Citi ThankYou Rewards are not as well known as Ultimate Rewards (Chase) or Membership Rewards (American Express), but the program has been growing in recent years, significantly increasing its appeal. Many readers may also find themselves newly flush with ThankYou points after applying for a credit card such as the Citi Prestige, which offers benefits like airport lounge access, a $200 annual airline credit, and the fourth night free at participating hotels.
ThankYou Rewards offers its members two main redemption options for travel, which are discussed below. Stay away from other choices like merchandise, gift cards, or charitable donations. On average those will get you 1 cent per point or less, and you’re better off paying for such things out of pocket with all the money you’ll save on free flights.
Redeem Points for Free Travel
Members can choose to redeem their ThankYou points directly for a free flight, hotel room, or car rental booked through Citi’s travel agency. This is actually a better deal with ThankYou Rewards than it is with competing programs offered by Chase or American Express since the redemption value is so much higher. However, the exact amount varies depending on the particular Citi card you carry.
Some cardholders get as little as 1 cent per point. Those who get the high-end Citi Prestige card can receive an even sweeter deal if they redeem their points for travel on American Airlines — 1.6 cents per point.
That rivals the value of many frequent flyer miles, and because Citi lets you book any flight American operates, you don’t have to worry about limited award inventory. Furthermore, you can continue to earn more miles and qualify for elite upgrades.
Travelers don’t actually need to fly on American Airlines to take advantage of this higher rate. Many codeshare flights with an AA flight number are operated by partners like Alaska Airlines or British Airways. Keep this in mind if you’re worried that American doesn’t operate the particular flight you want to take.
Transfer Points to Another Loyalty Program
Even with a solid value like 1.6 cents per point, some people can get even better deal by transferring points to an outside loyalty program. Citi has been quickly adding to the ranks of ThankYou Rewards partners and now has 12 airlines and one hotel. Most transfer at a rate of 1-to-1, except Hilton (1 ThankYou point to 1.5 Hilton HHonors points) and Virgin America (2 ThankYou points to 1 Elevate point).
|Transfer Partner||1,000 ThankYou Points =|
|Hilton HHonors||1,500 points|
|Asia Miles (Cathay Pacific)||1,000 miles|
|EVA Air Infinity MileageLands||1,000 miles|
|Etihad Guest||1,000 points|
|Flying Blue (Air France/KLM)||1,000 miles|
|Garuda Indonesia Frequent Flyer||1,000 miles|
|Malaysia Airlines Enrich||1,000 miles|
|Qantas Frequent Flyer||1,000 points|
|Qatar Airways Privilege Club||1,000 miles|
|Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer||1,000 miles|
|Thai Airways Royal Orchid Plus||1,000 miles|
|Virgin Atlantic Flying Club||1,000 miles|
|Virgin America Elevate||500 points|
Not all transfer options are a great value. Before moving points you should consider three factors: the number of miles charged for an award, the fees and surcharges added to the cost, and the availability of award space.
The value of points in each loyalty program are different, and if you need to transfer the same number of ThankYou points, then you want to make sure you’re getting valuable miles in return. Exact values are estimated because there are so many reward options, and not everyone can maximize every award. But some do better on average than others.
Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer miles are generally worth about 1.5 cents each. They provide great access to awards on Singapore Airlines’ own flights, and fees are reasonable (although carrier-imposed surcharges still apply).
Flying Blue miles are worth about 1.3 cents each. They’re not as valuable as KrisFlyer miles but they do provide good access to first class awards on SkyTeam carriers. (The most popular SkyTeam carrier is Delta, where many people earn their miles, but Delta prohibits using miles for first class awards on any airline. That means relying on Flying Blue as a substitute.)
Finally Virgin America is a decent program, with Elevate points valued at roughly 1.6 to 2.2 cents each. That seems higher at first, but remember you’re getting half as many points for the same transfer from ThankYou Rewards. Elevate is a revenue-based program that doesn’t offer great value for travel on Virgin America’s own planes. What it does offer are some good prices for awards on partners like Virgin Australia, Virgin Atlantic, and others — even Singapore Airlines.
Other partners may come in useful at times. Virgin Atlantic, Asia Miles, and Etihad Guest in particular may deserve attention. The last two are both partners with American Airlines in case you’re looking for a domestic award flight within North America. (Although Citi provides a higher value when redeeming your points like cash on American flights, you can’t actually transfer them to American AAdvantage.)
Every loyalty program has its sweet spots. Fortunately you can compare the award prices and availability of multiple partners before you move your ThankYou Rewards points to any of them.
For example, a round trip award between Singapore and the United States in Singapore Airlines business class is just 134,000 miles. The paid fare it replaces is easily $5,000 or more. This particular award is above average, valuing KrisFlyer miles at over 3.7 cents each even after deducting carrier surcharges, but it assumes you can find an available award and that you want to go to Singapore. This is why airline miles are typically assigned lower values when no specific redemption is in mind.
How much, then, are ThankYou Rewards points actually worth? Redeeming them for paid flights on American Airlines offers at least 1.6 cents in value — and because you’re earning more miles on that flight it might even represent closer to 1.7 or 1.8 cents when all is said and done. That’s a nice, guaranteed return if you plan to fly on American Airlines, which is also one of the world’s largest airlines.
Many of Citi’s transfer partners don’t measure up. Even the best ones offer between 1.3 and 1.6 cents per point on average. This is unusual, as transferring points is usually a clear winning option with Amex Membership Rewards and Chase Ultimate Rewards.
As a result, transferring ThankYou points to an external program is only a good idea when you won’t be flying on American Airlines or if you think you’ve found an award that is an especially good value on another airline. Most people should place their trust in Citi’s special offer for travel American Airlines and value their points at 1.6 cents each.