier Card earns 3x points on travel including gas, 2x points on dining and entertainment and 1x points on all other spending. If you have the Premier Card, you can redeem your ThankYou points with Citi toward airfare at a rate of 1.25 cents each. The card has a $95 annual fee that’s waived for the first year.
With the earning side of ThankYou points explained, let’s look at the redemption options you should avoid, and those that will give you maximum value.
Statement Credits, Pay With Points and More
Do not redeem your ThankYou points for statement credit or cash (via Rewards Account Numbers); merchandise; shop with points; or pay with points. These will all give you less than 1 cent per point in value, which is on the low side compared to the redemptions I’ll discuss below.
Select Airline Transfer Partners
We previously covered the possibilities of utilizing ThankYou points for Garuda Indonesia, Qantas, EVA Air and Thai Airways. In addition, I can’t find good reasons to utilize Jet Airways, Malaysia Airlines or Qatar Privilege Club. You should avoid transferring to these partners except in unique and specific circumstances. This is due to several factors, including high fuel surcharges and lengthy phone-booking processes. It could be worth checking out these partners depending on your travel plans, but make sure you evaluate other options as well.
Middle-of-the-Road Redemption Options
Citi ThankYou Travel Center Redemptions
If you’re a Citi ThankYou Premier or Citi Prestige cardholder, the option to redeem points at a flat 1.25 cents each toward airfare represents an acceptable value for a few reasons:
- Airlines treat tickets booked via the ThankYou travel portal as paid fares (most of the time), which earn you redeemable and elite-qualifying miles.
- You can avoid one of the biggest hurdles to award travel bookings: availability. Book any seat on almost any flight you want — free.
Cathay Pacific’s Asia Miles program has some very interesting redemption opportunities, thanks to its region definitions and routing rules. The hold-up is the significant amount of effort required and the complex rules you’ll have to decipher to get a ticket booked.
Asia Miles standard awards allow two stopovers, two transfers or one open jaw, unless you’re flying exclusively on Air China or Iberia, which allow no stopovers or open jaws. The standard award chart applies to redemptions for single or mixed (two) carrier awards. For mixed-carrier awards, Cathay Pacific or Cathay Dragon must be included as one of the two airlines.
You can book round-trip business to Europe for 80,000 miles, and a one-way to Europe with a stopover is only 45,000 miles. Dozens of gems are waiting to be discovered in the program’s complex rules, which even phone agents don’t always know. If you’re willing to put in the effort, this could be a maximum-value redemption. Because so few take advantage, though, I’ll keep it in the decent-value category.
Late in 2017, Citi added Lifemiles as a transfer partner. There are many routes worth investigating, but perhaps the best is 7,500-mile domestic short-haul flights on Star Alliance partner United. It’s also great to now be able to send a few Lifemiles into my account whenever the lucrative transfer bonuses come around, letting me earn significant Lifemiles for less than 1.4 cents each.
There are several fantastic uses of the Air France/KLM loyalty program, including 30,000 miles for round-trip economy tickets from anywhere in the continental US to Hawaii on fellow SkyTeam member Delta. Flying Blue also has promo awards on a regular basis that usually offer 25%-50% off economy or business-class awards from specific US gateways to Europe.
The program allows you to visit far-flung places like Papau New Guinea, and you can utilize creative routings to lower the price of your ticket or add additional segments at no extra charge. However, recent program changes have made it more of an unknown and we still haven’t tested Flying Blue in its new version to know whether it gives the same value it previously offered. For that reason, it’s currently in the decent-value category.
Maximum-Value Redemption Options
Singapore Suites and Singapore first class continue to be some of the top products in the sky, and they’re easily accessible via Singapore Airlines’ own KrisFlyer program. Prices are relatively reasonable for Singapore’s first-class routes servicing the US, including JFK-Frankfurt (FRA) for 76,000 miles in Suites, Los Angeles (LAX)-Tokyo (NRT) for 95,000 miles in Suites and Houston (IAH)-Moscow (DME) for 76,000 miles in first.
I’m a huge advocate of the Etihad Guest program. You can fly almost anywhere in the world for incredibly reasonable prices utilizing only Etihad Guest miles and the airline’s wide array of partner programs. This includes routes and airlines you didn’t know existed, like New York – Kiev on Ukraine International Airlines (48,000 miles round-trip) or Royal Air Maroc’s Dreamliner service to Africa on JFK-CMN for only 44,000 miles in business.
Most applicable to us here in the States is the ability to book awards on Etihad partner American at pre-AAdvantage devaluation prices. While American increased the rates of its own award tickets, Etihad has not updated the Etihad Guest American award chart. You can still fly American’s business class to Europe for 50,000 ThankYou points.
I’ve recounted many ways you can utilize Virgin Atlantic miles for maximum value, so it earns a place in this category as well. Air New Zealand and Delta routinely produce incredible redemption opportunities for long-haul business flights for little amounts of miles, such as 50,000 Virgin Atlantic miles for the new Delta One Suite or 62,500 miles for Air New Zealand business class one-way from Auckland to the US. Virgin also charges 12,500 miles for Delta domestic flights whereas Delta is charging upwards of 30,000 SkyMiles. Make sure you get familiar with this program and utilize it as much as you can!
As with most transferable-point loyalty programs, you’ll always get the biggest bang for your buck when you transfer your Citi ThankYou points to partner programs. Many award travelers often overlook the Citi ThankYou program or undervalue its points, which is really a shame.
If you were to only consider Virgin Atlantic and Etihad Guest when deciding how to redeem your ThankYou points, you could reach almost any destination in the world given the large range of partners, and many award tickets would be very reasonably priced. Add in all the other transfer possibilities, and there’s no such thing as too many ThankYou points.
- Earn 50,000 bonus ThankYou® Points after you spend $4,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening
- Earn 3X Points on Travel, Including Gas Stations
- Earn 2X Points on Dining Out & Entertainment
- Earn 1X Points on All Other Purchases
- 50,000 Points are redeemable for $625 in airfare on any airline, anytime with no blackout dates when booked through the ThankYou® Travel Center, or $500 in gift cards when redeemed at thankyou.com
- No expiration and no limit to the amount of points you can earn with this card
- Points Transfer allows you to transfer points to participating airline loyalty programs
- No Foreign Transaction Fees on purchases*