The Best Ways to Redeem Marriott Points on SkyTeam Airlines
Transferable points currencies get their value from the flexibility they provide. These programs don't just allow you to pick alternate routings if there's no award space on your preferred travel dates; they also enable you to pick which program within an alliance will give you the best bang for your buck (point). When it comes to giving you options for your points, there isn't a loyalty program out there that can stand up to Marriott and its 45 airline partners.
Today we'll take a look at the best way to transfer Marriott points for award travel on SkyTeam airlines. These points transfer to most of the below partners at a 3:1 ratio, and you'll earn a 5,000-mile bonus for every 60,000 Marriott points you transfer (up to 240,000 points a day). That being said, it's worth noting that there are plenty of other ways to earn SkyTeam miles, so you might be better off saving your Marriott points for a high-end hotel stay or a more unique airline transfer option like Alaska Airlines.
Delta tops this list not because it's the most valuable or rewarding SkyTeam loyalty program out there but because it's likely the most familiar to US-based travelers (and it did take home the 2018 TPG Award for best airline loyalty program). A transfer from Marriott can be a great way to top up your account if you're just shy of the points you need. Of course, before transferring any points to Delta, you'll want to price out the award you want. Since Delta removed its award chart in 2015 and switched to a more variable pricing model for award tickets, there have been plenty of nasty surprises to contend with.
Take this one-way economy award from Atlanta (ATL) to Johannesburg (JNB). Most days of the week, Delta wants a whopping 185,000 miles.
However, that pales in comparison to business class, as riding up front will set you back nearly half a million miles for a single flight.
It's not all doom and gloom, though. You can still find reasonably priced awards within the US, especially if you're flexible with your dates or can take advantage of one of the carriers regular award sales (also a TPG Award winner). In 2018 alone, we saw discounts like 10,000 miles for domestic round-trip flights and 50,000 miles for round-trip flights to Australia. Just be careful you don't accidentally book one of Delta's basic economy award tickets, which are (thankfully) limited to select routes at this point.
That being said, if it's Delta-operated flights you're booking, there's another Marriott transfer partner to consider: Virgin Atlantic. Although the carrier isn't a SkyTeam member airline, it does partners with Delta and may offer better award rates than you'd get booking through SkyMiles. It's always worth a quick search on the Virgin Atlantic website before you transfer any points, just to make sure you get the full range of options.
Air France / KLM Flying Blue
Air France / KLM's joint Flying Blue loyalty program used to be a staple of good-value SkyTeam redemptions, but it too has gone the way of Delta and introduced variable award pricing that took effect in June 2018. This makes it very difficult to evaluate general sweet spots in the program, but it does give us the chance to laugh (or cry) at some of the absurdities of the new program.
This calendar of one-way business class award prices from Chicago-O'Hare (ORD) to Paris (CDG) really says it all. On some days, you might get away with a very reasonable 58,000 miles, while on many other days it might cost you literally five times more to book the same award.
However, one element of the Flying Blue program that continues to offer a decent redemption value is the set of monthly promo awards. Even though these discounts switched from a fixed mileage amount to a percent off with the changeover to variable pricing, it's still possible to score some good deals. Discounted cities change every month, with the current North American options including Chicago-O'Hare, Toronto (YYZ) and Calgary (YYC).
It's also worth noting that Flying Blue used to be a great option for booking Delta flights, though it appears that the program still can't access these awards online, so you'd need to call to get the specific award prices before you transfer your Marriott points.
Korean Air SkyPass
Now that we've shed a tear for two loyalty programs that have gone sharply downhill in recent years we can begin to talk about consistently high-value redemption options. The Korean Air SKYPASS program is well-known for its award sweet spots, although SkyPass miles have become considerably harder to earn since Chase dropped Korean as a transfer partner earlier this year.
Awards on Korean metal are a great deal, with one-way first class tickets between the US and Asia starting at 80,000 miles during off-peak dates. This includes a free stopover, meaning you could flight from New York-JFK to Seoul (ICN) in first class on the carrier's A380 and then continue on to another destination in North Asia or China. Korean flies to a number of US destinations, operating a mix of A380, 747-8, 787 and 777-300ER aircraft.
While the SkyPass program can be a bit confusing to navigate, one feature I love is the ability to place awards on hold for up to 60 days even if you don't have the miles in your account. I recently placed two 747-8 first class awards on hold from Atlanta (ATL) to Shanghai (PVG) and from Shanghai (PVG) to London-Heathrow (LHR) before deciding which one I wanted to book and transferring over the 195,000 Marriott points.
SkyPass also has a generous award chart for flights on SkyTeam partner airlines, though there are two important things to note. First, you must book round-trip awards, and second, as tantalizing as that 100,000-mile first class round-trip between the US and Europe looks, there isn't actually an airline that will let you book it. Air France, the only SkyTeam carrier to operate a first class cabin between the US and Europe, limits first class award bookings to Flying Blue elites.
That being said, the ability to fly round-trip from the US to Israel in business class for only 120,000 miles is a pretty solid value. Delta flies nonstop to Tel Aviv (TLV) from New York-JFK, or you could stop in either Amsterdam (AMS) or Paris (CDG) if you're flying with KLM or Air France. This gives you a pretty extensive route network to leverage, and increases your odds of finding award space.
Another great sweet spot is for flights to Hawaii, which Korean air counts as part of North America. This means that round-trip Delta flights from the US to Hawaii only cost 25,000 miles, the same as a flight from Chicago to Atlanta would cost. While you do need to find award availability on both legs, this can still be a great option.
Aeromexico's award chart has a way of making average look so appealing, especially when compared to some of the other SkyTeam options. The problem is that there's math involved when you start transferring Marriott points. This is due to the fact that carrier's Club Premier program bases its currency on the metric system (bear with me). Aeromexico points thus use kilometers instead of miles as its starting point, so instead of transferring at a 3:1 ratio, Marriott points transfer at a 3:1.61 ratio (since 1 mile = 1.61 km). We first encountered this with two test transfers of 3,000 Marriott points, both of which netted 1,610 Aeromexico points. After inquiring with Marriott directly, a spokesperson said that this was the correct transfer amount despite the website indicating a 3:1 ratio.
While this appears to complicate things a bit, it's actually par for the course, since Aeromexico's award rates tend to be a bit higher than other carriers. This makes sense, since 1 "standard" mile can be considered equivalent to ~1.6 Aeromexico points, and this also matches the transfer ratio to Club Premier from American Express Membership Rewards.
As an example, round-trip award flights from the US to Mexico cost 56,000 Premier points. If you divide that by 1.6 to "convert" those points to miles, you'd get 35,000, which is relatively typical for a flight between these two countries. And despite the unorthodox transfer ratio, you'll still enjoy a 5,000-point bonus with Aeromexico when you transfer 60,000 Marriott points.
So what does this all mean? If you do the math, you essentially need 1.86 Marriott points to get 1 Aeromexico point (which doesn't factor in the 5,000-point bonus). As a result, the above redemption would require 95,048 Marriott points:
- 95,048 ÷ 1.8633 = 51,011 Aeromexico points
- 51,011 points + 5,000-point bonus = 56,011 points
You can also see these "inflated" prices for SkyTeam award flights from the US to Europe, which during low season cost 96,000 Premier Points round-trip in economy and 220,000 in business. While this would require you to transfer a reasonable 60,000 or ~137,000 Amex Membership Rewards points, coming from Marriott, these awards would cost you ~159,960 and ~353,400 Marriott points (respectively).
One valuable redemption that can survive Marriott's sub-par transfer rate is Aeromexico's SkyTeam Round-the-World (RTW) pass. It costs 224,000 Premier Points in economy or 352,000 in business, which translates to ~360,840 or ~561,720 Marriott points (respectively).
(NOTE: Remember that you can only transfer 240,000 Marriott points per day to airlines, so the above numbers assume that you split your transfers into multiple days.)
While that's a huge stash to blow on a single award, it will get you anywhere from three to 15 stopovers (no more than five per continent), as long as your travel continues in the same direction, east or west. This allows you build some pretty creative multi-stop itineraries. Here's one relatively tame possibility, but as long as you're always flying to or from a SkyTeam hub city and not backtracking, the sky's the limit when it comes to what you can do.
Finding a good value award redemption with SkyTeam is not as easy as it used to be, but Marriott gives you plenty of transfer options from which to pick. Don't discount Delta and Flying Blue just because of their variable pricing strategy, but if the prices you're quoted don't add up, don't be afraid to move on to additional options to book your award. And remember that just because you can transfer your Marriott points to airline partners doesn't mean that you should, as there are plenty of great redemptions in the program's portfolio of 6,500+ properties.