In mid-July Citibank points suddenly became transferable to American Airlines. That was a huge surprise and for many cardmembers with Prestige and Premier products a nice increase in the value of their points. Citi hadn’t had one of the large U.S. airlines as a transfer partner.
In fact, it was odd that American Airlines wasn’t a transfer partner before this. And odder still that the relationship was introduced as temporary, running only though November 13.
- Citi has been an American Airlines partner since the late 1980s.
- Chase managed to partner with United for transferable points, and Amex manages to offer Delta SkyMiles. It’s been expensive for both issuers, with American Express almost facing a cap on the number of annual miles transferred per cardmember and Chase seemingly having to pay mightily to keep transfers going.
- Nonetheless other issuers offer transfers to their primary co-brand airline partner, while Citi never managed to get this done with American. At last contract renewal they could have paid enough to get exclusivity (Barclays also issues American AAdvantage cards) and offer transferable points but they ultimately balked at the price.
- And so while at one point Chase transfers to United represented the full growth in MileagePlus revenue, American Airlines sat on the revenue sidelines, not playing the transferable points game.
It occurs to me that a couple of things changed. I assumed transferable points wouldn’t be on the table until the next co-brand card deal was done.
- Vasu Raja became Chief Revenue Officer, and the Chief Revenue Officer was put in charge of AAdvantage. Maximizing revenue means selling points and the AAdvantage program has a lot of revenue to generate now that it has a $10 billion mortgage behind it.
- A month before Citi transfers went into effect, Bilt Rewards announced that its points would transfer to AAdvantage. Bilt would have a credit card, and thus its customers could earn AAdvantage points using its credit card.
Both of these things led me to believe that a new future of American selling its miles as part of transferable points programs made sense, and its Citi partner made sense in a number of dimensions as the major bank to offer this.
Yet the transfer arrangement was announced as limited-time, expiring November 13, 2021. A couple of readers have reached out to me telling me that Citi representatives have said the transfer relationship is not ending. My understanding is that they are not correct.
- Those agents probably didn’t realize the end date which was in place
- Rather than having any special knowledge about the future of the program
That said, I don’t see how Citi can sit on the sidelines and not pay American to keep this in the program for the competitiveness of Thank You Rewards. If they don’t get transfers to American, they almost have to preclude others from having such transfers in any future co-brand deal.
Meanwhile, though not offering points transfers as a way of gaining AAdvantage miles is one way to juice the co-brand portfolio (you have nowhere else to go to earn so many American Airlines miles), American is juicing card spend with Loyalty Points and they’re giving up on exclusivity for earning their currency in any case (at a minimum, with Bilt).
So even though the current transfer arrangement does, apparently, end November 13 I wouldn’t be surprised to see more changes in this space soon-ish.