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Debit Card Rewards Programs

Ask Savvy: My Airline Miles Rewards Program Is Getting Me Nowhere


Dear Savvy,

I have a debit card with Citibank and I have the rewards program that gives me American Airlines miles. I've had the card for over four years and have about 8,750 miles, except I need at least 20,000 to get a free ticket. I want to get out of it because I don't want to wait another four years before I qualify for a ticket.

My question is, is it worth it to just cancel the program or should I try another rewards program (like their Thank You Points program)? Also if you think I should try another rewards program is there any way the points can transfer?

—Flying Nowhere Fast

To read my answer just read more.

Dear Flying Nowhere,

You've seen first hand that banks award you points for not only swiping their card but for how much money you spend. Citibank's website says that customers enrolled in the Basic plan earn one AAdvantage mile for every $2 spent. Taking into account the 2,000 points they give you when you initially enrolled, the math says you've spent $3,375 using this account over the past four years.

Rewards programs are only beneficial to the card holder if you're actually getting the rewards, and the key is finding a program that suits your lifestyle. Right now you're paying $25 a year in maintenance fees, so that's $100 over four years for points that you won't be able to redeem at the rate you're going. Assuming the maintenance fee doesn't go up, you'll pay $200 before you're eligible for a ticket at which point that "free" ticket doesn't seem so free anymore.

If it's unrealistic that you can increase your debit card usage enough to make the AAdvantage miles worthwhile for the fee that you're paying, you may want to consider their ThankYou Network. There's no fee and the website says that your points can be redeemed for rewards that include cash. You need to check with Citibank to see if your points will transfer from the other program, but it may not work out since the two programs calculate their points differently (the ThankYou Network gives you one point for every $3 you spend on a debit transaction.)

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