Transfer partners: Chase vs. Citi

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Recently, Nick and I have published a number of posts about the Citi Prestige card’s new 5X earning power and our thoughts about whether or not to keep our Sapphire Reserve cards (which earn 3X in similar categories):

In response, a number of readers asserted that Citi’s transfer partners are awful (shitty, garbage, useless, etc.) compared to Chase’s partners.  If true, this is important because the best value use of Citi or Chase points is to transfer points to a loyalty program for high value awards.  If Citi’s transfer partners truly pale compared to Chase’s, then maybe 5X isn’t better than 3X after all.

Let’s put this to the test

Hotels: Chase wins by default

At the time of this writing, Citi doesn’t have any hotel transfer partners whereas Chase Ultimate Rewards points can be transferred to Hyatt, Marriott / Ritz, or IHG.  Of these, only Hyatt consistently offers better than 1 cent per point value towards hotel stays, so that’s the only Chase hotel partner that I find useful.  But, it’s fantastically useful.  Hyatt has a very reasonable award chart and they do not charge resort fees on award stays.  Point transfers to Hyatt are how I’ve personally used most of my Chase Ultimate Rewards points… by far.

Andaz Peninsula Papagayo Costa Rica Mixology Class
The Andaz Peninsula Papagayo Costa Rica is a Hyatt property that costs only 15000 points per night. When I last visited during peak season, the same resort was charging about $1,500 per night! In other words, you could say that I got about 10 cents per point value from this award. That’s phenomenal.

Flights

Aside from the occasional big hotel win, transferable points are usually best used to book high cost flights for relatively few miles.  And it’s important to understand that you don’t necessarily need miles with the airline you want to fly — you can often book the same flights with a partner’s airline miles and often at better prices.  Here’s an example: Suppose you want to fly United first class to Hawaii.  Cash prices for first class are usually sky high.  For example, round-trip flights from Denver to Honolulu in business/first usually cost $1700 or more.  Round-trip awards for the same flights can cost as few as 80,000 miles when booked with United Airlines miles.  That gives you a decent value of 2.1 cents per mile.  Even better, though, you can book the same United Airlines flights using Singapore Airlines miles and pay only 60,000 miles round-trip.  That gives you a value of 2.8 cents per mile.  And both Chase and Citi allow you to transfer points to Singapore Airlines.  Caution: This was just an illustrative example. In real life it can be extremely difficult to find first class saver level awards to Hawaii except when traveling during their rare off-seasons.  Make sure the awards are available before transferring points!

One of the best uses of transferable points is to book international business or first class flights for relatively few miles. Delta One Suites, as pictured here, tend to be far cheaper to book with Virgin Atlantic miles than with Delta SkyMiles. Both Chase and Citi offer point transfers to Virgin Atlantic.

Shared Airline Transfer Partners

Several of transfer partners are available as 1 to 1 transfers from both Chase and Citibank:

Rewards ProgramBest Uses
Air France KLM Flying BlueMonthly Air France Promo Awards often represent very good value. Air France miles can be used to book Sky Team awards, including Delta awards.
Emirates SkywardsEmirates has different award charts for each airline partner. Sometimes they allow one-way awards, sometimes they do not. In general, award prices are fairly high, but there are a few sweet spots such as New York to Milan for 90K round trip in business class.
JetBlueJetBlue points offer the most value when cheap ticket prices are available and when award taxes are high relative to the overall cost of the ticket (more details can be found here). The JetBlue Plus Card and the JetBlue Business Card offer a 10% rebate on awards, so you can get more value by holding one or both cards.
Singapore Airlines KrisFlyerUse to book Singapore Airlines First Class awards (generally reserved for their own members) or for Star Alliance awards. Low change fees and no close-in booking fees make this a very good program for booking United Airlines flights.
Virgin Atlantic Flying ClubVirgin Atlantic miles can be usefully thought of as a way to get a discount off Virgin Atlantic flights (high fuel surcharges make the flights far from free), but there are some better uses. Use miles to upgrade paid flights or to fly partner airlines. A fantastic use is to fly ANA in business or first class thanks to Virgin’s generous ANA partner award chart. Or, if you can find saver level Delta awards for nonstop international travel, you can often book through Virgin Atlantic far cheaper than with Delta directly. Virgin Atlantic also offers great award prices for Air France premium economy awards.

Each of the above transfer partners are extremely useful under the right circumstances.  For example, I’ve recently found that Air France often prices Delta flights cheaper than Delta does.

Unique Airline Transfer Partners from Chase

In addition to the transfer partners listed above, Chase offers 1 to 1 transfers to the following airline loyalty programs:

Rewards ProgramBest Uses
AviosWhile flights on British Airways itself often incur outrageously high fuel surcharges, many BA partners charge low or no fuel surcharges. Great value can be had in redeeming BA points for short distance flights. Iberia offers very low award prices on their own flights. Round trip partner awards can offer good value under some circumstances as well. Fuel surcharges are often lower than when booking through British Airways. Aer Lingus shares the "Avios" currency with British Airways and Iberia. In most cases it is best to move points to one of those programs in order to book awards for less.
Southwest Rapid RewardsAward flights are fully refundable. Point values vary due to certain taxes not being charged on awards, but tend to average around 1.5 cents per point.
United MileagePlusEven though Singapore Airlines miles have a number of advantages over United miles for booking Star Alliance flights, United has advantages too. For one, it is possible to book most Star Alliance awards online at United.com. Additionally, United awards sometimes cost fewer miles with United than with Singapore (especially premium awards on United’s own flights). And, most importantly, United never charges fuel surcharges for awards. In some cases, United is far cheaper than Singapore Airlines for this reason alone.

Unique Airline Transfer Partners from Citi

In addition to the transfer partners listed above, Citibank offers 1 to 1 transfers to the following airline loyalty programs…

Unique Recommended Transfer Partners from Citi

Rewards ProgramBest Uses
Avianca LifeMilesAvianca LifeMiles can be great for Star Alliance awards. They offer reasonable award prices and no fuel surcharges on awards. They also offer shorthaul awards within the US (for flying United, for example) for as few as 7,500 miles one-way. Best of all, their mixed-cabin pricing can lead to fantastic first-class award prices. See this post for details.
Turkish Airlines Miles & SmilesMiles & Smiles offers an incredible sweet spot award: 7.5K one-way anywhere within the US, even to Hawaii. Many awards cannot be booked online, but can be booked via email.

Unique Worth a Look Transfer Partners from Citi

Rewards ProgramBest Uses
Cathay Pacific Asia MilesCathay Pacific has a decent distance based award chart, but as of April 2020 they no longer allow stopovers longer than 24 hours. Cathay Pacific Asia Miles can be a good option for booking American Airlines flights with a distance based award chart, especially if other OneWorld Alliance miles aren't available.
Etihad GuestEtihad has a very competitive award chart for American Airlines flights, among others.  For example, they charge only 50,000 miles one-way for business class flights from North America to Europe. Partner awards must be booked over the phone.
EVA Air Infinity MileageLandsIf you want to fly one of the best business class products in the sky, the best way to snag EVA flights is with their own miles since they release more award space to their own members. One-way business class flights from the US to Taipei cost 75K to 80K miles. Fuel surcharges are very low on these routes.
Qantas Frequent FlyerBest use is probably for flights on El Al with no fuel surcharges. Also useful for short AA flights. Qantas offers distance based award charts similar to Cathay Pacific. Both are OneWorld Alliance members. I recommend comparing award prices across both programs before transferring to either. Qantas offers round the world business class awards for only 280,000 points (but with many restrictions)

Unique Not-Recommended Transfer Partners from Citi

Rewards ProgramBest Uses
AeroMexico ClubPremierAeroMexico is a SkyTeam partner. Club Premier points can be used to book flights on AeroMexico, SkyTeam alliance members (such as Delta or Korean Air), or on select partner airlines. Unfortunately many have reported that awards are extremely difficult to book through AeroMexico so we do not recommend transferring points to this program. If you want to fly AeroMexico, look to transfer points to another SkyTeam partner (such as Air France) and then book AeroMexico with that program.
Jet Airways JetPrivilegeJetAirways JetPrivilege miles are useful only for a few very specific cases such as certain flights to Hawaii for as low as 15K (30K business) one-way, or to the Caribbean or Central America for as low as 10K (20K business) one-way. Details can be found here.
Malaysia EnrichGiven Malaysia's award chart devaluation in June 2017, I'm not aware of any good uses for these miles.
Qatar Privilege ClubGiven Qatar's award chart devaluation plus the addition of award booking fees in May 2018, I'm not aware of any particularly good uses for these miles.
Thai Airways International Royal Orchid PlusI'm not aware of any good uses for these miles

Transfer Bonuses

To my knowledge, Chase has never offered a bonus for transferring points to airline miles.  Citi does so regularly.  You can always view current and expired bonuses here: Current Point Transfer Bonuses.  But, to save you the trouble, here are the bonuses Citi has offered in the past few years:

Transfer FromTransfer Bonus DetailsStart DateEnd Date Sortable
Citi25% Bonus: Citi ThankYou Rewards to Avianca LifeMiles08/17/202020/09/18
CitiGet 25% Bonus When Transferring Citi ThankYou Points To Qantas1/19/202020/02/22
CitiCathay Pacific transfer bonus from Amex/Citi (10% bonus)
This transfer bonus comes from Asia Miles and is valid on transfers from credit card programs. You must register first (see link in post).
01/01/202020/01/31
Citi25% transfer bonus from Citi to Avianca11/17/192019/12/11
CitiCiti ThankYou: 25% Transfer Bonus To JetBlue
With this bonus 1,000 ThankYou points becomes 1,250 JetBlue points.
9/22/192019/10/19
CitiCiti ThankYou 25% Transfer Bonus To Flying Blue6/23/192019/07/20
Citi25% Avianca LifeMiles transfer bonus from Citi or hotels
This bonus is on the Avianca LifeMiles end, so you won't see it advertised through Citi or hotel partners. The bonus should post instantly.
06/03/192019/07/05
Amex or CitiTargeted Qantas transfer bonus: up to 30% (really 15% for most)6/1/192019/06/30
CitiCiti: Get 30% Bonus Transferring ThankYou Points To Virgin Atlantic5/19/192019/06/22
CitiTargeted: 40% Qantas Points Transfer Bonus, Stack With 25% Citi Transfer Bonus4/1/192019/04/14
Citi25% transfer bonus to Qantas from Citi ThankYou03/07/192019/04/13
Citi25% transfer bonus to Qantas from Citi ThankYou03/07/192019/04/13
CitiCiti ThankYou: 25% Transfer Bonus To Turkish Airlines Miles & Smiles.1/27/192019/02/20
Citi25% transfer bonus from Citi to Avianca11/15/182018/12/12
Citi30% transfer bonus from Citi to Virgin
Transfer 1K points to 1.3K miles
9/01/182018/10/13
CitiCiti ThankYou Transfer Bonus: 30% To Flying Blue
With this bonus, get 1300 Flying Blue miles for 1000 ThankYou points.
7/06/182018/08/29
Citi15% transfer bonus to Asia Miles from Thank You points
Keep in mind that there is a devaluation coming on June 22nd.
6/9/182018/07/04
Citi30% transfer bonus from Citi to JetBlue
The usual transfer ratio is 1 to .8 for Premier and Prestige cardholders. This bonus brings the ratio up to an even 1 to 1.
3/22/182018/05/19
Citi25% transfer bonus to JetBlue
The usual transfer ratio is 1 to .8 for Premier and Prestige cardholders. This bonus brings the ratio up to an even 1 to 1.
9/7/172017/10/25
Citi33.3% transfer bonus from Citi to Hilton
The usual transfer rate is 1 ThankYou point to 1.5 Hilton points. With this bonus, the transfer is 1 to 2 (still not a good deal in most cases)
7/6/172017/09/20
Citi20% transfer bonus to Cathay Pacific8/7/172017/09/06

Important notes about past Citi transfer bonuses:

  • JetBlue used to transfer at less than 1 to 1 from Citi, so the bonuses at the time merely brought the ratio up to 1 to 1
  • Hilton used to be a transfer partner, but that relationship ended in late 2017

Analysis

Chase is obviously better for transfers to hotel programs since Chase offers them and Citi doesn’t.  In particular, Chase offers transfers to Hyatt which can be fantastically valuable under certain circumstances.

With airline transfer partners, though, there’s no clear winner.

  • If you want to fly Delta, both Chase and Citi offer point transfers to Air France and Virgin Atlantic.  Both great options for booking Delta awards.
  • If you want to fly American Airlines or other OneWorld partners, Chase has the edge with support for transfers to Avios (British Airways, Aer Lingus, and Iberia).  British Airways and Iberia, in particular, have great sweet spot awards.  On the other hand, if you want to fly long distance on American Airlines business class, you’re much better off with Etihad miles and Etihad is unique to Citibank.
  • If you want to fly United Airlines or other Star Alliance partners, I’d say that the two programs are roughly equal.  Both support transfers to Star Alliance member Singapore Airlines.  And both offer point transfers to Star Alliance programs that never pass along fuel surcharges on awards: Chase Ultimate Rewards points transfer to United MileagePlus; and Citi ThankYou Rewards transfer to Avianca LifeMiles.  However, each of these has its own advantages:
    • Advantages to United MileagePlus (a Chase Ultimate Rewards transfer partner):
      • Book excursionist awards (see this post for details)
      • Very good online booking tool
      • Can book awards for flights with no saver award availability (but at higher prices)
      • When combined with a United MileagePlus credit card, you get access to additional economy saver awards
      • When combined with a United MileagePlus credit card, you get last seat availability of domestic economy awards at the standard price (i.e. much higher price than saver awards).  This can be a lifesaver when you need a flight at the last minute. See this post for a real life example.
      • No online booking fee (Avianca meanwhile charges $25 per ticket)
    • Advantages to Avianca LifeMiles (a Citi ThankYou Rewards transfer partner):
      • Mixed-cabin pricing can lead to fantastic first-class award prices. See this post for details.
      • Ability to book United Airlines domestic flights for as little as 7,500 miles one way (or 15,000 miles one way in first class).  See this post for details.
      • Unlike United, Avianca doesn’t charge close-in booking fees (United charges $75 to non-elites for booking awards within 21 days)
  • If you want to fly Southwest, Chase is the obvious winner since they support transfers to Southwest and Citi does not.  Southwest doesn’t have any partners with which you can book their flights.

Due to Chase exclusively offering point transfers to Southwest, they edge out Citi in this category, but only slightly.  However…

Considering that Citi often offers transfer bonuses, I’m calling it a draw.

Bottom Line: Citi’s transfer partners aren’t shitty at all

After comparing Chase and Citi’s airline transfer partners, I concluded that they have approximately equal value. Chase does have a couple of excellent partners that Citi doesn’t have, but the reverse is true as well.  And, considering Citi’s frequent transfer bonuses, I’d argue that Citi’s airline partnerships are comparable or even better than Chase’s (depending upon your needs).

Hotel partners are a whole different story.  Chase has them. Citi doesn’t.  Chase has Hyatt… drop mic

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