The Citi ThankYou program has 12 airline transfer partners, but none of them would be considered household names by Americans. Citi has members like Malaysia Airlines, Eva, Singapore and Virgin Atlantic, and many people don’t quite understand how to use these airlines to fly from the U.S. But this is where airline alliances are especially helpful.
You don’t have to fly on the airline associated with the program you transferred your points to since most carriers have many partners. Malaysia and Thai, for example, don’t fly to the U.S. at all, but since both of them are members of an alliance (Malaysia is a oneworld member while Thai belongs to Star), you can use these airlines to fly on American or United respectively.
Some Citi partner airlines are not members of any alliance, but they might have individual partnerships of their own. Etihad is not a member of an alliance, but it has its own loyalty program called Etihad Guest, which has 26 members, including American. Another non-aligned airline Virgin Atlantic has 11 partners, including Delta.
Transfer or Book for Points?
The rule of thumb is to book cheap flights with ThankYou points through it’s portal, but transfer points to a mile program for more expensive flights. Depending on which Citi card you carry, you’ll get a 25 percent or 33 percent bonus. In other words, 40,000 points will buy you either a $500 (with Citi Premier) or $532 flight (Citi Prestige).
Best Citi Partner Airlines for South America
There are no Citi partner airlines that fly to South America, but that’s not a problem. Almost all airlines from the partner list have partners that can take you there, but the best airline programs in terms of the costs, availability and convenience are:
Flying Blue Miles to South America
To be clear, using Flying Blue for flights to South America is not the most optimal way to spend Citi ThankYou points. The value is good, but as you’ll see in our examples below there are much better deals to be had with other airlines. However, neither Virgin Atlantic not Etihad can beat Flying Blue in simplicity and availability. Flying Blue can fly you to South America on several carriers, including Delta, Aeromexico and Aerolineas Argentinas. Availability is often excellent, even for business class.
Flying Blue splits up South America into two regions.
- Latin America 1: Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Venezuela
- Latin America 2: Argentina, Brazil, Bolivia, Chile, Uruguay
The cost between the U.S. and Latin America 1 is (roundtrip):
- Economy – 35,000 miles
- Business – 87,500 miles
The cost between the U.S. and Latin America 2 is (roundtrip):
- Economy – 50,000 miles
- Business – 125,000 miles
These are good rates if we compare them to Delta own redemption levels. Some of these rates are actually better than Delta’s, like 50,000 miles vs. 60,000 in economy, and 125,000 vs. 150,000 in business after October 1 (Latin America 2).
Flying Blue allows a stopover and an open jaw on a roundtrip flight, and you can fly oneway for 50% of the miles. There aren’t many restrictions. You can cross regions freely and easily on the way to or from your final destination.
HOW TO BOOK
You can book a simple oneway or roundtrip flight online, but you have to call 1-800-375-8723 to book a stopover.
Etihad Guest Miles to South America
Using Etihad Guest miles to South America is terrific as it gives you access to the pre-devaluation American award chart. Aside from American you also get access to GOL, a Brazilian airline a very strong domestic Brazil network. Note that you can’t use other American partners like LAN or TAM, as Etihad is not the member of oneworld alliance.
American Airlines flies to Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Venezuela. Trying to predict availability is impossible because Etihad award space doesn’t match AA, BA, Qantas, or even Expert Flyer availability. You won’t know until you call and feed the data to an agent.
Etihad simply copies the old AA chart with the old off-peak rates. American puts its Latin America countries into two regions.
Central South America Zone 1: Belize, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Panama, Peru and Venezuela.
South America Zone 2: Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Paraguay and Uruguay.
The off-peak rates for South America 2 are March 1 to 31 and August 16 to November 30. If you can fly during these periods, you will pay 20,000 miles one way down to Santiago or Buenos Aires. This is an incredible value.
It is not clear which rules Etihad will use when redeeming for American flights. American doesn’t allow stopovers, and we don’t recommend trying to get one, since it can complicate the booking process.
HOW TO BOOK
You have to call 1-888-8-ETIHAD to book a partner award. Unfortunately, the whole process can turn into a long and tedious affaire, since many agents are unfamiliar with booking partner awards. If you feel like you’re not getting anywhere, just hang up and call again.
REDEEMING ON GOL
GOL has a more limited appeal. First, it doesn’t fly to the U.S. any longer, and second, it doesn’t have business class, only economy comfort. However, it has a very extensive network in Brazil and South America and a reasonable distance-based chart in economy. The Comfort Economy levels do not represent a good value, as they are likely to offer you an upgrade at the check in counter for a very modest fee.
|Distance Travelled||Economy Class||Comfort Economy|
More options: Virgin Atlantic Flying Club
Virgin Atlantic miles allow you to book a flight on Delta. It can be a great value, especially in business if you can find availability. Virgin charges 45,000 miles in economy and 90,000 in business per roundtrip beating both Flying Blue and Etihad rates for American in business class.
Unfortunately, while finding Delta award space to Europe is usually no problem for Virgin agents (you have to call to redeem on partners), the same can’t be said about South America. In addition, it’s very hard to book a connecting flight on Delta since agents tend to price it as two awards. Still, if you can find a Virgin Atlantic business class award on Delta, it might make sense to use Flying Club miles to book it.
Please note that transfer is not going to be instantaneous, and you may have to wait from two to seven days.