If you had to transfer all of your Citi ThankYou points, Chase Ultimate Rewards points, or Amex Membership Rewards points to a single partner today, which partner would you pick and why? This question has been running through my mind for the past couple of days thanks to someone who tuned in to our Ask Us Anything Live on Youtube on Tuesday. In a normal environment, that question would be tricky to answer; in today’s environment it seemed especially challenging. In this post, I’ll lay out my picks for all of the major transferable currencies, but I am just as interested in reader picks: let me know your thoughts in the comments.
Audience member Jake posed the question this way during our Youtube Live session:
Due to possible risk of shutdown, I’d like to transfer a lot of citi thank you points to airline partners. What airline program would you recommend?
He went on to qualify that a bit with a couple of slightly more specific travel goals (traveling to Europe or Asia in premium cabins down the road), but given the current environment I thought it was worth consideration from a broader standpoint: given the uncertainty of future travel and of specific airlines/programs, where would I transfer today if I had to transfer points?
Let’s be clear: I don’t recommend transferring points anywhere right now unless travel is imminent. As Greg and I said on our Frequent Miler on the Air podcast last weekend, I think the time is right to collect points right now. If you have points in a specific airline program already, I think it’s fine to book speculative 2021 travel. But personally, I’m not willing to transfer points from a transferable currency into any specific airline program today without a near-term use. If you tried to convince me six months ago (reminder: that was January 9th) that by this summer, Americans wouldn’t be welcome in Europe or Canada and that people traveling within the United States would be asked to quarantine themselves, it would have been an awfully hard sell. Given how much the world has changed in six months, I won’t pretend to confidently know what it will be like six months or a year from now. Yes, I feel reasonably confident and hopeful that travel will be back to “normal” next summer. I’d wager ten or twenty bucks on that. I’m less excited about wagering the flexibility of a couple hundred thousand points or more.
So all that said, I thought the question was a great thought exercise. And in Jake’s shoes, it might be a prudent idea; if he’s asking this question, I have faith that he has reason to suspect that shutdown is imminent. In that case (particularly with Citi), it likely makes more sense to use them than lose them.
Without further ado, here are my picks (note that my answers for Chase and Amex are shorter, but I give some background on my Citi choice since I changed from my answer during the broadcast):
Citi ThankYou points
A fantastic trifecta if you want 3 cards: Citi Premier, Double Cash, and the Rewards+. Bye bye Prestige — you just don’t belong.
Long-term readers likely expect me to pick Turkish Miles & Smiles here, and there is good reason for them to suspect that. When I uncovered the Turkish Miles & Smiles domestic flight sweet spot just over a year ago (See: Hawaii for 7.5K miles each way: The sweetest spot we’ve been missing.), I was pumped. I always say that my blood is tropical; approximately three quarters of my summer wardrobe is Hawaiian shirts. And it’s not just Hawaii: the ability to get anywhere in the US on United for 7.5K miles each way in economy class is pretty terrific. United domestic saver availability in economy class is usually strong and given what looks like more domestic than international travel in my near-term, Turkish would seem like a wise pick.
However, my problems with Turkish are two-fold. First, I don’t know how long that domestic flight sweet spot will last. They removed that special domestic flight chart from their award chart page about nine months ago. The writing could be on the wall for that one (or it could last forever…who knows?). Second, I have no idea what Turkish’s economic viability is given a world economic standstill. I feel confident that most countries will ensure that their major national flag carriers get through this time, but I don’t know whether Turkey is in the position to do that, nor do I know whether Turkish can viably sustain itself if travel restrictions persist. I’m not actively concerned that Turkish (or any other major airline) will collapse, and I say this without having researched the airline’s financial state, but given that Turkish’s route network is so heavily international and that their position geographically speaking makes them a better connecting point for inter-regional flights than intra-European flights, I’m just not in a rush to move points there without a specific trip to book.
LifeMiles was my answer…
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