Friday, August 23, 2013

Citi Thank You & Free Car Rental

As I mentioned yesterday, we're spending the next 10 or so days in Colorado. However, unlike New York City, the Denver public transportation system is not quite as efficient. So we've rented a car to use for our trip here.

While late summer in Colorado is definitely not peak season, it still ends up being a little over $300 for the 10 days (which comes out to $30/day for the non-Asians). Now while I hope that $300 won't break my family's bank account, I'm sure anyone would like to save $300 to use on other fun things while they're on vacation.


Citi Thank You Points
That's where the Citi Thank You Points come in. Like Chase's Ultimate Rewards and American Express' Membership Rewards, Citi has their own internal point system called Thank You Points.

But unlike Chase & Amex, you cannot use TY points to transfer to airlines or hotels. You can only redeem them for merchandise, retailer gift cards or use them to book travel (flights/hotels) through their captive travel agency. Most of the time, you can only get a maximum of 1.0 cent per point of redemption value (ie, a $100 Best Buy gift card will cost 10,000 TY points).

Flight Redemption
However, if you (or a friend) have a Citi Premier Card ($125 annual fee waived 1st year) then you can redeem Citi TY points for flights at 1.25 cents per point. So if you have a friend with the Premier Card, you're best option is to transfer your TY points to their account and have them book flights for you. From the airline's perspective, it's as if you booked using cash, so you'll earn mileage and elite status credit.

Given we fly within the US as often as we do internationally, we like using our Citi TY points for domestic coach flights. This approach saves us cash, such as when when we booked our flights to Memphis this October for 50,568 TY Points, saving us $672 for 2 economy tickets (at the time of booking, TY point flight redemption rates were 1.33 cents/pt). For long haul international flights in business/first class, however, we're much better off using airline miles (United, American, US Airways, etc) because we'd need A LOT of TY Points to redeem for such an expensive ($2,000+) ticket.

Rental Car Redemption
But sometimes, my parents aren't trying to always "maximize redemption value" and would like to just save some cash for things they'd need anyway. For example, a rental car in Denver.

When renting a car using TY Points, you log into your account and then use their search engine (like you would Expedia or Travelocity) by inputting the dates and location you're looking for. Then the website will show you the options available at various $ and point prices.

Now, these prices may be different from what you'd find on Expedia or actual rental car websites, so be sure to look at all your options to make sure you're not getting a bad deal through Citi Travel.

But if you're confident you're getting a fair price, when you find a car type and price you like, you just click through to make the reservation. You will have the option to pay in 100% cash, 100% points or a combination of both if you don't have enough points.

The reason we like using Citi TY points here is because these points are not as versatile since you cannot transfer them to airline or hotel partners. We could have also used Chase UR and Amex MR points to redeem for a car rental as well at 1 cent/pt, but why use more valuable transferable points when you can use the more restrictive Citi points for the same redemption?

Some Warnings
Unlike booking directly with Avis, Hertz, Dollar, etc, these Citi Travel bookings do have penalties for cancellation. Our booking had a 1 day penalty (paid to rental car company) if we cancelled within 2 days of pickup time and a $15 modification/cancellation fee (paid to Citi) for any changes at any time.

Normally, my father would book directly and then use Autoslash.com to automatically check to see if prices dropped and rebook if necessary. This time, we were stuck, unless rebooking would save him more than the fees to make the change.

But if you're OK with fixing your rental car plans, then Citi Thank You is a great way to save cash using points that aren't as flexible or versatile.

But Why Do We Even Have Citi Thank You Points?
The fact that these points are less flexible and can't do anything that Chase UR or Amex MR can do raises a good question. Why do my parents even collect Citi Thank You points?

Well, in February, my father applied for a special Citi Thank You Preferred credit card that earned him 5x points per $1 spent at grocery stores, gas stations and drugstores (GGD) for the first 12 months of use. At 1-1.33 cents/pt, that's a 5.0-6.7% rebate on all our GGD spend.

Given I eat a lot, my family's grocery spend is pretty significant, even though we try to save money by going to Trader Joe's instead of Whole Paycheck Foods. While we don't drive often in NYC, we do frequent drugstores quite often for diapers and other supplies, including the elusive Vanilla Reload cards and Visa Gift Cards to use for our Bluebird Amex. Through our regular grocery and drugstore spending as well as opportunistic manufactured spending, we've been amassing quite a lot of Thank You points at a 5x clip every month.

When the 12 month promotional period ends, though, we'll probably stop cold turkey and go back to using our boring Starwood Amex (1x on everything) or Chase United Select card (2x at groceries).

Note:  Unfortunately, the 5x promotional offer on this credit card is no longer officially offered online. However, several people report being able to get the offer when physically going into Citibank branches. See The Miles Professor's write up here.


6 comments:

  1. This blog is truly awesome in all aspects.Thanks.

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  2. Wow very well informative and one of the best news for all. 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.

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  3. @ Sophia Butler, absolutely correct. But sometimes, you have more than enough points to cover your flights and are better off redeeming for something useful than saving points that may get devalued suddenly. And yes, the redemption is now 1.25 cents / pt for Thank You Premier card holders.

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