One of the lesser known things about Citi ThankYou points is that you can use your points to book flights on Southwest Airlines. The process isn’t easy and there’s not much mention of it, so of course I needed to take advantage of this perk.
In 20/20 hindsight, that was a big mistake.
I’ll share my story with you, going from the success in booking the tickets to the subsequent problems that made me decide I’ll never do this again.
What Are ThankYou Points?
ThankYou points are Citi’s brand of transferrable points currency. You earn ThankYou points by using certain Citi credit cards:
- Citi Prestige
- Citi ThankYou Premier
- Citi ThankYou Preferred
- Citi ThankYou Preferred Card for College Students
- AT&T Access Card from Citi
- AT&T Access More Mastercard from Citi (no longer avail for new sign-ups, but product transfers are still possible)
- AT&T Universal Card (I’ve had this card for decades, Citi keeps trying to get me to change to a different card but they send me bonus offers all the time so I keep it).
With these cards you’re able to earn up to 3x Thank You points per dollar spent on certain categories like travel, dining and even gasoline.
I had a decent amount of ThankYou points in my account and no plans to use them so I decided that using them to book a ticket on Southwest was a good value. Since I have a Citi ThankYou Premier, each ThankYou point is worth 1.25 cents towards airfare booked through the Citi Travel Portal.
Booking The Ticket
Usually, if you want to book a ticket using your Citi ThankYou points, you to the Thank You website. From there you can search flights, pick your airline and your preferred times and they even let you exclude basic economy tickets from your search.
While your search will include most airlines, one major exception is Southwest. Since Southwest does things their own way, their flights don’t show up on the search results on the Citi website. The only way for you to book a flight on Southwest using your ThankYou points is to call 1-800-THANK-YOU.
The process is very straightforward, but not easy or short. We really do forget what it used to be like to book tickets before the internet. I had already researched the flight I wanted to take from Washington National (DCA) to Austin, TX (AUS). I knew the flight number, flight times, how much a cash ticket would cost and how many ThankYou points that should take (since each ThankYou point is worth 1.25 cents for airfare if you have the Premier or Prestige card).
After making it through several menus. I eventually reached a concierge to help me with my booking. He was efficient, took the information I had and confirmed the flight, prices and number of points required. Everything matched so we finalized the booking. He read what seemed to be an endless number of disclaimers and I then received my confirmation number.
Up To The Flight
I received several confirmation emails from Citi with my flight details. I noticed that the flight was not showing up on my Southwest account online, even though I provided my Rapid Rewards number when making the reservation. I went to the Southwest website and added my number to the reservation as well as my Trusted Traveler number so I’d be eligible for TSA Precheck.
The flight did show up in my Southwest App when I needed to check in for my flight 24 hours in advance, as I didn’t pay for EarlyBird seating.
Day Of The Flight
If you haven’t yet realized, this Southwest flight was the cause of My Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Travel Day (With A Happy Ending). <– This link is where you can read the whole story of my travel problems that day and then of my attempt to find out what happened and see if the airlines would provide any compensation.
With no confirming evidence, I can only assume this is what happened and what I learned from the experience:
- When you book a flight on Southwest using Citi ThankYou points, Citi’s Travel Booking Agency pays for the ticket with their own credit card (more on this later).
- While you provide your information, the reservation still looks as if it was booked by a travel agent. Therefore Southwest has no control (or little control they’ll admit) to make changes to the ticket.
- Because of this, you’re not able to make any changes to the ticket via the Southwest website or app. To make changes, you have to call Southwest. In the instance of IRROPS (Irregular Operations due to weather, mechanical issues, Air Traffic Control restrictions), this is the worst thing possible. as evidenced by my 180 minute quoted wait time to talk to a representative
- My personal information never made it onto my reservation. Even though Southwest had my Rapid Rewards and Trusted Traveler number, my cell phone and email address must not have been entered. The IT system never linked the reservation to make push notifications to my phone.
- Citi, my “travel agent” in this instance, is unable or incapable of contacting passengers in the case of flight changes or cancellations in a timely manner. I spoke to Citi and they said there is a “desk” in charge of this type of situation but it must have slipped through the cracks.
- The only service to tell me of the cancelled flight was TripIt Pro.
When my flight was cancelled, Southwest said they would credit me for the price of the fare within 30 business days to my account ending in 7437. Since this wasn’t my card number and I didn’t use a card to pay for the ticket, I called Citi ThankYou. They said the points would be refunded to my account within 30 days but if they weren’t then I should call back. The points did show up so this is how I know Citi’s Thank You agents are paying for Southwest tickets booked with points by charging the fare to a credit card.
Will This Change My Future Bookings?
I have used ThankYou points to book flights and hotel rooms before. Since there aren’t a bunch of transfer partners for ThankYou points that interest me, I find it a good way to use points for a reasonable value. If I earn 3 ThankYou points per dollar spent and redeem them for 1 – 1.25 cents each, I’m doing better than getting 2% back like I would with the Citi Double Cash. I liked using the points for airfare because of the 25% increase in value. Now I know about the potential problems and lack of assistance when looking for a resolution, I’m not going to use Citi ThankYou Points to book airfare through the Thank You program anymore, at least not for Southwest flights. I can still transfer points to airlines, like JetBlue, Virgin Atlantic or Singapore and book flights directly through the airlines and not with Citi. It’s just not worth the risk of being stranded and no one admitting it was their fault you weren’t notified.
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This post first appeared on Your Mileage May Vary