February 29, 2024

Marriott Bonvoy airline transfer partners: The best and worst

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Marriott Bonvoy airline transfer partners: The best and worst

Personal Finance Insider writes about products, strategies, and tips to help you make smart decisions with your money. We may receive a small commission from our partners, like American Express, but our reporting and recommendations are always independent and objective.

When it comes to award travel, there’s absolutely nothing more important than having flexibility. If your travel dates are set in stone, you may need to consider alternate routings or even another destination if you want to fly for free. The more flexibility you can build in for yourself when it comes to earning points, the more options you’ll have when it’s time to redeem.

That’s why we strongly recommend building your travel rewards strategy around a credit card that offers transferable points like Chase Ultimate Rewards or Amex Membership Rewards, instead of limiting yourself to a single airline. However, most people overlook the one loyalty program that offers the most transfer options: Marriott Bonvoy.

While you could redeem your Marriott points for free stays at over 7,000 hotels around the globe, you also have the option to transfer them to over 40 different airlines! That’s more options than Chase and Amex added together.

Let’s take a look at everything you need to know about Marriott airline transfers, including how they work and some of the best options to consider.

One of the most important things you need to keep in mind when transferring Marriott points to airlines is the ratio. While most transferable points convert to airline miles at a 1:1 ratio, with Marriott almost all airlines transfer at a 3:1 ratio. That means if you transfer 3,000 Marriott points (the minimum amount allowed in a transaction) you’d end up with 1,000 airline miles. There are a few exceptions to this 3:1 rule (like Air New Zealand, for example), but none of them are programs you’d want to transfer to in the first place.

You’re allowed to transfer anywhere from 3,000 to 240,000 Marriott points per day, and you’ll receive a 5,000-mile bonus for every 60,000 Marriott points transferred. This means that if you transfer 180,000 Marriott points to Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan, you’ll end up with 75,000 miles. That breaks down to 180,000 points at a 3:1 ratio (60,000 miles), plus 3 x 5,000 bonus miles for transferring 3 x 60,000 Marriott points. That happens to be the amount you’d need to transfer to book a Cathay Pacific first-class ticket from the US to Asia, so this example is definitely worth keeping in mind.

On top of this bonus, you’ll get an additional 10{d54a1665abf9e9c0a672e4d38f9dfbddcef0b06673b320158dd31c640423e2e5} bonus when you transfer your Marriott points to United MileagePlus. This is part of the RewardsPlus partnership between Marriott and United, which offers reciprocal elite status for select members as well as other benefits.

Finding available award seats can be a challenge, especially on competitive and aspirational products. Unfortunately, Marriott transfers can take a couple of days to post. It depends on what airline you’re transferring to, but in my experience, the transfer can be instant or it can take up to three business days or more. The Marriott terms and conditions say “In most cases, Miles will be posted to your account within one (1) week” though I’ve never had it take quite that long.

With over 40 options to pick from, it can be hard to decide which airlines are worth transferring Marriott points to. There are plenty of airlines on the list that aren’t worth considering at all, as well as a few hidden gems.

Before we start walking through some of the options, I want to highlight a group of airlines that probably aren’t the best transfer options. Paradoxically, they’re the ones you might fly the most. United, Delta, British Airways, and Air Canada, for example, aren’t great Marriott transfer options. That’s because you can easily transfer to these airlines from other programs like Chase Ultimate Rewards (United, British Airways, and soon Air Canada) and Amex Membership Rewards (Delta, British Airways, and Air Canada).

You’ll get the best value holding on to your Marriott points for more niche transfers, with airlines whose miles are harder to earn.

Good Marriott transfer partners

Alaska Airlines

Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan sits at the top of this list because it has an incredibly valuable award chart and no other transfer partners (though you can often buy miles on sale, as well as earning them through actual flying or with the Alaska Airlines Visa® Credit Card). Alaska is set to join the Oneworld alliance at the end of March, so keep an eye out for a new list of partners and potentially a new award chart as well.

If you remember that first example we talked about, I said that 180,000 Marriott points would be enough to earn a free Cathay Pacific first-class award ticket if you transferred them to 75,000 Alaska Airlines miles. Technically the Cathay Pacific ticket only costs 70,000 miles to fly first class from the US to Asia, but if you transfer fewer Marriott points you’ll miss out on the last 5,000-mile bonus and come up short.

Cathay offers one of the most luxurious and refined first-class experiences in the sky, making you wish that the 16-hour flight from JFK to Hong Kong would stretch even longer. You can even build in a free stopover, spending a few days (or weeks) in Hong Kong before connecting on to somewhere else in Asia. Just note that these awards won’t show up directly on the Alaska website; you’ll need to search for award seats with American Airlines or British Airways and call to book.

American Airlines

American is the only one of the major US carriers that doesn’t have a bank transfer partner set up already. Chase has a close relationship (and offers point transfers) to both United and Southwest, and Amex has a similar relationship with Delta. While American Airlines has credit cards issued by both Citi and Barclays, neither offer the ability to transfer miles to American Airlines AAdvantage.

Now, after years of devaluations and the expansion of dynamic award pricing, AAdvantage isn’t as valuable as it used to be. That being said, for flexible travelers, we’ve seen plenty of great award sales that are worth jumping on. These include first-class awards to Hong Kong for only 61,000 miles (as opposed to the normal price of ~200,000 miles or more), and plenty of 5,000-mile specials around North America.

That’s to say nothing of all the amazing Oneworld partner awards you can book with American Airlines, including flying Qatar’s industry-leading Qsuites to the Maldives for just 70,000 miles each way, or again, 180,000 Marriott points.

Average Marriott transfer partners

There are many airlines on the list of Marriott transfer partners that offer a decent value under the right circumstances, but are plagued by some combination of high award rates, limited availability, excessive taxes, or poor IT that makes the booking process painfully complicated.

In these cases, you might consider transferring Marriott points if you’re just short of a specific reward, but I wouldn’t necessarily recommend planning to acquire Marriott points just to use with these airlines.

Air France-KLM Flying Blue

The joint loyalty program of Air France and KLM, Flying Blue was one of the first international frequent flyer programs to fully embrace dynamic pricing. There are still deals to be had, especially if you’re able to take advantage of one of the carrier’s monthly Promo Rewards which offer 25{d54a1665abf9e9c0a672e4d38f9dfbddcef0b06673b320158dd31c640423e2e5} to 50{d54a1665abf9e9c0a672e4d38f9dfbddcef0b06673b320158dd31c640423e2e5} discounts on flights between select cities and Europe (note that some month’s promos don’t include any US routes). Just be warned that even if your mileage cost is low, you’ll likely have to pay $200+ per person each way in taxes and fees.

Emirates Skywards

While the Dubai-based carrier has always had a bucket-list product with its gold-studded first-class suites and onboard showers (on the Airbus A380), historically the Emirates Skywards frequent flyer program was a bit of an afterthought. That’s changed over the last year or so as the carrier massively reduced its fuel surcharges and added new transfer options including Chase and Amex.

Emirates is a popular airline for travel between the US and many destinations including India and Africa, and while the Skywards program offers a decent value, it might not be the best use if you’re planning to transfer from Marriott. To put these inflated values into perspective, here’s how many Skywards miles you’d need for a one-way award ticket from New York to Dubai:

  • Economy: 62,500 miles
  • Business: 100,000 miles
  • First: 136,250 miles

And here’s how many Marriott points you would need to transfer to earn that many miles:

  • Economy: 157,500 Marriott points
  • Business: 240,000 Marriott points
  • First: 333,750 Marriott points

That’s a lot to be spending on a one-way flight, especially when for roughly the cost of a single economy ticket you could be jetting to Asia in Cathay Pacific first class.

Forgettable Marriott transfer partners

There are undeniably a number of duds on this list — programs that aren’t worth paying attention to because they don’t offer competitive award charts or useful alliance networks. It’s not worth getting into the details of why these programs aren’t valuable, but suffice it to say you probably won’t want to transfer your Marriott points to airlines like Aeroflot, Copa, or Saudia.

While Marriott operates some of my favorite hotels around the world, you can miss a ton of value if you think of Marriott Bonvoy solely as a hotel loyalty program. Some of my favorite award redemptions of all time, including memorable long-haul flights in Cathay Pacific and Emirates first class, were made possible by transferring my Marriott points to the right airline.