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Ultimate Rewards Sweet Spot – Transfer to Marriott for Hotel + Air Packages With Southwest Points For Companion Pass

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Among the 10 transfer partners of Chase Ultimate Rewards – the points program of cards like the Chase Sapphire Preferred, Ink Bold and Ink Plus – I tend to focus on a few of the same sweet spots over and over again:

  • Transferring a few thousand points to British Airways Avios to redeem for otherwise expensive short-haul flights
  • Transferring to United to redeem on top-tier Star Alliance partners (but no more after the recent devaluation!)
  • Transferring to Hyatt for amazing hotel redemptions like my recent stay at the Park Hyatt Sydney
  • Transferring to Southwest for cheap domestic flights
There are 10 great travel transfer partners of Ultimate Rewards.
I tend not to transfer to Marriott.

However, with that last one, I’ve been reticent to go overboard because the points transferred in from Ultimate Rewards don’t count toward Companion Pass qualification, unfortunately, like points earned with the Chase Southwest cards do, as do points transferred in from Southwest’s other partners including several hotel chains.

I am planning to go to Cannes later in May for the film festival among other side trips, and while I was hatting with my folks about it, it sounded so fun that they decided they might join me! That got me thinking about how I could use my Ultimate Rewards points to my advantage on this trip. I am sitting on a ton of Chase Ultimate Rewards points thanks to my recent round of credit card applications, paying taxes and other day-to-day purchases, so between my parents and me, we have a lot of points to play around with.

While I was pondering how best to maximize them, I started considering one of the Ultimate Rewards transfer partners I don’t usually transfer to: Marriott. One of the reasons Marriott isn’t high on my transfer list is because unlike Hyatt, where you can score top-tier hotel awards for 25,000-30,000 points a night, Marriott will charge you 45,000-50,000 points and a full 21% of their hotels just jumped up a category – so it’s even harder to get great value out of your points.

Hotel + Air Packages

But Marriott Rewards does have some interesting features. You can simply transfer your Marriott points into airline miles with about 35 airlines, though the transfer ratios are pretty dismal and range from 5:1 to 2.8:1 with American, Delta, United, US Airways and Southwest.

However, Marriott also has a potentially very valuable redemption option called Hotel + Air Packages that vary based on the airline you are transferring to, but where you can score conversion ratios of 1:1 from Marriott points to airline miles simply by building in a 7-night stay award.

With Southwest specifically, here’s how the packages break down:

Screen Shot 2014-04-17 at 4.49.32 PMSo by transferring anywhere from 200,000-390,000 Marriott Rewards points, you get a seven night stay and 50,000-120,000 Rapid Rewards points based on the hotel category.

In the case of my parents specifically, they were considering booking the JW Marriott in Cannes for a week right around the film festival at the end of May, and there is actually tons of points availability. It is a Category 8 hotel, so award nights start at 40,000 points for a City View King Room.

Screen Shot 2014-04-17 at 12.44.02 PMIt prices out a week as 240,000 points because with Marriott you get a fifth night free, so you’re only paying for 6 award nights. Checking right around the same dates on the calendar – for an example, I did May 20-27, I found room rates fluctuated wildly thanks to the festival.

Screen Shot 2014-04-17 at 12.46.23 PMTo book the same category of room outright on the same dates, they’d be paying about 3,820 euros, or $5,275.

The Southwest Companion Pass Angle

Here’s where it gets really interesting, though. My folks might just buy a flight over to France or they may use their US Airways miles to book something. The reason they are considering Southwest as the airline partner is because if they were to use 360,000 Marriott Points for an Air + Hotel Package, they’d be getting not only this super premium hotel redemption, but they’d end up with 120,000 Southwest Rapid Rewards points.

The best part is, hotel partner points that are converted into Rapid Rewards points count towards Southwest Companion Pass qualification – which is one of the best-value redemptions out there.

So then on top of the $5,275 hotel redemption, they’re getting 120,000 Rapid Rewards points, which equates to $1,715 in Wanna Get Away fares. Only, they’ll have the Companion Pass, which means they’ll really be getting $3,430 in Wanna Get Away fares since the two of them will travel for the price of one through December 2015. Now they’ll have more than enough points to visit all their grandchildren up and down the east coast.

Now, 360,000 points is still a lot of Ultimate Rewards points to blow through at once, but considering the high cost of the hotel room and the fact that they are getting several thousand dollars of flights out of it plus the Companion Pass, which essentially doubles the value of their Rapid Rewards points (or their dollars depending on whether they pay or redeem for flights), this is an incredible redemption value since they are using the points they would on a hotel stay anyway, and then converting Marriott points at a 1:1 ratio to Southwest points. This is also a nice little workaround to the problem of converting Ultimate Rewards points to Southwest without having them count toward Companion Pass qualification.

Granted, there are a few drawbacks to this. First, it’s a boatload of points, so you have to keep your eye on the bottom line and make sure the redemption is worth it to you. Second, the Flight + Hotel packages are all for 7 nights, so you’re committing to a week-long stay (sure you can cut out early if you want, but you’ve redeem for the room for 7 nights so might as well enjoy it).

Still, there is potentially huge value to be reaped from this redemption method and it will have me taking a closer look at transferring my Ultimate Rewards points to Marriott with an eye to getting airline miles at a decent rate out of it as well.
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