Frequent Flyer

Virgin America Is New Citi Card Transfer Partner

Points earned with credit cards linked to Citi’s ThankYou Rewards program may now be exchanged for points in Virgin America’s Elevate program.

Once considered also-rans, if that, among travel-rewards credit cards, the Citi cards linked to the ThankYou Rewards program have been slowly, quietly burnishing their image among mileage-collectors.

In particular, the Rewards program has been expanding its roster of airline and hotel partners, allowing program members to transfer their points, usually 1:1, for miles and points in other programs. But establishing such relationships isn’t easy, especially with U.S.-based airlines, which tend to have more or less exclusive arrangements with other cards. So while ThankYou points could be exchanged for miles in 10 airline programs, they were all non-U.S. programs. Until now, that is.

Marking its first link with a U.S. airline program, ThankYou Rewards points may now be exchanged for points in Virgin America’s Elevate program. That’s the good news.

The bad news: Rewards points will transfer 2:1 for points in Virgin America’s Elevate program, rather than the more generous 1:1 transfer rate in place with most other Rewards partners. However, through October 21, there’s a 25 percent transfer bonus in place, so 1,000 Rewards points will net 625 Elevate points.

ThankYou Rewards points are worth around 1.6 cents apiece when redeemed for free flights on American, and more or less when redeemed for other awards. Elevate points are worth around 2.2 cents each when redeemed for flights on Virgin America. So at the 2:1 transfer rate, redeeming 1,000 ThankYou points worth $16 would net 500 Elevate points worth just $11. Not a very attractive value proposition.

Nevertheless, there may be better value to be had by redeeming Elevate points for flights on Virgin America’s airline partners, which include Hawaiian Airlines, Singapore, Emirates, and Virgin Atlantic.

And it’s always better to have more transfer options, for the sake of convenience if nothing else. Here’s the ThankYou Rewards roster of transfer partners as it stands today:

  • Air France/KLM
  • Cathay Pacific
  • EVA Air
  • Etihad
  • Garuda Indonesia
  • Hilton
  • Malaysia Airways
  • Qatar Airways
  • Qantas
  • Singapore Airlines
  • Thai Airways
  • Virgin America
  • Virgin Atlantic/Australia

If Citi’s recent moves are any indication, program members can expect to see more airline partners added by the end of this year. And they can at least hope for a more generous transfer rate to those new partners.

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By Tim Winship

After 20 years working in the travel industry, and 15 years writing about it, Tim Winship knows a thing or two about travel. Follow him on Twitter @twinship.

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