The latest round of devaluations to Marriott Bonvoy’s hotel chart has kicked in earlier this month, and even though there are still good opportunities to redeem Bonvoy points for hotels, I think we ought to start paying a little more attention to the alternative ways to use Bonvoy points for excellent value.
To that end, T.J. has covered the basics of Marriott Bonvoy Moments, while a recent Reader Success Story showcases a real-life example of using points to unlock that “X-factor” – a special experience that money can’t buy – through the Moments program.
In addition to Moments, though, one of the unique features that sets Marriott Bonvoy apart from other hotel points out there is the ability to transfer points to a wide range of frequent flyer program partners around the world.
For those of you who are struggling to find value in hotel redemptions after a series of devaluations, or those who simply don’t value hotel redemptions (e.g., perhaps you prefer to stay in hostels or Airbnbs when you travel), converting to an airline partner can be a very attractive option. Here are some of the best sweet spots among the 40+ frequent flyer partners at your disposal.
In This Post
- How Do You Transfer Marriott Bonvoy Points to Airlines?
- 1. Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan
- 2. American Airlines AAdvantage
- 3. Japan Airlines Mileage Bank, for Emirates First Class
- 4. Korean Air SKYPASS, for Korean Air First Class
- 5. Asiana Club, for Etihad Airways & Lufthansa First Class
- 6. Virgin Atlantic Flying Club, for ANA First & Business Class
- 7. Turkish Airlines Miles & Smiles, for Cheap Awards to Hawaii
- 8. The Usual Suspects: Topping-Up to Aeroplan, Avios, etc.
How Do You Transfer Marriott Bonvoy Points to Airlines?
For the majority of airline partners, the transfer ratio between Marriott Bonvoy and the airline is 3:1. However, Marriott Bonvoy also throws in a bonus when you convert in chunks of 60,000 Bonvoy points at a time, which results in something known as an optimal ratio.
Whenever you convert a chunk of 60,000 Bonvoy points, Marriott Bonvoy adds a bonus of 15,000 Bonvoy points to the transfer, meaning that in total you’re converting 75,000 Bonvoy points into 25,000 airline miles at a 3:1 ratio. When we talk about transferring Bonvoy points, then, we almost always talk about transferring points at the optimal ratio of 60,000 Bonvoy points = 25,000 airline miles.
The process is done via the “Transfer Points to Miles” page on the Marriott Bonvoy website, and members can transfer up to 240,000 Bonvoy points (equivalent to 100,000 airline miles) in one day. Note that most airline transfers are not instant, and can take at least 48 hours (but usually longer) to complete.
How good is the optimal transfer ratio of 60,000 points = 25,000 miles? Well, I would say it’s good, but not outstanding: while it can allow you to rack up airline miles in chunks of 25,000 at a respectable pace, the transfer ratio of 3:1 does “subtract” from your total balance pretty quickly, leaving you with much fewer airline miles than how many Bonvoy points you started with.
This means that, ideally, you’d only transfer Bonvoy points to mileage currencies that are not easy to earn otherwise, and it also means that you’d better aim for some very high-value redemptions with those airline miles to make it all worthwhile.
1. Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan
Out of all the major frequent flyer programs that are popular among Canadians, Alaska Mileage Plan is probably one of the most valuable on paper, and yet one of the most difficult currencies to rack up in large quantities.
It’s really only the MBNA Alaska Airlines MasterCard that lets you earn between 20,000 and 30,000 miles in one go, and even if you can earn the signup bonus on a three-month cycle, it’ll still take quite a few rounds of cancelling and reapplying before you have enough miles for the highest-value redemptions on Cathay Pacific, Japan Airlines, and Emirates.
You could target the signup bonuses on the MBNA Alaska and Amex Bonvoy personal and business cards simultaneously. For example, 30,000 miles from the MBNA Alaska World Elite, followed by 20,000 miles from the MBNA Alaska Platinum Plus three months later, followed by converting 60,000 Bonvoy points into 25,000 Alaska miles would give you 75,000 Alaska miles – enough for Japan Airlines First Class from your North American gateway airport of choice, followed by a stopover in Tokyo, and then a Japan Airlines business class flight to South East Asia.
If you’d like to convert your Bonvoy points to an airline program without spreading yourself too thin across the other programs we’ll discuss below, then the Alaska program is probably the best choice, especially since the airline will be joining Oneworld in 2021 and many of the sweet spots are likely to change.
2. American Airlines AAdvantage
In a similar vein, American Airlines AAdvantage is another program in which Canadians don’t have too many good opportunities to rack up miles: RBC Avion points transfer over at a 1:0.7 ratio, and you could get the Citi AAdvantage cards in the US credit card late-game, but that’s about it.
Converting points from Marriott Bonvoy is therefore one of the few other ways to give your AAdvantage balance a quick boost, in order to unlock aspirational awards like Qatar Airways Qsuites or the Etihad Apartments. Some of the best redemptions include:
70,000 AAdvantage miles from North America to Africa on Qatar Airways business class (equivalent to 180,000 Bonvoy points)
62,500 AAdvantage miles from Europe to Indian Subcontinent on Etihad Airways First Class (equivalent to 157,500 Bonvoy points)
112,500 AAdvantage miles from North America to Indian Subcontinent on Etihad Airways First Class (equivalent to 277,500 Bonvoy points)
Furthermore, the AAdvantage program has also recently introduced the concept of “web specials”, which are flash discounts on award redemptions that go as low as 60,000 AAdvantage miles (equivalent to 150,000 Bonvoy points) for American Airlines First Class from North America to Hong Kong. Moreover, all redemptions, except those on British Airways flights, come with no fuel surcharges.
AAdvantage also offers 25% bonuses on incoming hotel points conversions about twice per year, which can further strengthen the value here. Under a 25% bonus event, the 70,000 miles needed to fly Qsuites to Africa would only require 138,000 Bonvoy points!
Finally, AAdvantage is a unique program in that you’re allowed to put award space on hold for five calendar days while you wait for your points transfers to arrive. When I booked my recent flight on the Etihad Apartments, I had located the award space and put the awards on hold first, before transferring over the Bonvoy points (which took 48 hours) to fulfill the redemption.
3. Japan Airlines Mileage Bank, for Emirates First Class
Let’s move on to some of the more niche programs out there which can only be unlocked via Marriott Bonvoy transfers, starting with Japan Airlines Mileage Bank, which is known as one of the most effective ways to book Emirates First Class.
(You can also book Emirates First Class using Alaska miles, but the sky-high mileage amounts, starting at 150,000 miles for North America to the Middle East, can be off-putting compared to other alternative uses of Alaska miles.)
JAL Mileage Bank uses a distance-based award chart, so you’ll pay more miles if you fly a greater distance. The program also passes along high fuel surcharges on Emirates redemptions to the tune of US$800+ one-way, so the best value is unlocked when originating in a jurisdiction with fuel surcharge regulations.
For example, one sweet spot might be to redeem 145,000 JAL miles for Tokyo Haneda–Dubai–Toronto for over 26 hours of flying time on Emirates New 777 First Class and Old A380 First Class with very little taxes and fees.
145,000 JAL miles is equivalent to a whopping 360,000 Bonvoy points, but I can tell you from experience, having redeemed a similarly ludicrous number of miles for a crazy Emirates First Class experience myself, that the pain is easily washed down with a few bottles of Dom Perignon onboard.
If you’d rather not splurge so heavily, then a sampler of the Emirates First Class experience on a shorter route under 2,000 miles in distance flown (like Dubai–Malé for example) would cost only 45,000 JAL miles, which is equivalent to a much more reasonable 120,000 Bonvoy points.
4. Korean Air SKYPASS, for Korean Air First Class
Now that Korean Air SKYPASS has severed their relationship with Chase, Marriott Bonvoy transfers represent the only way to earn miles effectively in the program.
SKYPASS members have wide-open availability on the airline’s own Korean Air First Class product, and the mileage costs are very reasonable, starting at only 80,000 SKYPASS miles (equivalent to 195,000 Bonvoy points) between North America and North Asia (i.e., Japan, Korea, and China).
I recently redeemed 80,000 SKYPASS miles for New York JFK–Seoul–Beijing for First Class in the nose of the Boeing 747-8, followed by business class for the intra-Asia segment, and had a very memorable flight.
Note that Korean Air SKYPASS will be devaluing the program in April 2021 (although, to their credit, they’ve given us extremely advanced notice on this), so this is a limited-time opportunity if you’d like to experience Korean Air First Class at a very cheap price point.
In addition, Korean Air SKYPASS is also known for offering favourable redemptions between continental North America and Hawaii on Delta, requiring only 25,000 SKYPASS miles (equivalent to 60,000 Bonvoy points) for a round-trip flight out to the islands, with a stopover somewhere along the way.
5. Asiana Club, for Etihad Airways & Lufthansa First Class
Another Korean frequent flyer program that might be worth your attention is Asiana Club, which boasts quite a few redemption sweet spots, most notably on Etihad Airways for their famous A380 First Class Apartments.
(Some of you might already have meaningful balances in the Asiana Club program if you’re crediting your paid flights there in a bid to earn Star Alliance Gold, so Marriott Bonvoy transfers would be a way to top-up your balance.)
Only 40,000 Asiana Club miles (equivalent to 105,000 Bonvoy points) are required to redeem for the Etihad Apartments from Abu Dhabi to either London or Paris, which is one of the lowest mileage rates in any program out there for booking the Etihad Apartments.
In addition, Asiana Club also offers favourable redemption rates for Lufthansa First Class, with only 50,000 miles (equivalent to 120,000 Bonvoy points) required for North America–Europe. The fuel surcharges are on par with what Aeroplan would charge (i.e., around $1,000 in the eastbound direction and around $500 in the westbound direction), but the savings of 20,000 miles compared to Aeroplan’s 70,000-mile price point can be significant.
6. Virgin Atlantic Flying Club, for ANA First & Business Class
If ANA First Class is on your aspirational hit-list, then you’ll no doubt want to familiarize yourself with the opportunity to redeem only 120,000 Virgin Atlantic Flying Club miles for a round-trip flight on ANA First Class between the US and Japan. (As a point of comparison, Aeroplan would charge you 210,000 miles for the same itinerary.)
While this particular sweet spot is pretty well-documented, God Save the Points reports that you can actually book an open-jaw instead of a round-trip, thus making it two-thirds of the way around the world on ANA First Class as part of a North America–Asia–Europe redemption (like Chicago–Tokyo–London, with a stopover in between) all for the same 120,000 miles!
The same logic applies to ANA business class, which would cost 95,000 Virgin Atlantic miles for either the round-trip or open-jaw flavour.
That’s a pretty insane value, and it’s only made more compelling now that ANA’s newly refurbished 777s, featuring their brand-new “The Room” business class and “The Suite” First Class products, are flying to New York JFK, London, and Frankfurt.
120,000 and 95,000 Virgin Atlantic miles are equivalent to 300,000 and 240,000 Marriott Bonvoy points, respectively.
However, the good news is that you don’t have to earn the full amount through Bonvoy: if you dabble in US credit cards, then Amex US MR points also transfer to Virgin Atlantic at a 1:1 ratio (often with 30% bonuses thrown in), so you can treat the Bonvoy transfers as merely a topping-up mechanism.
7. Turkish Airlines Miles & Smiles, for Cheap Awards to Hawaii
We recently covered the sweet spot of redeeming Turkish Miles & Smiles on Air Canada and United flights within North America, and in particular to travel to Hawaii. You can redeem only 20,000 Turkish miles round-trip from anywhere in continental North America to Hawaii, which is a steep discount compared to the 45,000 miles that most major programs would charge.
These savings add up quickly when you consider that most travellers going to Hawaii are doing so as a larger group. Let’s say you’re looking to bring your family of four to Hawaii, which would cost 80,000 Turkish miles for the round-trip flights.
That’s equivalent to 195,000 Marriott Bonvoy points at the optimal ratio, and there’s definitely an argument to be made that it’s a better value to use those Bonvoy points for the flights than to redeem directly for a Hawaii hotel, given the mass-devaluation to Hawaii hotels that we saw in the March 2020 category changes.
The caveat here is that the Turkish Miles & Smiles website is notoriously clunky, and it may well take a few calls to the contact centre to secure even a relatively simple one-stop booking from the mainland to Hawaii.
8. The Usual Suspects: Topping-Up to Aeroplan, Avios, etc.
We’ve so far discussed transferring Bonvoy points to programs in which it’s somewhat challenging to earn miles otherwise. However, there could still be occasions when it makes sense to use Bonvoy points to top-up your balance in the more accessible programs, like Aeroplan, British Airways Avios, or Cathay Pacific Asia Miles.
Let’s say you’ve earned 290,000 Aeroplan miles so far, which is 10,000 miles away from having enough to book an Aeroplan Mini-RTW for two people in business class. Instead of going through the process of getting yet another credit card signup bonus, a quick transfer of 30,000 Bonvoy points at a 3:1 ratio could get the job done.
Marriott Bonvoy is also an effective “middle-man” for channeling your Amex MR Select points (from the Amex Cobalt Card or the Amex Business Edge Card) into airline miles, since MR Select can’t normally be converted into Aeroplan or Avios at a 1:1 ratio the way that regular MR points can be.
The optimal ratio here would be 50,000 MR Select points = 60,000 Bonvoy points = 25,000 airline miles, which is basically a 2:1 ratio between MR Select and the airline program.
That’s half as good as the 1:1 ratio from regular MR points to Aeroplan or Avios, but it’s better than nothing for those of you who primarily collect those currencies and have little use for hotel points otherwise. And furthermore, like American Airlines above, both Aeroplan and Avios are known to offer 25–35% bonuses when converting hotel points a few times per year, which would sweeten the deal even further.
The ability to transfer points to 40+ frequent flyer partners is one of the key features that sets Marriott Bonvoy apart from other hotel points programs, and we’ve outlined a few of the best sweet spots that you can unlock across those 40+ partner programs.
Some, like JAL Mileage Bank or Asiana Club, are geared towards aspirational travel, while others, like Turkish Miles & Smiles, can benefit the economy traveller as well; either way, transferring points to the airline partners preserves some value within the Marriott Bonvoy program, allowing members to diversify away from the continuous devaluations on the hotel side.