Which airlines are best for Marriott Travel Packages?

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Yesterday, Greg wrote about the potential for a huge win with Marriott Travel Packages. Of course, we don’t know that there will be a huge win — it’s just potential. Still, I know many readers are probably looking at these packages and wondering which airlines are the best transfer partners. While United offers the most miles at 132K with the largest (best-value) packages, they don’t necessarily offer the best value in terms of award pricing. Of course, which partner is best depends entirely on your situation. That said, see below for the partners I would pick for business and first class international travel. For more on why Travel Packages are a good deal in general, see: Why are Marriott Travel Packages a good deal?

Best options to get to Asia

Great Wall of China in Beijing

First Class winner: Virgin Atlantic

Award 110K-120K round trip ANA first class
Fuel Surcharges? Yes, but low (~$200 or less round trip)
Key disadvantages? Only direct flights (no connections), limited to one partner (ANA)

First class runner up: Alaska

A key plus for Alaska here is the fact that they allow a stopover on a one-way award. This means that you could fly from the US to Tokyo in first class on Japan Airlines, stop over for days/weeks/months, and then continue on to another Asian destination for the same price as if you only visited Tokyo.

Award 70K one-way JAL or Cathay Pacific first class
Fuel surcharges? No
Key disadvantages Availability can be less than that shown to other partners

Business class winner: ANA

In a rare instance where it might make sense to take a less-favorable 85K airline miles with a travel package, ANA takes the cake. The best deals are 75K/85K round trip to Japan in low / regular season or 80K round trip to Asia 1 or South Korea during low season. Star Alliance awards to Asia 1 ring in at 95K round trip – make up the difference with 10K transferred from Membership Rewards.

Award price: From 75K-100K round trip on ANA
Fuel surcharges: Yes, but not all partners. Choose a destination like Hong Kong to save on fuel surcharges.
Key disadvantages: Must book round trip, watch out for waitlisted seats

Business class runner up: Alaska

Award price: 50K each way on Cathay or Hainan, 60K each way on JAL or AA, 60K each way or less on Korean
Fuel surcharges: None
Key disadvantages: Availability can be less than what is shown to partners

Best options to get to Africa

Business class winner: ANA

The key disadvantage here is that you must book round trip and Marriott will not give you enough miles for a round trip with ANA — you would need to top off your account with Membership Rewards points or more Marriott/SPG points. For better flexibility, you might consider United. While United charges 80K for one-way Star Alliance business class, the 132K miles received from a package will easily cover you one-way with miles to spare and no fuel surcharges.

Award price: 104K round trip on Star Alliance
Fuel surcharges: Yes, but not on SAS or United flights to Africa, low on LOT
Key disadvantages: Must book round trip, taxes & fuel surcharges can be quite high with some partners ($600+ RT)

Business class runner up: Alaska

Alaska offers a number of ways to get to Africa at a bargain price on miles, but none is better than the rates on Cathay Pacific. At 62.5K in business or just 70K in first, you could fly from New York to Hong Kong (with a stopover) and continue on to Africa. The 120K you get from a travel package won’t quite get you round trip, but it’ll get you close.

Award price: 62.5K one-way on Cathay Pacific (or 70K in first class!)
Fuel surcharges: None
Key disadvantages: Availability can be less than that shown to other partners

Business class honorable mention: Etihad

This award is an even better deal than ANA, but it’s with a single partner and it is neither easy to find availability online nor book it. But it is possible. Note that this is another 85K Marriott package, but Etihad is partners with both Membership Rewards and Citi.

Award price: 44K one-way on Royal Air Maroc
Fuel surcharges: Yes, but moderate (~$220 from the US to Morocco)
Key disadvantages: Must call Etihad to book, not easy to search availability online

 


Best options to get to Europe

First class winner: Aeroplan

Asiana actually charges fewer miles each way (50K), but since you get 120K miles with Aeroplan (vs 85K with Asiana) and you can also search and book most awards online with Aeroplan, Aeroplan gets the nod here.

Award price: 70K one-way in Star Alliance first class
Fuel surcharges: Yes, (none on Aergean, Brussels, SAS, Swiss, Turkish, United…but you’ll probably want this award for Lufthansa, which will add surcharges)
Key disadvantages: High fuel surcharges on Lufthansa. Aeroplan will no longer be affiliated with Air Canada in 2020

Business class winner: Iberia

From Chicago, New York, and Boston, it’s hard to beat Iberia’s off-peak pricing at 34K one way….except when they run occassional promotions dropping it to 25.5K. A travel package could get two people to Europe round trip in flat bed business class.

Award price:

34K one-way off-peak  business class on Iberia from Chicago, New York, or Boston to Madrid

42.5K off-peak one-way business class on Iberia from Miami to Madrid

 

Fuel surcharges: Some, but relatively low
Key disadvantages: Best pricing is on Iberia metal. Most partner awards are completely nonrefundable.

Business class winner #2: Aeroplan

Since Iberia is limited in terms of off-peak dates and routes, Aeroplan deserves a mention. Note that while Alaska also offers business class for about the same price with Icelandair, Condor, or AA, Aeroplan gives you a lot more options in terms of partners.

Award price: 55K one-way in Star Alliance business class
Fuel surcharges: Yes, but none on None on Aergean, Brussels, SAS, Swiss, Turkish, United
Key disadvantages: High fuel surcharges on Lufthansa. Aeroplan will no longer be affiliated with Air Canada in 2020

Best options to get to Australia

Mini-Kangaroo (Wallaby)

Winner: Alaska airlines

Alaska handily wins for both first and business class here, the trick is just finding availability. They charge 70K one-way in Qantas first class or 55K in Qantas or Fiji Airways business class or 125K round trip in Korean business class (Korean must be booked as a round trip). Remember that Alaska allows a stopover on a one-way award, so see 2 Australian cities on your award out and have a stopover in Fiji on your way back. The trick is finding availability, though that can be challenging to Australia in general. Nobody else really comes close to Alaska in terms of pricing.

Award price:

55K one-way business (Qantas or Fiji)

70K one-way first class (Qantas)

Fuel surcharges: No
Key disadvantages: It’s tough to find availability.

Best options to get to South America

Business class winner: Asiana

Asiana is one of the airlines that only offers 85K miles with a Marriott package. That said, you can fly round trip to Northern South America for 55K miles or Southern South America for 70K miles with no fuel surcharges.

Award

55K round trip to Northern South America on Star Alliance

70K round trip to Southern South America on Star Alliance

Fuel surcharges? Not on partners serving South America
Key disadvantages Must book via phone, US call center has limited hours.

Runner up: Alaska

While it’ll cost you more miles, the 120K you get from a travel package will still more than cover round trip business class on either American (30K to Northern, 67.5K to Southern) or LAN (45K).

Award price:

30K one-way to Northern South America (AA)

57.5K to Southern South America (AA)

45K to all of South American (LAN)

Fuel surcharges: No
Key disadvantages: Finding LAN availability is tricky since the merger with LATAM. Search the BA site for flight numbers that begin with LA (not JJ).

Bottom line

Despite some of the great options with ANA and Etihad miles, I am most likely to redeem a package or two for Alaska miles. As you can see, there are some great sweet spots where Alaska is very competitive, and it is difficult to accumulate Alaska miles since they are not transfer partners with anyone but SPG/Marriott. The above isn’t to say that you shouldn’t redeem with other partners, but rather that these are some of the best deals for premium cabin international travel with Marriott’s airline partners. If you are combining with an existing balance, or have a specific destination in mind that is best served by an alliance not represented here, it can certainly make sense to consider the other options. It is also worth considering how you would top off an account and/or use any orphaned miles — airlines that aren’t transfer partners with Amex, Chase, or Citi might leave you with a hard-to-use balance.

Which airline are you considering if you redeem for a Marriott Travel Package?

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