How bad are Citi ThankYou hotel prices?

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There was a time when I was excited about the idea of booking hotels through the Citi ThankYou portal.  That was when I realized that it was possible to stack Premier & Prestige benefits. If you book hotels with points through the ThankYou portal and you have the Citi Premier card pooled with your Prestige card, then the Premier card’s 20% point discount on travel stacks with the Prestige card’s 4th night free.  These combine to give you up to 1.67 cents per point value, or a 40% point discount if you prefer to think of it that way.

After signing up for the Premier card and combining ThankYou accounts (see: Should you combine ThankYou accounts?), my enthusiasm diminished quickly.  When I searched for a four night stay through the ThankYou portal, I did find that the two benefits stacked together.  And, compared to the full hotel price as listed on the portal, I could indeed get nearly 1.67 cents per point value.  The problem was that I found that the same exact hotel was available for fewer points through the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal.  With Chase and the Sapphire Reserve card, you get 1.5 cents per point value.  So, the point price through Chase should have been a bit higher than the point price through Citi, but it was actually cheaper.  The reason was that Chase offered a better cash rate for the hotel.

Since then, I’ve repeatedly seen higher than expected hotel prices through the Citi ThankYou portal.  I decided to test this out.  Was it just bad luck that I found bad prices now and then?  Or, is this a systematic problem with Citi?

The Experiment

I picked 9 cities around the world and a random weekend (July 19-21) with which to search for hotel prices.  I used Kayak as the “source of truth” as to the best hotel prices.  For each city search, I simply picked the hotel that showed up at the top of the Kayak results.  If Citi’s search engine couldn’t find the same hotel, then I moved down the list until I could find the same one in both search engines.  I then clicked through from Kayak to one of the sites that Kayak believed had the best price.  I did this in order to get to the final screen showing the total price for the weekend, after taxes and fees.  I recorded this information into a spreadsheet.  I then did the same with the Citi ThankYou portal.  Then, I did the same with the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal.  Finally, I did the same with Hotels.com.

There was one type of Kayak result that I ignored.  In some cases, the best listed price was through something called snaptravel.  In those cases, you need to book through Facebook Messenger or SMS.  When I came across those deals, I skipped to the next best price since I couldn’t see online the total price after taxes with snaptravel.

The Results

Citi charges almost 10% too much.  Here’s the spreadsheet:

As you can see above, the average weekend price found through Kayak, including taxes & fees, was $493.  Chase and Hotels.com offered nearly identical averages: $495 and $494, respectively.  Citi’s average, meanwhile, came to $541.  That’s 9.7% higher!

There was one outlier in the data.  In Tokyo, Kayak found that Agoda had a far better price than any of the other online travel agencies (OTAs). Even though Citi’s website indicated that this hotel was available through a special offer, Citi still wanted 28% more for this hotel than Agoda.

Citi’s website stated that there was a special offer for this hotel, but prices were still far higher than on other sites.

If we remove that one data point, Citi’s badness creeps down a little bit to 8.3%.  Meanwhile, the prices found with Chase and Hotels.com were often a tiny bit better than those found through Kayak.  Each offered, on average, about 1% better pricing:

What this means for Citi Prestige 4th Night Free

Until September 1st 2019, it’s still possible to book hotels through the Citi Concierge.  This way, you can ensure that you get the best available price, including any discount rates you can find.  Then the 4th Night Free benefit gives you an additional discount in the form of a 25% rebate (before taxes & fees) on a four night stay.  See our Complete Guide to Citi Prestige 4th Night Free for details.

Starting September 1, though, you’ll be forced to book 4th Night Free reservations through the ThankYou portal.  This means that you’ll get a 25% discount off of Citi’s rate.  Since the discount is calculated before taxes and fees, the total discount is already less than 25%.  If you then include the fact that Citi charges almost 10% more than they should, the discount is worse.

For example, if taxes and fees are 14%, but the base prices are equal, then the 4th Night Free discount equals 22%.  However, if Citi charges 8.3% more for the base rate, then the total discount for the 4th Night Free on a 4 night stay drops to 15%.

What this means for Citi Premier 1.25 point value

The Citi Premier card offers 1.25 cents per point value on travel booked through the ThankYou portal.  This can equally be thought of as a 20% discount on points required (when points are worth 1 cent each).  If Citi charges more than they should for hotels, though, the real point value (or discount) isn’t as good.

I found that if Citi charges 8.3% more than they should, then the real point value is closer to 1.15 cents per point.  Or if you prefer to think of it as a point discount, it drops to about a 13% discount.

Combo value (Premier + Prestige)

The Prestige 4th Night Free benefit plus Premier travel benefit combine to give you up to 1.67 cents per point value, or a 40% point discount if you prefer to think of it that way.  How much value do you get if you account for higher hotel prices through the ThankYou portal, as well as hotel taxes which are not discounted with the Prestige benefit?

With the assumptions from above, it looks like we are left with a bit under 1.5 per point value or approximately a 30% points discount.

Conclusion

When booking hotels through the Citi ThankYou portal, you can expect to pay, on average, almost 10% more than you would when booking through other online travel agencies.  This diminishes the value of ThankYou points when applied to hotel stays.  Chase and Hotels.com, meanwhile, seem to offer competitive pricing in most cases.

Keep in mind that the above analysis compares online travel agency prices only.  I did not take into account hotel member pricing, discount codes, or any other means of reducing hotel costs.  Also keep in mind that booking through an online travel agency means that you will not earn hotel points or elite credits for your stay.  And, in many cases, your elite status (if any) won’t be recognized by the hotel during your stay.

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