Best Sweet Spots With Citi ThankYou Rewards

Jan 25, 2019

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The Citi ThankYou Rewards program doesn’t get as much love and attention as the other major transferable point programs (Chase Ultimate Rewards and American Express Membership Rewards). While it’s true that ThankYou points can be slightly harder to earn and don’t have quite as many redemption options as some other currencies, Citi actually has several high-value redemption options in common with the other transferable points programs. Today we’ll take a look at a few sweet spots to help you redeem your Citi ThankYou points for maximum value.

In all of these instances, you’ll be transferring your points to various airline partners, but it’s important to note that not of these transfers will process instantly. Be sure to check that guide and put an award ticket on hold if it looks like you won’t receive your miles immediately. These transfers are nonrefundable, so you’d hate to be stuck with airline miles you can no longer use because award availability disappeared.

Earning ThankYou Rewards Points

Of course, to utilize any of the below options, you need to actually earn Citi ThankYou Rewards points. The best way to quickly do this is by utilizing welcome bonuses on the issuer’s top credit cards. One of the best options is the Citi Premier® Card, which is currently offering a sign-up bonus of 60,000 points after you spend $4,000 in purchases within the first three months of account opening. This card also comes with solid earning potential on everyday purchases, awarding 3x points on travel (including gas), 2x points on dining and entertainment, and 1x point on all other purchases. The card has a $95 annual fee.

For more information, be sure to check out our full review of the card.

Premium AA Awards With Etihad Guest

American Airlines is the only US legacy carrier without a major credit card transfer partner to top up your account balance. Chase has United as a 1:1 transfer partner, and Amex has Delta. You can transfer Marriott points to AA at a 3:1 ratio, but the world’s largest airline by passenger volume is clearly the odd one out here. You might expect that Citi, as the primary issuer of cobranded AA credit cards, would strike a deal to fill this void. While that hasn’t yet happened, there is still a great way to redeem ThankYou points for flights on American-operated flights.

If you transfer ThankYou points to Etihad Guest (at a 1:1 ratio), you can book American flights at prices that closely mirror what AA itself used to charge before its 2016 devaluation.

You’ll find the best values in premium cabins, such as round-trip business class flights to Europe for only 100,000 miles, as opposed to 115,000 if you booked with AAdvantage miles. Business class awards to Asia are also attractively priced, with one-way awards to Asia 1 (Japan and Korea) costing 50,000 miles, as opposed to 60,000 with American.

While first class award space on AA’s small fleet of flagship 777-300ER aircraft is nearly impossible to find, Etihad’s pricing is very attractive if you are able to book an award. These aircraft operate flights from major hubs like New York-JFK, Miami (MIA) and Los Angeles (LAX) to international destinations including London-Heathrow (LHR), Hong Kong (HKG) and Tokyo-Haneda (HND). When TPG flew first class from LAX to Hong Kong, he didn’t find the flight experience to be that much better than business class, but it does give you access to AA’s Flagship First Dining at LAX. You could book this award to Hong Kong for only 67,500 Etihad Guest miles each way, while AA would charge you a whopping 110,000 miles.

Star Alliance Flights With Singapore

Singapore’s KrisFlyer loyalty program is best known as the only way to book aspirational awards such as Suites Class or business class on the world’s longest flight, but it can also be a great tool for Star Alliance partner flights. You can see the round-trip award chart below, with one-way flights requiring half the number of miles.

One of the best sweet spots here is United-operated flights from North America to Hawaii, which only cost 35,000 miles round-trip in economy. United would charge you 45,000 flights to book the same flights through its MileagePlus program.

Singapore also doesn’t split South America into different award regions like many other carriers do. This means you can book a Star Alliance award in business class to southern South America for only 50,000 miles each way, as opposed to 60,000 with United. While you do need to be careful of fuel surcharges that Singapore passes on for many partner awards, that’s not something you need to worry about if you’re traveling on a United- or Avianca-operated flight to South America.

Short-Haul United Flights With Avianca LifeMiles

If you’re looking to travel within the United States, you should turn your attention to Avianca LifeMiles, one of the hottest loyalty programs of the year thanks to new transfer agreements with Amex Membership Rewards and Capital One. LifeMiles is relatively unique in that it splits the US into three different award zones. These roughly map to the East Coast, Midwest and West Coast, though you can see in the chart below that there are a few exceptions (like Florida being grouped with Midwestern states in Zone US 2).

If you’re flying within a single award zone, Avianca only charges 7,500 miles for a one-way economy award. That’s a huge savings over the 10,000 – 12,500 miles United charges for most domestic awards. While longer flights from Zone 1 to Zone 3 are obviously the most expensive, Avianca doesn’t charge the same mileage premium as United for business class awards on “premium transcontinental service routes.” Paying 25,000 miles instead of 35,000 for the exact same award is an incredible steal, representing an almost a 30% discount for booking with the right program.

From/To US Zone 1 US Zone 2 US Zone 3
US Zone 1

Economy: 7,500 miles

Business: 15,000 miles

Economy: 10,000 miles

Business: 15,000 miles

Economy: 12,500 miles

Business: 25,000 miles

US Zone 2

Economy: 7,500 miles

Business: 15,000 miles

Economy: 12,500 miles

Business: 25,000 miles

US Zone 3

Economy: 7,500 miles

Business: 15,000 miles

Virgin Atlantic: The Hidden Gem

While most airlines leverage a major alliance to operate codeshare flights and utilize complementary route networks, Virgin Atlantic has built a valuable loyalty program without being a member of one of the big three alliances. As is often the case with non-alliance members, its Flying Club program has different award carts for each of its partner airlines. Some are not worth considering, but two have the potential to offer incredible value.


Delta’s switch from a fixed award chart to “variable pricing” has frustrated many travelers, but thanks to the carrier’s partnership with Virgin Atlantic, you can often grab nonstop award flights through the Flying Club program for fewer miles than booking directly with Delta. Take this economy award flight from JFK to Milan (MXP). Virgin Atlantic will charge you 30,000 miles and $5.60 for the one-way award.

For the exact same flight (DL172) Delta wants 84,000 miles!

You’ll find the same trends in Delta One business class as well, with Delta often charging twice as many miles as Virgin Atlantic for the same flights. Given Delta’s frustrating pricing scheme, you should always search on Virgin Atlantic before you transfer any points or book a SkyMiles award ticket.


Virgin Atlantic’s ANA award chart has to be one of the single best sweet spots in the entire points and miles world. For fewer miles than most airlines would charge for a one-way award ticket, you can book a round-trip first class award from the US to Japan. Here are the prices for these redemptions:

If you’re flying from West Coast gateways like  LAX or San Francisco (SFO), the round-trip award will cost 110,000 miles in first class or 90,000 in business class. From the Midwest or East Coast, you’ll pay just a small premium; it costs 120,000 miles in first class or 95,000 in business class. For a ticket that often retails for $16,000 or more, this is a complete steal. ANA’s food and service are among the best in the industry, though be forewarned that the first class ‘square’ is a little too private. Even in the middle seats, couples traveling together will have a tough time communicating during the flight.

Unfortunately, you are restricted to a round-trip ticket, but ANA is usually decent about releasing premium cabin award space, especially if you have some flexibility. Be sure to consider flights to both Tokyo-Haneda (HND) and Tokyo-Narita (NRT) to maximize your odds of finding space.

Bottom Line

Like any transferable points currency, Citi has some partners that are duds and some that can truly return an outsized value. The deals covered here are only the beginning. Whether you’re looking for posh long-haul international travel or simply trying to maximize your free domestic flights, Citi ThankYou points can help.

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