Citi ThankYou Points Introduces Hilton as its First Transfer Partner

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.)

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. I just cashed out my 30,000 Citi points for $300 in Marriott gift cards. Those 30,000 would have equaled 45,000 Hilton. That’s just shy of a 50,000 point stay at the Hilton downtown San Francisco. Considering you can Priceline a nice hotel between $150 – $200 a night, my choice would be to cash in the Citi points for gift cards (and earn stay credit).

    And there’s no way Citi can reclaim my gift cards. 😀

  2. Nit picky, but shouldn’t the real HT go to flyertalk… since TPG acknowledges that he got that info from FT via his HT?

  3. Hilton points are really odd on the valuation side. If you intend to redeem at a small handful of properties (small enough that it is reasonably realistic to compile an exhaustive list) they have one value, but most everywhere else a much different value. Mine are semi-earmarked for trips not currently planned – typically a terrible idea but one which Hilton lures me in to.

  4. Totally agree, Gary. Lucky and TPG overvalue Hilton points because they only redeem them at ultra-high end destinations, where prices for the resorts are inflated, as many people book on points.

    Hilton points are valued between 0.5-0.6 cents a point.

  5. @jay: You’ll notice Gary likes to pretend FT doesn’t exist anymore. Isn’t the first time he credits another blogger or MP when the original source was FT!

  6. @jay @Ryan E – I hat tip where I first saw the item discussed, and I saw it at the Points Guy. As for Flyertalk, I just pre-wrote a post for Monday morning where the first full paragraph begins by referencing Flyertalk. But odds on I’m likely to see something first on a blog or on Milepoint or…i.e. the places I go the most these days. Nothing more, nothing less.

  7. no, i getcha… its the journalism class in me that brought that up… clearly in TPG post he credit FT, so typically thats what you’d credit and not him.

    i get that this is a blog and not a news article and all, but it may be unfair of me but i’ve always held you up to a higher standard then your typical blogger.

    either way, good analysis as always

  8. @jay @ryan you HT the people you learned it from, not the ‘original source’. Otherwise, everybody should HT Hilton or Citi. Nothing on FT is ‘original’.

  9. @jay I’m “hat tipping” (‘hey thanks for letting me know’) rather than ‘sourcing’ it, the sourcing is a bit thin to say it’s from Flyertalk, it’s from the Citi Thank You website. Brian hat tipped where he saw it, and I did as well, I suspect though am not certain that we’re sort of talking about two different things here. In any case, I was trying to communicate ‘hey I saw this a bit earlier at the Points Guy, and I’m adding my own take’ and I think you’ll see that I tend to do that more than most blogs do, try to give credit to where I learned of something although if it’s something exceedingly original I will try to give props if I know of a true original source as well. Just doing my best here, folks! Nothing more.. 🙂

  10. I have two Thank You credit cards, so I called to cancel one when it incurred an annual fee. I was told that I would have 30 days to use the Thank You points associated with the canceled card. I said that I wanted them transferred to Hilton Honors. The representative told me that Citi would “remove” the Hilton points at the 30 day mark. In other words, you cannot preserve your points by transferring them to another points program. I’m not sure that I believe her. What do you think?

  11. I just transferred fee Amex membership Rewards points to Hilton today. It was a 1:2 ratio. Better than Citi in this case.

  12. Fixing typo:
    I just transferred a few Amex membership Rewards points to Hilton today. It was a 1:2 ratio. Better than Citi in this case.

  13. What does milepoint bring to the table that flyertalk does not? I have yet to find any added value on milepoint (compared to flyertalk). Note 90% of the time I’m looking for “deals”.

  14. @ gary so if I read something ona Blog and even thou that Blogger credits MP as the palce they found out about it, if I understand you I need not mention MP to anyone but only rather the place I read about it? That would imclude if a blogger read something on BA I need not ever mention BA to anyone since I didnt read it there? Sorry I Disagree especially since today by the end of the day almost all the Blogs will be posting what they read on FT or MP . So by making BA or MP the last reads of the day I can then never have to say to anyone I read it on MP or BA or FT. Vert Sad Im sorry to say

    The goodthing with HH now is thos eof us who earn TY from having Citi Bank accts, well unlike the pts from the CC they do expire at times it can be a small amount. So 1000 pts for 1500 HH is a nice option to have

  15. @Zz, Gary has a financial interest in MP. That’s why he has an incentive to reference MP with its inferior content over FT.

  16. Please read the fine print, some of which only shows up when you try to exchange points. Points from signup bonuses of any kind and points of any kind from a banking relationship cannot be transferred. I have almost 45,000 points and only about 4,500 are eligable to be transferred.

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