Convert Ultimate Rewards to US Airways / American miles

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This is a limited time opportunity that may be useful for some with very large Ultimate Rewards and/or Marriott Rewards balances. 

As you probably know, US Airways is running a promotion through the end of April in which you will get a 50% bonus when you convert hotel points to US Airways miles (details here).  My first thought was to convert my Wyndham points to miles, but then I read Lucky’s advice:

This would also be a good promotion through which to take advantage of Marriott’s Flight and Hotel Packages, whereby you can redeem points for a combination of miles and a set number of free nights.

Yes, indeed.

Marriott’s Flight and Hotel Packages offer 7 night stays plus airline miles in exchange for Marriott Rewards points.  The way most of these packages are priced is that they charge the usual cost for 7 award nights, but then charge extra for a one to one conversion to miles.  Let me give an example to be clear:

For 300,000 Marriott Rewards points, you can book a Category 6 Marriott for 7 nights plus you’ll get 120,000 miles (you can pick from quite a few airlines).  If you booked the same hotel for 7 nights outside of this package, you would get the 5th night free as a standard benefit, and so you would pay 30K X 6 = 180,000 Marriott Rewards points for 7 nights.  In other words, the Flight & Hotel package costs 120,000 points more, but you get 120,000 miles which are arguably much more valuable than 120,000 Marriott points.  As a general rule, if you are flush with Marriott points and you are planning a 7 night award stay, you might as well book this package.

This month, the deal gets much better.  By booking the package and selecting US Airways miles, US Airways will kick in 50% more miles.  So, in the example above, instead of getting 120,000 miles, you would get 180,000 miles.

Let’s now twist things around a bit.  Assume your goal is to convert Marriott points to US Airways miles.  By booking this package for 300,000 Marriott Reward points, you would get 180,000 miles plus a 7 night stay.  So, you can think of this as converting 180,000 points to miles (1 to 1), and then getting a 7 night stay for only 120,000 additional points, which is about 17,000 points per night.  That’s a great deal.

Marriott offers different versions of the package that vary depending on which category hotel you want and how many miles you want:

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Since Marriott points are generally worth less than airline miles, the best value options are those earning the most miles (120K miles, before the 50% bonus).

If you think of this, as I suggested, as a way to convert 180K Marriott points to 180K US Airways miles, and to get a discounted 7 night stay, then the following chart may be helpful:

Hotel Category

Usual award cost per night

Usual award cost per night for 7 night stay (5th night free)

Award cost per night with package after 180K transfer to US Airways

5 25K 21.4K 12.9K
6 30K 25.7K 17.1K
7 35K 30K 21.4K
8 40K 34.3K 25.7K
Ritz Tier 3 50K 42.9K 34.3K
Ritz Tier 5 70K 60K 51.4K

 

While the Ritz-Carlton prices are still high, Marriott properties top out at 25.7K per night.  Not bad!

Ultimate Rewards

With Chase’s premium Ultimate Rewards credit cards such as the Sapphire Preferred, Ink Bold, and Ink Plus, you can transfer points one to one to quite a few airline and hotel programs:

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Neither US Airways nor American Airlines are transfer partners.  So, if you want to transfer miles to either of those programs from Ultimate Rewards, you’re generally out of luck. 

Marriott is a transfer partner, but I usually recommend against transferring points to Marriott.  Ultimate Rewards points can be used directly to book stays at almost any hotel for a value of 1.25 cents per point.  It is very rare to get that much value per point from Marriott Rewards points.  So, if you really want to use Ultimate Rewards points to book a Marriott stay, you’re usually better off booking through the Ultimate Rewards travel service than to transfer points to Marriott.  With US Airways’ 50% bonus, though, the math changes…

With the combination of the Marriott Hotel and Air package and US Airways’ 50% bonus for transferred points, converting Ultimate Rewards points to Marriott may make sense.  For example, suppose you transfer 300,000 Ultimate Rewards points to Marriott and then book the 7 Nights + 120K miles package for a Category 6 hotel, and you pick US Airways miles.  Then, you would essentially be trading 300,000 Ultimate Rewards points for 180,000 US Airways miles and 7 hotel nights.  If your goal was to get US Airways miles anyway, then this is like getting 7 hotel nights for only 120,000 points (about 17K points per night).

American Airlines

Thanks to the upcoming merger between American Airlines and US Airways, US Airways miles will eventually become American Airlines AAdvantage miles.  If your goal is to accumulate AA miles for a trip well in the future, it’s worth considering collecting US Airways miles today.

Does it make sense to do?

I think that if you are flush with Marriott points and can make use of a 7 night stay, then this is a no-brainer.  Marriott points are generally worth much less than airline miles so this is a great opportunity to trade-up.  Whether transferring Ultimate Rewards points makes sense, though, depends on your circumstances…

For the hotel portion of your 7 night vacation, you can often do as well or better by transferring points to Hyatt since you can stay at the best Hyatt properties in the world for only 22K points per night.  However, there may not be a desirable Hyatt property where you want to go.  If your vacation plans are better suited to a Marriott property, then this opportunity is definitely worth considering.

For the airline portion of the package, this makes sense if you are working towards building up your US Airways and/or AA miles for a specific purpose.  For example, you could go for US Airways sweet spot awards such as 90K round trip business class to northern Asia.  Or, wait for the miles to become AA miles so that you can book a dream first class trip on Cathay Pacific.  In general, though, I would prefer to keep points as Ultimate Rewards for their flexibility.  I love that Ultimate Rewards transfer to United, British Airways, Southwest, Hyatt and more.  By keeping points as Ultimate Rewards points, I keep my options open.

Should I go for it anyway?  In my case, I have about 100K Marriott Rewards points and many hundreds of thousands of Ultimate Rewards points.  I could transfer 170K Ultimate Rewards points to Marriott and then book a 7 night category 5 vacation for 270K points.  In return, I would get 180K US Airways miles and a 7 night stay.  That’s tempting!  What do you think?

By the way, for another great use of Marriott’s hotel and air packages, take a look at how Frugal Travel Lawyer used one to get a Southwest Companion Pass.

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