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How To Use Citi ThankYou Points To Book American Airlines Awards

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One of the oddities in the miles and points world has long been the fact that Citi’s ThankYou points don’t transfer over to the American Airlines AAdvantage program. Citi had a monopoly on the issuance of American Airlines co-branded credit cards for years (it still issues four of the airline’s six available credit cards) but AAdvantage still hasn’t appeared as a ThankYou transfer partner.

There are numerous other airline loyalty programs are Citi ThankYou transfer partners but most of them aren’t of much use if what you really want to do is book an American Airlines flight as an award.

The word “most” was key in that last sentence because there is one Citi ThankYou transfer partner that’s very useful if you’re hoping to book an American Airlines flight using ThankYou points. It’s a transfer option that sometimes gets overlooked.

Etihad Guest is a Citi ThankYou transfer partner and American Airlines is an Etihad partner (which is a little odd when you consider how vociferously American Airlines lobbied the US government to impose heavy sanctions on the Middle Eastern carriers) and Citi ThankYou points can be transferred over to Etihad Guest in a ratio of 1 Point to 1 Mile (transfers are mostly instant).

Etihad Guest has a separate award chart showing how many Etihad Guest Miles are needed to book American Airlines awards:

Click to enlarge

Rather amazingly, this is a very generous chart and the reason it looks generous is that it appears to be based on American’s own award chart before it devalued in March 2016.

Examples Of Great Value Awards

Take a look at how many Etihad Guest miles are needed for some of these super-popular awards compared to the cheapest mileage pricing that American Airlines offers.

Note: All awards are for roundtrip travel.

  • USA – Europe in Business Class: 100,000 Etihad Guest Miles v 115,000 AAdvantage Miles
  • USA – Europe in First Class: 125,000 Etihad Guest Miles v 170,000 AAdvantage Miles
  • USA – Australia/New Zealand in Business Class: 125,000 Etihad Guest Miles v 160,000 AAdvantage Miles
  • USA – China/Hong Kong in Business Class: 110,000 Etihad Guest Miles v 140,000 AAdvantage Miles
  • USA – China/Hong Kong roundtrip First Class award: 135,000 Etihad Guest Miles v 220,000 AAdvantage Miles

When you consider that you can fly roundtrip First Class between the US and Hong Kong (when there isn’t a pandemic raging!) for 135,000 ThankYou points instead of 220,000 AAdvantage Miles, you start to get a feel for just how good it can get if you use the relationships between Citi, Etihad, and American to book award travel.

Addressing The Elephant In The Room

There’s definitely great value to be had out of transferring Citi ThankYou points across to Etihad Guest and then booking American Airlines awards, but you’re only ever going to realize this value if American Airlines releases awards at the “saver” level (Etihad Guest bookings on American Airlines require saver award inventory to be available) and, for the past few years, American Airlines has been very bad at doing that.

American will happily sell you hundreds of thousands of miles in its frequent mileage sales but actually using those miles in a truly economic way has never been harder.

Saver awards do still exist (they haven’t disappeared entirely) so this use of Citi ThankYou Points is a genuinely great way to get value, but you have to be prepared to be very flexible with the dates you fly and be prepared to spend quite a bit of time searching for awards (I set up ExpertFlyer alerts to save time and effort). Apparently not even a global pandemic is enough to get American Airlines to release more Saver Awards.

Bottom Line

I love that we can still book American Airlines AAdvantage awards at the rates that the airline offered in the glory days of the AAdvantage program (five years after American took a torch to it and commenced its rapid descent to the bottom) but I’m not about to try to suggest that it’s all plain sailing. It isn’t.

The lack of saver award space is definitely an issue and that can make getting great value quite challenging, but the fact remains that saver awards do get released and we do have a great Etihad award chart to work, and all of that means that using Citi ThankYou points via Etihad to book American Airlines AAdvantage awards can be a fantastic and economical way to travel in comfort.

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