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The SPG Luxury Amex is now the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express® Card— apply for it here and earn a 100,000-point welcome bonus after you spend $5,000 on your card within the first three months of card membership until April 24.
What makes the fully integrated Marriott Bonvoy program more valuable than many other hotel programs isn’t just the sheer number of properties you can now book using points but also the wide variety of airline partners to which you can transfer points. With the integration of Marriott, SPG and Ritz-Carlton, you now have a whopping 44 airline transfer partners from which to choose, giving you valuable flexibility for your points.
In addition, many offer solid transfer ratios. All but three of the partners have a 3:1 point-to-mile transfer ratio plus a 5,000-mile bonus for every 60,000 points transferred from the new program, effectively making the ratio to 2.4:1. The only airlines with worse ratios are JetBlue and Air New Zealand; these carriers have transfer ratios of 6:1 and 200:1, respectively. Meanwhile you get a 10% bonus when transferring Marriott points to United thanks to the RewardsPlus partnership, making the effective ratio 3:1.1 (again with a 5,000-mile bonus for every 60,000 points transferred).
But how long do these transfers actually take? Let’s find out.
Hotel point transfers to airlines are generally known for taking longer than some other transferable currencies, like American Express Membership Rewards, Chase Ultimate Rewards and Citi ThankYou Rewards, so we here at TPG wanted to find out just how long it actually takes to move Marriott Rewards points to all partners. To do so, we transferred 3,000 points to each of Marriott’s partners and tracked the time it took for them to show up. When we thought that some might have been delayed due to the integration, we tested again in Feb. 2019.
Here’s what we found:
|Aegean Airlines||3 days|
|Aeroplan / Air Canada||4 days|
|Air China||ERROR MESSAGE (see below)|
|Air France/KLM||3 days|
|Air New Zealand||<24 hours|
|All Nippon Airways (ANA)||4 days|
|British Airways||3 days|
|Cathay Pacific / Asia Miles||5 days|
|China Eastern||~7 weeks|
|China Southern||UNABLE TO CREATE ACCOUNT (see below)|
|Frontier Airlines||~6 weeks
|Japan Airlines (JAL)||48 hours|
|Jet Airways||7 days|
|JetBlue Airways||<24 hours|
|LATAM (Multiplus)||ERROR MESSAGE (see below)|
|Qantas Airways||<48 hours|
|Qatar Airways||3 days|
|Saudia Airlines||5 days|
|South African||3 days|
|TAP Portugal||STILL WAITING (transferred on 9/28)|
|Turkish Airlines||3 days|
|Virgin Atlantic||<48 hours|
|Virgin Australia||24 hours|
Note that the times listed above represent our personal experience, and shouldn’t be taken as hard and fast rules. However, others have reported a similar timeline when transferring points from Marriott Rewards. Your own transfers may be faster or slower, but you can use these times as guidelines when planning your trips.
Unlike the major flexible points programs, unfortunately, none of the transfers were instantaneous. To make matters worse, only a handful of these are better than the previous SPG times, and just 14 of them were completed within 48 hours. Some weren’t completed until a month or even longer. This is a long time to wait, especially if you’re booking a last-minute ticket or trying to snag coveted award space in a premium class cabin.
One interesting note regarding Frontier miles. These posted after roughly six weeks. However, the post date was the day after the transfer was initiated, even though they didn’t actually arrive in the account until six weeks later. The six-week timeline is bad enough, but since Frontier miles expire after six months of inactivity, we now only have four and a half months to use them.
However, these delays pale in comparison to the following…
As of February 18, we are still waiting on the points to arrive in our TAP Portugal account. This was after trying two separate transfers (one on 9/28 and the other on 2/8). Since one of these two transfers is nearly five months old, we reached out to Marriott to inquire about this discrepancy, since the program’s terms and conditions provide a window of “approximately six (6) weeks” for the miles to arrive. Here’s the statement provided to TPG:
“For transfers not posting in a timely manner, we did send the data you cited to our airline partners as usual and are working with them to learn why this is happening.”
I personally would stay away from transferring to TAP Portugal until the issue is resolved.
In addition to the above, there were two airlines which registered “transfer errors,” meaning the TPG team was not able to successfully move points to these programs. Our valid, active accounts for Air China and LATAM (Multiplus) received the following when trying to transfer:
We’ve confirmed that both of these airlines are indeed still Marriott partners, and Marriott provided us with the following statement about the issues we encountered:
“This is the first time it has come to our attention, thank you, and we are working with those airline partners to understand why it is happening and what corrective actions need to be taken.“
We also ran into difficulties with transferring points to China Southern, but this wasn’t connected to Marriott at all. Three TPG team members were unable to register for the carrier’s Sky Pearl Club, as we never received the verification code required to complete the process.
It’s also worth noting that our first transfers to British Airways and South African Airways all resulted in receiving more miles than we expected (2000 and 3500, respectively). However, both carriers received the correct number when we tried it a second time.
Finally, note that transfers to AeroMexico appear to be at a 3:1 ratio on Marriott’s website, but we actually received 1,610 Club Premier points for the 3,000 Marriott points we transferred. Since AeroMexico effectively uses the metric system for its currency (kilometers instead of miles), this actually makes sense, since 1 mile = ~1.61 km.
Although Marriott offers more transfer partners than any other program, it falls far behind when it comes to processing transfers in a timely manner. The vast majority of transfers took at least three days to complete. Compare this to Chase, where nine of its 13 partner programs (69% for those keeping score at home) receive transfers immediately and the other four take up to two days. Even Capital One, an issuer that just added transfer partners to its credit card portfolio in late 2018, has half of its 14 partners process immediately and another three within 24 hours.
Put bluntly, the above times are simply unreasonable, and Marriott should take steps to address them immediately. It’s certainly possible that the delays were related to ongoing IT issues connected to the integration, but it’s something that the program should look into.
If you have no choice but to transfer points from Marriott, there will always be some risk that award availability will change while you’re waiting for points to show up in your account. Transfers are irreversible, so in the worst-case scenario you could be stuck with thousands of miles in a program for which you have little use beyond your original award ticket. Here are a few tips for how to avoid that dreaded situation:
- Put your award reservation on hold prior to transferring. The same way Marriott allows you to book awards with an insufficient balance (so long as you earn the additional points by 7 days prior to check-in) some airlines allow you hold award reservations as well. For example, Singapore KrisFlyer allows you to hold an award reservation so long as you have 50% of the necessary miles in your account.
- Choose flights that have more than one available award seat. This is helpful in case someone else books before your miles show up. You can use tools like ExpertFlyer to determine how many award seats are available on a flight, or you can just do a single search for three or four passengers, which should give you an idea of how many seats are open.
- Select uncommon routes. You can improve your chances by flying routes that are less popular or originate from non-hubs, since those often have better award availability. For a transatlantic flight, one example is from Raleigh-Durham (RDU) to London-Heathrow (LHR) on American. For a transpacific flight, check out ANA’s flight from San Jose (SJC) to Tokyo-Narita (NRT).
- Let the availability determine your destination. If you have some flexibility and your original itinerary is no longer an option because availability has dried up, one solution is to choose your destination based on which awards are still bookable. If you want to fly six people in business class to Hawaii for Christmas, I’d keep in mind the difficulty of that task and search for other destinations with availability — perhaps finding a diamond in the rough.
If your original flights have disappeared, don’t panic. Keep in mind that award availability changes frequently and can increase dramatically as you get closer to your departure date. Check regularly and be ready to act quickly when seats do open up.
Best Ways to Earn and Best Transfer Options
You have a few strong credit card options for earning Marriott Rewards points that can be transferred to the above airline partners. The Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant American Express Card earns 6x points at participating Marriott properties, 3x points at US restaurants and on flights booked directly with the airlines and 2x points on everything else. There’s also the Marriott Bonvoy Business™ American Express® Card which earns 6x points at participating Marriott properties; 4x points at US restaurants, at US gas stations, on wireless telephone services purchased directly from US service providers and on US purchases for shipping; and 2x points on everything else. Both cards are currently offering a 100,000-point welcome bonus after you use your new card to make $5,000 in purchases within the first three months until April 24.
If you’re looking for some great values for these transfers, here are a few to consider:
- 180,000 Marriott Rewards points to Alaska Mileage Plan to fly one-way from North America to Asia in Cathay Pacific first class (with 5,000 extra Alaska miles leftover from the transfer).
- 280,000 Marriott Rewards points to JAL to fly round-trip from New York to Milan in Emirates A380 first class.
- 120,000 Marriott Rewards points to Alaska Mileage Plan to fly one-way from North America to South America in LATAM business class (with 5,000 extra Alaska miles leftover from the transfer).
Remember to leverage Marriott’s 5,000-mile bonus for every 60,000 points you transfer whenever possible. If you’re able to maximize the bonus by transferring in increments of 60,000 points, your transfer ratio will effectively be 2.4:1.
The several months since the integration of Marriott, SPG and Ritz-Carlton hasn’t been smooth, though you do now have access to a wide variety of airline transfer partners for your points under the Marriott Bonvoy umbrella. Unfortunately, the timing of these transfers are less than ideal in mist cases, though note that the transfer times listed above are based on what we saw and may vary from one person to another. Make sure to give yourself plenty of time to account for the sometimes-sluggish process, and always have a back-up plan in case availability for your original itinerary dries up by the time your points arrive.
Know before you go.
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