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Here at TPG, we spend a lot of time discussing the value of transferable points currencies. The flexibility they add to your travel planning can help you save time and money, all while unlocking the doors to some premium cabin redemptions and extending the value of your points even further.
It might surprise you to learn that the most flexible points currency isn’t Chase Ultimate Rewards or American Express Membership Rewards. With over 40 airline transfer partners, that title belongs to Marriott Rewards. Marriott points transfer at a 3:1 ratio to all of these partners, with a 5,000-mile bonus for every 60,000 points transferred (up to 180,000 points a day). This gives you an easy way to boost your mileage balances across all major alliances plus numerous non-alliance members.
Today we’re going to take a look at the best transfer partners for booking award tickets on Oneworld carriers. Just keep in mind that most of these airlines have many ways to earn miles, including cobranded credit cards and other transferable currencies. As a result, you might be better off saving your Marriott points for high-end hotel redemptions or more niche transfer options.
Finally, you’ll also want to review our tests of Marriott transfer times for each partner, since many don’t process as quickly as other transferable currencies.
American Airlines AAdvantage
For example, AA separates Japan and South Korea into a cheaper award zone called Asia 1, both for American-operated flights and flights on Oneworld partners. This means you can book one-way awards in business class for 60,000 miles or first class for 80,000 miles. If you were traveling anywhere else in Asia, you’d pay 70,000 and 110,000 miles for these award flights (respectively). Economy awards on partner flights into Japan and South Korea are cheaper as well at 35,000 miles instead of 37,500.
Of course if you’re looking to book premium cabin international awards on AA, you’d be better off taking advantage of a different Marriott transfer partner: Etihad Guest. While Etihad and AA have a close partnership, the Middle Eastern carrier isn’t technically a member of any major alliance. Etihad’s award chart for flights on AA metal closely mirrors the price AA used to charge before its devaluation.
Those same business class awards to Asia 1 (Japan and Korea) would only cost 50,000 miles with Etihad. While you can’t use this award chart to fly Oneworld partners like Cathay Pacific and JAL, AA recently announced an expansion of its international first class service (only found on routes operated by a 777-300ER) to include Tokyo-Haneda (HND) beginning in June. Saver-level first class award space is nearly impossible to find on this route from Los Angeles (LAX), but if you are able to find a seat, you can book it for only 62,500 Etihad Guest miles and enjoy AA’s flagship first dining experience in LA.
There are plenty of other good values in this award chart, including business class to Europe for only 50,000 miles each way or to the South Pacific for only 62,500 miles. The hardest part here will be finding saver level award space on AA, which can often be a frustrating process at times.
Returning to the actual AAdvantage program, there’s one more sweet spot to be aware of that can help you save on domestic redemptions: Reduced Mileage Awards. AA publishes a list of eligible airports each month, and if you hold one of the following credit cards you can save up to 3,750 miles off a one-way award (or 7,500 miles off a round-trip award) to or from these airports:
- Citi / AAdvantage Executive World Elite Mastercard
- Citi / AAdvantage Platinum Select World Elite Mastercard
- CitiBusiness / AAdvantage Platinum Select World Mastercard
- CitiBusiness / AAdvantage Select Mastercard
- AAdvantage Aviator Red World Elite Mastercard
- AAdvantage Aviator Silver World Elite Mastercard
- AAdvantage Aviator Business Mastercard
- Other credit cards listed here that are no longer open to new applicants.
These reduced mileage awards are valid for flights in any cabin, and can be stacked with the 10% mileage rebate offered on cards like the Citi / AAdvantage Platinum Select World Elite Mastercard to drop your costs even lower (by up to 10,000 total miles each year). You can check out this guide for full details on the current list, but here are the 166 airports eligible for Reduced Mileage Awards for January 2019.
For a round-trip, saver-level award that would normally set you back 25,000 AAdvantage miles, you’d be able to pick up that same ticket for just 17,500 miles, as long as your departure or destination is one of the above airports.
British Airways Avios
If you’ve never used a distance-based loyalty program before, then maximizing redemptions with British Airways will require a completely different approach. Instead of sweet spots falling between two regions (like the US and Asia 1 with AA) they tend to be between specific cities that are a certain distance apart. You’ll want to stick to short routes and nonstop flights whenever possible, as BA charges separately for each segment.
Within the US, all nonstop flights that cover less than 1,151 miles can be booked for 7,500 Avios each way. This means that you can travel between popular city pairs such as Chicago-O’Hare (ORD) and any New York-area airport for only 7,500 Avios (as opposed to 12,500 AAdvantage miles). You could also choose to take advantage of a quirk in the way AA codes its domestic “first class product.” Of all the US legacy carriers, AA is the one that most often flies internationally-configured wide-body jets on domestic routes. Here’s the schedule for these flights through February 2019, which includes a number of 787-8 flights between Chicago O’Hare and Dallas-Fort Worth (DFW). Booking those flights in lie-flat business class would only cost you 15,000 Avios each way, a steal compared to the 25,000 miles AA would charge you.
You can also get a phenomenal value redeeming Avios for flights from the West Coast to Hawaii, either on Oneworld member American Airlines or BA’s partner Alaska Airlines. Together these two airlines serve nearly every Hawaiian destination possible. Nonstop flights from the following west coast gateways only cost 12,500 Avios each way in economy:
- Los Angeles (LAX)
- Phoenix (PHX)
- San Diego (SAN)
- Oakland (OAK)
- San Francisco (SFO)
- Seattle (SEA)
- Portland (PDX)
Note that Alaska award space doesn’t appear on the British Airways website, so you’ll have to search on Alaska first and then call BA to book. However, you shouldn’t have any problem booking American-operated flights online:
You can also find amazing values redeeming Avios in expensive markets outside the US. That’s because in every other market, BA’s cheapest “Zone 1” pricing applies to flights of 650 miles or less. For example, you can fly from Tokyo-Haneda (HND) to Osaka (KIX) or from Hong Kong (HKG) to Taipei (TPE) for only 4,500 Avios. That same ticket can easily cost $500 or even more if you paid cash, giving you an unbelievable redemption value of over 11 cents per Avios.
Notably absent here are flights actually operated by British Airways. There are two reasons for that deliberate oversight. First, for US-based travelers, those would all be long-haul flights. A distance-based award chart punishes you for flying longer distances, and BA’s is no exception. Second, by booking award flights on British Airways, you’re subject to both horrendous fuel surcharges and (for flights departing the UK) significant government-imposed taxes. This really eats away at the value of your “free” flight. You can sometimes reduce these costs by booking awards from Europe to the US (instead of the other way around), but there’s a reason that no one’s ever called redemptions on British Airways-operated flights a true sweet spot.
JAL Mileage Bank
Even after a recent devaluation, JAL Mileage Bank is perhaps best known as being the only program that still allows you to book Emirates first class awards at a reasonable rate. Unfortunately you’ll be hit with massive fuel surcharges for Emirates awards departing the US, but you may be able to reduce those by booking out of other gateways.
What gets much less attention is JAL’s incredibly reasonable award chart for flights on its own metal and Oneworld partners. Below are the round-trip award costs for JAL flights from North America to Japan:
While JAL only flies its top-notch first class product to six destinations around the globe, the carrier is also known for releasing massive clumps of award space, especially closer to departure. 140,000 miles for a round-trip, first class flight is a phenomenal deal, almost as good as the Virgin Atlantic/ANA sweet spot, and not that much more than what some programs would charge for a one way award. Connecting on to Asia 1 (China, Hong Kong and Taipei) increases the award costs very marginally, and even flights to the rest of Asia and Oceania cost the following reasonable amounts for a round-trip award:
- Economy: 70,000 miles
- Business: 140,000 miles
- First: 170,000 miles
What’s really exciting here is that Asia 2 includes all of south east Asia … and India as well. That labeling quirk can score you a great value on a very long journey.
For Oneworld partner flights, JAL uses a distance based award chart.
Your ticket will be priced based on the total distance of all your segments, and with multiple stopovers allowed, you can build some pretty sweet itineraries. One example would be San Francisco (SFO) to Sydney (SYD) with a stopover in Hong Kong (HKG) in Cathay Pacific business class for only 110,000 miles, but you can get much more creative than that.
Cathay Pacific Asia Miles
Speaking of Cathay Pacific, the carrier’s Asia Miles loyalty program follows the opposite script as JAL, using a distance-based award chart for its own flights. Unfortunately flights from Hong Kong to the US are long and all fall under either the Long-Type 2 pricing (which exists only to make flights to and from the US more expensive) or the Ultra-Long pricing.
That being said, Cathay Pacific first class is one of the best experiences you can have in the sky, enough so that it would be worth shelling out 110,000 miles for a first class award from LAX or San Francisco. Ultra-Long flights are just a little too expensive for me. Even though my “home” airport in the US is Washington-Dulles (IAD), I’d probably position to the west coast for a Cathay Pacific award or book through a zone-based program that treats all of the US the same. But more on that later.
Cathay doesn’t publish an award chart for its partners, but it does offer a useful mileage calculator tool that you can use to check specific routes. From a few searches, we can see that Cathay’s partner award charts are also distance-based. For example, here is the award cost for a one-way, American-operated flight from New York-JFK to London-Heathrow (LHR):
And here’s an American-operated flight from LAX to LHR:
Overall the prices are fairly reasonable but not too exciting. The fact that Asia Miles is also a transfer partner of Amex, Citi and Capital One is nice though, as you have plenty of options for topping up your balance. However, the online search engine leaves a lot to be desired, so keep that in mind as you’re considering transferring your Marriott points to Asia Miles.
Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan
While Alaska Airlines isn’t technically a member of Oneworld or any of the major alliances, I’d still be remiss if I didn’t mention its incredible sweet spot redemptions for both Cathay Pacific and JAL.
Like many non-alliance airlines, Alaska has individual award charts for each of its partner airlines. For flights from the US to Asia, here are the one-way award costs on Cathay Pacific:
And on JAL:
Both carriers let you fly one-way to Asia for only 70,000 miles in first class, which is a phenomenal price for tickets that can easily be $15,000 or even more.
At 50,000 miles one-way , Cathay Pacific business class isn’t a bad deal either. Thanks to Alaska’s generous award routing rules, you can also enjoy a stopover in either Hong Kong or Tokyo before continuing on to another destination in Asia, even on one-way award tickets.
Cathay Pacific awards don’t show up on the Alaska website, so you’ll have to use another Oneworld search tool like BA or Qantas to find the space and call Alaska to book. JAL, on the other hand, can be booked seamlessly directly on the Alaska site.
The incredible flexibility of Marriott points extends far beyond its 6,500+ hotels and well into air travel. If you’re looking to travel on a Oneworld carrier, you have your pick of loyalty programs with a mix of zone- and distance-based award charts you can leverage to get the lowest possible price in both cash and miles. While any of the above options can offer great value, be sure you crunch the numbers before making the transfer. Since you get a 5,000-mile bonus for every 60,000 Marriott points you transfer (up to 180,000 points each day), you’re likely best off aiming to transfer in increments of 60,000 points, though for the right redemption, it may be worth simply topping off your account.
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