I recently booked a 3-night stay at Disney’s Grand Californian with 3-Day Parkhopper tickets entirely with Citi ThankYou Points. Here at Miles to the Magic we focus on using points, miles & cashback to fund Disney vacations, so I wanted to walk through the details of that booking.
Now that Chase is blocking Disney bookings of all kinds, Citi is the best bank point currency for booking Disney. Flexible bank points like ThankYou Points can be great for Disney, but they take a little more work to maximize than simple cashback or even cards like the Barclay Arrival+ or CapitalOne Venture where you “erase” travel purchases with points.
That said, if you put the right mix of cards together between a couple you can earn rewards at a faster pace than other programs. And those points can be used to fund many aspects of a Disney vacation.
Step 1: Find the Best Disney-Direct Pricing
For this example, I’ll use an actual trip I just planned. Last year we stayed at the Disneyland Hotel (which I loved) so this year I wanted to try the Grand Californian. I mean – a hotel with a private entrance to a Disney Park? Gotta check that out.
When using bank points for a travel booking of any kind, I want to make sure I’m getting the best price possible – and then pay for it with a points currency.
To do this, I start by pricing out the vacation on Disney’s site. For my travel dates Disney was running a “Magical Stay Offer” that knocked the price down [even so slightly] on an entry-level room at the Grand Californian to a nightly average of $579.
Continue through the booking process to add park tickets if you’d like and get a total including tax.
We’ll want to make sure we see this price or better when booking with bank points.
Step 2: Contact the Cruises & Tours Desk
The easiest way to book a Disney hotel room is online through the Citi ThankYou portal. However it’s often not a viable path. You cannot book a package online (ie, include park tickets or a dining plan), Disney hotels often aren’t shown in the portal, and if they are the prices are inflated.
Instead, you’ll want to contact the Citi Cruises & Tours Desk.
A good Cruises & Tours agent will be able to find the same pricing Disney shows on their website.
If you have a Citi Premier card, each point is worth 1.25 cents. If you don’t have enough ThankYou Points to pay for the whole vacation, you can pay for the balance with a Citi credit card -or- discounted Disney Gift Cards.
Step 3: Co-Mingle Points
The key to paying for a large portion of your Disney vacation hinges on your ability to gin up ThankYou Points. The best way to earn ThankYou Points is by signing up for cards, spending in bonused categories, and co-mingling points across a number of cards in the program.
The best Citi ThankYou Point signup bonus at the moment is 50,000 points for their Premier card:
- 50,000 points are worth $625 towards Disney vacations booked through Citi
- $95 annual fee is waived the first year
- $4,000 minimum spend requirement in 3 months
If you and your spouse each sign up for the card you can get 2 x 50,000 points. Citi has also introduced a refer-a-friend program so you could refer your spouse for an additional 10,000 points once you get the card for a total of 110,000 points.
Citi allows spousal point transfers up to 100,000 points per calendar year. So you could combine points into a single account towards a redemption. Keep in mind that Citi ThankYou points expire 90 days after they transfer. So you’ll want to be sure you have a sure redemption in mind before transferring points.
The real key to boosting your ThankYou Points balance comes from signup bonuses across multiple cards in the ThankYou Point program and categorical optimization across those cards.
The key Citi ThankYou Point earning cards are:
- Citi ThankYou Prestige (unavailable for signups currently)
- $450 annual fee
- 5x on airfare and dining once relaunched in early 2019
- Citi ThankYou Premier (signup link)
- $95 annual fee
- 50,000 point signup bonus
- 3x on travel including gas stations
- Citi ThankYou Preferred (signup link)
- No annual fee
- 2x on dining and entertainment
- Citi ThankYou Business (small business card, signup in branch)
- 3x in quarterly rotating categories
- Citi AT&T Access More (no longer available)
- 3x online retail, travel agents, and AT&T
Citi won’t give you the signup bonus for a personal ThankYou card if you’ve opened or closed a personal ThankYou card in the past 24 months. So it takes some work to position for all the signup bonuses. Making matters worse, many of their cards aren’t available for new signups or even product changes at the moment.
The Premier had a signup bonus of 60,000 until just recently when it dropped back to 50,000. So if I didn’t have any personal Citi ThankYou cards at the moment I’d recommend waiting until January, 2019 to see what the signup bonus looks like for the Prestige card. And then depending how that looks get it or move on to the Premier card.
But the long-term goal with co-mingling would be to earn points in the bonus categories (5x on dining/air travel with the Prestige, 3x on gas with the Premier, 3x on rotating categories with the ThankYou Business, and 3x online retail with the AT&T Access More if you have it already.
Then you redeem all of those points with 1.25 cents per point of uplift through the Premier.
If you have both a Premier and a Prestige card you can combine redemption benefits. If you can find a good price on a hotel in the Citi ThankYou portal, you can combine the Premier’s 1.25 cents per point of uplift with the Prestige’s 4th night free on hotel stays benefit. It takes some work and the booking options in their portal needs to behave but it is theoretically possible. Here’s an example of one such redemption.
Step 4: Monitor for Price Drops
One thing that’s nice about booking early is that you can lock in the room and resort you want then get a price adjustment if the price falls later.
This most commonly occurs when Disney introduces new public promotions, but you can even get an adjustment if Disney sends you a targeted offer. I did this last year on a Disneyland Hotel booking through Chase.
I first got an adjustment when Disney introduced a public promo. Then additionally after receiving a targeted offer code.
To get the adjustment, contact your Citi Cruises & Tours travel agent who in turn contacts Disney to modify the reservation and realize the savings. You should then receive a check in the mail for the difference.
It takes some work to establish a working Citi ThankYou Point system, especially now that we’re in a lull in their program. But once the Prestige card is re-introudced early in 2019 it’s a program worth exploring for Disney.
I’d probably prioritize the CapitalOne Venture with its $750 signup bonus and the Barclay Arrival+ with its $700 signup bonus over the Citi program for sheer simplicity, as Joe outlined in this post. But if you can assemble multiple ThankYou cards into a working system where you earn at 3x/5x levels and redeem them with 1.25x or better uplift, Citi ThankYou points can be a terrific program.
ThankYou Points can also be used for Disney Cruises, Adventures by Disney, and Aulani. And even just Disney Park tickets. So they’re a point currency worth considering if you’re willing to put the time and effort into navigating their program.