August 16, 2013
Citi ThankYou points are possibly the easiest points to earn quickly through credit card spend if you have the right Citbank cards. The two best for earning points are:
- Citi Forward card, which offers 5 points per dollar for purchases made at restaurants, bookstores, movie theaters, video rental stores, and record stores. To get this card, you need to be a college student. Alternatively, you may have luck calling and asking to downgrade from another Citi card to the Forward card. This card has no annual fee.
- Citi ThankYou Preferred card, with first year 5X signup offer. I don’t find this card too interesting by itself, but if you’re lucky enough to get in on a special signup offer you can get 5X at gas stations, drug stores, and grocery stores for 12 months. If you’re interested, read this post by The Miles Professor to learn how to find this special offer. This card also has no annual fee.
Using ThankYou points
While it is easy to earn ThankYou points, it’s not so easy to get outsized value from them. The best option is to redeem points for flights if you have a premium ThankYou card such as the Citi ThankYou Premier. With this card, you can redeem points for roughly 1.33 cents per point value. Recent rumors suggest that this value will soon drop to 1.25 cents per point, but even so it will still be a good use of points.
More valuable miles
In some cases, airline miles are much more valuable than ThankYou points for flights. For example, with international business or first class flights, it is often possible to get anywhere from 3 to 10 cents per mile value. Most airline programs also have sweet spot awards where one can regularly get outsized value from their miles if they have occasion to use them just so.
For those who dream of flying in luxury internationally, or those who want to take maximum advantage of sweet spot awards, the idea of converting ThankYou points to miles is awfully appealing even if the conversion ratio is worse than 1 to 1. And, for those seeking airline elite status, the idea of converting ThankYou points to elite qualifying miles should be especially appealing.
Converting ThankYou points to miles
The idea here is simple: you can convert your ThankYou points to airline miles by using ThankYou points to buy highly discounted flights and then earn airline miles by flying. Here are the steps:
- Find highly discounted flights on the airline (or airline partner) for which you want to earn miles.
- Figure out how to book that discounted flight with ThankYou points
- Fly and earn miles.
Here’s what you would need to pull this off for maximum benefit:
- Medium to high level elite status on your favorite airline (so that you’ll earn bonus miles with each flight)
- Job/life flexibility to travel randomly at odd times.
Find highly discounted flights
For finding great flight deals, there are a few resources I would turn to: the Flyertalk Mileage Run forum, the MilePoint Mileage Run forum, and The Flight Deal. Chances are that you’ll have to track all of these over time to find the best deals for your situation.
Book via ThankYou Rewards
To research this post, I found an attractive fare on The Flight Deal. It was an Air France flight from New York to Johannesburg, South Africa for $796 round trip. Since I have Platinum Elite status with Delta, and since Air France is a Delta SkyTeam partner, I could credit the flight to Delta and earn a 100% mileage bonus.
My first step was to search for the flight using ITA Matrix. I easily found many options for that $796 fare, but I was unable to recreate them within the ThankYou Rewards flight booking engine.
Next, I tried to find the fare through Kayak. I’m not sure why, but Kayak found fewer options at $796 than ITA Matrix, but it still found quite a few.
So, I selected dates for travel based on the Kayak results and plugged them into the ThankYou Rewards flight booking page. Here, the same flights priced at $820 instead of $796, but that’s still pretty good:
Was it a fluke?
Maybe I just got lucky in finding a good fare through the ThankYou engine? I browsed The Flight Deal again and repeated the steps shown above for a flight from Chicago to Chennai, India. The Flight Deal reported that round-trip American Airlines flights were bookable for $923 round trip.
I easily found the same rate on ITA Matrix and on Kayak. I then tried ThankYou where I found the same flights $1 cheaper!
I expect that not all great fare deals will be so easily duplicated via the ThankYou search engine. If you can’t match fares through a process like the one shown above, try calling and feeding specific flights to the call agent. Hopefully, the flights will price out correctly.
It’s not enough to just buy tickets in order to earn airline miles. You need to actually use those tickets to fly somewhere if you want to earn miles. Ideally you can turn these “mileage runs” into impromptu vacations. If your time is tight, though, you may be able to find options that fly you around the country and back in one day.
If I were to go through with the flight to South Africa shown above, I would certainly want to build in some time to sightsee. I wouldn’t be too excited about all those hours in coach, though! Still, in exchange for 61,672 ThankYou points I would get all of the following:
- Round trip flight from New York to Johannesburg, South Africa
- Due to my Platinum Elite status with Delta, I would get a 100% mileage bonus. So, with this 18,112 mile (round trip) flight I would earn 36,224 redeemable Delta Skymiles and 18,112 MQMs (Medallion Qualifying Miles).
- A very sore butt from all that time in coach.
Other than the sore butt, I’d call the above a fantastic deal!
NOTE: The bulk of this post was written prior to the recent Delta SkyMiles devaluation. I’ll leave it to the reader to decide whether earning Delta miles is a good idea anymore…
Typical mileage runs cost anywhere from 2.5 cents to 6 cents per flown mile. By using ThankYou points paired with a premium ThankYou card, you can purchase some of those same flights for 1.9 to 4.5 ThankYou points per mile. This means that, even without airline elite status, you could convert ThankYou points to miles at a ratio ranging from 2 to 1 to 4.5 to 1. These are fair, but not great ratios unless you further account for the fact that you will earn elite qualifying miles as well.
Things look even better if you can earn an elite mileage bonus. With a 100% elite bonus, the conversion ratios get quite a bit better and range from 1 to 1 to 2.2 to 1. In the example given above, I could have bought the flight to South Africa for 3.4 ThankYou points per mile. Thanks to my elite status, I would have earned double redeemable miles. So, my conversion ratio of ThankYou points to Delta SkyMiles would become 1.7 to 1. Still not an amazing deal until you factor in the 18,112 earned MQMs and the trip to South Africa.
You can do even better than described above when an airline offers bonus miles for certain flights, or bonus miles for reaching elite mile thresholds. For an example of the latter, suppose that I would not have prequalified for Platinum status this year without the flight to South Africa. In that case, I could credit the benefits of Platinum status (including a 20,000 mile Platinum gift) to this flight and then the conversion ratio of ThankYou points to miles would be very close to one to one.
The approach detailed above is a good fit only for those who have plenty of time to find great deals, and don’t mind flying, and have flexible days and hours for travel. If that’s you, and you have a big stash of ThankYou points, you might want to consider a ThankYou mileage run or two.