About 10 months back there was a great deal of speculation that Citibank was on the verge of introducing points transfers into other loyalty programs as a feature of its ThankYou Points program. That speculation was followed by a whole bunch of non-denial denials from Citi. I was confident it was going to happen, but it didn’t
Until now, that is. Citi ThankYou Points can be transferred to Hilton HHonors at a rato of 1000 ThankYou points to 1500 HHonors, the standard American Express Membership Rewards rate which I don’t generally consider a good deal – and rarely consider to be a good deal when Amex runs transfer bonuses, either.
This option now appears on the Hilton HHonors website.
And it’s also on the Citi ThankYou site under Points Exchange (must be logged into your ThankYou account). This option is only available for Citi ThankYou Premier cards and higher (so Prestige or Chairman as well).
Does it Make Sense to Make This Transfer?
You can certainly get 2 cents or more in value per Hilton point, but I would only make a transfer to top off towards a specific award that you are going to redeem for or for one of these high value awards like the Conrads in Koh Samui, Thailand or the Maldives.
Because these redemptions aside, I value a Hilton HHonors point on average at half a cent. So a transfer of one Citi point to 1.5 Hilton HHonors points means getting three-quarters of a cent a point in average value rather than the 1.33 cents per point I can get redeeming for airfare.
Breathing Life Back into the ThankYou Program
It’s great to have options, especially transfer options. It can be highly valuable to use the HHonors transfers in specific circumstances, although even there it’s often the case that you’d be better off using the ThankYou points to purchase airfare and then using the cash you would have spent on airline tickets to buy HHonors points.
Most importantly, though, is the speculative aspect to this — that it could presage a broader introduction of points-to-miles transfer options as has been speculated in the past year, especially because Citi seems to have created a new redemption category along with bringing this online.
Citi’s ThankYou program used to be highly valuable, even without points transfers. They would buy you any seat on a plane and if you managed it right you could get a nearly full fare ticket to Tokyo for a standard coach Asia price, make that ticket npn-refundable (so cancelling would return a credit to you rather than a refund to Citi), and have a ton of money to use on airline tickets.
They clamped down on the rules but still offered redemptions that were worth up to 3 cents apiece when used for premium cabin tickets instead of just a penny. One could get a North American ‘business class’ ticket up to $2700 for 90,000 points. It became common to book flights from the US to Canada in a premium cabin, only one segment had to be premium anyway, and work to push up the price to get maximum value for the points. As long as it was a non-refundable ticket, a cancellation would yield a flight credit. Delta was especially valuable for this because their credits at the time were divisable, and after the first flight was redeemed with a credit remaining value could even be used by anyone you wanted.
This was especially leveraged for folks who were earning as many as 12 points per dollar on certain spend categories (eg the Citi Drivers Edge card that gave up to 6 points per dollar which were then matched by the miles you drove), it amounted to a 36% airfare rebate for gas and grocery spend.
The plug was pulled abruptly on this in February 2009, and since then there’s been no better way to redeem points than getting 1.33 cents per point on airfare. Last year there was talk of transfers to British Airways and Singapore, both Membership Rewards partners but without deep US banking relationships.
I certainly expected Citi to start with their own partners, and they’ve gotten increasingly close to Hilton over the past year (introducing the new Citi Hilton Reserve card that comes with Gold status back over the summer). They’ve done that. Their other truly close major relationship is with American though I imagine talk of a US Airways merger is delaying and distracting much of the work on that partnership.
(HT: The Points Guy who I think overvalues HHonors points at 0.7 cents apiece.)