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Citi’s ThankYou rewards sharing Facebook app an exercise in frustration

Connie Prater

The new social media program announced Jan. 3, 2012, allows Citi rewards card owners to share their rewards points with their Facebook buddies. Members are supposed to set up so-called “pools” that indicate which reward they are trying to obtain and the number of points needed to redeem it.  The app allows you to get points from friends or send some of your unused rewards points to them to meet their rewards goals.

But due to bugs in the app, privacy concerns and — imagine! — hordes of my Facebook friends aren’t flocking to fling all their Citi rewards in my direction, my net gain has been … zero.Airline ticket

Social giving is growing
More people are using social media to help them borrow or finagle cash from friends and strangers. Examples include websites making such appeals as help me pay off my house, pay for my boobs, pay for my wedding and pay my medical bills. Google it and you’ll find more out there.

I’ve been a Citi rewards cardholder since 2009. I have used my rewards in the past to donate to the American Red Cross after the earthquake in Haiti in January 2010. I’ve also used my rewards to get gift certificates to some of my favorite family dining restaurants.

My current rewards bank has only 11,596 points. With that amount of points, I can buy some restaurant or retail gift cards, but none of the larger items, which may require more than a million points. For the big ticket stuff, I’m going to need a LOT of help from my friends.

Unfortunately, I encountered more than a few glitches and bugs in the app and sign-up process. I went to Citi’s Facebook page and “liked” it and then clicked on the link for the Point Sharing . After searching around on Facebook and on the ThankYou website for more than 30 minutes, I couldn’t figure out how to continue the sign-up process.

I called Citi’s customer service hotline. A woman said she would have a technical person call me within 24 to 48 hours to help walk me through it. She noted that when she signed up for it, Facebook didn’t immediately place Point Sharing among the choices on the “Apps and Games” page. Hmmm … I waited until the next morning and tried again. That time, a pop-up window opened asking me to give Citi ThankYou Point Sharing permission to access my profile, birthday, friends list and basic information, send me e-mails and post to Facebook as me. They also wanted access to my data any time and indicated that “Citi ThankYou Point Sharing may post status messages, notes, photos, and videos on my behalf.”

I agreed to it, gritting my teeth. I have limited the number of Facebook apps and games I use because of the potential invasion of privacy. But I wanted to see how this new program worked, so I pushed on. Plus, Citi is supposed to give me 2,500 points if I’m among the first 4,000 people to link their ThankYou accounts to the Facebook app before Feb. 3, 2012.

The app posted this message on my Facebook wall once I had linked my Facebook account to my Citi rewards account: “Now I can share ThankYou Points with my friends and ask my friends to share their points with me! Visit the ThankYou Point Sharing app to learn how.”

The next screen asked me to provide my Citi rewards log-in and password. OK. It then took me through the steps of setting up a pool so my friends could contribute to my rewards goal. I had to select the reward I wanted. That meant shopping.

Time to go shopping for my wish list
On the ThankYou website, I clicked through several pages of goods, services and gift certificates. The rewards points required to redeem an item ranged from as little as 1,500 up to several million points. The highest that I saw was in the electronics category. For a mere 7,493,100 points, I could get a Cisco 32 Port 10Gb Ethernet Module – 32 x SFP – expansion module. Computer geeks know this is a PC add-on that allows you to install an Ethernet connection for wired Internet access. It was on sale, marked down from its regular price of 11.6 million points.

Other rewards I checked out:

  • A pool table for 2.1 million points.
  • A 10-foot-6-inch by 20 foot family tent with three rooms that sleeps 8 to12 people for 164,600 points.
  • A K-12 Kajun kayak for 243,400 points.
  • Exercise equipment for more than 100,000 points.
  • A 36-inch propane gas grill island package for 2,751,500 points.
  • A cast aluminum patio lounge table and chair set for 1,320,400 points.

I also found this gem — literally: a two-carat diamond engagement ring with 14-karat white gold for 2,523,900 points.

This one caught my eye because I take camping trips several times a year: an outdoor privacy tent with a toilet. That requires 47,200 points. I’m only 35,604 points shy of getting that baby.

Still, if I shop around at the local camping stores such as Cabela’s or even Walmart, I would likely be able to find a similar model for much less than it costs in reward points.

CreditCardForum.com’s blogger warns about the best and worst ThankYou rewards redemption choices. He says avoid cash and most merchandise and instead choose music downloads and charitable donations to get the best bang for your rewards point bucks.

Maybe the Citi rewards sharing program should be renamed: Help me buy these overpriced services and merchandise.

Also among the redemption choices: Using rewards to make a monthly mortgage payment. For 100,000 points, Citi will write a check for $1,000 to your mortgage company. The fine print says recipients of this reward receive a letter and a check from ThankYou Network made out to the mortgage lender. Recipients have to contact their mortgage companies about whether there are restrictions on accepting multiple checks, partial payments or checks from third parties for the monthly mortgage payments.

Hmmm … I’ll pass on this one. One grand does not cover my monthly mortgage nut and, again, the number of redemption points needed for just $1,000 seems way too high.

Begging for things I don’t need
At first, I thought I would be more than a little embarrassed to ask someone to contribute to a pool to help me buy something that wasn’t a necessity. I know some of you are thinking that I’m looking at this in the wrong way. It’s a reward. You take guilty pleasure from rewards. You’re not supposed to NEED them. It could be thought of like Christmas gifts or gifts from your friends to help you buy something you wouldn’t normally buy.

So, I picked a few rewards that I really didn’t need and put them on my wish list.

Given the fact that so far none of my Facebook friends have signed up for the new rewards sharing application, I might have to lower my expectations and trim back that wish list. A $25 Red Lobster gift certificate might be more in line with what I could get from my friends.

Citi Rewards lets you get cash rewards. Although it says “there’s no annual dollar cap or limit to the number of cash redemptions you can make,” the pull down menu option limits you to 30 allotments of $100 denominations — or $3,000. The redemption formula for cash is 16,000 for $100. If I choose the maximum quantity of 30 of these, that would require 480,000 points to get $3,000.

I chose a Royal Caribbean International cruise gift certificate for my wish list. They cost 10,000 points for a $100 gift certificate. I tried to select a quantity of 30 — or $3,000 worth of cruising cash, but the ThankYou website would only accept and log one $100 gift certificate on my wish list. I will need 300,000 points in order to get the $3,000 amount.

I tried but failed to select the cruise certificate as my first Point Sharing pool goal.

Alas, the app kept giving me an error message (Invalid point goal) when I tried to select the 10,000 point cruise as a goal. (More bugs to be worked out.) I gave up and selected my second choice — the family tent — as a goal.

The program required me to select at least one friend to contribute to the pool, even though none of my friends have the app. I selected my boss, CreditCards.com editor-in-chief Dan Ray. Unfortunately for me, he is not a Citi cardholder.

When he got the Facebook message asking him to install the Point Sharing app, he balked at allowing the program to have free rein over his personal data and post on Facebook as him. He also didn’t like the idea of opening a new credit card account — which could potentially ding his credit score — just so that I could cruise or go camping in luxury. Bummer. If I can’t get any of my friends to join, I won’t be able to coerce them out of their rewards points.

There’s another point to consider about these rewards points. Almost everyone will want to be a recipient of the shared points. If you’re a true rewards junkie, you hoard and hog those points. You’re not going to want to give them up for just anything. The Citi app does allow you to create a group goal to send points to a single person. That would be helpful for perhaps a baby shower and wedding gift. A group of friends can also create a pool to contribute to a charity or help a family pay their mortgage.

Arm twisting friends
Citi is probably hoping that I will lobby my friends to sign up for the app and, if they aren’t already Citi cardholders, sign up and start spending (earning rewards). My gentle arm-twisting didn’t work on Ray. I doubt I’ll have much luck with my other Facebook friends. Other Facebook users may have greater success, though.

I would caution anyone trying to get rewards points from friends to remind everyone that rewards cards make sense only if you pay your ENTIRE credit card balance off each month. If you don’t, any gains from the rewards are offset and significantly diminished by the interest charges on the account. In addition, Citi can cancel any earned points if you pay your bills late.

The bottom line: Be prepared to spend a lot of time setting up this rewards pool. I’m not an Internet or social media novice. It took me hours to set this up and (as of this writing), I still don’t have it set up. Citi may be working on some of the bugs I discovered behind the scenes. Let’s hope so.

See also: Redeeming Citi rewards points rewarding for Haiti earthquake relief fund, 5 easy ways to get more credit card rewards points or miles, 8 creative ways to rack up credit card rewards points quickly

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  • Thowll3

    Loved this post, Connie.
    I’m curious if Citi offers this pooling/sharing option within the thankyou.com site? It seems a much more natural fit there, where you’re in a community of points-holders, everyone can see the merchandise catalog and there are fewer privacy and security concerns.
    I really don’t see how having this on facebook adds any utility for the user. This just feels like a clumsy, forced attempt to “leverage social media to drive awareness, engagement and new account volume.” (I put that in quotes, because I’m guessing it’s a bullet point from just about any big-company’s 2012 strategy power point presentation. Mission accomplished, I guess…)

  • Thowl3,
    Citi’s ThankYou rewards website does allow you to transfer rewards points to another ThankYou member. You have to know the person’s first and last name and their ThankYou member # and you can do it on the Citi site.
    The potential advantage of Facebook is that the app searches through your Friends list and lets you know who among your friends 1) already has the app and 2) are already ThankYou Rewards members. I have no way of knowing that on Citi’s website.
    I agree that Citi is getting a marketing boost with this app…Based on the difficulty I had in setting up a recipient pool, it may not take off as they intended.
    There should be an online forum where ThankYou members can indicate their need for transfer points or desire to donate their points to other members. If for example, someone never uses their rewards points and wants to give them to someone else, they would have a venue to find those in needs.