Redeeming Citi ThankYou Points for maximum value
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The Citi ThankYou Rewards program remains one of the best for credit card users looking for flexible cash-back options or travel rewards. The program currently has 15 airline transfer partners and some of those partner programs offer the best use of ThankYou points.
Citi currently offers five cards that allow you to earn ThankYou points (plus one card no longer available for new sign-ups):
- Citi Prestige® Card
- Citi Premier℠ Card
- Citi Rewards+℠ Card
- Citi Rewards+℠ Student Card
- AT&T Access Card from Citi
- AT&T Access More Mastercard from Citi (no longer available for new sign-ups, but you can still earn, use, and transfer your points)
The information for the Citi Rewards+ Student Card, Citi Prestige, Citi Premier, AT&T Access Card from Citi, and the AT&T Access More Mastercard from Citi has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.
The ThankYou Rewards program may not be as highly publicized or well-regarded as Chase Ultimate Rewards or American Express Membership Rewards, but if you know how to leverage your ThankYou points through transfer partners, you can maximize the program’s value.
Related reading: The ultimate guide to Citi ThankYou rewards
In 2019, Citi slashed many of the benefits that came with their ThankYou Rewards credit cards. Most cardholders no longer get the advantages of travel insurance, rental car insurance, purchase price protection and other benefits. But Citi ThankYou points remain a valuable transferable currency, so let’s explore some strategies to make the most of them.
Earning Citi ThankYou points
You can earn ThankYou points from spending on Citi credit cards in the ThankYou portfolio or from targeted account-opening bonuses. Citi banking customers with CitiGold, Citi Priority, or Citi Private Bank accounts may also earn additional bonuses through that relationship. You can now also convert the cash back earned on the Citi® Double Cash Card to ThankYou Points via a linked ThankYou account.
The value of your points depends on which ThankYou points-earning credit cards you hold. Certain premium cards, such as the Citi Prestige, offer more options to spend your points and more ways to increase their value.
Every card in the ThankYou Rewards family allows you to redeem points toward the cost of airfare, hotels, cruises, gift cards, or loan payments at a redemption value of at least 1 cent per point. You can also request a statement credit or direct deposit into your bank account – but these are not the best ways to spend your rewards because you aren’t maximizing the points value.
If you only have the Citi Rewards+ Card (or the student variety) or one of the AT&T Access cards, 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 directly to ThankYou travel partners.
The two higher-tier cards, Citi Prestige and Citi Premier, provide the best value for using your ThankYou points and the ability to use the points with travel partners. If you hold one of the other cards, such as Citi Rewards+, the student card, or one of the two AT&T access cards, plus Prestige or Premier, you can transfer your ThankYou points to one of the upper-tier cards. Then you can use your combined points with one of the 15 transfer partners to squeeze the most value from your points.
Since you’ll typically get the most value through transfers, let’s look at the two premium Citi ThankYou cards before considering redemption options.
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The ThankYou Rewards Program offers the Citi Prestige as its premium-level card. Earn 50,000 ThankYou points after spending $4,000 with the card within the first three months. TPG values this bonus at $850.
Citi relaunched the top-tier card with a host of changes – positive and negative — in 2019. For starters, Citi raised the annual fee from $450 to a hefty $495, but Citigold and Private Bank clients still pay a discounted rate of $350 per year. Citi dropped nearly all travel and purchase protections the card used to offer. These are the rest of the negative changes:
- The Fourth Night Free benefit is now limited to twice per calendar year and is available to the main cardmember and authorized users.
- The 25% bonus for air travel when redeeming points through the Citi travel portal was dropped; now cardholders only get 1 cent per point on airfare when redeeming through the portal.
- Earning on entertainment purchases dropped to just 1 point per dollar for all cardholders.
It’s not all bleak, though. Prestige remains a good card for frequent travelers, with 5x points on dining and air travel and 3x points on cruise lines. That means you can get an 8.5% return on restaurant and airfare purchases based on TPG’s valuation of Citi ThankYou points at 1.7 cents each.
You’ll also receive a $250 annual credit for travel purchases, where that credit previously applied only to airfare.
In addition, the card now includes cellphone protection for damage and theft and it maintains its Global Entry/TSA PreCheck application-fee credit and Priority Pass membership. You’ll also still get 3x points on hotel purchases.
Read our full review of the Citi Prestige here.
Citi Premier, the second-tier ThankYou points-earning card, is currently offering 60,000 points after you spend $4,000 in the first three months of account opening. The Premier Card earns 3x points on travel (including gas), 2x points on dining and entertainment and 1x point 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 or transfer to any of the 15 travel partners. The card has a $95 annual fee.
Like the Prestige card and the other cards in the ThankYou Rewards line, it lost most of its purchase protection and insurance benefits. But the sign-up bonus, relatively low annual fee and high earning capabilities still make this card worthwhile.
Before you apply for either the Prestige or Premier card, you’ll want to make sure you qualify for the sign-up bonus. You aren’t eligible to receive bonus ThankYou Points if you have received a cardmember bonus for other Citi ThankYou rewards cards, or closed a Citi ThankYou card account, in the past 24 months.
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.
Poor value redemptions
- Statement credits, Shop with Points and more
Although Citi has made it easier to redeem rewards in real time, you should never redeem your ThankYou points for statement credit, cash rewards or the Shop with Points program. These will all give you much less than 1 cent per point in value, which is low compared to the redemptions highlighted below. Paying directly with ThankYou points at BestBuy.com will give you less than 1 cent per point, compared to redeeming points for 1 cent each for Best Buy gift cards.
- A handful of airline transfer partners
All Citi airline transfers allow you to transfer miles at a 1:1 ratio, but the value of those miles varies greatly, as does flight availability, ease of booking, fuel surcharges and other fees that can drive up the cost of your ticket. Redemptions with EVA Air, Thai Airways, Malaysia Airlines and Qatar Privilege Club give you a poor return. You should avoid transferring to these partners except in unique and specific circumstances. There are several reasons for this, including the number of miles required, high fuel surcharges, and lengthy (read: frustrating) booking processes. It could be worth checking out these partners in specific instances, but make sure you evaluate other options as well.
- Citi ThankYou Travel Center redemptions
As recently as last year, Premier and Prestige cardholders could redeem points at a flat rate of 1.25 cents each toward airfare through the City ThankYou Travel Center. Now, though, you’ll only get 1 cent per point, which means that you most certainly have better options by transferring your points to one of Citi’s better travel partners.
No doubt, it’s easy and convenient to book through the Citi Travel Center, as you can book nearly any seat on any flight and earn redeemable and elite-qualifying miles if you’re a member of that airline’s frequent flyer program. But you’re leaving money on the table using your points this way.
Middle-of-the-road value redemptions
- Asia Miles
Cathay Pacific’s Asia Miles program has some very interesting redemption opportunities, thanks to how it defines regions and routing rules. But it’s difficult to decipher the complex rules to book a ticket. If not for the complicated process, I’d rank it as a maximum-value redemption. Program changes in June 2018 also increased the cost of premium-cabin redemptions and made the online booking engine less useful. Another strike against the program: There’s still no award chart for itineraries consisting of only a single partner airline.
Nevertheless, you can find some decent values. For instance, you can book round-trip business class to Europe for 100,000 miles. Likewise, a one-way to Europe with a stopover is only 50,000 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.
- Flying Blue
There are several fantastic uses of the Air France/KLM loyalty program, but 2018 program changes have made them more difficult to find. With the program’s dynamic pricing model, you can’t be sure what Flying Blue award tickets are going to cost until you actually search. That makes it hard to proactively set a mileage goal and then work to meet it. However, you can get some decent value from the program’s promo awards that rotate on a regular basis and typically offer 25-50% off economy or business-class awards from specific North American gateways to Europe and beyond.
The program also allows you to visit far-flung places such as Papua, New Guinea, on partner Aircalin, and you can use creative routings to lower the price of your ticket or potentially add additional segments at no extra charge. However, fuel surcharges can be a real headache with the program, and they increase for premium-cabin redemptions. Flying Blue isn’t the program it was, but if you catch a promo award or find award space on a Delta-operated route (you may need to call for domestic flights), the program can yield good value. Be aware that it can take up to 14 days for points to transfer, which is longer than average, so you’ll want to plan ahead if you’re using this redemption option.
Maximum-value redemption options
- Avianca LifeMiles
South American airline Avianca has a loyalty program called LifeMiles which is one of the most undervalued airline loyalty programs out there. Citi has been offering transfers to LifeMiles since 2017 — long before American Express and Capital One began partnering with Avianca — and routinely offers transfer bonuses. There are many routes worth investigating, but you’ll find the best value on domestic short-haul flights on Star Alliance partner United. These currently start at just 7,500 miles each way, but certain city pairs dropped to 6,500 miles in summer 2019. We’ve even seen some fall as low as low as 3,500 miles.
You can also book Lufthansa first class to Europe for 87,000 miles one-way with no fuel surcharges. The Star Alliance partner award chart is full of reasonably-priced award routings and you can routinely buy LifeMiles at a reasonable price compared to the value these redemptions offer. You can even score lower rates on mixed-cabin awards.
Related reading: 6 tips for booking Lufthansa first class awards
The more time you spend on the LifeMiles award-booking engine, the more familiar you become with some of the nuances and great value the program offers. If you are not familiar with this Citi transfer partner, create an account and search a few of your upcoming routes to see what value the program could provide to you.
- Singapore KrisFlyer
Singapore Suites and Singapore First Class continue to be among the top products in the sky and they’re generally only bookable via Singapore Airlines’ own KrisFlyer program. The airline doesn’t release long-haul premium-cabin award space to its partners. Prices are relatively reasonable for Singapore’s first-class routes serving the U.S., including New York-JFK to Frankfurt (FRA) for 86,000 miles in Suites class and Los Angeles (LAX) to Tokyo-Narita (NRT) for 107,000 miles in Suites class. Even if your desired routing or class of service isn’t open at the time of booking, you can easily waitlist for a better award.
Related reading: Singapore Airlines awards changes
Singapore KrisFlyer also has a few sweet spots for booking Star Alliance routes, including 35,000 miles in economy or 69,000 miles in business for a round-trip award from the U.S. to Hawaii on United. By transferring to this program, you can use ThankYou points to fly United to Hawaii for fewer miles than United’s own program charges.
- Etihad Guest
The Etihad Guest program continues to fly under the radar, but represents a tremendous value when you use ThankYou Points. You can fly almost anywhere in the world for incredibly reasonable prices using only Etihad Guest miles and the airline’s wide array of partner programs. This includes routes and airlines you didn’t know existed, such as Royal Air Maroc’s Dreamliner service to Africa from New York-JFK to Casablanca (CMN) for only 44,000 miles in business each way.
Most applicable to us here in the U.S. is the ability to book awards on Etihad partner American at pre-AAdvantage devaluation prices. American increased the rates of its own award tickets, but Etihad has not updated the Etihad Guest American award chart (warning: PDF link). You can still fly American’s business class one-way to Europe, Japan or South Korea by transferring 50,000 ThankYou points to Etihad.
- Virgin Atlantic
Using points for flights on Virgin Atlantic’s own metal rarely results in a good value because of the high surcharges, taxes and fees you’ll have to pay, but the Flying Club program does have a variety of partner awards you can book. Air New Zealand and Delta routinely produce incredible redemption opportunities for long-haul business flights with relatively small amounts of miles, such as 50,000 Virgin Atlantic miles for the new Delta One Suite between the U.S. and Europe or 62,500 miles for Air New Zealand business class one-way from Auckland to the U.S.
Virgin also charges a flat 12,500 miles for Delta domestic flights regardless of what Delta is charging; I’ve seen these awards price at upwards of 30,000 SkyMiles for the same flight. Just be aware that Flying Club does charge by segment, so adding a domestic Delta connection to a long-haul flight will increase your award rate.
Of course you can’t overlook the ability to book ANA first class from the U.S. to Tokyo for 110,000-120,000 miles round-trip, depending on where in the States you depart from. That’s less than most airlines would charge for a one-way ticket, and it gives you a chance to fly on one of the world’s most refined airlines.
For more details on this partner and the best Virgin Atlantic redemptions, listen to this Talking Points podcast episode.
As with most transferable-point loyalty programs, you’ll almost 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 Rewards program or undervalue its points.
Even if you decided to limit your choices to Virgin Atlantic and Etihad Guest and their respective partners, you could reach almost any destination in the world on reasonably priced award tickets. Add in all the other transfer possibilities and the variety of sweet spots in the program, and there’s no such thing as too many ThankYou points.
- Best Ways to Redeem Citi ThankYou Points on Star Alliance Airlines
- Best Ways to Redeem Citi ThankYou Points on SkyTeam Airlines
- Best Ways to Redeem Citi ThankYou Points on Oneworld Airlines
Additional reporting by Dawn Allcot and Benji Stawski.
Featured photo of Virgin Atlantic Upper Class by Orli Friedman/The Points Guy
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