Here’s A Big Reason Why I’m Already Booking My Trips For 2020


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I happily admit to being one of life’s planners so it’s not entirely out of character for me to be planning trips a year into the future. Right now, however, there’s an extra special reason why I’m already checking out flights and hotels for the first few months of 2020.

When I’m traveling on my own I tend not to use my hotel and credit card points balances to book accommodation because I’m happy to stay at mid-tier properties. With a few exceptions, I generally get the best return on my points when I redeem them for the more expensive, higher-end properties and properties such as these are wasted on me when I’m not traveling with Joanna.

This doesn’t mean that I never use points to book hotels when I’m traveling solo (as it happens, all my hotels on an upcoming trip have been booked using points) but it does mean that I use cash a disproportionate amount of time and cash is something I try to save when I’m traveling on my own.

This is where my Citi Prestige credit card comes in to play.

citi prestige credit card

This is the credit card that was I very close to downgrading before Citi revamped its offering, but now it’s a card that holds a permanent and prominent place in my wallet.

Changes to the Citi Prestige card have been coming since the beginning of the year but it’s a couple of changes which are kicking in from 1 September that are pushing me to firm up my plans for 2020 as soon as I possibly can.

Here’s a quick overview of what the Citi Prestige credit card currently offers:

Earnings

  • 5 ThankYou points/dollar at restaurants worldwide
  • 5 ThankYou points/dollar for spending on air travel
  • 3 ThankYou points/dollar for spending with cruise lines
  • 3 ThankYou points/dollar for spending on hotels
  • 2 ThankYou points/dollar on entertainment (through 31 August 2019 – then reverts to 1x)
  • 1 ThankYou point/dollar on all other purchases

Headline Benefits

  • $250 statement credit towards most travel purchases
  • $100 statement credit towards Global Entry or $85 statement credit towards TSA PreCheck
  • Priority Pass Select membership
  • Cell phone protection (more details here)
  • Complimentary 4th night free at hotels worldwide
  • Trip cancellation and interruption protection
  • Trip delay protection
  • No foreign transaction fees

From 1 September 2019 there are more key changes coming to the Citi Prestige card and these include the following:

  1. The annual fee will increase to $495/year (up from $450/year) for existing cardholders
  2. The authorized user fee will increase to $75/year (up from $50/year) for existing cardholders
  3. The complimentary 4th night free benefit will be limited to two bookings per calendar year.
  4. The complimentary 4th night free benefit will have to be booked through ThankYou.com or by calling1-800-ThankYou.
  5. Entertainment purchases will only earn 1 ThankYou point per dollar (down from 2)
  6. The 25% bonus available when using Citi ThankYou points to purchase airfares will be discontinued.

It’s changes 3 & 4 that are key to why I’m already planning for 2020.

Citi Prestige ‘4th Night Free’ Changes

Change 1

From 1 September 2019 Citi Prestige cardholders will only get the 4th night free on a maximum of 2 hotel stays per year (up until now there has been no cap to the number of times this benefit could be used) but, between now and 1 September, cardholders have a grace period.

Citi has confirmed that only bookings made on or after 1 September 2019 will count towards the cap on the 4th night free benefit so there’s a big incentive to firm up any hotel bookings (of 4 nights or more) by the end of August.

Change 2

From 1 September 2019 all hotel bookings for which Citi Prestige cardholders wish to use the 4th night free benefit will have to be made through the ThankYou program. Using the Citi Concierge service (as I do now) will not be an option.

This may seem like an innocuous change (possibly even a change that makes the 4th night free easier to book) but it’s a knock on effect of having to book through ThankYou.com which is causing an issue.

The Effect Of The 4th Night Free Changes

It’s disappointing that Citi is limiting the number of times we can use the 4th night free benefit to just 2 per year but the fact is that this isn’t the change that will hit most cardholders hardest – its the change to how the 4th night free is booked that’s the killer.

Bookings through the Citi Concierge service are treated in a similar way to bookings made directly with the hotel chains while bookings through the ThankYou channels are viewed as 3rd party bookings.

All the popular hotel chains view bookings through 3rd party channels in a pretty negative way and the effects of booking through a 3rd party channel go against most things that miles & points enthusiasts hold dear.

  • 3rd party bookings do not qualify for elite status benefits (no complimentary upgrades, no complimentary breakfasts, etc…)
  • 3rd party bookings don’t qualify for elite night credits
  • 3rd party bookings don’t qualify for points earning
  • 3rd party bookings aren’t eligible for discounts like those offered by AAA (unless specifically mentioned on the site)
  • The hotel chains that ordinarily allow members of their loyalty program to upgrade cash bookings with points (e.g. Hyatt) will not let members do so on bookings through the ThankYou channels.

Essentially a booking through ThankYou.com or through the ThankYou phone line will see guests treated the same as someone with no status at all.

Thoughts

I can probably live with only being able to use the 4th night free benefit a couple of times a year as most of my trips (where I pay with cash) are 2 – 3 nights in length, so it’s the change to how the 4th night free can be booked that causing me the biggest issue.

If I’m booking at a Best Western property, a Wyndham property or at a non-chain property I don’t really mind having my booking considered a ‘3rd party booking’ as I either don’t really care about the loyalty program on offer or there isn’t a loyalty program in the first place…but everywhere else I do care. I care quite a bit.

My top-tier Marriott status and mid-tier Hilton status offer me a number of benefits that can make my trips more comfortable and which can save me quite a bit of cash….and the points I collect at these chains go a long way to helping Joanna and I book great properties at negligible expense. I don’t want to give any of that up.

I don’t currently have any kind of Hyatt status (although the new partnership with American may change that later this year) but World of Hyatt points are probably my favorite hotel currency, so I’m not overjoyed about having to give up my Hyatt earnings if I want to utilize the 4th night free benefit on a Hyatt stay.

With this major limitation in place it’s highly likely that the cap of two ‘4th night free’ bookings per year will never actually affect me as I won’t be making many bookings where I’m happy to give up my status benefits and points earnings.

Bottom Line

I’m making as many hotel booking as I can before the 1 September deadline to try to squeeze the most value out of my Citi Prestige card before the 4th night benefit becomes significantly less useful.

I’m making sure that the trips I’m planning right now all involve 4-night stays (where my schedule allows) and I’m being even more careful than before to use cash (and the 4th night free benefit) rather than points when I book my solo trips.

The 4th night free benefit can be a serious money saver in its current guise but, come 1 September, it will be considerably less useful for the majority of this blog’s readers….so now’s the time to make the most of it.

7 COMMENTS

  1. Wouldn’t 4th night also be good in the best chains that don’t have loyalty
    programs where many people have status such as 4 seasons or Rosewood?

  2. From 1 September the 4th night free benefit will work best at any property where the person making the booking doesn’t care about status benefits or earning whatever currency the hotel offers (assuming such a currency exists)….so yes, that will include chains like Four Seasons and Rosewood.

  3. Using the thankyou.com really sucks since you can’t combine it with corporate rates or special discounts the hotel may have. Often, I’m better off using AMEX FHR now when they have a 3rd or 4th night free at certain hotels and you get breakfast, upgrade and $100 credit

  4. After these bookings in 2020, I may cut this card. Raising the AF plus the devaluation makes this a no-go for the future.

    • I’ve come close to doing the same in the past but the 5 points/dollar on airfare (with cancellation/delay protection) and the 5 points/dollar on dining are good earners for me so I’ll be sucking up the AF increase for now.

      It will be interesting to see if Chase makes any moves to make the Reserve card more competitive with the Prestige card.

  5. Are you saying that if before 9/1/19, I book 10 “4th night free” bookings in 2020 through the concierge, I will get the 4th night free on all of them?! That’s amazing if so. I guess I interpreted it as only being good for the 2019 stays booked before 9/1/19. I already have 2 2020 4 night bookings made, which will more than cover the AF, but would love to book a few more speculative if you think it would count all of them booked by 9/1/19.

    thanks!

    • Yes, that’s what I’m saying. When the changes to the Prestige Card were announced Citi confirmed that only bookings made on or after 9/1/19 would be subject to the new 2/year cap. I don’t recall (and cannot find) any reference to stays having to be made by the end of 2019.

      If you find any such wording please let me know as (a) I’ll have to update this post and (b) I’ll have to make sure that I watch my 4th night free bookings in 2020 very closely to make sure I actually get the rebate as I’ve already made 3 such bookings!

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