Citi offers an AA exit: Bail out or double down? [On My Mind]

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I was a bit shell shocked yesterday (in a good way) by the news that Citi is now offering 1 to 1 transfers from ThankYou Rewards to American Airlines.  This is something that we’ve long wanted and expected, but year after year it didn’t happen.  Until now.  For a limited time.

Through Nov 13th 2021, Citi is offering 1 to 1 transfers for those with Chairman, Premier or Prestige cards, or 2 to 1 transfers for those with Preferred or Rewards+ cards.

This amazing news surfaced many thoughts, ideas, and questions in my mind.  In no particular order, here goes…

  • What the heck is the Citi Chairman card?  A Google search tells me it’s one of those invite only cards for wealthy customers, like the Amex Centurion card.  And, surprisingly, it seems that the Citi Chairman card is an Amex card issued by Citi.  Or at least it was one at some point in the past.  I doubt it’s still an Amex but I don’t know for sure.
  • Citi finally has a great transfer partner that isn’t only for niche uses!  Yay!  For a limited time.  Boo.
  • Is this transfer option really temporary?  Maybe they’re just testing it out and will make it permanent?
  • Both Barclays and Citi offer AA cards.  Is this some kind of custody arrangement where Citi gets to offer point transfers for 4 months, then Barclays gets to do so for the next 4 months, and so on?  Unlikely.  Since they killed the Arrival Premier 6 months after its introduction in 2018, Barclays doesn’t offer a card with transferrable points.  Are they going to try again?  I doubt it.
  • AA miles are great!  They allow all awards to be cancelled for free with both taxes and miles refunded.  Miles are easily kept alive with account activity once every 18 months.  They have some great partner award rates such as US to Europe in business class for 57.5K each way; US to Asia in business class for 60K each way to Japan or Korea, 70K to India, or 80K to most of the rest of Asia; and US to Africa in business class for 75K one-way.  And AA often offers great award prices on their own flights via their Web Special awards.  Additionally, AA miles give you access to some of the world’s best first class products such as: Cathay Pacific, Etihad, and Japan Airlines.
  • AA miles are bad!  If you use miles to book AA flights, then you’re stuck flying AA (I’ve had many awful experiences with AA flight delays and cancellations).  If you use miles to book British Airways, you’ll pay outrageous cash surcharges.  OK, I had to get that out of the way.  Those things are bad, but I think that these days AA miles are much more good than bad.
  • Why did AA relent and let Citi offer point transfers?  My understanding is that Citi has been trying for years to get AA as a transfer partner.  Is AA about to devalue their miles?  If so, will AA wait until November 14th to do so?
  • The Citi Premier 80K offer is better than I thought!  It’s no longer easy to earn AA miles by signing up for AA cards over and over.  Now, we can earn AA miles by signing up for Citi ThankYou cards as well.  But we have to complete minimum spend requirements and actually get a hold of those points by November 13th.
  • For a brief time (unless the deal is extended), Citi cards offer the best way to earn AA miles through spend.  Earn 3x in a number of categories (including gas stations and grocery stores) with the Premier card.  Earn 2x everywhere with the Double Cash card.  Earn 5x on your top spending category each billing cycle with the Custom Cash card.  Earn a minimum of 10 points per transaction with your Rewards+ card.
  • This temporary transfer is a great way to earn the Rewards+ 10% rebate (up to 10K rebated each calendar year).  If you have a Rewards+ card and a Premier card (for example), and if you combine the ThankYou accounts for each, then if you transfer 100,000 points into AA miles, you’ll get 10,000 ThankYou points back.
  • AA miles are a good choice for emptying out your ThankYou Rewards account.  Most of Citi’s transfer partners are poor choices for transfers if you don’t have any specific plans for how to use the miles.  This is because the best Citi transfer partners have very specific best uses and/or have hard expiration dates for their miles.  AA miles, though, are easy to keep alive and have enough good uses (in my opinion) to be a reasonable option for anyone hoping to ditch their ThankYou points.  See: Citi Transfer Partners for details about each and every transfer partner.  Of course, the reason people may want to ditch their points is that they are thinking of cancelling their Premier or Prestige card.  For other options, see this post: Cancelling your Prestige or Premier card? Here’s how to keep ThankYou points alive.
  • How many points should I transfer?  I’ll flesh out this question next…

How many points should I transfer?

I have around 650,000 ThankYou points.  Normally, I like to keep my points as transferable points for ultimate flexibility.  Point transfers are a one-way street.  You can convert transferable points to airline miles, but then you can’t have a do-over if you change your mind.

But this November 13th deadline adds a twist.  Now, if the transfer option really ends at that time, ThankYou points will lose some flexibility on November 14th.  AA will then no longer be an option.  What should I do?  How many of my points should I transfer to AA?

Minimum 100K

I have the Rewards+ card pooled with my other ThankYou cards.  I haven’t redeemed ThankYou points at all this year, to-date.  So, if I get to November and that’s still the case, I will transfer at least 100,000 ThankYou points to AA.  This way, I’ll earn 10% of my ThankYou points back thanks to my Rewards+ card.  That seems like a no-brainer to me.

Keep at least 200K intact

If I ever want to take advantage of Turkish Miles & Smiles business class sweetspots or the ultimate 7.5K sweetspot to Hawaii, I’ll need to have some ThankYou points around.  Since Capital One shut me down, transfers from Citi are my only reasonable option.

The only other airline miles that are unique to Citi that I currently care about are EVA Air miles.  EVA often releases far more award space to their own members than to partners.  Other good transfer options don’t really matter to me because I’m flush with other transferable points including Chase Ultimate Rewards and Amex Membership Rewards.

Honestly, I’m not too likely to take advantage of transfers to Turkish or EVA anytime soon (or even anytime not-so-soon).  Thanks to the pandemic, I cancelled a bunch of awards and that left me with oodles of miles in several programs including United and Avianca.  Both are Star Alliance members and so both can often be used to book the same flights that would otherwise be bookable with Turkish or EVA miles.  Yes, I would pay more miles than with Turkish, but it might be worth it rather than dealing with the many difficulties in booking awards through Turkish.  And with EVA, I just don’t think it’s likely that I’ll need their expanded award space based on how infrequently I tend to fly to Asia.

All of that said, you never know.  My circumstances may change or Citi may introduce new transfer partners, or existing partners may add new sweetspot awards.  For all of those reasons, I’d like to keep some ThankYou points around.  I’d be comfortable with keeping as few as 200K points.

What about the other 350K?

OK, so of my 650K points, I’ll definitely transfer at least 100K and I’ll keep at least 200K.  What about the remaining 350K?  Should I transfer them to AA too?  If I had a near term need for AA miles, then I’d do that in a heartbeat.  But I don’t.  And it might not be necessary.  Citi might make AA transfers permanent.  Or maybe they’ll make AA transfers a recurring temporary feature.  Either way, I don’t think that November 13th is necessarily the last day ever to transfer Citi points to AA.  And if I do transfer, how mad will I be with myself if Citi then adds a new even more valuable transfer partner?

Transfer points or keep them?  Either way, it’s a risk.  Remember the old saying “Nobody ever got fired for buying IBM”?  Let me suggest a new, opposite version: “Nobody ever got ahead by betting on AA… or Citibank.”  And there’s the dilemma.  Keeping my points is akin to betting on Citi.  Transferring my points is a bet on AA.  Neither feels like a good bet, but both programs have shown signs of life lately that may suggest even better things to come…

What should I do?  What will you do?  Please comment below…

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