A Better Way of Accumulating Points for Travel

There have been quite a few changes in the world of miles and points over the last few years, but none have impacted our clients as much as the Marriott Bonvoy program.  Prior to the Marriott-Starwood merger in 2018, 250,000 Marriott Rewards points could be converted to 100,000 airline miles AND a five night stay certificate at a Category 7 Marriott property.  Today, for nearly the same number of points (240,000) you only get the 100,000 airline miles.  If you want to book that same five night stay now, it will take another 250,000 to 280,000 points.  And that doesn’t take into account that Marriott has broadly increased the category level of their hotels by an average of one category over the same time frame, so that category 7 property from 2018 is now likely to be a category 8.  Bottom line is that Marriott Bonvoy points are worth less than half of the value of the old Marriott Rewards points.

And it used to be fast and easy to transfer points from Marriott to one of their airline transfer partners, which include American, United and several international carriers.  But that transfer time has now increased to up to seven days or more, and that doesn’t work when award seat availability changes quickly, potentially shutting our clients out of getting the best flights.

These negative changes have forced me to reiterate my recommendations for accumulating credit card points for travel.  I now advise our clients to charge as much as possible to either an American Express Platinum or Gold Card or the Chase Sapphire Reserve or Preferred Card.  Here’s why:

  • Value: The transfer ratio (number of miles per point transferred) for each rewards program is far better than the Marriott Bonvoy ratio.  In most cases, Amex Membership Rewards or Chase Ultimate Rewards points transfer to airline miles at a 1:1 ratio.  The typical Marriott Bonvoy transfer ratio is 2.4:1.  Since one roundtrip transatlantic flight in business class requires between 110,000 and 160,000 miles, you would need to transfer between 264,000 and 384,000 Marriott Bonvoy points for one award seat versus 110,000 to 160,000 points from Amex or Chase.
  • Flexibility: Both rewards programs. . .Amex and Chase. . .have the flexibility to transfer their points to multiple airline programs.  Amex partners with Air Canada, British Airways, Emirates and 12 other international airline partners.  Chase’s transfer partners include United, Air France, Singapore Airlines and 7 other carriers.  American Airlines doesn’t partner with either program, but several of their OneWorld alliance partners do, and we can book American reward seats using miles from one of these partners.  Amex and Chase both partner with Marriott, so you would still have the ability to transfer points into your Bonvoy account for hotel stays.  Better yet, from now until June 15, 2021, Amex is giving a bonus of 40% more points on transfers to Marriott Bonvoy, so you’ll receive 1,400 Bonvoy points for every 1,000 Amex Membership Rewards points transferred.
  • Timeliness: Each of these cards’ rewards programs (American Express Membership Rewards or Chase Ultimate Rewards) offer much faster transfer times; instantaneously, in most cases.

I recommend that our clients use their points primarily for first class and business airfare.  This is where you can literally save thousands of dollars at a value of as much as 3 cents or more per point.  It pays to save your points to take advantage of those opportunities.  And if you want to use your Amex or Chase points for a hotel stay, you can transfer them to the Marriott Bonvoy program.  Our clients love that flexibility!

This doesn’t mean you should cut up your Marriott credit cards.  Keep them, because they qualify you for some nice perks and probably a free night every year.  But you should only use them when you pay for a stay at one of their hotels or Vacation Club maintenance fees, earning points at anywhere from 3X to 6X for every dollar you charge to the card.

And if you don’t already hold one or more of the Amex or Chase cards, now is a great time to apply for one.  The sign-up bonuses currently being offered are at or near the highest levels ever. . .and that’s a great way to jump start your point balances.

If you have any questions, give one of our travel advisors a call.  It’s our job to help our clients become savvy travelers!

Categories: Our Travels