In the points-and-miles hobby, as in many other parts of life, a lot of the things we “know” are only because someone else told us, or at least pointed us in the right direction.
In this case, a benefit that’s buried in the fine print of the Citi Prestige terms and conditions came to our attention only when it was mentioned in an excellent article by Enoch of Point Me To The Plane. To Enoch and PMTTP, we tip our hats.
The “hidden” benefit is this – on the Citi Prestige card, purchases at travel agencies earn 5x ThankYou Points (TYPs).
After we read the PMTTP article, we decided that we’d explore this hidden benefit further and test it out at our next opportunity. After all, the Citi Prestige card is potentially on our chopping block at its next renewal early next year, and at every chance we’re taking the opportunity to evaluate whether it’s a keeper or whether we’ll close or product-change it.
How Is This a “Hidden” Benefit?
To see how this is a “hidden” benefit, we’ll look at how Citi markets the Prestige card and compare it to the fine print of the card’s terms and conditions.
First, if you go to Citi’s landing page for the Prestige card, you’ll see that Citi markets points-earning and bonus categories on the card like this:
From this graphic, it certainly appears that the only 5x TYP-earning categories on the Prestige card are Air Travel and Restaurants, right?
So, 5x TYP-earning for travel agencies is a defined benefit of the Prestige card – but not a “marketed” benefit. As a result, many people evaluating the card, including us, have overlooked it (or at least not focused on it).
Testing 5x Points-Earning at Travel Agencies Using Prestige – with Success!
For a number of reasons, we tend to not do a lot of booking through travel agencies (including online travel agencies (OTAs) or tour operators. We prefer to handle bookings ourselves, we often use points and miles to pay for travel, we generally book hotels directly to get points and elite benefits, we like to travel independently and don’t love being stuck on tours, etc. That said, though, on our upcoming trip to Jordan, we decided to use a local tour agency to handle virtually all of our transport needs and provide guides for some private tours of Petra and other sites in Jordan. Jordan and the rest of the Middle East are unfamiliar to us, and in this case we just thought it would be more stressful to have someone else handle the driving and many other details for us.
We’ve worked with a local Jordanian company called Petra Nights Tours for our travel arrangements. We can’t speak yet to how they’ll actually handle things once we get to Jordan, but we can say that they have been absolutely fantastic to work with in all respects leading up to the trip. They’ve had great communication (our agent, Cristina, has been fabulous), they set up a custom itinerary exactly to our preferences, and their prices were quite reasonable in our view.
Back to our story, though – once we settled on an itinerary with Petra Nights Tours and it came time to pay our deposit, we figured that this was a perfect time to test 5x TYP-earning on the Prestige card for travel agencies and tour operators. We paid the deposit with our Prestige card and crossed our fingers that the purchase would code as a travel agency/tour operator and earn 5x.
Once the charge posted to our Citi Prestige online account, things were looking good – the charge from Petra Nights Tours coded as “Other Travel – Travel Agency And Tour Operators”:
And when we recently received our Prestige statement, our hopes were confirmed – the purchase indeed earned 5x TYPs:
As you can see above, the purchase went into the “5x on Air Travel” bucket on the TYP-earnings portion of our statement. We earned 5x on our $296.61 charge, for a total of 1,483 TYPs.
What Is This 5x Benefit Worth?
The Citi Prestige’s 5x TYP-earning benefit for travel agencies is worth (a) the incremental difference in earnings above your next-best card; times (b) the amount that you spend with travel agencies.
As a starting point, at our baseline value of 1.25 cents per TYP, 5x earnings on the Prestige card amounts to a points rebate of 6.25% on your spend.
Next, let’s take our personal situation as an example – The next-best card for us (that is, the card we’d use for this purchase if we didn’t have a Prestige card), is a Chase Sapphire Reserve (CSR) card. The CSR card earns 3x Ultimate Rewards (UR) points for travel purchases (defined broadly and includes travel agencies and tour operators). At our baseline value of 1.5 cents per UR point, the CSR would generate a points rebate of 4.5%. Paying with Prestige and earning 5x TYPs is worth an extra 1.75% for us.
Our entire package with Petra Nights Tours cost about $1,200 (the $296.61 payment we discussed above was a 25% deposit). Thus, on our Petra Nights Tours purchase, paying with Prestige was worth an extra $21 to us. ($1,200 * 1.75%).
If you expect a meaningful amount of spend with travel agencies in the future, you’ll want to incorporate this extra benefit into your keep/cancel/product-change analysis for the Prestige card.
What Purchases Qualify for 5x TYP Earning as Travel Agencies?
In our personal example with Petra Nights Tours, the merchant was a (foreign) tour operator, not a traditional travel agent. Petra Nights Tours is providing us only with ground services and tours in Jordan – no airfare or hotels. This suggests that Citi is defining “travel agency” broadly to include tour operators (so long as they code correctly). It also lets us know that you can still earn 5x TYPs if the tour operator is outside the United States.
There’s also a short Flyertalk thread on this topic. In that thread, members seem to conclude that all OTAs qualify for 5x earning as long as the charge comes from the OTA (and not, for example, from the hotel or airline that you’ve booked through the OTA). There are specific data points from this year that charges from Expedia and Viator earn 5x TYPs on the Prestige card. (We can also personally confirm that Expedia and Viator coded as “Other Travel – Travel Agency And Tour Operators” on purchases on Citi cards in 2018/19.)
This state of affairs opens up another possibility discussed by Enoch in his PMTTP article – that is, that you can earn 5x TYPs on your spend at hotels if you book through an OTA. That’s a great point. Note, though, that there can be many pitfalls of booking hotels through an OTA, including at least:
- You won’t earn loyalty program points or night/stay credits, and there’s a good chance any elite benefits won’t be honored
- You may have to pay a higher rate going through an OTA than you could get by booking directly with the hotel (member-only or other discounted rates such as AAA; corporate rates; etc.)
- There may be some uncertainty about whether you’ll be charged by the OTA or by the hotel itself – for example, Flyertalk comments note that some things booked through Costco Travel are charged by the hotel or tour operator rather than by the Costco Travel agency
You’ll have to assess your own circumstances to determine whether booking a hotel through an OTA makes sense, even with 5x TYP earning.[Note: There’s no reason to book airfare through an OTA in order to earn 5x TYPs. Airfare purchased directly from an airline already earns 5x TYPs on its own. Beyond that, though, after Citi’s recent gutting of travel protection benefits, it makes much more sense to pay for airfare with a Chase card that offers travel protection benefits, or, after 1/1/2020, an Amex card with the new travel protection benefits that go into effect for flights purchased on or after that date.]
Beyond that, we have a lot of unanswered questions about what will qualify for 5x TYPs, as we don’t personally have data points and we didn’t see them in our research. It seems like Standard OTAs like Booking.com and Priceline would qualify, no problem. How about Hotels.com? Airbnb? VRBO? Upside? Club 1 Hotels? We’re not entirely sure.
If you’d like to read Enoch’s PMTTP article or the short Flyertalk threat on this topic, here are links:
- Point Me To The Plane: Citi Prestige’s 5x Points Category That No One Talks About (June 27, 2019)
- Flyertalk: Any Citi Prestige Holders Receive (or not Receive) 5 Points Per $ for Expedia, etc. (March 21 through April 26, 2019)
Citi Prestige’s “hidden” benefit of 5x TYP earning on purchases with travel agencies can be a very valuable benefit if you spend a lot with tour operators or OTAs. Depending on your expected usage, it may even tip the balance for you in favor of keeping the Prestige card despite its increased $495 annual fee and reduced benefits.
We hope this article has been informative about the “hidden” Prestige 5x travel agency benefit, and that it helps you get even better value for your travel spend!
Do you have additional direct data points on what codes as a “travel agency” with Citi to earn 5x TYPs with Prestige? (In particular, popular sites we mentioned such as Booking.com, Priceline, Hotels.com, Airbnb. VRBO, Upside and Club 1 Hotels) And do you have additional strategy tips for using this benefit? Please share with us and other Middle Age Miles readers in the Comments!
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