The Citi Prestige Benefit I Just Accidentally Stumbled Upon & Why It Is So Valuable

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citi thankyou free cancellation pay with points

Citi Prestige 24 Hour Free Cancellation on Pay for Flights with Points

This morning I wrote about how to transfer Citi ThankYou points from one account to the other. The inspiration for that post was a recent transfer I made for an upcoming trip to Hawaii. My wife transferred ThankYou points to me so I could use them to book an American Airline codeshare on Alaska Airlines at 1.6 cents per point as a Prestige cardholder.

Too Smart For My Own Good

I thought I had really outsmarted the system. Since I booked it as an American Airlines ticket, I was able to get 1.6 cents value from my ThankYou points, however we are actually flying on Alaska Airlines metal. Unfortunately, I soon discovered that I wasn’t as smart as I had thought. I wanted to apply a Guest Upgrade to the reservation, but wasn’t able to since the ticket was on AA stock.

While this policy makes sense, I was in a bit of a pickle. I had actually booked my ticket with cash (using a coupon code) and had already applied my upgrade. The Citi ticket was for my wife and son (and infant daughter.) Lets just say my wife wasn’t happy when I told her the news. Even though I offered to give her my seat, she wanted us together to make it easier to deal with the baby.

citi thankyou free cancellation pay with points
We’re looking forward to flying one of our favorite airlines to Hawaii! Photo by InSapphoWeTrust.

Finding a Solution

Before I made the drastic move of cancelling my upgrade (gasp), I decided to call Citi up to see if there was any way I could cancel the American Airlines reservation. After navigating their terrible phone system, I reached an agent, explained my situation and told her why I wanted to cancel.

I explained to her that I needed to book the ticket on Alaska stock and not American. She then very confidently advised me that even if I booked the ticket on Alaska stock that it wouldn’t be upgradeable. I politely told her to cancel it anyway, she then placed me on hold and came back to confirm the reservation had been cancelled. It was all a little too easy.

I found it hard to believe that Citi makes it that easy to cancel reservations, so I decided to ask the agent for the official policy before hanging up with her. She explained that only Citi Prestige cardholders are allowed to cancel for free within 24 hours. I had never heard of this before and in my opinion it is just another reason why this may be the best premium travel card around.

Potential Uses

This free cancellation can be a potentially powerful tool if used properly. Think about all of the cheap American Airlines flights the other day. Since ThankYou points are worth 1.6 cents each for flights on American Airlines, you can now speculatively book itineraries with points and then cancel if they don’t work out. So you get the ability to redeem points and the cancellation flexibility of booking directly with the airline. Of course flights booked with ThankYou points also earn miles and elite credit.

Did We Get the Upgrade?

To close out the story, after booking the new ticket online at 1.33 cents each on Alaska stock (about a 2,500 point difference per ticket), I went online and received an error when trying to apply the upgrade. I then called the Alaska MVP Gold line and was told the ticket class I was booked in was not eligible to be upgraded.

Fortunately the agent then looked at how much it would cost to change the fare class and discovered it wouldn’t cost anything. I assume this is because the price Citi paid was the same as a normal upgrade eligible fare on Alaska’s website. Either way, she made a tweak in the system and all was fixed. I was then able to apply the upgrades without issue.


The 24 hour free cancellation policy for Citi Prestige cardholders on flights booked with ThankYou points is a very powerful perk of holding the card. I don’t know if this benefit is common knowledge, but I couldn’t find any information about it before calling in. In the end, I am really happy with my Prestige card and my wife is happy that we are all together and in first class.

Did you know about this benefit? Am I just the last one to find out? Let me know in the comments!

Shawn Coomer
Shawn Coomer earns and burns millions of miles/points per year circling the globe with his family. An expert at accumulating travel rewards, he founded Miles to Memories to help others achieve their travel goals for pennies on the dollar. Shawn also runs a million dollar reselling business, knows Vegas better than most and loves to spend his time at the 12 Disney parks across the world.

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  1. I am wondering how you arrange the seat in this case. I assume your have 4 passengers but your infant daughter does not have her own seat, so you have 3 seats total. And AS only flies single-isle narrow bodies.
    In coach you can have the entire row to yourself, with all armrests up it is like a lounger couch (if we think positively). maybe your son can sit at the window seat, your wife in the middle seat (so she can take care of your son) and you sit in the isle (dealing with the FA and retrieving things from overhead if needed). Your infant daughter will be going back and forth between your lap and your wife’s, depending on who need a break (or whose tray table is down and full of drinks/snacks). Or she can lie across both your laps and stretch. Basically, you have a lot of CONNECTED room to adjust yourselves.
    Now that you are sitting in 1st class, 2×2. So the best scenario is you have 2 seats next to each other (separated by the non-movable armrest) and the other seat is across the isle. You will have to either put your son in that single seat (hope he is old enough to feel conformable about this), or separate the two adults across the isle. Then it would be more difficult to pass the infant back and forth across the isle if one of you want to rest/drink/eat/go to the lavatory.
    I am not saying either choice is necessarily right or wrong–I just want to hear your perspective on such trade off. For me, I think given how long the flight is, the comfort of each individual passenger likely overweight the convenience of adjusting the seating arrangement within the family, so probably it’s worth to upgrade it. However for shorter flights, maybe the economy seats serves the family (especially with 2A, 1C, 1F) better.
    I guess Mommypoints will be interested in such topics, too, as she is getting into such family configuration as well~

    • Hey Max,

      My son is 15 years old and can definitely sit by himself. I think you make a good point, but in our case, having the extra space will make a difference. My wife and I plan to sit on one side with my son just across the aisle. We are in the last row of the first class cabin, so should have a little privacy as well.

      For a flight this long, being in first class is helpful for me, since I am 6’2″. I agree on shorter flights it wouldn’t really make a difference. I am cheap and probably wouldn’t have paid for first class upgrades, however since I have to use them and they are going to expire, this made a lot of sense for us.


  2. I don’t see the advantage of the Citi program. AA offers a free 5 day hold on any reservation (points or cash). You probably should take advantage of that feature for future AA reservations

    • You are comparing apples to oranges. As a Citi Prestige cardmember I can use my ThankYou points to purchase flights on American Airlines at a value of 1.6 cents per point. This article isn’t about paying cash for a ticket or using American Airlines miles. I agree if you pay straight cash then you wouldn’t use the ThankYou program.

  3. FYI ~3 years ago I was able to cancel a few flights using thank you points from my premier card within 24 hours for full refunds, so this benefit may not be limited to prestige cardholders. the rules may also have changed in the last few years tho 🙂

  4. Are you sure this isn’t simply the grace period all US-originating flights are required to have? All airlines must allow a 24-hour period to cancel flights (or place them on hold).

    • That is correct, but that only applies to tickets purchased directly with the airlines. That rule also doesn’t apply for award purchases, which this technically was. Finally, American Airlines doesn’t have a free cancellation component since they allow 24 hour holds. This itinerary was fully ticketed on American, but was cancelled. The agent explained that the complimentary cancellation was only for Prestige cardholders and based on the rules and this situation I don’t think it had to do with the 24 hour rule.

      • FWIW – The 24 hour cancellation is offered by Orbitz and Priceline. I’ve had to use it before and I got the full fare $ amount refunded (I don’t think there were any service fees on my bookings)

        • Yes some OTAs offer it, but as far as I understand the law, only flights booked directly with the airlines are required to have free 24 hour cancellation. Even with that, award travel booked with points is specifically excluded in the law, meaning that Citi seems to have the right not to have free cancellation. (With that said, I am not a lawyer.)

    • I called to cancel a flight booked with TY points on US about a year ago, within the 24 hour window, and they did it but charged me a $35 per ticket fee. I later got the fee waived. No Prestige, just Premier. US at the time had a 24 hour cancel policy.

      • Good to know. I didn’t get any information on the fee to cancel for non-Prestige cardholders, however $35 isn’t too bad. Citi is good about waiving fees later on too. Thanks for sharing your experience Larry!

  5. The best part of the story is, How awesome is Alaska’s customer service? Can’t praise them enough. FYI, the gold guest upgrades stick to the reservation, as does your status, even if you subsequently lose your status. I once got complimentary upgrades to Kauai even though I had lost my MVP Gold, since it had been booked before my status expired.

  6. Cool story man. Glad it worked out with some work. Always is the case with this game.

    However, I had a few questions.

    1) What seat class did you originally book with the TY points on AA then on Alaska and how many points did it cost? What seat class was the non-eligible one on Alaska? and what was the class after the tweak?
    2) What “Guest Upgrade” coupon did you use to then get into first class? Is this something as a MVP?
    3) What would have been the cost to book 1st class direct on Alaska with TY points vs whatever class you booked then w/ upgrade?

    I ask because I wanted to understand the scenario and how things worked.

    Thanks man.

    • Hey man. Sometimes I leave out specifics, because it drags on a story and is irrelevant to the overall point. I definitely have no problem answering those questions for you.

      The fare class was V before and after the change. Her change had something to do internally, but the actual fare class of the ticket didn’t change. Since I had no better way to explain it (and the fact that it was secondary to the story), I simplified it a bit.

      As far as I could tell, what made it non-eligible had something to do with the way it was booked. Since the normal price was the same as the price I paid, she was able to sort of “upgrade” the ticket within their system. The code stayed V before and after. The AA booking was V as well.

      Yes the Guest Upgrade is an MVP Gold benefit. I have MVP Gold that I received for status matching my AA Platinum status last year.

      The ticket was $219 in coach, so it cost 13,688 ThankYou points when booked on AA. When I changed to Alaska, that went up to 16,466. In first class, the price on AA stock was really high, but with Alaska I could have booked for $399 or 30,000 points. I have 6 upgrades which expire at the end of the year, so this long flight is really the perfect us of them.

      Hope this helps.

      • Sup bro.

        Really appreciate the response man. That clarifies a lot of things for me and hopefully for your fans too on this post.

        Obviously, if it was too personal, I wouldn’t have asked and you dont need to answer, but really appreciate the details because it gives me perspective and helps me understand things a lot better.

        Now I want Alaska MVP too!

        Thank you!


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