Citi ThankYou Points: How To Maximize Your Rewards Value

Posted by CreditCardGuru

citi thank you logoWhen the Citi Thank You network was first launched it was hailed as being the future of banking: relationship-based rewards for having multiple accounts. Yet now, nearly a decade later (it was launched in ’04) we have seen very few major banks come out with similar programs. Why not? And what are the pros and cons? Just because I advertise their cards doesn’t mean I’m going to hold back on telling you both the good and bad that comes with this rewards program. I’ve updated this review for 2014…

The Cons

  • The Citi cards are not as competitive as they could be when it comes to rewards earning and redemption value (although they’re still good for 0% offers). Their Forward card had 5x points on categories but they discontinued it back in 2013. On their remaining cards, your bonus categories are only 2 points per dollar while everything else is only 1 point. You can earn up to 6% cash back with other cards.
  • If you redemption options are not always 1 point = 1 cent. For example, some of the gift cards yield a value of only $.008 (8/10ths of a cent) or even less per point. Fortunately tough, they do have a selection of $25 and $50 gift cards that are at the full penny per point conversion (so this is by far the best redemption option since they can’t hide behind a devalued points conversion process with gift cards as easily).
  • The Citi Thank You Bonus Points Center for online shopping does indeed have the biggest selection of merchants, but the rewards you earn tend to usually be quite a bit lower than ShopDiscover (for Discover credit cards). For example, Citi gives only 2 pts/dollar at Walmart.com while Discover gives 5% cash back.
  • The bulk of your Thank You points will likely come from your Citi credit card spending, not your checking account. While it is generous for Citi to reward you for things like online bill payments, the truth of the matter is these are lower-margin areas of Citi’s business (especially with the debit card fee crackdown) so don’t expect to get huge rewards on them. My guess is that’s the reason other banks haven’t adapted similar programs – not because customers don’t like them, but simply because it’s less profitable to pay rewards on checking account activity.

The Pros

  • If you have a qualified Citibank checking account and Citi credit card, the points you earn from them go into one Thank You account. Obviously, this makes it easier to rack up rewards fast.
  • The Citi Thank You rewards program continues to grow larger and I expect the variety of redemption options to keep getting bigger. Why? Because Citi seems to be transitioning almost all of their reward cards to the Thank You points network.
  • Like many card issuers, Citi has a bonus points “mall” that allows you to earn extra Thank You Points for online shopping. What’s nice about their program is that there are over 600 merchants participating.

Best ways to spend your Thank You points?

When it comes time to redeem, how can you get the highest Citi Thank You point value possible? Well I touched on a couple pointers above but here’s closer look at what is and isn’t the best value:

Bad ideas…

  • Avoid gas cards. Yes, you can buy a Sunoco $100 gift card for 10,000 points (1 cent per point value) but when you do that, you’re missing out on the 3-5% in rewards you would be earning by paying with a good gas rebate credit card. Same applies to department stores and restaurants, if you have a credit card that gives higher rewards for those categories.
  • Avoid cash and equivalents. A $100 cash reward will cost you 16,000 points (0.625 cents per point). The statement credit options for higher amounts do give you a slightly better conversion, but still fall far short of getting a penny per point (35,000 points = $250 statement credit = 0.714 cents/point). For 2014 the cash conversion ratio is now worse at 10,000 points = $50 (1/2 cent per point).
  • Avoid most merchandise. Not to single out the Citi Thank You network, because this holds true for most credit card rewards programs. More often than not the merchandise doesn’t give you the best bang for your buck. Here’s an example…

Conversion value of Citi Thank You points

Good ideas…

  • Music downloads. For all increments – even as little as $1.00 worth of music – you get 1 cent value per point. If you only have a few points and are itching to spend them, this is a good deal. You can get downloads from artists on Sony and Universal labels (hint: Although these aren’t through iTunes you can still put them on your iPod/iPhone).
  • Charitable donations. On donations of 5,000 points and up, you get 1 cent/point for donations to Red Cross. The drawback though is this will not count as a tax-deductible donation (but that only matters if you itemize your deductions, anyway).
  • $25+ gift cards. In my opinion, the best way to use Citi Thank You points (how I usually spend mine) is the gift cards from partners. Depending on the merchant, you can get full value on many $25 and $50 gift cards. But as mentioned, it’s best to choose retailers that wouldn’t take away from high reward earning opportunities you get through credit card spending (i.e. the gas card example).

Ultimately, the Citi Thank You rewards program is what you make of it. If you redeem your points in a strategic manner, you can get a decent rebate on your spending. On the other hand, if you redeem for whatever your heart desires, your Thank You points value may be up to 50% less than what the “good ideas” above will give you.

What do you like best (and least) about Citi’s rewards program?

As for me personally, I stopped using my Citi TY cards – not only because the points are inferior, but also because the customer service hasn’t been exactly an A+ experience for me. I’m now using Chase Ultimate Rewards exclusively.
This post was written or last updated June 6, 2014


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Editorial Disclosure: The editorial content on this page is not provided by any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities. Opinions expressed here are author's alone, not those of the bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

23 comments... read them below or add your own

  1. mikeh November 17, 2014 at 11:03AM

    100 % scam

  2. khad April 30, 2014 at 7:39PM

    You can get a full cent per point with a mortgage credit. I do this every time. In fact, I just got off the phone with them and have another $100 on the way. Call the ThankYou Rewards number (866) 908-8778 and ask them to send you a mortgage check. Since most banks also offer mortgages, you can just tell them the name of your bank and deposit the check in your checking account. You don’t even need to have a mortgage to do this.

    There is absolutely no need to get *anything* less than a penny per point.

    • Alex July 10, 2014 at 6:05PM

      Thanks Khad. I just did this. Best value for the points.

    • jose August 15, 2014 at 2:40PM

      Does the check come with the banks name? or would it be my name? also how long did it take?

  3. LoriB April 28, 2014 at 9:17PM

    I have racked up over 4,000 point (didn’t even know I had then until recently) is there a way to use a bunch of Citi Easy Deal points at once? I don’t want to spend $90 to get a $100 gift card…

    Thanks for the article – it was enlightening

  4. barrytuneup December 29, 2013 at 1:51PM

    the gas cards for Sunoco ARE a great deal. I still use my Penfed 5% rebate card for gas and use the Sunoco cards for gifts. So instead of buying 25.00 or 50.00 or 100.00 gifts, I can use these at no cost and look like a sport. Gas is something everyone needs in my neck of the woods!

  5. Fran December 26, 2013 at 9:58AM

    could you please walk me through how do you redeem thank you points when buying airline tickets. how much does it costs in points say the flight is $500 and how do you pay it?

  6. lisa December 5, 2013 at 3:14PM

    if my husband has points on his card and I have points on my card do you know if we are able to combine them for a bigger amount toward something we don’t have the cash to buy? or are the gift cards still the best way to go.

  7. Bob October 10, 2013 at 5:06AM

    Best idea I can currently think of to ‘cash out’ points is to buy Walmart Gift cards (1 point = 1c) then sell the gift cards to sites like cardpool or others that offer 92c per dollar. They send you a check so you have essentially cashed out points at 1 point = .92c which is pretty good in my book. Better than the Amazon shopping option of .85c per point. If you shop at Walmart a lot then just keep the giftcards but I rarely go there, but giftcard sites give good exchange rates on walmart gift cards so this is the best option I think.

    • Abner November 12, 2013 at 9:08AM

      How come my Amazon ratio is .80c/point instead of .85c. Does it depends on the type of credit card you have? I have Citi Forward for College Students.

      • Dominique April 7, 2014 at 12:56AM

        Looks like it does depend on the type of credit card. I have the Citi Forward as well and it comes out to 0.79 cents/point.

  8. ayejay0601 October 8, 2013 at 1:49PM

    Couple thoughts about Citipoint

    (1) Citipoints are much less versatile the Chase points. Chase has many similar qualities (all CC, bank accounts, loans, etc. go into one account) though they do not give you points just for having an account open. With Chase, if you have 4153, you can convert that instantly to $41.53 that will be deposited directly to your account whenever you want. If you choose not to deposit it right away, you earn interest on the balance at a rate of 7% / yr! Thats a good return!

    (2) Citi’s new amazon program is actually not bad. You can buy anything on Amazon using citipoints at the rate of 100 pts = .85 cents. Conversion ratio isnt awesome but the convenience factor is fantastic

    (3) I have Fwd card and there is nothing like it. I must be grandfathered in. It is offering my 5 pts for meals. I spend a lot of money on meals–client dinners, etc. I get tons of points for meals. I believe there are also a few other categories–I want to say convenience stores/pharmacies, i think car rentals….1 or 2 others.

    Anyway, citi pts are not worth as much as amex or chase points, but it is much easier to earn them in under certain circumstances (I get 1200 pts a month, just for having a checking/savings/CC/online billpay/citigold)

  9. Dealing With It September 20, 2013 at 7:25PM

    Gift Card selection is very limited using Thankyou points.
    For instance I use my Thankyou points to buy a phone on contract (iPhone) every two years.
    In the past the best way to save for a phone on contract was by getting a Best Buy gift card.
    But now the Best Buy gift card option is gone on the Thankyou points website. So, the only way to save up for an on contract iPhone through Thankyou points is to get cash.
    It sucks but that’s the only option.

  10. Matt from Saverocity March 12, 2013 at 2:37PM

    Nice post – was looking at some ideas and it seems the giftcards are the way to go.

    I have TYP from both the Citigold Checking that drip in every month plus from a credit card, I have heard that you can merge the two accounts, but if you do the points you move from the smaller account to the new primary will expire within 90 days – so better not hang about!

    Cheers,

    Matt from Saverocity

    • FlyingBoat April 23, 2013 at 5:11PM

      I am very surprised the author doesn’t even mention using points for buying flights. Isn’t that the best way to redeem them? Then you get a value of 1.25 or 1.33 whatever it is per point.

      • Michael April 23, 2013 at 5:27PM

        Hi Matt, unfortunately that feature is only available on their “Premier” version which is $125 per year.

  11. Chucks November 18, 2012 at 3:03PM

    Wanted to check if Amazon.com qualified for 5 points per $1 spent. Also, is the conversion for Amazon.com gift cards still 1 points per dollar at the $50 and $100 levels?

    • Andrew November 29, 2012 at 1:45PM

      I have the Citi Forward:
      1. I’m not sure if Amazon purchases still qualify for 5 points per $1, they make it hard to track which purchases exactly provide bonus points.
      2. The conversion at this moment is not 1 point per cent for gift cards at Amazon or many other retailers. The best you can do is 6000 points for a $50 Amazon gift card ($0.0083 per point). You can also just use points straight up for your Amazon purchase at a value of approximately $0.008 per point. I just did this as it saves the hassle of buying the gift card and having remaining value, plus it’s a minimal loss (about 3%) and extremely convenient.
      Only a handful of gift cards give the full 1 cent per point value, and it’s typically only at the $100 level.

    • Kris June 30, 2013 at 7:54PM

      Last I checked, a few months ago, the Citi Forward card still gives you 5% at Amazon. Two things to note however, you can only get the card as a college student right now (also relevant, my gf get the card in February and somehow didn’t get the bonus point benefit, I’m in talks with Citi to correct this), also, I’m fairly certain the reason I get 5 points per dollar at Amazon is because they define themselves as a bookstore. So it would be Amazon’s fault if this changes, not Citi’s.

      Also, redemption of points for spending on Amazon directly or gift cards is very poor, I think from 0.5-0.8 cents per point. Don’t use your points on Amazon, just use your card for the purchase.

  12. Ernie Jay June 29, 2012 at 11:45AM

    Citibank is ripping off users of its ThankYou Rewards program. The promotional material implied that you would get $100 for 10,000 points. After I received my bonus award, I checked the rewards site and found that it took 16,000 points to get $100. I sent a complaint letter to Ken Stork, the VP who sent the promotion and asked him to restore the ratio to $100 for 10,000 points. I didn’t get a reply but when I checked yesterday, they had made the conversion worse by requiring 20,000 points for $100. That’s stealing money that was already awarded to me. Citi’s regular reward card gave a clear 1% reward directly in your account. So Citi devised the ThankYou scheme where your points instead were transferred to a ThankYou account where they could finagle with the conversion rates and take away money that you earned. That’s robbery and I have a complaint in to the Better Business Bureau and to the Federal Consumer Bureau.

    • Michael July 5, 2012 at 9:06AM

      Hi Ernie, is it possible the promotional material was referencing $100 gift cards for 10,000 points? I have seen Citi advertise that and indeed, that is true. They’re a good value when you redeem for retail gift cards.

      • Ernie Jay July 11, 2012 at 12:07PM

        Michael, you’re right about better value with other things besides cash. However, the main problem right now is that since the above blog was written, Citi changed the cash conversion value from 16,000 points per $100 to 20,000 points per $100. So if I had 50,000 points, they used to be convertible to $312.50, now they’re only $250. In effect, they stole $62.50 fromy account and put it into their profit and that’s wrong!! Everybody should be aware that Citi is playing a game against their own customers so everyone should stay away from Citi!!

  13. Shannon December 19, 2011 at 10:46AM

    We lost 79,000 points!!! $800! Help! Our point balance showed 79,000 in Oct. 2011 and the points expiring balance that shows on the same page as the point balance was 0 pts expiring in 90 days. All of a sudden the points expired Dec. 2011 What can we do. Thank you network tells me our points would have showed as expiring, but they DID NOT. I want my points back. Any suggestions as Thankyou network manager tells me they’ll forward my concern to operations and when operations emails back they’ll let me know.
    Am I out $800?

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