The case against buying travel packages (even if you want airline miles)

I’ve written repeatedly recently about the value in buying Marriott travel packages before August 18th.  Yesterday, Nick joked with me that we’ve argued in favor of purchasing bottom-tier travel packages, mid-tier packages, and top-tier packages.  “The only side left is to argue against buying Marriott travel packages at all.”

And, actually, there’s a very good reason to argue exactly that… even if you’re primarily interested in airline miles.

If you buy a category 1-5 travel package this week in exchange for 120,000 airline miles, you’ll get more miles per point than you would transferring SPG Starpoints to miles at a rate of 20K points to 25K miles.  Remember that Starpoints convert to rewards points 1 to 3, so paying 270K rewards points for a travel package is equivalent to paying 90K Starpoints.  Converting 20K Starpoints to 25K miles gives you a transfer rate of 1 to 1.25.  Converting 90K Starpoints to 120K miles gives you a transfer rate of 1 to 1.33 miles.  This is a better transfer rate even if you throw away your stay certificate (but please don’t do that).

So, why would I argue against buying travel packages?  In the new program, beginning Saturday 8/18/18, the ability to convert points to miles will stay the same as today’s SPG transfer: 20K Starpoints = 60K rewards points = 25K airline miles.  While that transfer ratio isn’t as good as today’s travel package ratio, it isn’t much worse.  And it has a huge advantage… you can keep your points until you know which miles you need.

Shown above, Korean Air first class

The power of keeping transferable points in a transferable form hit like a brick yesterday when we learned that Chase will drop Korean Airlines as a transfer partner as of August 25, 2018.  When that happens, guess which common transferable points program will be best for getting the Korean Airlines miles you need?  Yep: Marriott.  Currently Marriott offers an unfavorable transfer to Korean Airlines (unless you go through SPG), but in the new program they’ll offer the same transfer ratio to all supported airlines: 60K rewards points to 25K miles (plus 10% extra if you convert to United miles).

Marriott transfer partners as of 8/18/2018

If you’ve already spent your points on travel packages (like I have), I wouldn’t feel bad about it.  You did get a great deal.  But if you haven’t yet bought a package, consider the power of keeping your points transferable for when you need them.  There’s no way to know today which airline miles will serve you best in the future.  Keeping your points as points is a great way to stay flexible and get the best value flight awards that match your needs at the time you need them.

About Greg The Frequent Miler

Greg is the owner, founder, and primary author of the Frequent Miler. He earns millions of points and miles each year, mostly without flying, and dedicates this blog to teaching others how to do the same.

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Julia
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Julia

The new transfer rate does look a bit stingy but perhaps we just got used to the old one which for us, was quite generous. I suppose another benefit of keeping the points fluid is that airlines sometimes run bonuses to encourage you to transfer points to them. I think BA has run them occasionally.

Evan
Guest
Evan

Thanks Greg actually this is the best advice for me. I sat on my hands with the 90k Iberia Avios deal and procrastinated with the Ritz card. Having missed out on both of those I was feeling like I had to go for a Marriott package. With no real plans for the hotel stay or the AS miles I had planned on getting I think I will just keep the points flexible.

OR97
Guest
OR97

Jet Blue is absent from the list of future transfer partners. Am I reading that correctly? Currently Jet Blue is available via Marriott Travel Packages (at a much less favorable rate); not sure if it was previously an SPG transfer partner

gina
Guest
gina

I argued with myself for months-I didn’t have a huge cache of points but enough to buy lower tier options-getting a great deal vs losing my flexibility made me very decisive. I finally decided last week to get the Alaska category 1-5 package. I got the certificate, and my miles posted. I turned around and returned my certificate and received the 45k Marriott points for the certificate. It doesn’t seem (and maybe we are all wrong) that I will get more (if any) points for this certificate after the new program starts. Since I am not planning any resort/long stays for the next year, I have therefore gotten 120k Alaska points for 75k SPG. It may not be the best deal out there, but I feel satisfied finally.

Jay
Guest
Jay

How do you return a certificate? I have not read on the blog that you can do that.

frugalman
Guest
frugalman

Thanks for trying to be neutral, but I would not agree with this article simply because “you can keep your points until you know which miles you need.”. My reason? Because you know which miles you need RIGHT NOW.
1. knowing your nearby airport hub, you pretty much know which airline miles are most valuable (usable) to you.
2. your travel pattern is pretty fixed in reality. Just look at your past trips, you can pretty much predict where you would likely go in the coming years. Then you know which airline gives the best award ticket for that route..
3. some airline miles are notorious to redeem. Avoid them. Yes, I means you: AA Advantages. You can easily find numerous articles to say I simply do not know how to use it. But the problem is that I don’t want to fit the miles, and the miles shall fit me. Do I have to create ways to consume/burn them?
4, 120K is a big number, but not that big for a family travel. So you had better deposit these miles into an account that has already had lots of miles in it. Again, that limits where you would transfer the miles to.
5. if you indeed want to speculate, speculate those that are hard to earn in other ways. Do your home work and find out which airline is hard to get AND you would likely use the sweet spot of that specific award redemption in near future.

All the above mean you (very likely) don’t have that many choices as they look. With the old travel package is waving goodbye (yeh, this Saturday, 8/18), I think everyone should jump and redeem one if it is ever possible. Shoot first and ask questions later. Remember you don’t have to pick the best (besides, you may not know it even if you try). Just choose the one that fits you (=you know you will be able to use). That’s enough.

Nick Reyes
Editor

The issue with #2 is that airlines can devalue without notice. Look at what Alaska did with Emirates awards a couple of years ago. The trip you took 3 years ago might not at all be relevant to the award chart 3 years from now. Also, if you don’t live in a hub city, you may be even less tied to one program. Needing to position no matter what gives you strengh in free agency — strength you would give up by redeeming for a package blindly rather than waiting until you need the miles.

Your ability to top off may also change without (much) notice. See Chase announcing the axing of Korean with just 10 days notice. Imagine if Korena were a 120K airline and you picked them “knowing” you could top off your Korean account in the future with a transfer from Ultimate Rewards. Not much notice to accumulate the additional URs you may have intended to use to put together the miles for a trip. In this case, Korean isn’t a 120K partner, so I imagine not many people were booking Korean packages — but my point is that there are definite downsides to leaping without looking.

I think the packages are a phenomenal value that is definitely worthwhile, and I wouldn’t fault you for redeeming for as many as possible, but it’s not necessarily a good idea for everyone to speculate about which miles they think they might use in a couple of years.

frugalman
Guest
frugalman

Thanks for reply. Your evidences are true but not enough to scare me . We all know the points/miles will only depreciate including those transferable ones, and we can’t control how the airline companies change the award chart. With these said, there is usually a safe choice (airline miles) for most of the people.

Don’t get me wrong. I appreciate the article even though I don’t agree with it. You and Greg have advocated travel package hard in the past months, and I know we are seeing the same thing and pretty much stand on the same side. What I discontent is to be “politically correct”, make a compromise, and send a confusing signal at the last moment. Old travel package is permanently disappearing. Take it or lose it, period.

I think the majority of the people would benefit from the redemption. Some people may feel remorse or even blaming others including this blog: “Oh, nowhere I could find a hotel worth 7-night of my valuable life”, “I should choose XXX airline instead of YYY airline if I knew XXX is so gorgeous and YYY is so trashy”, “If I didn’t waste most of my Marriott points on old travel package, I could do ZZZ today”. The truth is, whatever you do, there are always those people. People eventually should take their own responsibility for their own action. For you? Just do what are good for most of the people. Don’t try to please everyone.

Again, good article. Just a reader’s two cents.

Vet&Banker
Guest
Vet&Banker

To play devil’s advocate…

1. Positioning flights: cheap and easy.
2. Business travel is often fixed. Leisure travel provides a multitude of options.
3. Your example of AA is fine…except that AA is also well-known to be an excellent option for partner premium travel.
4. Not everyone is creating travel for 3 or 4. Sometimes it’s just 1 or 2. 120K miles is one-way J for two people in many cases.
5.Speculation is sometimes good, but not necessarily great. If you have 4 tickets you’re trying to buy and you get your “not that big for family travel” pile of miles that then devalues further, now you’re chasing.

Your 3rd and 4th points are essentially making the article’s argument. There is a reason for many people to not buy a package. If you can’t use 120K miles to get your family where you want to go in the nebulous future, why tie yourself to a specific airline that may not provide the value you already don’t have? And I say this as someone with 3 packages.

Blue
Guest
Blue

Don’t like positioning flights. Bad ju-ju if there are schedule changes or travel disruptions.

JWI
Guest
JWI

Since we are a family When it comes to travel, and we have three SWA airports at our disposal, and we can always use an ‘air bus’ to go somewhere in the States, we topped up my SWA acct with two packages. If by chance we do not spend this down by the time the teens go off to college, maybe we will use them for travel to/from their college or for short getaways just for the two of us.

miles ahead
Guest
miles ahead

People move; people are single. You have some assumptions in here regarding a farily static where one live’s near or by a ‘hub airport that they consistently use, which may or may not be true. As usual YMMV and your use case may be very different than another readers

Mike
Guest
Mike

I bought a Cat9 travel package. Thought about ritz.
Reason being. If Ritz converts to 9 and cat9->cat7 I may lose out on a bit. But. Can still transfer down even a cat7 to a cat1-4 and get points back. If ritz is lower and cat9->cat8 then I win even bigger—like your post.

Bottom line why? It’s Unlikely I’ll get to use the 7-day cert. but i WILL the united miles. So either way I’ll be able to get points back that will lower the cost of my package.

Platinum
Guest
Platinum

Starwood Lurker said that there will be no ability to downgrade or upgrade TPs after 8/18. You may not get any points back. The post and relevant thread is by Starwood Lurker lV in the SPG forum.

Mike
Guest
Mike

The only question now is : should I attach certificate to any property? If I do. Can I I attach and re-attach later? And what are the timing rules on that?

Again. Unlikely I’ll get to use it. But if I can why not!

Vet&Banker
Guest
Vet&Banker

There is a very small chance that attaching to a property that would go up in value after 8/18 would provide the opportunity to detach the cert later at the higher category. I would put that at maybe 5%. There is pretty much no chance that an attached cert would be locked permanently into a reservation (though it may very well be hard locked 8/18-9/18, as Marriott has officially notified cert holders). But nobody knows yet what the expiration dates for post-8/18 certs will be.

Mike
Guest
Mike

So are you saying it’s better to attach or not attach? I do not have a hotel to attach to in mind.

ktc
Guest
ktc

well, United is not that transfer list? Or it is assumed by default?

Jim Lovejoy
Guest
Jim Lovejoy

I think you left something off the headline. “Don’t buy travel packages speculatively.

I’ve got one to match with a 7day stay November-December. I have the reward stay but haven’t attached the travel package because the hotel drops from Cat 7 to new Cat 4. Flexibility is good but exchanging 120,000 Marriott points for 120,000 Alaska miles is better.

Michael Karpiel
Guest
Michael Karpiel

I chose to redeem my SPG points for a Marriott 7 night travel package Cat 9. I have a London stay for 6 nights next year so will forfeit the 7th and gambled and had 120k posted to my Alaska account. I looked at the travel packages after Aug 18 and even though the hotel is moving to Cat 7 the rates are much higher. So the way I look at it out of the 390k Marriott points 288k became 120k AS miles and I02k points for 6 nights in London at a Cat 9 hotel.

Blue
Guest
Blue

I don’t think I would have bought the two TPs I did without a plan for getting decent value out of both hotel certificates–actually ended up deciding to base my next 12 months travel around stays in major cities (HK, Mexico City, NYC) where 7 nights is a perfectly reasonable time to visit. Way I look at it is that it is a chance to get good value miles AND have accommodation covered in expensive big cities.

Dan
Guest
Dan

How about not wanting to stay 7 nights in a row at one location? Since air miles are easy to come by, and 5th night is free for reward redemptions, I’d rather use my points for decent rooms lasting only 5 nights.

Tim
Guest
Tim

I agree. I plan on getting a package for the airline miles, and then using the hotel cert for like 3 or 4 nights somewhere (and just wasting the rest). 7 nights in one location doesn’t seem like a good way to “travel” (more like a staycation)

Allan
Guest
Allan

Which category will you buy? I bought the basic (1-5). Was considering upgrading, but with no specific plans at the moment, I don’t know if I want to invest more miles to upgrade.

JustWingIt
Guest
JustWingIt

If you are travelling overseas and your plans include multiple city visits, then a 7 night stay may not be best use of your time. However, a 7 night stay may actually be a tad too short considering travel days, need to adjust the old jetlag, you only plan on visiting one area/region, it is a first visit and you simply want to relax a bit just because YOU ARE ON VACATION! Example in point, when the two of us took our first trip without the kids, it was a first trip to Paris. Heck, we ADDED one extra night to the 7 night certificate. When we occasionally look back on that wonderful trip, we are so glad we added that one night, for just the reasons I noted above. We were even planning to add a few nights in London as a stop in the way home, but we just couldn’t make it work with constraints with the kids’ school and caregivers’ schedules, AND we didn’t want to short change ourselves and cut into.our Paris stay and/or rush through London. I digressed, in this instance, a 7 night certificate was a tad too story for our travels.

Pam
Guest
Pam

I bought & attached to the Mauns Kea on the BI. Rooms are $750/nt so it is a great deal even w/out the 132k UA miles.

I would buy more, but there is absolutely no guarantee these old TPs will be valid on SPG props after the merger is complete & new TPs are issued.

Blue
Guest
Blue

FYI, Starwood Lurker just posted on FT that new TPs cannot be upgraded or downgraded–and that includes converted old ones.

JWI
Guest
JWI

This just shows how Marriott values its customers (sticking one of my fingers at them, & it’s not my pinky).

fll
Guest
fll

You may want to get the LATEST “OFFICIAL ANSWERS” on the treatment post Aug 18th on FT – it is from the SPG Lurker who started a brand new thread in SPG forum. I dont believe you can get any more “Official” than this given so far Marriott has been chosen this SPG Social Media channel to “communicate”.

The biggest issues are
1) No more upgrade or downgrade of certs regardless WHEN you purchase it.
2) No clarification on whether the certs can be extended UNLESS they expire during the lock down month.

David
Guest
David

Plus, some people here have a ton of airline miles and want hotel points for a hotel stay, imagine that.

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FlyerDad
Guest
FlyerDad

Greg, thanks for this–it’s an under appreciated perspective. Right now you get 120k for 90K SPG. Going forward, you would get 110k for 90K SPG–not worth giving up the flexibility for 10k points, at least for me, especially with no firm plans on how to use the miles. I do value the hotel certificate, but with the announcement that you cannot upgrade or downgrade, that means you have to find a hotel in that exact category–and we don’t know whether we’ll be able to extend them in the new program. Finally–I really value being able to move points into LAN, JAL or LH to get more availability, even if the cost is higher–partner awards and non-stops can be really tough, especially to Europe and South America. I did get an AS package and cashed in the certificate–so I certainly see the value–but holding on to another 600K SPG. Not saying it’s the right approach, I just think the “CASH THEM IN NOW!!” misses some important considerations.

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Lynda
Guest
Lynda

Fwiw, I agree with the case for flexibility – despite all efforts, I only have have about 100K SPG points…purchasing one of the packages would have eliminated flexibility, which is really important to me…