Last week I wrote a post about the Citi ThankYou Premier card, which comes with a 50,000 point bonus. Now, those points are valuable enough on their own for $665 in free travel on any airline, flights that will still earn you elite and redeemable miles and don’t require the hassle of finding award space. But Citi also provides something called “flight points” that are awarded whenever you book a plane ticket and pay for it with the card. If you book a $300 fare from SFO to EWR, you’ll get ThankYou points as usual plus 5,131 flight points. And these flight points can be converted into more ThankYou points, promising a much larger potential bonus.
The catch is that flight points can only be converted to ThankYou points at a specific ratio based on how many ThankYou points you already have, and I had incorrectly assumed this was determined when the points were redeemed. So if you wanted to redeem 10,000 ThankYou points, I thought you could redeem 5,000 ThankYou points and 5,000 flight points. Since flight points are so easy to get if you’re a frequent traveler, this can be a problem. But the huge 50,000 ThankYou point bonus makes this a non-issue. Combined you could in theory get over 100,000 total points redeemable for free travel–about $1,400 worth at 1.33 cents per point.
But sadly this was not to be. I posted a correction later that day when several people pointed out that flight points are in fact converted into ThankYou points, and that this conversion happens as new ThankYou points are earned. In the meantime the flight points sit in an invisible account. So if you have 5,000 flight points already and spend $2,000 that month, you’ll get 4,000 ThankYou points: the 2,000 you would have through spend and another 2,000 of converted flight points. If you spend $6,000, you’ll get 11,000 ThankYou points: the 6,000 you would have through spend and all 5,000 of converted flight points. This made the deal a bit of a dud. You could improve your return a little bit, but for the most part you could not take advantage of the bonus to convert all these easy flight points. (Although I still think it’s a great offer for free travel either way.)
The Return of Flight Points
But wait! Reader kyunbit posted a cryptic message suggesting that, in fact, my original math may have been correct.
It is actually possible to get much more than this $731.
I followed up by email and learned that you can take advantage of the flight point conversion rules by delaying the time the bonus points are awarded. The trick is to book very long but cheap flights immediately after receiving the card but without tipping the spending threshold to receive the 50,000 point sign-up bonus. If you receive the card in January, fly as much as you can in January and February by purchasing tickets with your Citi ThankYou Premier card. But do not spend more than your spending threshold for earning the bonus, generally $2,500 according to most offers. Also, the flight points are awarded only after travel, so you need to actually fly before the end of the billing period. Then, in March, spend a few dollars more to reach the threshold and earn your bonus ThankYou points.
Apparently the system doesn’t discriminate between ThankYou points earned through purchases or as a sign-up bonus, but it does care that the flight points were there first. So by going about things this way, all your accumulated flight points will be converted into additional ThankYou points once the bonus is awarded. You CAN get $1,400 worth of free travel! All you have to do is be careful and how and when you use your card during the first few months.
I’m sure someone is going to point out how I’m all wrong again, but I’m getting used to that…