A number of Citibank cards earn ThankYou Rewards points. These include Citi Prestige, Citi Premier, Citi ThankYou Preferred, CitiBusiness ThankYou, AT&T Access, and AT&T Access More. ThankYou points can be redeemed for many things such as merchandise, travel, statement credits, and more.
If you don’t have enough ThankYou points for an award, you can buy the points you need. Citi charges $25 per 1,000 points (2.5 cents per point). Here are the rules for buying points (found here):
- You can only buy points if you have points
- Purchased points are non-refundable
- You may purchase up to 100,000 points per calendar year
- Purchased points expire one year from the end of the year in which they were purchased
- To purchase points call the ThankYou Service Center: 1-800-THANKYOU (1-800-842-6596)
In most cases it makes no sense to purchase points. One of the best uses for ThankYou points is to use points to purchase travel for 1.25 cents per point value if you have the Citi Premier card (with the Prestige card you’ll get 1.25 cents per point value only for airfare). And when purchasing travel, Citi lets you decide how much to purchase with points vs. cash (at the equivalent of 1 cent per point). So, there really isn’t any need to spend more for those extra points.
One situation in which it may make sense to buy points is to indirectly buy airline miles. In general I don’t recommend purchasing airline miles, but if you have an immediate need for miles for a high value award, it can make sense.
Most airline loyalty programs charge 3 to 3.5 cents per mile to purchase miles outright. As a result, purchasing ThankYou Rewards can potentially save you a lot of money. Note that you’ll need either the Citi Premier or Citi Prestige card in order to transfer to most of Citi’s airline partners. If you have a Citi ThankYou card, it should be possible to upgrade to either the Premier or Prestige in order to make the needed transfer.
I checked with Citi’s online chat to see if purchased points can be transferred to partners. They said yes:
On our Citi Transfer Partners page, we currently list the following programs as the best transfer partners (sorted alphabetically):
- Air France Flying Blue
- Avianca LifeMiles
- Cathay Pacific Asia Miles
- Etihad Airways
- Singapore Airlines
- Virgin Atlantic Flying Club
Each of the above programs has sweet spot awards, usually on partner airlines. But even if you need to purchase miles to top up an award, buying through Citi ThankYou Rewards only makes sense if the regular direct purchase price for the miles is more than 2.5 cents each.
Here are the purchase prices I found via a quick survey:
- Air France Flying Blue: 2.75 EUR per mile (= 3.4 cents per mile USD at the time of this writing)
- Avianca LifeMiles: 3.3 cents per mile (but they frequently offer miles on sale for about 1.4 or 1.5 cents per mile). Plus, Avianca lets you book miles + cash awards where the cash portion is like buying miles for about 1.5 cents each.
- Cathay Pacific Asia Miles: 3 to 3.25 cents per mile according to this post.
- Etihad Airways: 2 cents per mile
- Singapore Airlines: 4 cents per mile
- Virgin Atlantic Flying Club: 2.7 cents per mile plus $25 handling fee.
Based on the above findings, it can make sense to buy ThankYou points when you need to following types of miles:
- Air France Flying Blue: Save .9 cents per mile
- Cathay Pacific Asia Miles: Save .5 to .75 cents per mile
- Singapore Airlines: Save 1.5 cents per mile
- Virgin Atlantic Flying Club: Save .2 cents per mile + $25 handling fee
How long does the transfer take?
In most cases I only recommend buying miles if you have an immediate need for those miles. And so, if your need is immediate, you’d want the points transferred from Citi ThankYou to appear as quickly as possible.
According to One Mile at a Time, here are the transfer times for the programs that I listed as good candidates for buying miles through the Citi ThankYou program:
- Air France Flying Blue: Instant
- Cathay Pacific Asia Miles: ~ 1-2 days
- Singapore Airlines: ~ 1-2 days
- Virgin Atlantic Flying Club:
~ 1-2 days. Via Flyertalk: Instant
The value of buying miles indirectly through ThankYou Rewards increases when Citi offers transfer bonuses. You can find all current transfer bonuses here: Current Point Transfer Bonuses. At the time of this writing there aren’t any, but that could change at any moment. In the past we’ve seen a 20% transfer bonus to Cathay Pacific, and a 25% transfer bonus to Virgin Atlantic. With a 25% transfer bonus, the price per mile for purchasing through Citi ThankYou points drops from 2.5 cents to 2 cents per mile.
In general I don’t recommend purchasing airline miles, even at a discount, but if you have an immediate need for miles for a high value award, it can make sense. If you have a Citi Premier or Citi Prestige card and a few ThankYou points in your account, you can buy miles indirectly through the ThankYou Rewards program at a cost of only 2.5 cents per mile (or less when transfer bonuses are in effect). The best airline programs for these indirect mileage purchases, in my opinion, are: Air France, Cathay Pacific, Singapore, and Virgin Atlantic.
I plan to follow-up this post with a few other options for indirectly purchasing airline miles at a discount. Stay tuned.