Maximizing Marriott Bonvoy’s Unique Airline Transfer Options: Part 1

Mar 12, 2019

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The Starwood Preferred Guest program previously offered over 30 airline transfer partners, many of which weren’t found in competing reward programs from American Express, Chase, Citi and even the new Capital One program. And when Marriott Rewards merged with Starwood to form the new Marriott Bonvoy program, the number of airline transfer partners increased to an amazing 43.

As before, many of these frequent flyer programs are also transfer partners of competing rewards programs, but in this two-part series, I want to look at the unique transfer partners offered only by the Marriott Rewards program, and show you some of the ways you can maximize the benefits.

Which Partners Are Unique to Marriott?

Of the 43 current transfer partners, nearly half of them are unique to the Marriott Bonvoy program, meaning they’re not found among the airlines that partner with Amex Membership Rewards, Chase Ultimate Rewards, Citi ThankYou Rewards or Capital One Miles

These carriers/programs are:

  • Aegean Airlines
  • Aeroflot Bonus
  • Air China Phoenix Miles
  • Air New Zealand Airpoints™
  • Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan®
  • American Airlines
  • Asiana Airlines Asiana Club
  • China Eastern Airlines Eastern Miles
  • China Southern Airlines
  • Copa Airlines ConnectMiles
  • Frontier Airlines myFrontier
  • Korean Air SKYPASS
  • LATAM Airlines Multiplus/LATAMPASS
  • Lufthansa Miles & More
  • Saudia Airlines
  • South African Airways Voyager
  • TAP Air Portugal
  • Virgin Australia Velocity Frequent Flyer

Although some of these frequent flyer programs offer you great value for your miles, others have little (if any) relative value and should only be used for topping off existing accounts, if at all.

In today’s post, I’ll examine the first dozen programs and follow up with the remaining programs in Part 2. I’ll also include details on how long these points take to transfer based on the tests we ran. Finally, remember that most points transfer at a 3:1 ratio, with a 5,000-mile bonus for every 60,000 Marriott points you transfer. I’ll indicate below when a specific carrier uses a different rate.

Aegean Airlines

This Greek carrier is a Star Alliance partner and can be one of the most valuable ways to use your Marriott Rewards points. Among the many sweet spots on its award chart are:

  • Flights within the US, Canada, Mexico and the majority of the Caribbean for 25,000 miles in economy and 42,000 miles in first class.
  • Business class flights from the US to Europe and Israel for just 90,000 miles, round-trip.
  • North America to central and South Africa for 110,000 miles in business class.
  • North America to the Middle East for 110,000 in business class.

Just note that you can only have one connection (two flights) in each direction. Also, Aegean will impose fuel surcharges on many of its partners, and it’ll take a few days for your miles to arrive. However, once you’ve ticketed an award, you’ll only need to pay a fee of 20 Euros to change it, so this could be a great way to book an award ticket and then upgrade to a higher class of service as your departure date approaches.

For more information, see:

Aeroflot Bonus

Aeroflot includes Hawaii, Alaska, Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean within North America.
Aeroflot includes Hawaii, Alaska, Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean within North America.

This Russian airline  is part of the SkyTeam alliance and offers a few attractive awards. For example, it includes Canada, Central America, the Caribbean, Hawaii and Alaska as part of its North America Zone, with economy class flights for 15,000 miles each way, and first class for 30,000. This can be a bargain if flying to or between Hawaii, Mexico, the Caribbean or Central America. Also, business class awards to Argentina, Brazil and Chile are cheap at just 75,000 miles round-trip on SkyTeam partners Delta and Aerolineas Argentina. Even flights to Moscow are a good deal at just 110,000 miles, round-trip in business class. Just note that Aeroflot tends to impose fuel surcharges, and in our tests, it took nearly three weeks for the miles to arrive after transferring.

Air China Phoenix Miles

PhoenixMiles doesn’t have the best award chart, let alone one that’s easy to use, but it can offer some good awards on Air China flights. For example, domestic round-trip awards in China begin at 15,000 kilometers, for round trip for award flights under 800 km in distance. Unfortunately, we haven’t been able to successfully transfer Marriott points to Air China. Despite verifying that we’re using an active, open account, we continue to receive an error message when trying to transfer.

Thankfully, there isn’t much value you’re missing.

Air New Zealand Airpoints

Air New Zealand is a fine airline with a terrible frequent flyer program. Between exorbitant fees, an expensive award chart and frequent, no-notice devaluations, Airpoints is often said to be one of the worst in the world. I’ll spare you the disappointing details and advise you only to transfer to this program if you’ve already made the mistake of crediting past flights here and need to top off your account. If that’s the case, redeem your remaining miles and never speak of this program again.

Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan

Cathay Pacific first class is just one fantastic product available using Alaska miles. (Photo by JT Genter/The Points Guy)

This is certainly one of the most valuable of all of Marriott’s unique transfer partners, though it took 4 days for the transfer process to complete. Among some of the great awards available are:

  • Cathay Pacific first class to Asia, South Africa, India or the Middle East for just 70,000 miles each way, and 80,000 to Australia or New Zealand. If first is unavailable, try business for 60,000 miles, each way.
  • Japan Airlines First Class to Asia for 70,000 miles each way.
  • Korean Airlines business class to Asia for 125,000 miles, round-trip.
  • Hainan business class to Asia for 55,000 miles, each way.
  • LATAM business class to South America for 45,000 miles, each way.
  • Icelandair to Iceland in business class for 50,000 miles each way.
  • Free stopovers on one-way award flights.

The program does have some routing rules you should know, but there are some great ways to maximize your awards. For more information, read TPG Senior Contributor Richard Kerr’s post on 5 Things to Know About Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan.

American Airlines

It’s rather surprising that Marriott Bonvoy is the only transfer partner of American Airlines, especially given the airline’s cobranded credit card relationship with Citi. Even though there are some roadblocks to using your AAdvantage miles, you can still get some solid value from the program. Among the best uses of American AAdvantage miles are:

  • Round-trip awards to Europe in economy class for 60,000.
  • Business class awards to North Asia for 60,000 miles each way.
  • Access to Etihad First Class Apartment on the A380 for 115,000 miles each way.
  • Qatar Qsuite business class to the Middle East and India for 70,000 miles each way.

For more information, read Ethan Steinberg’s posts on The Best Partner Awards to Book With American AAdvantage Miles and The Best Uses of 60,000 American Airlines AAdvantage Miles.

Asiana Airlines Asiana Club

This South Korean carrier is a member of the Star Alliance and is one of The Most Undervalued Airline Loyalty Programs. Since Marriott is the sole transferable currency with which it partners, the airline also earned a spot on our list of The Hardest Airline Miles to Earn and Why You Want Them. Great bargains include:

  • Lufthansa first class for 100,000 miles round-trip.
  • Business class flights to Europe for a mere 80,000 miles round-trip.
  • Round-trip, business class flights to Africa for 120,000 miles.

Just note that it did take 4 days for Asiana to receive the points we transferred from Marriott.

China Eastern Airlines Eastern Miles

The China Eastern distance based award chart can be useful for domestic flights within China.

This SkyTeam carrier has a distance-based chart for its own flights that isn’t terrible, but its partner award chart is so expensive that it’s not worth utilizing. The program’s one-way awards are roughly equivalent to the price that most programs charge for round-trip flights, so don’t bother considering this as an option for your Marriott points.

China Southern Airlines

This is another Chinese SkyTeam carrier with a decent distance-based chart for its own flights but a partner award chart that is so expensive that it’s not worth utilizing. Like China Eastern, its one-way awards require about as many miles as other programs charge for round-trip flights. We also struggled to even create an account to test transfers, so I’d recommend staying away.

Copa Airlines ConnectMiles

This Panamanian carrier used to use United’s MileagePlus as its frequent flyer program, but it created its own in 2015. However, vestiges of the old connection are obvious, as the award chart is nearly identical to United’s, which in turn is a partner of both Marriott Bonvoy and Chase Ultimate Rewards. Considering that you can transfer your Marriott points to MileagePlus at a 3:1.1 ratio (10% more than most other partners thanks to the RewardsPlus partnership), there’s just one reason to use this program instead. It also allows two open-jaws and one stopover on award tickets, just like United used to allow before eliminating stopovers and creating the confusing (but sometimes valuable) Excursionist Perk.

Note that our test transfer from Marriott to Copa took 3 days to process.

Frontier Airlines myFrontier

This Denver-based ultra-low-cost carrier’s newly-revamped frequent program offers awards starting at 10,000 miles each way, climbing to 20,000 miles each way for standard awards. It also offers Last Seat awards to elite members for 22,500 miles each way (within the US and Puerto Rico).

However, because this is an ultra-low-cost carrier, the value of the miles is diminished significantly because of the low price of most of its tickets. Add to that all of the fees on seat assignments, carry-on bags and checked bags, and it can be hard to find enough value in this program to make it worth transferring miles. Also, you have to pay redemption fees when booking flights within 180 days of travel, which are waived for elite members. However, since you can get elite status solely through the carrier’s credit card, transfers to this program can be useful for existing elites, though our test found that the miles didn’t arrive until ~6 weeks after initiating the transfer.

Korean Air SKYPASS

Losing Korean Air as a transfer partner is a blow to the Ultimate Rewards program.
Korean Air can offer some terrific award options through its SKYPASS program. (Photo by Zach Honig/The Points Guy)

This is a fantastic program that used to be a transfer partner of Chase Ultimate Rewards but no longer is. One of the best bargains in this program is on round-trip flights to Hawaii on Delta, which are only 25,000 miles in economy and 45,000 miles in first class. The same prices also work for Mexico, Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands.

Even flights to Hawaii, Mexico and Costa Rica on non-SkyTeam partners Alaska and Hawaiian are just 30,000 miles round-trip in economy and 60,000 in first. Round-trip flights to Europe in business class are 80,000 miles, and the Middle East is just 120,000 miles. And since the miles posted less than 48 hours after transferring, it’s one of the faster partners of Marriott Bonvoy.

However, it can be a challenge to find award space and book it due to Korean Air’s poor website and numerous quirky rules and procedures for redeeming miles. However, I’ve successfully redeemed several awards on Korean, and it’s not too hard once you learn how. For more information, read my post on How To Book Award Flights with Korean Air SkyPass.

Bottom Line

Most of the carriers we’ve covered today don’t offer enticing reasons to transfer your Marriott points to their respective loyalty programs. Some have exorbitant rates, while others present challenges or lengthy delays in actually receiving the points you transferred. However, there are a handful that could make sense, including Aegean, Alaska, American, Asiana and Korean Air. Just make sure you carefully calculate the required number of points it’ll take to translate into the number of miles you need, and remember to factor in the transfer times so you don’t wind up with a pot of miles and no award to book.

Stay tuned for Part 2 of these unique partner programs tomorrow.

How have you been able to utilize these frequent flyer programs?

Featured photo by FG/Bauer-Griffin/GC Images.

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