How To Use Citi Thank You Points

8
Nov

How To Use Citi Thank You Points

I’m in a pickle;  you see, I have 53,230 Citi Thank You points which I earned last year from opening up the Citi Thank You Premier card.  And normally, using the points isn’t a problem for me.  But…

The year anniversary for my Citi Thank You card is November 9th, and I am 100% going to close the card.  There is absolutely no way that I’m paying $125 for a card I never use.

Here’s the problem:  When you close Bank Reward cards, you’ll lose your points within 30 days of closing the card unless you use them or transfer them to someone else’s account.  Bank Reward cards are any cards that earn you Citi, Chase, or American Express points.

FYI: Airline or hotel cards you can cancel and NOT lose your points.  Daraius at Million Mile Secrets does a great post about the difference between the two, so if you are confused, I suggest you check it out.

Since I don’t have anyone’s account to transfer them in to, I’ve got to figure out how to use them, and fast (like, today).  Many people aren’t familiar with the best way to use their Citi TY points, so let’s figure this out together.

Here are the options:

1.  Buy products from the Citi Thank You Mall

This is pretty straightforward.  The Citi Thank You Mall offers tons of different items for a certain amount of points.  You pick the product you want, add it to your cart, and then the item is shipped to you.  Shipping was free for 3-5 day delivery.

In order to see how much value you get for your points, I decided to check out two products I was interested in. The first was a Samsung laptop.  Using Citi’s website, the laptop would cost 52,000 points.

Samsung Laptop bought through the Citi website using Citi TY points

Since this would be coming directly from Best Buy, I checked their website to see how much it would cost to buy it without points.  I was shocked when I saw $329.99.

The same Samsung laptop directly from Best Buy

The next product I priced out was a set of noise-canceling Bose Headphones.  Using Citi TY points, they would run me 42,400 points.

Bose Headphones through the Citi website using Citi TY points

On Best Buy’s website, they cost $349.99 (which is ridiculous, but that’s a story for another day).  Better value than the laptop?  Yep.  Still an incredible rip-off?  Yep.

Bose Headphones purchased directly from Best Buy.

Checking out two products was more than enough to make me realize that purchasing products from the Citi website itself is a complete rip-off.  Each product had a value of less than 1 cent per point, which is insanely bad.  There is no point to buy something from the Citi Thank You Mall using points when you could just take those points and get a gift card that gives you an even value of 1 cent per point.

Value: .63 cent per point for the laptop.  .82 cent per point for the headphones.

Consensus:  Never use your points to purchase directly through Citi.  It is a complete joke.

2.  Gift cards

You can use your Citi Thank You points to buy gift cards at a variety of merchants, from Amazon to Zappos.  Every merchant that I checked gave gift cards at a 100 point to $1 ratio and in increments of $25.  While I’m not usually an advocate of using points for gift cards, when it comes to Citi TY points, this is not a bad option, especially because you can get gift cards to all types of places.

Value:  A fixed 1 cent per point.

Consensus:  If you don’t have any travel plans, this seems like the best value.  1 cent per point is usually pretty bad in the frequent flyer world, but if you need to use your points fast, this is much better than using them to buy from the Citi website.

3. Booking Travel

You can use your Citi TY points to purchase travel, whether it be plane tickets, hotels, or even rental cars.  This is always at a fixed value of 1 point equals 1.33 cents.  To verify this, I’ve done an example of a flight, JFK-Madrid roundtrip, leaving Tuesday April 2nd and returning Tuesday April 16th.  Here were the results from Citi’s website.

JFK to Madrid roundtrip using Citi TY points

 

Look at the non-stop AA flight and you’ll see that it is 77,120 miles.  Now, we’ll see how much that flight would cost out of pocket.

 

For the same flight, the out of pocket cost would be $1,029, which puts our price per point at 1.33.  Also, since you are “paying” for this flight, you’ll earn frequent flyer miles for any of the miles you fly.

Value: A fixed 1.33 cents per point.

Consensus:  Booking airline tickets through Citi’s site is a great way to go if you have travel coming up.  You’ll get a fixed value of 1.33 cents per point as well earn frequent flyer miles for the flight.

So, What Am I Going To Do?

Good question!

Ideally, I’d love to use my Citi Thank You points to book a flight somewhere nice, but since I only have 53,000, the flight would have to cost $700 or less.  Also, since I am closing the card tomorrow, I only have 30 days after that to plan the trip or I’ll lose all my points.  To me, that seems a bit rushed.

This means that I’ll probably end up just buying some gift cards with the points and using them to buy Christmas gifts for people.  While I’m not usually an advocate of using points for gift cards, in this instance it makes sense.  And I also preach to “do what works best for you.”  Maybe its time to take my own advice.

Final Word(s)

There are three important take-away points from this post:

  • If you have Citi Thank You points and you are going to close your account, make sure you use them.  If you don’t use them before closing your account, you are going to lose them.
  • Never use your Citi Thank You points to buy items directly from the Citi website.  You will get much better value if you use your Citi TY points to buy a gift card for that store and then buy the product with the gift card.
  • Using your points to book travel will give you the best overall value but if you need to use your points immediately, buying gift cards is the way to go.

What are your experiences using Citi Thank You points?  Which option would you pick?

(photo courtesy of cathy.scola)

Comments ( 27 )
  • Becky @ New Girl in the Air says:

    I tend to buy Marriott/Hyatt gift cards with my TY points. No, 1 point = 1 cent isn’t the world’s greatest, but at least you can use the gift cards to pay for hotel stays and earn hotel points in the process for the next free trip if you aren’t in a position to book travel directly.

    • Trav says:

      @Becky- That’s a great call. You aren’t getting the 1.33 cents you would with booking directly, but you’re giving yourself some flexibility. I’ll definitely consider that. If only they allowed you to buy airline gift cards, then I’d really be set!

  • hoglard1 says:

    You might want to convert your existing Citi TY card to a Citi Forward card, which also earns TY points a 5X for restaurants, books, music, and 1X for other stuff. You wouldn’t get the signup bonus (10,000 TY pts, but would avoid the annual fee and keep your TY points alive.

    • Trav says:

      @hoglard1- I never even thought of that. I doubt I’ll get the Citi Forward any other time, since the signup bonus is so low, and this way, I can use the points at a later date. Thanks for the heads-up, brilliant idea!

  • Ajay says:

    Thanks for your post. Yes Buying Gift cards is one og the best option to redeem in a hurry..once in a while you would get a 50$ gift card for 4500 thank you points which is a better bargain

    • Trav says:

      @Ajay- I did see that sometimes, they offered $50 for 4,500. Interestingly enough, the $100 ones were still 10,000, which seems strange. Wonder why that is.

  • Tony says:

    I think that you could book a R/T flight to Hawaii from NY on AA for around 700.00 or less this time of year to use your TY points

    • Trav says:

      @Tony- Probably true. Only issue for me is that if I went without Heather (my wife), she’d probably be pretty unhappy! If I could get 2 r/t tickets for under $700, then we’d be talking!

  • sam says:

    You have quite a few options that’s true…but….the option i think might work best for you…is gifting the points to others…someone…maybe like me. How bout it? Good idea eh?

  • Sarah says:

    Ignore Sam…he is my little brother and the truth be told…I need the points more than he does! Not to pump you too full of sunshine or sway your decision in any way,shape or form but i think you look alot like Brad Pitt.

    • Trav says:

      @Sarah- Ok, now we’re getting somewhere! Compliments never hurt, and as much as I’d like to fool myself, after seeing Brad Pitt at a train station in Paris once, and being fully in awe of his beauty, unfortunately, I’d have to disagree with you. If only!

  • Barb says:

    I have always heard that miles are the best way to go!!! Getting the best bang for the buck!!!

    • Trav says:

      @Barb- Yeah, they definitely do have the most value. I’ve never actually redeemed points for gift cards, and never thought I would, but with all my trips already planned, and being miles-rich and dollar-poor, I might go the gift card route for Christmas. We’ll see.

  • Bruce says:

    I try to use any and all points for miles. I wanna go…i need life adventures! I don’t need more stuff.

    • Trav says:

      @Bruce- You make a great point. I don’t have any need really for stuff. I’m thinking the gift cards more for Christmas presents for others.

  • Jason says:

    Trav – I recommend the Amazon.com e-gift cards rfedemption, because, they NEVER expire, once transferred to Amazon, and no waiting for the gift card in the mail, as you get an instant gift card # via email, then apply to your Amazon account. Amazon sells just about everything you could need … except that pesky new 6% Pa. sales tax!

    • Trav says:

      @Jason- Good call. If I go to the gift card route, I’m definitely going to go Amazon I think for a majority of them. I forgot that you could get them instantly too, a nice little perk! They charge PA sales tax now? When did that start happening?

  • harv says:

    I have the forward card and used to get gift cards with points being worth a penny. but recently the gift cards are worth less than a penny, e.g., 3,500 for a $25 gift card. this devaluation is disappointing.

    • Trav says:

      @harv- Which specific cards have been devalued? When I looked, I saw all of them worth a penny, e.g. 10,000 points for $100 gift card.

  • Dave H. says:

    Keep in mind that point redemption values vary depending on which Citi product (card(s)) you have. As an example, I have the Citi Forward card, and travel is at 1c/point (not 1.33) and gift cards are only worth 1c/point if purchased for $100 at a time. That being said, getting and keeping the Citi Forward card (for no annual fee) as an earlier poster said, and getting 5c/$1 back for purchases at restaurants, movies, music, anything at amazon.com (a bookstore) etc. as an earlier poster said is a great way to keep your points alive for no extra cost for your situation. :)

    • Trav says:

      @Dave H.- That’s a VERY good point. Downgrading does have a few disadvantages that people need to be aware of. I’m still deciding whether to take my points and grab gift cards or whether I should downgrade to the Citi Forward but the only have 1 c/point towards travel. That’s the biggest disadvantage of downgrading; you can hold on to your points, but they are devalued.

      Thanks for making me aware of this. The more I think about it, the more sense it seems to just grab the gift cards. I hate to do that, but I already have a pretty big miles balance.

  • Smay says:

    I am coming to my annual fee of $125 March 31. I called the retention line and was offered 10K TYP for 3K spend in 6 months. That almost covers the fee even if I redeemed for a gift card. I could put spend on it this month, get the bonus, and THEN buy some gift cards or travel and THEN cancel in March or April for a full or partial refund of the fee. Sneaky but its an option. Main messege – don’t forget to call and see if they offer a retention bonus before cancellilng any card. For example, AMEX just changed reward terms on many of thier products including the gold cards. I was offered a $75 retention bonus for keeping the card and another $75 to spend 1500 in 3 months. This almost covered the $175 fee and give me more time to use the MR points. Of course as above, I could cancel and get a prorated refund of the annual fee. Your own ethcial guidelines should dictate what you do along with the benefits of each card.

    • Trav says:

      @Smay- Thanks for the detailed approach and data point as to how you were able to leverage extra points. I completely agree that you should never cancel until you call and at least see what type of retention bonus they offer. Then, from there, decide whether the bonus is worth the time and extra spend you’d have to make or not.

      Great point, and again, thanks for the data point. That’s a really nice retention bonus from both Amex and Citi!

  • Yuhao says:

    Shame that TY doesn’t allow point conversion to other useful programs like UR does. Citi Forward’s 5% on dining beats CSP’s mere 2% hands down.

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