Citi ThankYou Flight Search Tips & How to Find a Decent Price Despite the System’s Severe Limitations

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citi thankyou flight search

One of the biggest advantages of having a Citi Prestige card is the ability to book tickets on American Airlines at a value of 1.6 cents or other airlines at 1.33 cents per ThankYou point! While that is a phenomenal value, it doesn’t really mean anything if you can’t find a decently priced flight. Citi’s search engine is a serious problem.

Greg the Frequent Miler wrote yesterday about his recent experience trying to get Citi’s flight search engine to work. This is what he said, “Citi wanted to charge me $1,680.60 for the same flights that I could buy elsewhere for less than $800. No thank you!” 

Like Greg I have also been looking for premium cabin mileage runs on American Airlines. Since I was accepted into the elite fast track, I can get American’s top tier Executive Platinum status by earning 25,000 elite qualifying points. Most cheap coach fares only earn .5 points per mile flown, so it makes sense to book a business/first ticket that earns 1.5 points per mile if the price is right.

Citi ThankYou Flight Search Tips & Tricks

citi thankyou flight search

Over the past couple of weeks I have spent a ton of time playing with Citi’s ThankYou flight search engine. During those wasted hours I learned a few things I would like to share. I want to be clear that none of these tips will work 100% of the time. There are times where the system just won’t find your flights or the price will be much higher than elsewhere.

Note: Many of these tricks were learned with the help of PDX Deals Guy who was searching for similar fares alongside me! He helped tremendously and deserves credit!

Don’t Search By Airline

One of the earliest things I found was that it doesn’t pay to narrow your searches by airline. While you may be looking for flights from one specific airline, don’t tell Citi that or the price may be higher! Simply search like normal and then click the matrix to look only at flights for your preferred airline.

Lets take a look at an example of this phenomenon.  Here is the cheapest flight Citi finds when I search roundtrip from San Francisco to Panama City and tell it to only look at American. $1,256.60 is quite high compared to some of the rates I have found.

citi thankyou flight search

Now lets remove American Airlines from the “Airline Search” box and look at the results from everyone. Now all of a sudden the cheapest flight is $860! Nothing else changed in the search except the airline restriction.

citi thankyou flight search

That makes absolutely no sense at all, but it happens all of the time. It sort of makes me angry since it feels dishonest. I don’t really think Citi is displaying higher prices because they know you have narrowed your search to one airline, but this is a terrible “glitch” and it looks bad.

Multi-City Doesn’t Work

citi thankyou flight search

The ThankYou flight search multi-city function is broken. I have seen it work for up to three segments, but the results were very limited and none of the segments can be in the same day. For example we were looking to fly SFO-JFK for the premium cabin bonus AA is offering, but we would get an error every time.

My best suggestion is to try a multi-city search first for your route if applicable, but if you get an error don’t waste too much time. It is perhaps the most broken part of this incredibly broken piece of software.

Narrow Your Results By Time

When searching for our mileage run, PDX Deals Guy and I were having issues getting anything decent to price out on the Citi ThankYou site. We were able to get a full itinerary priced and saved on AA.com, but nothing even close in price or routing came up on the Citi ThankYou site.

citi thankyou flight search

Then PDX had a good idea. He started feeding the departure and arrival times of the flights we had priced out on AA.com. It wasn’t perfect and we still often saw higher prices, but it was progress. Eventually through trial and error we discovered that the Citi search engine found new flight options and routings depending on the time of day we forced it to search for. This led to a breakthrough!

How We Ultimately Prevailed

citi thankyou flight search
A sample of my final routing. This one is for different dates, but the flights are basically the same.

The goal for this Panama City mileage run was to fly SFO-JFK-MIA-PTY-MIA-JFK-SFO. We favored this routing because the SFO-JFK flights are in lie flat seats on American’s three class 321 aircraft and earn more miles because of a promotion. Multi-city search would have been perfect to help, but as we know it simply doesn’t work on Citi’s site. So we turned to a normal roundtrip search.

During the search, we (PDX) occasionally found an $~800+ trip between SFO and PTY, however it would always route through Dallas or directly through Miami. Even with connections, JFK flights would never show up. Then PDX had a great idea. He started playing with the flight times as mentioned in the tip above.

Before long he had the following itinerary. SFO-DFW-PTY-MIA-JFK-SFO for a decent price. So he was able to get one JFK segment, so why not the other? Then I started playing around a bit. I tweaked the times he used and thoroughly searched every option I was presented with. Then it happened! After one final search where I tweaked the departure time from Panama, I found SFO-JFK-MIA-PTY-MIA-JFK-SFO buried DEEP within the available options. (Always look at every option presented!) I almost DIED!

Recap & Best Tips

Here is a brief recap and my best tips for successfully pricing out flights with Citi’s ThankYou flight search engine:

  • Use Google Flights to price out good routes/flights first so you have a better idea of what dates and prices to look for.
  • Don’t narrow searches by a specific airline.
  • Don’t waste too much time with multi-city if you get errors.
  • Use different flight times to force the search engine to pick different segments and flights.
  • Cross your fingers, but you will spend a lot of time and still may not get the right price.

Conclusion

While this post used the Panama City mileage run as an example, these tips should work for just about any flight or search. Thankfully we did ultimately overcome the obstacles of Citi’s ThankYou flight search engine, however it took way too much time and effort.

In the end, I sort of feel better that I now know more about searching, but am still frustrated with how much time and effort it took for something so simple. I honestly just wish they would make this thing better. The flight search is an integral benefit of both the ThankYou Premier and Prestige cards and for that reason I hope they make it better.


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14 COMMENTS

  1. This is good info have, thanks. On a somewhat related note, how does well/poorly their system work for flights that are wholly outside the United States? I haven’t seen much talk about those kinds of bookings on FT or elsewhere.

  2. We need everyone to send this article to Citi. This search engine is THE WORST. I’ve had trouble finding direct one way US flights several times. To make it worse, their phone agents (while very friendly) arent able to find many flights at the correct price either.

  3. Little tangential question: If you book a refundable ticket using thank you points(or wells fargo or amex), upon cancellation, do you get points back, or the airlines send you a check back? Thanks.

  4. I have had the same negative experience from the Citi Thank You search function. This is a disgrace. I complained until I was blue in the face and file a complaint in writing with both the Fed and the CFPA. Citibank either ignored me or told me there was no issue.

    BEWARE in doing business with Citibank

  5. you can instead book the flight with amex points and then price match it and pay with citi thank you points.

    This loophole is a way easy way to use TYPs than using Citi website.

  6. Its a loophole. Requires some work and YMMV.

    You may need to have platinum amex card and citi prestige for this. You can book tickets with MR points and then call CITI customer service (for Prestige) and ask them that you have both amex platinum and citi prestige cards. You want to keep just one of them and describe that you were able to book an AA ticket with amex points but the same ticket wasn’t available with Citi. CITI CSR will search and not find it. Then will ask you to fax in your booked ticket and then they will book the same ticket for you if you promise you won’t cancel the card.

    I’ve done this twice and it has worked. But YMMV. When they book on AA they still give you 1.6cents/TYP.

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