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My friend just booked a Singapore Airlines award with two stopovers, one destination, and one open jaw. He’ll be hopping through the Americas for six weeks for 60,000 miles and $123.

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I’m especially keen to highlight this award because:

  • it’s interesting
  • easy to copy
  • similar to awards I’ve written about theoretically
  • Singapore miles are the easiest to amass. Singapore KrisFlyer is a 1:1 transfer partner of American Express, Chase, and Citi points. SPG points transfer 20,000 points to 25,000 Singapore miles.

Singapore Routing Rules

The type of miles you use determine the rules your award has to follow. He chose to use Singapore miles because of their great stopover rules. Unfortunately, it meant he was limited to six segments total.

Full Singapore Award Routing Rules

Relevant rules:

  • Singapore Airlines allows six segments per award.
  • Singapore allows one free stopover per roundtrip award and up to three additional stopovers for $100 each.
  • Singapore does not allow a stopover on one way awards.
  • Singapore allows one open jaw per roundtrip award.
  • Singapore Airlines is a member of the Star Alliance with access to Saver award space on all 27 airlines.

The Plan

My friend spends the South American summers in Buenos Aires. He wanted to visit family in Los Angeles over Christmas. He briefly toyed with heading to Hawaii, which is very possible on an award like this, and it even drops the price, but decided instead to focus on breaking up his journey with a stopover in each direction.

Since you probably don’t live in Buenos Aires, just imagine he lives in Los Angeles and wants to go to Buenos Aires with a stopover in each direction to make this more analogous to an award most Americans would want to book.

This award between the United States and South America costs 60,000 miles roundtrip in economy and 100,000 in business according to the Singapore award chart. United charges the same 60,000 miles roundtrip in economy, but 110,000 roundtrip in business.

In addition to the destination Los Angeles, my friend wanted a stopover in each direction. The first one is free, the second is $100 on a Singapore award. United would just allow one stopover.

Singapore awards usually include fuel surcharges, but none of Singapore’s partners to South America–United, TACA, Avianca, or Copa–have fuel surcharges on their award flights booked with Singapore miles.

Routing

Copa Airlines offers a ton of award space from its hub in Panama City to 10 American cities and throughout Central and South America.

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My friend decided to stopover in Panama City in one direction.

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For the other direction, he got even more creative, checking all the direct flights out of Los Angeles on Star Alliance carriers on Wikipedia.

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One that caught his eye was United’s flight to Cancun.

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Unfortunately because of the six-segment limit on roundtrip Singapore awards, he’d probably need a direct flight on Copa from Cancun to Panama City to keep his segments total low. Wikipedia confirms there is such a flight.

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Finally, he decided to return to Montevideo instead of Buenos Aires. Montevideo is just a short ferry ride away from Buenos Aires.

That left his routing like this with the minimum segments possible in parentheses:

  • Buenos Aires to Panama City (1 segment) stopover 1
  • Panama City to Los Angeles (1 segment) destination
  • Los Angeles to Cancun (1 segment) stopover 2
  • Cancun to Montevideo (2 segments) open jaw between origin and destination

This award is valid with one segment to spare (that he’d end up using because of less than ideal search results.) It should cost 60,000 Singapore miles total in economy plus government taxes plus $100 for the second stopover in Cancun.

The Execution

All the Star Alliance partners that fly in the Americas are searchable on united.com. Here’s how to search united.com.

The idea is to search all four “parts” of the award–separated by bullet points above–separately. If he found Saver economy award space, he would note the date and flight number, and later feed that to a Singapore phone agent. Singapore Airlines can book all the Saver award space of Star Alliance carriers found on united.com.

I’d strongly recommend performing these searches one way at a time instead of trying to save time by cramming them into a multi-city award search on united.com. You will just get error messages at worst and see fewer search results at best.

Searching one way at a time several months ago, he had success finding economy award space on all legs. His only hiccup was that he didn’t find direct award space from Panama City to Los Angeles, instead he’s connecting in Las Vegas on a combination of Copa and United flights.

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I just did a quick award search of the four parts of his award, and you can see there is excellent Business Class award space and good economy award space.

Buenos Aires to Panama

I limited the search to direct flights. Business Class award space (blue days) is widely available, while only February 23 has economy award space. My friend found economy award space when he searched, so the pattern of availability may have changed, or he may have been lucky.

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Panama to Los Angeles

This is the calendar for Copa’s three direct flights only. There is plenty of space in both cabins. Possibly because this leg is on Christmas Eve, he didn’t find economy award space on the direct flight. There are connections available in El Salvador and Guatemala plus the one he chose in Las Vegas.Screen Shot 2015-01-22 at 11.53.01 AM

Los Angeles to Cancun

Los Angeles to Cancun has a lot of award space in both cabins on the direct United flight if you fly Friday to Monday.

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Cancun to Montevideo

These results are mostly with one stop in Panama. For whatever reason, February only has Business Class award space, while March has plenty Business and economy. He booked economy.Screen Shot 2015-01-22 at 11.54.27 AM

After finding the award space, he called Singapore Airlines at (213) 404-0301. He fed the agent the date, cabin, and flight number of each segment he had noted from united.com. The agent quickly pieced together the award.

This is the confirmation email that Singapore sent him.

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He is spending:

  • 6 days in Panama
  • a month in Los Angeles including Christmas and New Year
  • 9 days in Cancun
  • returning to Montevideo instead of Buenos Aires

The award priced at 60,000 miles + 154 Singapore dollars ($123).

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That is all taxes. He was not charged $100 for his second stopover in accordance with the written rules of the KrisFlyer program. Sweet! Maybe you’ll get lucky too.

I’m not sure which points he transferred to his Singapore account, but in my experience Ultimate Rewards and ThankYou Points both post in 24-48 hours.

Getting the Miles

Singapore miles are a partner of every transferable points program. Cards I like that earns points that transfer to Singapore:

Bottom Line

My friend booked an incredible award with two stopovers, an open jaw, and a destination for only 60,000 miles and $123 in taxes. He’ll get to spend Christmas with his family, explore Panama and Cancun en route, and end up in a different city than where he started.

Singapore miles’ fantastic stopover rules and access to award space on all 27 Star Alliance carriers make this award possible. The best place to book an award like this is to South America because Singapore doesn’t collect fuel surcharges on Copa, TACA, Avianca, or United award space, and the carriers have great award space throughout the Americas.

Singapore miles are easy to get because they are a transfer partner of every transferable points program!

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Pay your award taxes and fees with the Arrival Plus then redeem Arrival miles to remove the charge.

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Citi ThankYou Points now transfer to Virgin Atlantic Flying Club miles at a 1:1 rate.

Screen Shot 2015-01-21 at 2.09.20 AMThat makes one hotel and 10 airline partners for Citi ThankYou Points earned on the Citi ThankYou® Premier Card and Citi Prestige® Card.

The Citi ThankYou® Premier Card comes with 50,000 bonus points: 20,000 after spending $2,000 in the first three months and 30,000 more after spending $3,000 in the first three months of the second year. Its awesome category bonuses are changing April 19. The definition of travel is expanding, and gas is being added as a 3x category.

The Citi Prestige® Card has a healthy 30,000 point bonus after spending $2,000 in the first three months and offers 3x points on air travel and hotels plus 2x points on dining and entertainment. But this card is really about the perks: American Airlines and Priority Pass lounge access including guests, $250 in airfare credits each calendar year, and free hotel nights.

Virgin Atlantic instantly becomes one of the top three transfer options for ThankYou points, along with Singapore miles for Singapore Suites or travel in the Western Hemisphere and Flying Blue miles for Promo awards to Europe and some awards on Delta.

There are three main uses for Virgin Atlantic miles:

1. Among the Cheapest Economy and Premium Economy Awards to Europe

Economy

Virgin Atlantic economy class awards to Europe require far fewer miles than competitors’ charge. From Boston, New York, Washington, and Chicago, you only need 17,500 Virgin Atlantic miles for a one way flight to the United Kingdom. (Actually only 13,125 miles until January 22, 2015.)

There are modest fuel surcharges on the award, so taxes and fees on the one way from the United States to Europe are $135.

Combine a one way from the eastern United States to Europe for 18,000 ThankYou Points plus $131 and return from a low tax country to the United States on a one way award with United, American, or Delta miles for a very cheap European vacation.

I wrote more about searching Virgin Atlantic award space, the fuel surcharges you’ll see, and booking the space in Transatlantic Award: 13,125 Miles One Way All Summer Long.

Premium Economy

You can fly one way from parts of the United States to the United Kingdom in Virgin Atlantic Premium Economy for only 27,500 miles and $231.

Premium Economy on Virgin Atlantic is more akin to United First Class on domestic flights than United Economy Plus. It’s not just a big seat; Premium Economy comes with all the amenities in this promotional video.

Considering most programs charge 30,000 miles one way in economy, this is a steal in my opinion even with the fuel surcharges.

2. Incredible Value Partner Awards

Virgin Atlantic has several airline partners.

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Virgin Atlantic has a separate award chart for each, and the values can be good, especially with this transfer bonus. Best of all, on many partners, Virgin Atlantic doesn’t collect any fuel surcharges!

Last year I called Flying Club at (800) 365-9500 and priced out several awards.

The call was fairly smooth although the agent told me that Atlanta to Buenos Aires on Delta wasn’t bookable with Virgin Atlantic miles. When I pressed him to double check, he came back with the news that it indeed is bookable. As always, you may know more than the phone agents, so be polite but firm.

Award prices including unavoidable government taxes (none include fuel surcharges):

  • Atlanta to Buenos Aires in roundtrip economy on Delta: 45k miles + $77.32
  • New York to London in roundtrip economy on Delta: 40k miles + $190.60
  • Atlanta to Los Angeles in roundtrip economy on Delta: 25k miles + $11.20
  • New York to Paris in roundtrip economy on Delta: 60k miles + $90.66
  • New York to Honolulu in roundtrip First on Hawaiian: 130k miles + $11.20

I learned a few key things about partner awards from the call:

  • Delta awards have no fuel surcharges, just the same government taxes as booking with Delta miles.
  • The Delta award chart is way underpriced to Southern South America. Buenos Aires for 45,000 ThankYou Points roundtrip is a steal. You’d need 60,000 Delta miles for the same award.
  • There are no fuel surcharges on Hawaiian Airlines award flights.
  • The Hawaiian award chart says economy roundtrips are “from 40,000 miles” and first is “from 80,000 miles.” Those prices only refer to roundtrips from the western US. The roundtrip price to/from JFK is quite a bit higher.
  • There are no fuel surcharges on Virgin America award flights.
  • Not all Virgin America flights have award space that Virgin Atlantic has access to. There’s no way to check without calling Virgin Atlantic that I know of.

3. Virgin Atlantic Upper Class

Virgin Atlantic’s Business Class–called Upper Class–features fully flat beds with direct aisle access.

Virgin Atlantic offers its Flying Club members the best award availability in Upper Class, but the catch is the fuel surcharges (plus departing London taxes) of around $1,000 per roundtrip award in Upper Class.

While the out-of-pocket cost is a big drawback, the miles prices are very low. New York and Chicago to London are only 80k miles roundtrip in Upper Class and Los Angeles and San Francisco to London roundtrip in Upper Class are only 100k miles.

Roundtrip Miles Prices to UK with Flying Club Miles listed Economy, Premium Economy, Upper Class from left to right

If you want to avoid fuel surcharges, Delta miles can be used to book Virgin Atlantic Upper Class for 125k miles plus taxes and no fuel surcharges. But Delta SkyMiles members don’t have access to the same award availability as Virgin Atlantic Flying Club members.

4. Other Uses?

Did I miss any great uses of Virgin Atlantic miles? These small foreign programs get so few expert eyeballs on them, so I know that many have hidden gems. Hopefully I’ve exposed some with the partner flights in this post. If you know of others, share them in the comments please.

Getting the Miles

Citi ThankYou Points earned on the Citi ThankYou® Premier Card and Citi Prestige® Card now transfer 1:1 to Virgin Atlantic miles.

Membership Rewards and Ultimate Rewards both transfer 1:1 to Virgin Atlantic miles. American Express ran transfer bonuses of 30% and 35% to Virgin Atlantic last year. Ultimate Rewards have never had a transfer bonus, and I like to use my Ultimate Rewards with United miles, so I strongly favor transferring Membership Rewards and Citi ThankYou Points to Virgin Atlantic miles if you want Virgin Atlantic miles.

The Virgin Atlantic credit card offers “90,000 bonus miles” if you jump through a lot of hoops.

Bottom Line

Citi has added major value to its ThankYou program three times since I got my Citi ThankYou® Premier Card. First by adding airline transfer partners including Singapore, then by adding Air France Flying Blue as a partner, and now by adding Virgin Atlantic Flyinc Club. These continuous additions of value are one reason I plan to get the Citi Prestige® Card very soon.

Virgin Atlantic miles offer super cheap economy awards to Europe (13,125 miles until tomorrow and 17,500 miles normally), Premium Economy awards to Europe (27,500 miles), and Upper Class awards to Europe (40,000 miles.) Unfortunately all of these awards have fuel surcharges, but the miles prices may be low enough to justify the out-of-pocket cost.

Virgin Atlantic miles can also be used to book awards on several partners. Delta, Hawaiian, and Virgin America flights booked with Virgin Atlantic miles have no fuel surcharges, and some of the Delta awards are steals, like 45,000 miles roundtrip to Buenos Aires.

My big wish is that Citi ThankYou Points will eventually add another transfer partner, one with which Citi has a very close relationship already, American Airlines miles.

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Pay your award taxes and fees with the Arrival Plus then redeem Arrival miles to remove the charge.

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The Citi ThankYou® Premier Card is changing its category bonuses and adding gas and more as a 3 points per dollar category, effective April 19.

I got this card last year for its 50,000 point sign up bonus and have used it frequently since then for the category bonuses.

Commenter OakCliffTX let me know that upon signing into his Citi account, he saw the news. I saw it too when I clicked the link to learn about my Card Benefits.

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Until April 18, 2015, unless you are participating in a limited-time offer like this one for 5x, you will earn:

  • 3 ThankYou Points for every dollar you spend on purchases at restaurants and on select entertainment merchants including sports promoters, theatrical promoters, movie theaters, amusement parks, tourist attractions, record stores and video rental stores
  • 2 ThankYou Points for every dollar you spend on purchases at airlines, hotels and travel agencies
  • 1 ThankYou Point for every dollar you spend on other purchases.

Starting April 19, 2015, you will earn:

  • 3 ThankYou Points for every dollar you spend on purchases at airlines, hotels, car rental agencies, travel agencies, gas stations, commuter transportation, taxi/limousines, passenger railways, cruise lines, bridge and road tolls, parking lots/garages, campgrounds and trailer parks, time shares, bus lines, motor home/RV Rental and boat rentals
  • 2 ThankYou Points for every dollar you spend on purchases at restaurants and on select entertainment merchants, including sports promoters, theatrical promoters, movie theaters, amusement parks, tourist attractions, record stores and video rental stores
  • 1 ThankYou Point for every dollar you spend on other purchases.

The Changes

The 3x and 2x categories have been flipped and are now in line with the Citi Prestige. Now restaurants and entertainment will only earn 2x. Whether this is a good or bad change for you depends on which category you spend more in obviously, and less obviously whether you have both a Citi ThankYou® Premier Card and a Citi Prestige. I have a Citi ThankYou® Premier Card and plan to open a Citi Prestige, so I liked that they had different 3x categories.

In addition to flipping the categories, they also added extensively to what qualifies as travel, which is now the 3x category. Before it was just airline purchases, hotel purchases, and travel agency purchases (like Expedia.) All those still count plus tons more like taxis, car rentals, tolls, trains, parking, and gas!

That puts the category in line with the 2x category for travel on the Chase Sapphire Preferred except the Sapphire Preferred does not bonus gas purchases.

Overall I think these changes are going to be positive for most people. Moving travel from 2x to 3x, and adding tons of things that count including gas is a huge win.

My enthusiasm is only tempered because I wanted to earn 3x on this card on dining and entertainment and 3x on my future Citi Prestige on air travel and hotels.

I’ll put the full definitions of the categories mentioned at the bottom of this post.

Reminder on ThankYou Premier

The Citi ThankYou® Premier Card offers a 50,000 point sign up bonus, points that transfer to nine airline or can be used for any cash flight, and big category bonuses. It is one of the three cards I carry since I met my minimum spending requirements because of its category bonuses and lack of foreign transaction fees.

My full review of ThankYou Premier.

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Full definitions:

Airlines are classified as merchants that provide air travel. Hotels are classified as merchants that provide sleeping or meeting room accommodations, and may include goods and services that are on bill for these accommodations by a hotel, motel or inn. Car rental agencies are classified as merchants that provide short-term or long-term rentals of cars. Travel agencies are classified as merchants that provide travel information and booking services, and include travel aggregators and tour operators. Gas stations are classified as merchants that sell fuel for consumer use and may or may not be attended. Commuter transportation is classified as merchants that provide suburban and local mass passenger transportation over regular routes and on regular schedules, including ferries, commuter railways and subways. Taxis/limousines are classified as merchants that provide passenger transportation services for hire and include horse-drawn cabs and carriages, bicycle taxis, aerial tramways, airport shuttles or cable cars. Passenger railways are classified as merchants that primarily provide long-distance transportation and may include overnight accommodations on the train. Cruise lines are classified as merchants that provide passenger transportation on the open sea or inland waters for the purpose of vacation or pleasure and operate predefined and advertised routes. Bridge and tolls are classified as merchants who collect fees associated with toll roads, highways and bridges. Parking lots/garages are classified as merchants that provide temporary parking services for automobiles, usually on an hourly, daily or monthly contract or fee basis.Campgrounds and trailer parks are classified as merchants that provide overnight or short-term campsites for recreational vehicles, trailers, campers or tents. Timeshares are classified as retailers that sell, lease and rent timeshare real estate and arrange timeshare condominium exchanges. Bus lines are classified passenger bus transportation services that operate on a regular schedule over predetermined routes. Motor home and recreational vehicle rentals are classified as merchants that rent motor homes, RVs, pop-up campers, tent trailers and other recreational vehicles on a daily, short-term or extended-term basis. Boat leases and boat rentals are classified as merchants that primarily provide boat rental and leasing services, including fishing boats, non-crew houseboats, sailboats, powerboats, jet skis and yachts. Restaurants are classified as dining establishments that primarily prepare food and drinks for immediate consumption by consumers, either on the merchant’s premises or packaged for takeout, and include bars, cocktail lounges, discotheques, nightclubs, taverns and fast food restaurants. Sports promoters are classified as merchants that operate and promote live sporting events (professional or semi-professional), and may also include sports stadiums.Theatrical promoters are classified as merchants that operate live theatrical productions or concerts, and include ticketing agencies. Movie theaters are classified as establishments that sell tickets and refreshments for movie productions. Amusement parks (including zoos, circuses and aquariums) are classified as establishments that operate parks or carnivals and offer mechanical rides and games and/or live animal shows. Tourist attractions and museums (including art galleries) are classified as establishments that operate attractions and exhibits for tourists. Record stores are classified as establishments that sell CDs and related items, including online record stores. Video rental stores are classified as merchants that rent DVDs and/or games and related equipment for consumer use, including online video rentals.

We do not determine how merchants or establishments are classified; however, they are generally classified based upon the merchant’s primary line of business. We reserve the right to determine which purchases qualify for this offer.

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The Citi ThankYou® Premier Card is already one of the three cards I carry. I got it for the massive 50,000 ThankYou Point sign up bonus that I can transfer to airlines like Singapore and AirFrance for tricky awards. I carry it for the big category bonuses and no foreign transaction fees:

  • Earn 3 ThankYou Points for every $1 spent on purchases for dining at restaurants and entertainment
  • Earn 2 ThankYou Points for every $1 spent on purchases for airfare and hotels

Now I got an email offering even more bonus points on my Citi ThankYou® Premier Card. The email had the subject line:

Earn 5X ThankYou® Points on eligible purchases | Enroll in one click!

I was offered 5x points per dollar at clothing stores, electronics and computer stores, toy stores, and department stores through March 31.

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All these stores normally earn just 1x, so this deal offers 4 bonus points per dollar (5 total points). I am limited to 2,500 bonus points, which means only my first $625 spent in these categories will earn 5x.

I clicked “Enroll with one click” and was taken to a screen letting me know I was enrolled.

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I’ll be sure to use my Citi ThankYou® Premier Card at those stores when I’m back in the States in March.

Terms and conditions:

This offer starts upon enrollment and will end on 03/31/15. Earnings associated with this program will equal 4 bonus ThankYou Point(s) per $1 spent on eligible purchases and may overlap with other special offers in which you are currently enrolled. Bonus points awarded with this offer are subject to a maximum of 2,500 additional points. Eligible purchases exclude purchases made at supercenters, warehouses & discount stores, balance transfers, cash advances, convenience checks, items returned for credit, fees and interest charges. Electronics and computer stores are classified as merchants that sell, repair or lease a wide variety of electronic goods, including computer hardware, software and related equipment. Clothing stores are classified as merchants that sell clothing and accessories geared toward a specific audience. Toy stores are classified as merchants that sell toys and games. Department stores are classified as merchants that provide a general line of merchandise from departments that usually have separate checkout counters. All purchases must be posted during the promotional period. We do not determine how merchants are classified, however, they are generally classified based upon the merchant’s primary line of business. We reserve the right to determine which purchases qualify for this offer.

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Two weeks ago I reviewed the Citi Prestige® Card, which comes with 30,000 bonus ThankYou Points after $2,000 in purchases made with your card in the first 3 months the account is open, $250 in airfare or airline fee credits per calendar year, access to the American Airlines Admirals Clubs and Priority Pass lounges, 3x points per dollar on air travel and hotels, and a $450 annual fee.

Commentor Guarav asked me to compare the card to a similar offering, the American Express Platinum card:

“Scott–I’d be curious to see a comparison on your thoughts between this and the AX platinum product.”

This comparison will be useful for anyone considering getting a premium credit card–one of those cards with an eye-watering annual fee and huge benefits. I’ll break down the comparison by:

  • value of points
  • sign-up bonus
  • category bonuses
  • lounge access
  • statement credits
  • other benefits
  • annual fee

I’ll foreshadow a little bit by saying that although many of the benefits of the Citi Prestige® Card and American Express Platinum are similar, there are subtle differences in the programs that could make a huge difference to you, so the better card depends heavily on your travel habits and preferences.

Note: I am using the Platinum Card® from American Express Exclusively for Mercedes-Benz (the card on the right) as “the Platinum Card” for this analysis because it is the best personal Platinum Card offer open to everyone.

Value of Points

The American Express Platinum earns Membership Rewards, which I value at 2 cents each. The Citi Prestige® Card earns ThankYou Points, which I value at 1.7 cents each.

Membership Rewards can be transferred to 17 airlines and 4 hotels.

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There are frequent transfer bonuses including the current 40% bonus on transfers to British Airways.

Citi ThankYou Points transfer to nine airlines and one hotel:

  • Cathay Pacific Asia Miles
  • EVA Air Infinity MileageLands
  • Etihad Guest
  • Garuda Indonesia Frequent Flyer
  • Qatar Privilege Club
  • Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer
  • Thai Airways Royal Orchard Plus
  • Air France/KLM Flying Blue
  • Malaysia Airlines Enrich
  • Hilton HHonors

My two ThankYou Points favorite transfer partners are Singapore Airlines and Air France Flying Blue. (Click links to see why.) These are both also transfer partners of Membership Rewards, which has a host of other valuable transfer partners for Americans:

  • British Airways
  • Virgin Atlantic
  • ANA
  • Aeroplan
  • Delta

Beyond having fewer good partners, ThankYou Points have never had a transfer bonus, so Membership Rewards are clearly the better trasnferable currency.

ThankYou Points do have one far better use than Membership Rewards though, buying plane ticket with points.

  • Membership Rewards let you buy tickets with your points and give you 1 cent per point in value.
  • ThankYou Points earned on the Prestige offer you 1.33 cents toward any flight or 1.6 cents toward any American Airline or US Airways flight.

That makes ThankYou Points far better for saving cash on low-cost carrier tickets–which are often impossible to book with miles–or American Airlines and US Airways flights if you are going for status on one of those airlines, so you want to fly paid tickets. (Airlines see tickets purchased directly with points as paid tickets because American Express or Citi is buying the ticket on your behalf.)

Because I mainly like to transfer my points to airline miles and Membership Rewards have more good partners and occasional transfer bonuses, I value Membership Rewards at 2.0 cents and ThankYou Points at 1.7 cents. Your values should be different.

If you want to use the points for paid tickets, ThankYou Points are better. If you are only interested in flights to South America, Europe (economy), and Hawaii, ThankYou Points are just about as good as Membership Rewards, which open a larger advantage if you are also interested in short hops (Avios) and Business Class to Europe.

Sign Up Bonus

  • AMEX Platinum (Mercedes-Benz-co-branded version open to all): 50,000 Membership Rewards after spending $3,000 in the first three months
  • Citi Prestige® Card30,000 ThankYou Points after spending $2,000 in the first three months

Multiply the points by your value of the points to figure out how much more valuable the sign up bonus on the American Express Platinum is. The bonus on that card is worth $1,000 after spending $3,000 to me. The sign up bonus on the Citi Prestige® Card is worth $510 after spending $2,000 to me.

Category Bonuses

  • AMEX Platinum: 1 Membership Reward per dollar on all purchases
  • Citi Prestige® Card
    • Earn 3x points on Air Travel and Hotels
    • Earn 2x points on Dining at Restaurants and Entertainment
    • 1 ThankYou® Point per $1 spent on other purchases

After hitting the minimum spending requirement on the American Express Platinum, it doesn’t offer an attractive proposition to continue spending on the card. There are several Membership Rewards-earning cards that offer category bonuses, but not the Platinum. It is simply a card to hold for its benefits.

The Citi Prestige® Card aims to be more than that. It aims to be a card you actually use day-to-day, and I think it succeeds. All the benefits of the Citi Prestige® Card are primarily valuable to travelers, so I will assume the average cardholder spends quite a bit on air travel and hotels, which rack up ThankYou Points at a rate of 3x per dollar. Restaurants and entertainment–common costs while traveling and at home–earn 2x per dollar.

I know a lot of people, for simplicity, only want to have one card. I don’t think the AMEX Platinum has any case to be your one card because the earning rate is so low. The Citi Prestige® Card could be that card if you want a card with good earning and great benefits (below) as long as you can get good value out of ThankYou Points (above.)

To figure out the extra value of the Citi Prestige® Card‘s category bonuses, multiply your dining and entertainment by your valuation of ThankYou Point as if it were a percentage and your air travel and hotel expenses by double your valuation of a ThankYou point.

For instance, I spend about $7k on dining and entertainment and $3k on airfare and hotels per year. I value ThankYou points at 1.7 cents.

7000 * 1.7% + 3000 * 3.4% = 221

That’s $221 of extra value per year from having the Citi Prestige® Card‘s category bonuses versus none on the AMEX Platinum. I imagine many people spend quite a bit more than me in those categories. For them, the Citi Prestige® Card would be even more valuable.

Lounge Access

  • AMEX Platinum: Priority Pass Select + Delta SkyClubs when flying Delta + American Express Centurion Lounges
  • Citi Prestige® Card: Priority Pass Select + American Airlines Admirals Clubs when flying American
  • AMEX Platinum lounge access comes with no free guests except at Centurion Lounges. Citi Prestige lounge access comes with free guests

Somehow Citi has worked out a deal that at Priority Pass-affiliated lounges and American Airlines lounges, so you can bring in your family (spouse, domestic partner, children under 18) or up to two guests for free.

American Express does not offer the same deal. You pay $29 for guests into SkyClubs and $27 for guests into Priority Pass clubs. You do get free guests at Centurion Lounges (spouse, domestic partner, children under 18 OR up to two guests), but there are still very few Centurion Lounges.

Which lounge benefits you like more completely depends on your travel style. If you fly more American flights, you’ll like the Prestige. If you fly more Delta flights or flights where there is a Centurion Lounge, you’ll like the AMEX Platinum.

If you travel with your family or co-workers a lot, you’ll love the free access they get to lounges with the Prestige.

Most people who are paying the $450+ annual fee year after year for one of these cards are primarily doing it for the lounge access, so think carefully about which set of lounge access works better for you.

I do a lot of international travel where Priority Pass lounge access is more important than Delta, American, or Centurion Lounge access. Most of my travel is alone, so the guest benefit doesn’t help me. I value both types of lounge access at about $150 per year, but most people would value lounge access far higher. (I almost never drink in lounges.)

Statement Credits

  • AMEX Platinum: $200 per calendar year for airline fees (shouldn’t but often does work for airline gift cards). $100 once every five years for Global Entry.
  • Citi Prestige® Card: $250 per calendar year for airline fees or airline tickets. $100 once every five years for Global Entry

The Citi Prestige® Card is the clear winner in the statement credit game. Its airline credit is larger and much more flexible. The AMEX Platinum makes you set one airline on which to receive fee credits, and to buy gift cards with the credit you often need to buy gift cards worth $100 or less. The Citi Prestige® Card allows you to get credits on all airlines and even against plane tickets, so everyone should easily max out $250 per year.

These benefits make both cards a great idea for at least one year, since you can get two calendar year credits in the first year of cardmembership plus the Global Entry credit. You’ve already more than offset the big annual fees on the cards.

Other Benefits

Both cards offer tons of other benefits like purchase protection, trip insurance, and concierge services. Both cards are highly similar in these areas, and I don’t use these benefits much. Read the terms and conditions on either card for full lists.

There is some differentiation though. The AMEX Platinum offers free SPG Gold elite status while you hold a Platinum card. The Citi Prestige® Card offers the 4th night free on hotel stays booked through its travel provider.

Which benefits you more depends–again–on your travel style.

Annual Fee

The annual fee on the Platinum Card® from American Express Exclusively for Mercedes-Benz (the card on the right) is $475. You pay it with your first statement, and again 12 months later if you don’t cancel the card. The annual fee on most Platinum cards is $450, but this card’s worth paying $25 extra for for the much bigger sign up bonus.

The annual fee on the Citi Prestige® Card is $450. You pay it with your first statement, and again 12 months later if you don’t cancel the card.

Both cards are clearly worth paying the annual fee in year 1 because of their sign up bonuses and the ability to get fee credits twice in the first year of having a card. Whether either card is worth holding past year 1 depends on your travel habits and how much you use the card for spending and its benefits.

Which Card is Better?

Which card is better depends on you. Hopefully I’ve laid out how to think about each card’s benefits, but the actual thinking is left to you.

For folks who want guest lounge access, American Airlines lounge access, big category bonuses on spending, and great rates on using points to pay for airline tickets (especially on American/US Airways), the Citi Prestige® Card is better.

For folks who want Centurion or Delta lounge access, more transfer partners for points, and better transfer partners for Europe in Business Class or shorthaul within the United States, the American Express Platinum is better.

Citi Prestige® Card with 30,000 bonus ThankYou Points after $2,000 in purchases made with your card in the first 3 months, lounge access, $250 per calendar year in airline fee credits, and more

  • $250 Air Travel Credit each year
  • Complimentary 4th Night for any hotel stay
  • Earn 30,000 bonus ThankYou® Points after $2,000 in purchases made with your card in the first 3 months the account is open.
  • Earn 3x points on Air Travel and Hotels
  • Earn 2x points on Dining at Restaurants and Entertainment
  • 1 ThankYou® Point per $1 spent on other purchases
  • Travel with ease and enjoy chip based technology

Application Link: Citi Prestige® Card

The Platinum Card from American Express Exclusively for Mercedes-Benz comes with 50,000 Membership Rewards after spending $3,000 in the first three months.

  • 50,000 Membership Rewards® points after you charge $3,000 in purchases in the first three months of Card Membership6
  • Complimentary access to over 600 airport lounges worldwide7
  • A $1000 certificate each year you charge $5,000 in purchases, good toward the future purchase or lease of a new Mercedes-Benz8
  • Up to 2,000 excess miles waived at lease-end on leases through Mercedes-Benz Financial Services9
  • $100 certificate at renewal of your Card account, good toward Genuine Mercedes-Benz Accessories10
  • Annual fee of $475

Landing Page: Platinum Card from American Express Exclusively for Mercedes-Benz

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A friend passed along an article from Time.com that advocates doing something I’ve done a few times, but not described:

You can often get a cheaper price on a cash ticket if you book the ticket in foreign currency through airline’s website designed for use by people in another country.

For instance, you can save about 35% on a roundtrip from Santiago, Chile to Easter Island, Chile booking in Chilean pesos through the LAN Chile website instead of in dollars through the LAN USA website.

I’ve noticed similarly cheaper flights using Colombian websites intra-Colombia and, most notably, Argentine websites intra-Argentina.

It’s easy to search the foreign websites, easy to translate them to English, and easy to pay with a credit card with no foreign transaction fees, so this is a trick everyone should be using.

Searching Foreign Websites

I recommend starting at the ITA Matrix. There you can quickly search for flights while toggling the “Sales city.” I searched Santiago to Easter Island roundtrip in April twice.

The first time I left “Sales city” blank, which defaults to departure city.

Screen Shot 2014-12-17 at 1.23.26 PM

The second time I put Washington DC for the “Sales city” to see what the price would be on American websites.

Washington DC as a sales city led to a price of $616.Screen Shot 2014-12-17 at 1.23.53 PM

Santiago as a sales city led to a price of CL$242,586.Screen Shot 2014-12-17 at 1.24.24 PM

That is $393 or a 36% discount on the price designed for Americans.Screen Shot 2014-12-17 at 1.25.01 PM

You can continue to select different sales cities and might find a cheaper price, but generally the cheapest price will be the foreign country where the flights are.

To get the price in pesos, head to lan.com. Along the top, you’ll see United States (English) as the default selection.
Screen Shot 2014-12-17 at 1.25.49 PM

Change it to Chile. This will give you a Spanish-language site of course.

Getting the Foreign Website into English

If you use Google Chrome as your browser, you’ll be asked whether you want to translate the page to English.Screen Shot 2014-12-17 at 1.26.07 PM

Going through the purchase steps, I was able to replicate the price of CL$242,586.Screen Shot 2014-12-17 at 1.27.42 PM

Avoiding Foreign Transaction Fees

The last step would be to purchase the ticket with a card with no foreign transaction fees to avoid being dinged 3% on top of the $393.

If you want a free ticket, purchase the flights with your Barclaycard Arrival PlusTM World Elite MasterCard® and then redeem Arrival miles to remove the $393 purchase from your statement. See how to redeem Arrival miles.

If you want to earn 3x ThankYou Points per dollar, use your Citi Prestige® Card, which also gets you $250 in free flights per year. See my review of the Prestige.

 

If you don’t have either, you can also get 2x ThankYou Points per dollar on the Citi ThankYou® Premier Rewards Card or 2x Ultimate Rewards on the Chase Sapphire Preferred, both without foreign transaction fees.

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Citi Prestige® Card with 30,000 bonus ThankYou Points after $2,000 in purchases made with your card in the first 3 months, lounge access, $250 per calendar year in airline fee credits, and more

  • $250 Air Travel Credit each year
  • Complimentary 4th Night for any hotel stay
  • Earn 30,000 bonus ThankYou® Points after $2,000 in purchases made with your card in the first 3 months the account is open.
  • Earn 3x points on Air Travel and Hotels
  • Earn 2x points on Dining at Restaurants and Entertainment
  • 1 ThankYou® Point per $1 spent on other purchases
  • Travel with ease and enjoy chip based technology

Application Link: Citi Prestige® Card

 

 

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The Citi Prestige® Card comes with 30,000 bonus ThankYou Points after $2,000 in purchases made with your card in the first 3 months the account is open, $250 in airfare or airline fee credits per calendar year, access to the American Airlines Admirals Clubs and Priority Pass lounges, 3x points per dollar on air travel and hotels, and a $450 annual fee.

It’s clearly an intriguing card that requires a lot of analysis because of its unique perks and high annual fee. I’ll tackle the benefits and drawbacks one by one, so you can see whether the Citi Prestige® Card makes sense for you.

  • Sign Up Bonus: 30,000 ThankYou Points after $2,000 in spending
  • Category Bonuses: 3x on air travel and hotels, 2x on restaurants and entertainment
  • Air travel fee credit:  $250 annual credit ($500 first year of cardmembership)
  • Lounge access: Admirals Clubs lounges and Priority Pass lounges worldwide
  • Free hotel nights: Get your 4th night free on all paid hotel stays (no blackout dates)
  • Global Entry: $100 application fee credit
  • Global Acceptance: Chip technology and no foreign transaction fees
  • Annual Fee: $450 not waived, well worth it for some

Sign Up Bonus

The headline sign up bonus is 30,000 ThankYou Points after spending $2,000 in the first three months on the card. That’s solid, but it is frankly not the selling point of this card, which is more about the benefits of cardmembership.

Those 30,000 points are worth over $500 to me because I am very high on ThankYou Points, which transfer to nine airlines and Hilton.

I recently transferred ThankYou Points to Singapore Airlines miles to fly from Colombia to Argentina in Business Class for half the price it would have been with United miles. Singapore miles are also the only way to fly Singapore Suites, cheaper than United miles to book United flights to Hawaii, and offer an amazing deal to Central and South America.

I also love Air France Flying Blue as a transfer partner because of its cheap awards to Europe, Israel, Hawaii and South America.

Beyond transferring ThankYou Points, you can also redeem them directly for cash flights at a fixed rate. When you do this, the airline sees your ticket as a cash ticket, so you earn miles on the flights.

ThankYou Points are redeemable for 1.6 cents each toward American Airlines or US Airways tickets, and 1.33 cents each toward tickets on any other airline.

Category Bonuses

  • Earn 3x points on Air Travel and Hotels
  • Earn 2x points on Dining at Restaurants and Entertainment

Notice that these are the reverse of the Citi ThankYou® Premier Card if you’d prefer a bigger bonus for dining. My review of ThankYou Premier.

This card very clearly offers the biggest benefits to frequent travelers, since a number of its benefits like free hotel nights and lounge access will be most used by travelers. The category bonuses are no exception. If you buy a lot of airline tickets and hotel stays, and if you dine out while traveling, you will rack up a ton of extra points from these category bonuses.

Note that the 3x points on Air Travel and Hotels is worth at least 4.8% back toward travel on American Airlines and US Airways, since points are worth 1.6 cents each toward those flights. That’s an incredible return.

Air Travel Credit

Every calendar year, you get a $250 air travel credit to offset airline fees. “Airline Fees are defined as purchases made with airlines including Air fares, baggage fees, lounge access and some in-flight purchases.” (Emphasis mine.)

That means that you can buy airline tickets with this card, and the first $250 will be reimbursed each calendar year. Since I’m sure everyone reading this blog spends at least $250 on airfare each year, this is like straight cash to me and would greatly reduce the sting of the annual fee.

In fact, depending on when you get this card, this credit could be more valuable than the annual fee for your first 12 months with the card. This benefit is a calendar year benefit.

“Pending transactions that do not post in your December billing cycle will count towards the next year’s Air Travel Credit.”

If you get the card such that your first 12 statements post in 2015 and 2016, you should be able to use this benefit twice before paying the annual fee for a second time. In that case, you can get $500 in airline fee statement credits for your $450 annual fee. Even without considering the sign up bonus and other benefits, the card would already be a great deal.

Lounge Access

Having the Citi Prestige® Card gets you into any Admirals Club worldwide whenever you’re flying an American Airlines, American Eagle, or American Connection flight. In addition, you can bring in your family (spouse, domestic partner, children under 18) or up to two guests for free.

Citi Prestige® Card holders can also get a free Priority Pass Select membership. Priority Pass is the world’s largest independent airport lounge access program. Prestige Card holders get free Priority Pass Select membership, which entitles them to free access to hundreds of lounges worldwide (everything on the list except United Clubs).

I downloaded the app on my phone, so I can search for participating lounges by airport while I travel. I seem to find one or more options at most international airports and tons of domestic airports.

Just like into Admirals Clubs, you can bring in your family (spouse, domestic partner, children under 18) or up to two guests for free.

Lounge access costs about $50 per visit, but I value it at about $20 per visit. Heavy users of this benefit will quickly forget about the annual fee.

4th Night Free on Hotel Stays

From the terms and conditions of the benefits of the Prestige Card:

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You will enjoy a complimentary fourth night with no black-out dates, when you book four consecutive nights at any hotel booked by a personal travel advisor designated by MasterCard (the “designated travel advisor” is Carlson Wagonlit Travel). Bookings made through other methods such as, travel agents, websites or directly with a hotel will not qualify.

To receive your complimentary night (via a statement credit) you must:

  • Make a reservation for a minimum, consecutive four-night stay by contacting the Citi Prestige Concierge, to book directly with a designated travel advisor
  • Fully pay for your stay with a Citi Prestige Card

Receive one complimentary night (room rate for the fourth night and applicable taxes only) for any consecutive four-night hotel stay booked directly with a MasterCard designated travel advisor. Hotel imposed fees and incidental guest charges are the Cardmember’s responsibility. The value of the complimentary night will be the actual rate, as provided by the designated travel advisor, on that fourth night of the reservation, even if the rate is different from the rate on other nights. Cardmember will be charged the total cost of the stay at checkout and will receive a credit to the credit card statement for the cost of the fourth night (and the applicable taxes). If the cardmember books a special “pre-paid” rate this may require upfront payment in full, at time of booking. Payment in full is defined as pre-payment for the total of all four consecutive nights. Only one complimentary night is eligible per room reservation. Rates provided will be equal to or lower than the lowest publicly-available fare at the hotel’s official website. The benefit can only be used by each primary account Cardholder. This benefit is available to all Citi Prestige Cardmembers worldwide.

For any Program related questions contact Citi Prestige customer service at 1-877-288-CITI.

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If you book a lot of paid hotel nights, and the price being offered by Carlson Wagonlit is the same as you can get elsewhere, this will save you a lot of money. Using this benefit means foregoing booking the hotel through the hotel itself and earning andy bonus points and status for that.

I book zero four-night paid hotel stays per year, so this benefit is not for me, but it will be useful for many.

Global Entry Fee Credit

Prestige card holders are entitled to a $100 statement credit when they pay the $100 Global Entry enrollment fee with their Prestige cards.

Having Global Entry allows you to skip the immigrations and customs queues when arriving in the United States. Instead of spending time in line and talking to an agent, you tap a few buttons at a kiosk and get to the curb in a few minutes. Global Entry membership is valid for 5 years, and having Global Entry also lets you skip immigration queues in Australia and New Zealand.

There are two steps involved in obtaining Global entry: an application and an interview.

First, you need to fill out the online application.  To do this as efficiently as possible, make sure you have on hand: Proof of Citizenship documents (I just used my passport); your driver’s license, if you have one; and both your address and work histories for the past five years. The online application process took me about 30 minutes to complete.

If you have never registered with GOES (the Global Online Entry System), you will be prompted to register when you click the online application link above.

Once you are registered with GOES, log in to the system. You will see that you are not a member of any programs. Click “Enroll in a New Program” to begin your Global Entry application.

Select the link that allows you to start the application for the trusted traveler program.

From here, you will have to fill out a variety of personal information. There are 16 categories of information.

Fill out all the sections and submit your application. You will be prompted to pay the $100 application fee–make sure you use your Citi Prestige to pay this in order to have the fee credited back to you!

Once your application is approved, you can use the GOES system to schedule your in-person interview, which will take place at any airport that participates in the Global Entry program.

I would pay the $100 in a heartbeat even if I only traveled abroad once a year. When you can get it for free, it’s a no-brainer. How and Why I Got Global Entry.

Chip and No Foreign Transaction Fees

It shouldn’t surprise that a card very clearly designed for travelers comes with Chip technology for global acceptance and zero foreign transaction fees. The only surprising thing is that not all cards have these basic features.

Annual Fee

The annual fee is $450 and not waived. That should be a dealbreaker if you don’t use the benefits of the card, but it’s a fair price to pay if you are maximizing the card’s perks.

If you apply for the card at a time that allows double use of the airline fee credit before the next annual fee, you can get all of this for the cost of the first annual fee:

  • 30,000 bonus ThankYou Points
  • $500 worth of airline fee credits ($250 per calendar year)
  • $100 credit for applying for Global Entry
  • Lounge access + 2 at Admirals Clubs and Priority Club lounges
  • 4th night free on hotel stays with no blackouts

Those benefits clearly dwarf the $450 annual fee. After testing out the card and seeing how much you actually use the benefits, you’ll have a better idea going forward whether to keep the card for $450 per year in return for:

  • $250 worth of airline fee credits
  • Lounge access + 2 at Admirals Clubs and Priority Club lounges
  • 4th night free on hotel stays with no blackouts
  • 3x ThankYou Points on airfare and hotels; 2x on dining and entertainment

I plan on getting this card in the next few months. I am attracted by the sign up bonus, the $250 annual airline fee credit, the ability to use ThankYou Points for 1.6 cents each toward American Airlines and US Airways flights, and lounge access.

If you have a Citi Prestige, share your experiences in the comments.

Citi Prestige® Card with 30,000 bonus ThankYou Points after $2,000 in purchases made with your card in the first 3 months, lounge access, $250 per calendar year in airline fee credits, and more

  • $250 Air Travel Credit each year
  • Complimentary 4th Night for any hotel stay
  • Earn 30,000 bonus ThankYou® Points after $2,000 in purchases made with your card in the first 3 months the account is open.
  • Earn 3x points on Air Travel and Hotels
  • Earn 2x points on Dining at Restaurants and Entertainment
  • 1 ThankYou® Point per $1 spent on other purchases
  • Travel with ease and enjoy chip based technology

Application Link: Citi Prestige® Card

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The Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® MasterCard® is currently offering 50,000 bonus miles after spending $3,000 on the card in the first 3 months of account opening. This is enough miles for two roundtrips within the mainland United States, Canada, and Alaska or one roundtrip to Europe, South America, or Asia.

I ranked the card #2 on my top ten list of the best cards for free travel this month because of

  • the massive sign up bonus
  • American Airlines’ cheap award chart
  • the fact that cardholders get a 10% rebate on the miles used to book American Airlines award tickets
  • the $95 annual fee being waived the first 12 months

Screen Shot 2014-10-27 at 12.47.29 PM

Beyond the benefits when award booking, the Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® MasterCard® also makes traveling American Airlines less stressful.

  • Cardholders are entitled to a free checked bag for themselves and up to four companions on the same ticket. That’s up to a $250 value per roundtrip.
  • Cardholders get Group 1 boarding, so they’ll never have to gate check bags after the overhead bin space fills up.
  • Cardholders get a 25% discount on purchases onboard (I recommend the pastrami sandwich!)

The American Airlines card is one of the best airline cards, but it is not right for everyone.

  • What types of people should get the American Airlines credit card and what types shouldn’t?
  • What are the best uses of American Airlines miles?
  • What about the American Airlines/US Airways merger?

Benefits of American Airlines Miles

Cheap Award Chart & Amazing Partners

American Airlines miles are the best miles for booking ultra-luxury trips because American Airlines miles can book:

  • Etihad First Class
  • Qantas First Class
  • Cathay Pacific First Class
  • Qatar First Class
  • British Airways First Class
  • Malaysia First Class
  • Japan Airlines First Class

Delta miles cannot book international First Class. United gutted its award chart for partner First Class, so that its prices are almost double what American Airlines charges to fly some of the nicest products in the world.

United would charge 120,000 miles one way to fly from the United States to Southeast Asia via Asiana First Class. American would charge 67,500 miles via Cathay Pacific First Class, which is a better product in my opinion.

Screen Shot 2014-10-27 at 2.06.15 PM

On the opposite end of the spectrum, American Airlines miles are the best for economy awards too. American features off peak dates with super cheap economy awards to:

  • Japan & Korea
  • Europe
  • South America
  • Central America
  • Carribean
  • Hawaii

Delta charges 70,000 miles roundtrip to Japan. American charges as little as 50,000 miles.

United charges 60,000 miles roundtrip to Europe or Southern South America. American charges as little as 40,000 miles.

American is cheaper than its competitors because they both devalued their award charts in the last year. American will likely release a new award chart in 2015 when it combines its AAdvantage program with the US Airways Dividend Miles program. I expect award prices to go up somewhat in 2015, but we still have months to book at current prices for flights throughout 2015.

10% Rebate on Awards

Folks who have the Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® MasterCard® can do even better than the award prices I just quoted. One benefit of card membership is a 10% rebate on the miles used to book American Airlines awards up to 10,000 miles rebated per calendar year.

That means a 40,000 mile off peak roundtrip to Europe is only 36,000 miles net. A 67,500 mile treat in Cathay Pacific First Class is only 60,750 miles net.

A cardholder who redeems 100,000 American Airlines miles each year (very doable for most people) gets back 10,000 American Airlines miles.

The process is automatic and the rebate posts within a few weeks. Here’s a post I wrote about the benefit in 2012.

Benefits When Traveling

Free Checked Bag

Cardholders get a free checked bag on domestic American Airlines flights (everyone gets a free checked bag on international flights), and up to four companions on the same reservation get the same benefit. Since the first checked bag normally costs $25, a family of five could clean up with this benefit, saving $250 per roundtrip.

Screen Shot 2014-10-27 at 1.20.28 PM

I used this benefit this week to save $25 on a one way ticket from Atlanta to Los Angeles when I had to check a tennis bag.

Group 1 Boarding

Since all the airlines started charging for checked bags, more people are carrying on big roll-a-boards that need to go in the overhead bin. When those fill up, you have to surrender your carry on for a dreaded “gate check.” I hate to gate check my carry ons because I have to wait around for 15 extra minutes to get the bag at baggage claim and because I lose access to everything in the bag during my flight.

The Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® MasterCard® gets you Group 1 boarding on American Airlines flight, so you will definitely secure overhead bin space and avoid gate checking. This came in handy for me last week to keep my big backpack on the plane and not under the seat in front of me.

Best Uses of American Airlines Miles

Here are the basics of the AAdvantage program and the award booking rules.

American Airlines miles are best used for:

  • International Premium Cabins
  • Off Peak economy awards
  • Awards that are severely under-priced on the American Airlines award chart (here are five such awards)

American Airlines miles are almost never your best option for domestic economy awards.

Why not?

If there is MileSAAver award space on the flight you want, you can book it with British Airways Avios instead, almost certainly for fewer miles.

If there is not MileSAAver award space on the flight you want (only AAnytime space), you are almost certainly better off using Arrival miles to book the ticket.

Who Should and Shouldn’t Get This Card?

Look back at the previous section. Will you use the miles for a high value use? If so, this card with its 50,000 bonus miles and other benefits is a no-brainer.

Will you use the card for a low-value use? Skip the card and get the right card for your trip goal. (Fill out my Free Credit Card Consultation form.)

What about the US Airways Integration?

American Airlines and US Airways merged in December 2013, but they have not combined their frequent flyer programs.

A few days ago, I said I expected that an announcement about the integration of AAdvantage and Dividend Miles would come imminently and the combination would occur is 2015. I still believe that.

Hopefully we’ll know soon when American Airlines and US Airways miles will be combined and whether they will be freely transferable between the programs in advance of that date.

Citi issues the Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® MasterCard® and Barclaycard issues the US Airways® Premier World MasterCard®, so anyone can get both, which is a good idea if you are serious about collecting American Airlines miles.

Offer Details

  • Earn 50,000 American Airlines AAdvantage® bonus miles after making $3,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening*
  • Your first eligible checked bag is free*
  • Group 1 boarding and 25% savings on eligible in-flight purchases*
  • Double AAdvantage® miles on eligible American Airlines purchases*
  • Earn 10% of your redeemed AAdvantage® miles back – up to 10,000 AAdvantage® miles each calendar year*

Application Link: Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® MasterCard®

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Citi ThankYou Points, which transfer to nine airlines plus Hilton, can be freely shared among ThankYou accounts.

Right now the Citi ThankYou® Premier Rewards Card offers up to 50,000 bonus ThankYou® Points.

  • Earn 20,000 points after $2,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening
  • Earn an additional 30,000 points after another $3,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of your second year of being a cardmember

If you and your travel partner have both offered this card or if you have opened the ThankYou Premier and the Citi ThankYou® Preferred Card, you can freely combine balances before redeeming the points for airline miles or free flights.

  • What is the one big restriction on shared points?
  • What are the two best ways to redeem ThankYou Points?

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Citi has just released a new cash back card that is the best on the market:

Citi® Double Cash Card

You earn 1% back when you make a purchase and another 1% back as you make payments. You should, of course, pay in full every month to avoid interest. This has the added benefit of getting your cash back more quickly.

Screen Shot 2014-08-29 at 1.37.41 AM

The 1% + 1% cash back and no annual fee immediately make the Citi® Double Cash Card the best cash back card on the market.

This card is slightly better than the Fidelity Investment Rewards American Express, which offers 2% back and no annual fee, for four reasons:

  1. The Citi Double Cash is a MasterCard, and the Fidelity card is an American Express. MasterCards are more widely accepted.
  2. The Citi Double Cash’s rewards can be redeemed in increments of $25 for statement credits. You have to wait until you have $50 in rewards on the Fidelity card.
  3. The Citi Double Cash offers 0% APR for 15 months on purchases and balance transfers made in the first four months. (There is a 3% fee on balance transfers.)
  4. The Fidelity card requires you to have a Fidelity account. That’s one more step.

The Citi® Double Cash Card also clearly has a chip in its promotional images. I don’t see whether it’s chip and PIN (more useful) or chip and signature, so I’ll hold off on calling this a benefit.

  • How does the Citi Double Cash Card compare to the Arrival Plus and miles earning cards?
  • Who should not get the Citi Double Cash Card?

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Yesterday I wrote that Citi ThankYou Points had added Air France Flying Blue as a 1:1 transfer partner.

That’s big news because there are some amazing high value uses for Flying Blue miles, and ThankYou Points are so easy to earn from the Citi ThankYou® Premier Rewards Card with its 50,000 point sign up bonus and 3x category bonuses.

  • Earn 20,000 points after $2,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening
  • Earn an additional 30,000 points after another $3,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of your second year of being a cardmember
  • Earn 3 ThankYou Points for every $1 spent on purchases for dining at restaurants and entertainment

When I was researching that post though, I couldn’t find Flying Blue’s complete award chart. All I could find was an award chart for awards originating in Europe:

Screen Shot 2014-08-25 at 11.56.17 PM

I took it upon myself to compile an award chart for awards departing the United States, which I believe to be the only Air France/KLM Flying Blue award chart online for awards departing the United States. I priced out awards from the continental United States to every region on the Flying Blue award chart.

  • What is the award chart?
  • Where is it cheaper than Delta’s award chart?

Here is the award chart in thousands of Flying Blue miles each way from the United States to the listed region, flying on Classic Awards. I didn’t include Premium Economy awards, which are bookable with Flying Blue miles, because the airlines on which you can book them collect fuel surcharges.

Screen Shot 2014-08-27 at 2.44.26 AM

The first thing to notice is that awards in economy are often very cheap, but awards in business class are often 2.5x the price, which makes them extremely expensive.

Here’s the same award chart with awards that are cheaper in miles than the same Delta award in red. (I compare Flying Blue to Delta since both are members of SkyTeam.)

Screen Shot 2014-08-27 at 2.46.53 AM

Some of the black numbers are the same price as Delta awards, and some are more expensive. (Also Delta awards must be booked as roundtrips until January 1, 2015, and Flying Blue awards can be booked as one ways.)

The near international awards in economy are downright cheap with Flying Blue miles.

  • 15,000 Flying Blue miles each way to Hawaii vs. 45,000 Delta miles roundtrip
  • 15,000 Flying Blue miles each way to Central America/Caribbean vs. 35,000 Delta miles roundtrip
  • 25,000 Flying Blue miles each way to Europe or Southern South America vs. 60,000 Delta miles roundtrip

There’s nothing particularly sexy about flying economy, but paying 30,000 Flying Blue miles instead of $1,000 for a roundtrip to Hawaii–and then enjoying Hawaii–is an awesome deal!

What’s your favorite deal on the award chart?

How to Get ThankYou Points

The easiest way to earn a bundle of ThankYou Points is with the Citi ThankYou® Premier Rewards Card, which has a huge sign up bonus and big category bonuses.

My Review of the Citi ThankYou® Premier Rewards Card

 

  • Earn up to 50,000 bonus ThankYou® Points. Bonus points are redeemable for up to $500 in gift cards, up to $625 for airfare or other great rewards
  • Earn 20,000 points after $2,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening
  • Earn an additional 30,000 points after another $3,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of your second year of being a cardmember
  • Annual Fee: $125 (fee waived for the first 12 months). On  4/19/2015, this fee will be reduced to $95 on all accounts
  • Points do not expire and earn unlimited Thank You Points
  • Travel with ease and enjoy chip based technology

Application Link: Citi ThankYou® Premier Rewards Card

To get the full 50,000 point bonus, you do have to pay part of one annual fee of $125 (the annual fee is waived the first year, but you have to hold the card a second year.) Those 50,000 points would also transfer to Singapore Airlines and be enough for a roundtrip to South America with two free one ways to Hawaii!

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Citi ThankYou Points now transfer 1:1 to AirFrance/KLM Flying Blue miles.

Screen Shot 2014-08-25 at 11.07.11 PM

This is huge news because:

  • Flying Blue Promo Awards to Europe cost only 12,500 miles each way
  • Flying Blue miles can book one way awards on Delta flights, with no fuel surcharges
  • Flying Blue miles can book award flights on any of the 20 SkyTeam member airlines, a few with no fuel surcharges
  • Flying Blue charges only 15,000 miles each way between the continental United States and Hawaii

You can transfer Citi ThankYou Points at a 1:1 ratio to nine airlines across all three alliances plus Hilton points. Singapore KrisFlyer miles are still my favorite transfer partner, and Flying Blue miles are now my second favorite transfer partner.

Right now the Citi ThankYou® Premier Rewards Card is offering 50,000 bonus points: 20,000 after spending $2,000 in the first three months and 30,000 more after spending $3,000 in the first three months of year two.

  • What airlines can you book with Flying Blue miles?
  • What are the best value awards with Flying Blue miles?
  • How can you book Flying Blue awards?

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This post may contain affiliate links. Read my disclosure policy here.

This is the twenty-sixth post in a monthlong series that started here. Each post will take about two minutes to read and may include an action item that takes the reader another two minutes to complete. I am writing this for an audience of people who know nothing about frequent flyer miles, and my goal is that by the end, you know enough to fly for free anywhere you want to go.

I probably spend fewer nights in hotels than any other miles and points blogger, despite traveling plenty. Why am I down on hotels?

  1. frequent traveler- I spend probably about three to nine months away from my apartment
  2. frugal traveler- $100 a night or more is never going to cut it for more than an occasional splurge
  3. social traveler- hotels are isolating
  4. anti-tourist- I don’t want to spend all my time in a touristy part of town, eating at touristy restaurants, and drinking with other Americans

I pursue a mixed lodging strategy when traveling.

I stay some nights at top-tier, fancy-pants, several-hundred-euros-per-night hotels. I stay the majority of my nights for free with friends or through CouchSurfing, and I round out the rest of my nights cheaply at hostels or through airbnb.

  • What is CouchSurfing?
  • What is airbnb?
  • When do I stay at fancy hotels, and how do I avoid paying for them?
  • Hostels? Really!?

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Every time I mention the Citi® Hilton HHonors™ Reserve Card, I get confused comments about which properties are excluded from the sign up bonus of two free weekend nights at Hilton properties worldwide.

The Citi® Hilton HHonors™ Reserve Card comes with two free night certificates that can be used for Friday, Saturday, and Sunday nights after spending $2,500 in the first 4 months after opening the card.

Plus any cardmember year you spend $10,000 on the card, you get a free night certificate on your anniversary.

Screen Shot 2014-08-15 at 3.25.14 AM
Conrad Koh Samui: A Hilton property that goes for $847 per night in January

These free night certificates can be used at top tier properties that go for up to $1,000 per night, but they cannot be used at the excluded property list. Except that they kind of can, and that’s where the confusion comes in.

  • Where can you use the Hilton Reserve’s free night certificates?
  • Where can’t you use the Hilton Reserve’s free night certificates?
  • Can you use them at the Conrad Koh Samui?

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Should you buy Citi ThankYou Points for 2.5 cents each?

ThankYou Points got a whole lot more valuable and more interesting last month when Citi announced that people with a Citi ThankYou® Premier, Citi Prestige®, or Citi Chairman card can transfer Citi ThankYou Points at a 1:1 ratio to:

  • Cathay Pacific Asia Miles
  • EVA Air Infinity MileageLands
  • Etihad Guest
  • Garuda Indonesia Frequent Flyer
  • Qatar Privilege Club
  • Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer
  • Thai Airways Royal Orchard Plus

You can also transfer 1,000 ThankYou Points to 1,500 Hilton HHonors points.

There are some amazing redemptions with Singapore miles like booking Singapore Suites, booking United flights to Central America with free one ways to Hawaii, and booking United flights to South America with free one ways to Hawaii.

  • How can you buy ThankYou Points?
  • Are they a good deal for 2.5 cents?
  • How can you get 50,000 bonus ThankYou Points from the Citi ThankYou® Premier?

How to Buy ThankYou Points

At thankyou.com, select Ways to Earn Points from the About menu.

Screen Shot 2014-08-08 at 1.36.13 PM

One of the options will be to Buy Points.

Screen Shot 2014-08-08 at 1.36.32 PM

After signing in, you’ll be offered the chance to buy up to 5,000 points in 1,000 point increments for 2.5 cents per points.

Screen Shot 2014-08-08 at 3.26.06 PMTo purchase more than 5,000 points, call 800-THANKYOU. You can buy up to 100,000 points per calendar year.

Screen Shot 2014-08-08 at 1.37.10 PMAre ThankYou Points a good deal for 2.5 cent each?

The short answer is that there are very few awards for which you’d get good value from buying all the points for 2.5 cents each. Topping off an account with a few thousand points when you’re just short of the miles you need is more likely to be a good deal.

Let’s run through some examples.

Hilton Category 1 & 2 Redemptions

ThankYou Points transfer 1:1.5 to Hilton points. Category 1 Hiltons cost 5,000 points per night at Category 2s are 10,000 points. These hotels are adequate and great value for so few points.

Buying 10,000 ThankYou Points for $250 would transfer to 15,000 Hilton points, which is enough for three nights at a Category 1 hotel. While there are some Category 1 hotels for more than $83 per night, this would be a tiny savings if a savings at all.

You’d need to pay $500 for three nights at a Category 2 hotel, and $167 per night for those hotels is probably more than just paying the going rate online.

For more info on Category 1 & 2 Hilton stays and Category 9 & 10 too, see The Only Two Good Hilton Strategies.

Singapore Awards on United Flights

The best economy deal is a roundtrip to Central America in economy plus two one ways to Hawaii (or vice versa) for 35,000 Singapore miles + taxes + $100. Buying points for 2.5 cents each would make this award cost about $1,000 all in.

That is a probably cheaper than paid tickets, but again, not by much.

The best business class deal is a roundtrip to Southern South America in flat bed business plus two one ways to Hawaii in First Class for 80,000 Singapore miles + taxes + $100. Buying points for 2.5 cents each would make this award cost about $2,200 all in.

This is almost certainly a steep discount on the price of similar paid tickets, but it isn’t exactly cheap.

If the best deals with ThankYou Points transfer partners are, at best, marginal deals when you buy the ThankYou Points for 2.5 cents each, that rules out buying huge quantities of ThankYou Points to get cheap travel.

Buying Points to Top Off the Account

The only way to get really great value from buying ThankYou Points for 2.5 cents each is to buy very small quantities, like 1,000, when you just need a tiny top off to book a fantastic high-value award from the account of a transfer partner.

Imagine you had 79,000 Singapore miles and wanted to book roundtrip to Southern South America in flat bed business plus two one ways to Hawaii in First Class for 80,000 Singapore miles + taxes + $100. Paying $25 more to get the last 1,000 miles would be fantastic.

Getting Bonus ThankYou Points

The easiest way to earn a bundle of ThankYou Points is with the Citi ThankYou® Premier Rewards Card, which has a huge sign up bonus and big category bonuses.

My Review of the Citi ThankYou® Premier Rewards Card

 

  • Earn up to 50,000 bonus ThankYou® Points. Bonus points are redeemable for up to $500 in gift cards, up to $625 for airfare or other great rewards
  • Earn 20,000 points after $2,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening
  • Earn an additional 30,000 points after another $3,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of your second year of being a cardmember
  • Annual Fee: $125 (fee waived for the first 12 months). On  4/19/2015, this fee will be reduced to $95 on all accounts
  • Points do not expire and earn unlimited Thank You Points
  • Travel with ease and enjoy chip based technology

Application Link: Citi ThankYou® Premier Rewards Card

To get the full 50,000 point bonus, you do have to pay at least part of one $125 annual fee.

Those 50,000 points would now transfer to Singapore Airlines and be enough for a roundtrip to South America with two free one ways to Hawaii!

Bottom Line

You can buy up to 100,000 ThankYou Points per year for 2.5 cents each. You probably shouldn’t buy more than a few thousand as a way to top off your account for a specific redemption if you buy any at all.

You can get 50,000 bonus points from the Citi ThankYou® Premier Rewards Card.

ThankYou Points transfer to seven airlines and one hotel.

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