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Connie Prater

Redeeming Citi rewards points even more rewarding for Haiti

Cashing in rewards points has never been more rewarding for me. Today, I redeemed 5,000 rewards points in exchange for a $50 donation to the American Red Cross International Response Fund for Haiti relief.

When I read in the New York Times blog that credit card companies were allowing users to redeem rewards points and donate to the Haiti relief efforts, I knew I wanted to contribute in some way.

Let me say that I have already donated to the Red Cross Haiti fund, directly on the charity's Web site. And yesterday I purchased the Hope for Haiti Now album on iTunes. I will likely donate again in the next month or so, as the need for help in that devastated country will continue for a long time.

Redeeming values
I have been earning rewards points every month with my Citi Forward card's Thank You Rewards network. For every $1 I charge on my account each month, I earn an average of two points. They have bonus points for certain purchases, such as gas, travel and restaurant meals, and that gets tallied each month and added to my overall points. After about eight months, I have amassed more than 21,000 Thank You points. (Note: They gave me 11,000 points when I opened the account).

The Thank You rewards program asked for 5,000 points in order to get a $50 Red Cross donation. I had to give up 100 points for every $1 I received in rewards. 

Is it a good deal?
Before I redeemed the points, however, I wanted to make sure that it was a good deal, compared to other potential uses for the rewards points.

I spent at least 40 minutes searching around on the Thank You rewards Web site looking at the rewards options. Then, I did some math.

For all you mathphobes, hang in there with me. You won't know if you're getting the most bang for your rewards buck if you don't make some comparisons and do some long division. Calculators and spreadsheets make this a breeze.

My question: Where can I redeem the fewest rewards points in exchange for the highest reward?

Here's what I found:

Reward point options: $50 for Haiti or ??
$50 REWARD POINTS PER $
American Red Cross International (Haiti) 100
Sears gift card 120
Avis Rental Car 120
Statement credit 150
Cash reward 160

Redeeming the rewards points for the Red Cross donation meant giving up only 100 points for every $1 I gained in reward. Other options for getting $50 of rewards, including getting cash back, getting a credit on my next Citi credit card statement or getting gift cards to Sears or Avis car rentals, required giving up more points for every $1 of reward.

The Haiti donation was, indeed, a good deal -- not only for the obvious humanitarian reasons, but also from a cost/benefit standpoint.

The Thank You program has a charitable gift redeeming category that lists three different Red Cross funds and a GiftBack card, which allows you to donate to "virtually" any charity of your choice. When I did the math, I saw that the international fund had the best (meaning lowest) point redemption rate of all at 100. The American Red Cross Disaster Relief Fund and the American Red Cross fund each required 120 points for every $1 and the GiftBack card required 190 points for every $1.

Not every rewards program has the same redemption offers, so it may not pan out as well for other people who are considering cashing out points for charitable donations. Others may be saving those points up for a major prize or special trip.

I'm not a junkie
Now, I know that there are people who love maximizing rewards points (I call them 'rewards junkies') and take great joy in cashing them in for airline miles and upgrades. They put every possible purchase on their rewards credit cards so they can amass as much rewards point booty as possible. I salute them for their enterprise and tenacity. I am NOT a junkie. Never have been.

Had I chosen to redeem merchandise from a long list of items, gift cards and gift certificates, I would have gotten even less bang for my reward buck.

That same 5,000 points could have gotten me any one of several hand-pruning tools to work in my garden. I'm in Lowe's and Home Depot all the time, so I know those pruners are, at most, $25 to $30. I don't know exactly what my $50 Red Cross donation will do in Haiti, but I'm certain it will have more impact than anything I could have gotten with the points.

If I keep using my credit card and racking up rewards points, I may have enough in, say, a year to redeem 115,600 points for a 48-inch Swisher Drum Style Spike Aerator, which is among the lawn and garden choices on the Thank You merchandise list.

Heck, I've still got 16,000 rewards points left, I may just log in again and donate some more.

See related: Charitable charging comes under scrutiny, Haiti disaster brings out charity scams

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