ThankYou!

About four months ago I signed up for the Citi Forward card which offers 5 ThankYou points per dollar for purchases made at restaurants, bookstores, movie theaters, video rental stores, and record stores (although, I haven’t had many occasions this decade to visit the last two of those!).  Shortly afterwards, I almost cancelled my other ThankYou card, the Citi ThankYou Premier which came due with its $125 annual fee.  When I called to cancel they offered me a $75 statement credit after spending $1000 if I were to keep the card.  Even though this wasn’t an amazing offer, I accepted.  I hadn’t yet used my ThankYou points from that card and I didn’t have an immediate use for the card’s best redemption option: airfare.

Since then, I’ve been using my Forward card to rack up 5 points per dollar every time I’m at a restaurant, bookstore, movie theater, etc.  It turns out that I have a surprising amount of spend at restaurants alone.  I could also use the Forward card for all Amazon purchases in order to get 5 points per dollar there, but I still prefer to buy Amazon gift cards at office supply stores using my Chase Ink Bold card.  More on that later.

Redeeming points for flights

The ThankYou Premier card has a nice redemption feature: when you redeem ThankYou points to book airfare, the points become worth 1.33 cents each (otherwise the best redemption is 1 cent per point).  I’ve run into a few cases recently where domestic flight prices were too low to get value from using traditional airline miles, but I found that ThankYou points were a great alternative.  For example, one flight I looked at priced out at about $200.  To me, that’s way too low to justify burning 25,000 airline miles (which is the typical price for a round trip flight).  This was a short flight, so I could have done well to use 9000 British Airways Avios points to book the trip non-stop on One World partner American Airlines, but AA did not have saver level seats available.  Instead, I turned to my ThankYou points and booked the flight for approximately 15,000 points all-in.  The nice thing about purchasing flights this way is that the airlines do not treat these as award flights.  With these flight, you earn airline miles just as with regular paid flights.  So, not only did I get 1.33 cents per point value, but I also earned redeemable miles and elite qualifying miles from the trip.

Combining points

When I opened my Forward card account, I was under the mistaken impression that I would have to transfer points from the Forward card to the Premier card in order to get 1.33 cents value from the points.  It turns out that I was wrong about that.  Instead, the trick was to get my ThankYou account linked to both my Premier card and to my Forward card.  It was already linked to my Premier card, so all I had to do was log into my ThankYou account and go to “My Sponser Accounts” and add the Forward card.  Once done, points from both cards appeared in my account and all points were immediately available for redemption at 1.33 cents per point.  Easy!

If you have family members with ThankYou points, but without a Premier card (or similar product), you can still help them get 1.33 cents per point value.  They would have to transfer their points to you and then you would have up to 90 days to use those points before they expire.  So, you could then book flights for them from your account.

Getting points through spend

Some people like to put all of their spend on the ThankYou Premier card because it is possible to get up to 2 points per dollar across all spend.  That’s pretty good since each point can be worth 1.33 cents so this is like getting 2.66% back on all spend!  Unfortunately, in order to get that return you need to use the card regularly to book paid flights.  Citi has a complicated flight rewards program in which you can earn flight points for flights paid for with your Premier card.  The flight points can then be turned into ThankYou points but only up to one point per ThankYou point earned.  Also, each year that you hold onto the card, you earn increasingly more anniversary bonus points up to 5%.  So, if I understand this correctly, your total earnings on all spend can go as high as 2.1 points per dollar, which translates to 2.79 cents per dollar worth of flights.  Not bad, but there are better options…

To me, the Forward card is a no-brainer for earning 5X points anytime I’m at a restaurant, fast food place, movie theater, or bookstore.  Outside of those categories, a great option is the ThankYou Preferred card.  Personal Finance Digest found a working link to an application that gives you a year of 5X earnings at gas stations, grocery stores, and drugstores.  If this link sticks around long enough, it may be possible to do this for a year, then cancel and sign up again.  I haven’t signed up for this card yet, but it looks very attractive!  Between this card and the Forward card, it’s possible to earn 5X for the vast majority of day to day spend.  And, when paired with a card like the ThankYou Premier, those 5X points become equivalent to 6.65% back in airfare.

Getting points through sign-up bonuses

Citi has quite a few ThankYou cards, and there are often bonuses from 25K to 50K available.  Citi will only approve 2 cards within a 65 day period, but it should be possible to apply for two every 3 months or so and rack up hundreds of thousands of points quite quickly.  I try to keep my “Best credit card offers” page up to date with the best offers as they appear.

Vs. Ultimate Rewards

Chase’s Ultimate Rewards program has a very similar option for redeeming points.  In this case you need one of the premium Ultimate Rewards cards such as the Sapphire Preferred, Ink Bold, or Ink Plus in order to get this benefit.  With any of those cards, you can book travel with points and get 1.25 cents per point value.  Unlike Citi, you get that value for any kind of travel booked through Ultimate Rewards, not just flights.  That said, I prefer not to use my Ultimate Rewards points in that way.  I usually get much more value from my points.  Here are some examples:

  • Transfer points to Southwest Airlines for 1.67 cents per point value.
  • Transfer points to British Airways and redeem for short non-stop American Airlines flights.  I’ve received over 8 cents per point value this way.
  • Transfer points to Amtrak and redeem for train rides. I typically receive 4 cents per point or more value this way.
  • Transfer points to United Airlines and redeem for international first or business class flights.  I’ve received from 3 cents per point to as high as 15 cents per point value this way.

So, while I like ThankYou points for booking cheap flights, I love Ultimate Rewards points for their many great uses.  That’s why, when given the option of earning 5 ThankYou points per dollar at Amazon.com or 5 Ultimate Rewards points per dollar, I go with Ultimate Rewards.  Yes, it means a trip to an office supply store to buy Amazon gift cards with my Ink Bold or Ink Plus card, but I think it’s worth it.


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Comments

  1. I think this is just rumor… But I’ve read that Citi cards will charge a cash advance on VR’s from CVS. There’s no truth to that, is there?

  2. Citi can’t tell what you’re buying at a retailer; that information is not trasmitted when you make a purchase. Though if you have a whole bunch of transactions for, say, $503.95, it would be pretty obvious what you’re doing if an actual human being takes a look at your transaction history.

  3. I’m very interested in this. Is 6000 TYP the best sign up bonus you’ve seen for the Thank You Preferred card you’re suggesting? What is the best sign up bonus you’ve seen for the Premier (with a.f. waived first year)?

  4. About a month ago I looked at getting a Citi Forward during that credit card churn. At that time, the only Citi Forward card I saw online was the student version. What is the difference between the student version and the standard citi Forward, and can non-students get this student card?

  5. Southwest flights aren’t listed anymore. Do you know if they’re still available and require a call to customer service? They used to show up in the ThankYou travel search.
    ..
    Also, sometimes flights show up costing more points than they should. On several occasions I had to call in and pressure their CSRs to honor the “open market” price x 1.33.

    • frequent churner: I don’t know if Southwest flights are available. I would use Southwest points anyway (as long as “Wanna getaway” fares are available…). I haven’t used TY points enough to see situations where the best fares didn’t show up. Thanks for the warning!
      Rick: Are you sure? That doesn’t sound right to me.

  6. Be aware that Citi will send you a 1099 tax form at the end of the year for the “value” of the award you’ve chosen. For me, it’s not worth the hassle.

  7. Note that you can also xfer TY points to Hilton now at a rate of 1 to 1.5. While this isn’t an astounding value, it’s another option.

    • Sal: Yep, you can transfer to Hilton. There are some rare cases where Hilton points deliver value of 1 cent per point or more, so in those cases the transfer could make sense.
      David: If you can get the Forward card, I think 5X for dining is a better deal than 5X Club Carlson points.

  8. Any good sign up bonus for Citi Forward?

    I like the 5X on food. I spend quite a bit on food every month. I would be either consider Forward or Club Carlson Card. What do you guys think?

  9. Andrew: I think the difference is with a regular Forward you get a signup bonus $100 after spending $650 while the student version you don’t. I don’t care about the interest rates since I don’t carry a balance so interest rates don’t concern me, but I think it also has slightly better rates for regular Forward. Not sure on the rates though.

  10. The Citi Forward (non-student) was discontinued at the beginning of the year. And Citi does ask you to send some sort of evidence in order to get the student version. Perhaps enroll in a class, quickly get the card, and then drop the class? :-)

    • Timothy: Thanks for the news about the non-student version of the Forward card being discontinued. I hadn’t heard that. Do they really check to make sure you’re a student?
      kyunbit: I forgot about that solution you have for earning flightpoints! Thanks for the reminder. I still think the program is complicated to understand even if it is easy to maximize it.
      Preacher: As Nick said, I’ve seen signup offers as high as 50K in the past, but I’m not aware of any current ones like that.

  11. Like I have written on your comments before, flightpoints need not be complicated. All you have to do it book a longhaul ticket with it giving you something like 20K flight points. And the trick is that sometimes even reward tickets work pretty well :)

  12. #4: Citi often has much better sign-up bonuses on the preferred, the value of this particular link is the 5% back on gas/grocery/drugstore for 12 months. Citi’s had bonuses of around 50,000 points on the Premier and Preferred in the past.

  13. Sal: So you’re saying that effectively you could use your TY Preferred card to Earn 5X at CVS buying Vanilla Reloads, that could then be transferrable to Hilton at 1:1.5 (equaling 7.5X Hilton)?

    If so, do you truly think this is a much better option than the Hilton Surpass (6X Drugstores)?

  14. Great post! I was just wondering yesterday if the TY points from my Forward could be used for flights at 1.33 cents/point if I transferred to my wife, who has the TY Premier card.

    • Ryan H: Thanks! Yes, in your case you’ll have to actually transfer your points to your wife, but then she can book flights at 1.33 cents.
      Ankur: The way to earn 2X with the Premier card is to earn FlightPoints and have those transferred into ThankYou points. If you do it right, you effectively double the TY points earned on that card.

  15. @AndrewP Are you saying you can earn 5X TY points at CVS on a TY Preferred card? The Forward 5X bonus is for restaurants, bookstores, movies.

  16. How is it possible to earn up to 2x with the Premier card? The best I see is 1.2 points on gas stations, supermarkets, drugstores, commuter transportation and parking merchants. And 1 point everywhere else.

  17. I’ve an old Citi platinum card that I’d love to switch over to this offer that has 5x on groceries and drug stores for the year. I wonder if they will let me do that. This post has made me aware that citi is a good addition to the portfolio. I’ve been mostly with Chase. Time to add a few citi cards in the next round of apps.

    • andreas: I doubt they would let you swap cards, but you should be able to sign up for the ThankYou card and then separately cancel your old card (if you don’t want it anymore)
      Jordan: It’s looking like the student version is the only one available anymore.

  18. Some of the Citi Forward card offers say 2x points due to a limited promo. Anybody know if it goes back to 5x after the promo ends?

    @Ankur – When you charge flights to the card, you receive an extra point for purchases up to the miles flown. So if you book a $100 flight that’s 1000 miles, the next $1000 worth of purchases receive 1 extra TYP point.

  19. @bf: I was referring to this part of FM’s post “Outside of those categories, a great option is the ThankYou Preferred card. Personal Finance Digest found a working link to an application that gives you a year of 5X earnings at gas stations, grocery stores, and drugstores. If this link sticks around long enough, it may be possible to do this for a year, then cancel and sign up again.”

    If that’s true and you can transfer to Hilton @ 1:1.5, it seems to me that this becomes a better option at CVS than Hilton Surpass at 6X.

  20. @FM, is there an monthly/quarterly/annual cap on 5X on dining?

    @Sal, Hilton just devalued their redemption big time. It’s all about exiting out of your existing point balance now as the likes of Bora Bora will now be 95K vs previous 50K

  21. I assumed that my TY Premier points, when combined with my other TY points, would be saved even when I cancelled. However, I was told if I cancelled Premier, they would give me a short time to use the points received on Premier but they could not tell me how many points that would be until I cancelled. I went with the renewal you mentioned to spend $1000 and get $75 statement credit in order to get another year to spend the points. Tip – Keep track of your points from each card by the month so you know when you’ve actually spent the Premier points (points are spent in order they are received, so if you have a lot of points when you get the Premier card and don’t spend many, you may end up with a lot of Premier points left at the end of the year). Or don’t combine your points accounts.

  22. When my friend applied for the Citi Forward Student card, she was requested to send/fax in some kind of proof that she was a student (registration card, transcripts, etc). Thankfully, she was a student, so this was not a problem.

    When I applied (I am not a student), I called the next day and they asked me for proof. I had mentioned (read: fibbed) I had recently started at a community college, and did not have any proof yet. I was told told that I would not be approved until I could send in adequate information. Maybe it was just the person I talked to, but it seemed like a dead end to me. :-(

  23. FM: As you say, I’m 99 percent certain Citi will not send a 1099 for the credit card rebate. The IRS ruled in 2002 that credit card rebates, which is what TYPs, miles, cash, points, etc. are, are not taxable. Bonuses and gifts awarded for opening a bank account, however, are taxable. That has been discussed before.

  24. Has anyone try out the Citi preferred 5% thankyou point link mentioned, and confirmed the offer is still alive? I am tempted to try, but I already used up my 2 cards per 60 days limit with Citi

  25. I went for the ty prefered through this link and got instant approval. Small credit line though, which is weird, since I have only one other citi card with a credit line 7x higher. It will probably be a couple of months before I know if the 5x is working.

  26. Frugal blogged about the 5x citi card this morning, so I have a feeling we’re not going to be hurting for datapoints anytime soon. FM: I know your mission is to get these points in March. I don’t think I’d mess with that one link to the citi preferred 5x by waiting much longer. Like, you might want to apply at 12:01 a.m. tonight!

  27. David: When I got the Preferred card approved through a reconsideration phone call, I asked if they saw the 5X bonus and they confirmed that they saw “4 bonus points”. this makes sense as you get 1 base point and 4 bonus points to equal 5X.

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