When to convert United miles to Marriott points

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And, when to convert Ultimate Rewards to Marriott too… 

In one of my recent posts about United and Marriott’s new “RewardsPlus” partnership, I described the ability to convert United miles to Marriott points and I said you should never do so.  Specifically, I wrote:

All MileagePlus Premier members can convert their MileagePlus miles into Marriott Rewards points at a 1:1 ratio, up to 50,000 miles per year.  (Editor’s note: don’t do this!  United miles are worth much more than Marriott points!)

But I was wrong.  As reader RowerN pointed out, there is a situation where it makes sense.  He wrote:

Would it not make sense to transfer United Miles to Marriott at 1 to 1 if you had enough Marriott Points for a 50,000 mile travel package. You transfer over 70,000 United Miles to bump your Marriott TP to the 120,000 level and then with the linked accounts get a 10% bonus on the miles transferred back to Marriott. 70,000 miles United to Marriott then becomes 132,000 Marriott to United. After the 50,000 already in use from the Marriott account and the 70,000 from United you then have a 12,000 United mile surplus.

Let me explain.  Marriott offers 7 night “Flight and Hotel Packages” in which you can redeem Marriott points for a 7 night stay plus up to 120,000 airline miles.  As you can see in the chart below, the cost (in points) for the package depends on what category hotel you book and how many airline miles you want to get:

image

The way these packages are priced for category 5 and higher hotels is as follows: They charge the same number of points as if you booked the stay directly using points, plus they add on the number of miles you want to get. 

Here’s an example:

If you want to book 7 nights in a category 6 hotel, the normal cost would be 30,000 points per night with the 5th night free.  So, 30K x 6 nights = 180,000 points.  If you want to do the same booking as a travel package, the cost would be 180,000 points + the number of miles you want.  For example, if you pick the 50,000 mile package, the cost would be 180,000 points + 50,000 points = 230,000 points.

The key takeaway, and the thing to remember is this: If you are planning a 7 night award stay at a category 5 or higher property, then the Marriott travel packages are a great way to convert additional Marriott points into airline miles on a one to one basis.  If you have more Marriott points than are needed for the stay, it is almost always a great idea to do a travel package so as to convert those extra points into more valuable airline miles.  In fact, I’d argue that you should always go for the package with the most miles (if you have enough points) because that means converting the maximum number of Marriott points (120K) into miles.

RewardsPlus makes travel packages better

The marriage between United and Marriott (called RewardsPlus) not only adds the ability to convert United miles to Marriott points, but it also gives you a 10% bonus on miles earned from a travel package.  This makes travel packages, in general, more rewarding and it provides a mechanism to get free miles!  Here’s how…

Suppose you are planning a seven night award stay, but you don’t have enough Marriott points to get a travel package.  Thanks to the new 10% bonus, it absolutely makes sense to convert United miles to Marriott points (up to 50K per year) in order to have enough points for the package.  Let’s expand on the example I gave above…

Suppose you have 180,000 Marriott points.  That’s exactly enough for a 7 night stay in a category 6 hotel.  Instead of booking the stay directly, though, you could transfer 50,000 United miles to your Marriott account and then redeem 230,000 Marriott points for a 7 night + 50,000 mile travel package.  Thanks to the new 10% bonus, you would get back 55,000 miles.  That’s a nice little win.

Here’s another example.  Suppose you have enough Marriott points for the 7 night + 50K miles travel package.  If you book that and choose to get United miles, you’ll get 55K miles (thanks to the 10% bump).  Alternatively, you could transfer in 50,000 United miles so as to get the 7 night + 100K miles travel package.  This way you’ll end up with 110,000 miles.

Ultimate Rewards

In the above examples, I showed that it is always a good idea to top off your Marriott account with United miles if you’re planning a 7 night award stay and if you don’t already have enough Marriott points for the top of the line 120K mile travel package.  But what if you don’t have enough United miles or if 50K miles (the most allowed to transfer per year) is not enough to get you to the 120K mile travel package?  In that case, consider using your Ultimate Rewards points.  If you were planning to someday convert your Ultimate Rewards points to United miles anyway, this would be a nice way to get a 10% bonus on the transfer.

Rules to follow

This is all pretty complicated, so I’ll take a stab at condensing this to a set of rules:

  1. Enroll in RewardsPlus!  This is necessary to be able to transfer United miles to Marriott points and to get a 10% bonus on miles from the travel packages.  You can find online enrollment here or here
  2. Always consider booking a travel package if you are planning a 7 night award stay in a category 5 or higher property.
  3. Always try to get the biggest mile package available (120K miles)
  4. Always spend your Marriott points first.  If you have enough Marriott points to cover the 120K mile package, then don’t worry about transferring miles or points into Marriott.  Use your Marriott points.  If your spouse has Marriott points too, then Marriott will let you use points from both accounts for one award. 
  5. Consider buying Marriott points to get enough for the 120K mile travel package.  Marriott sells points for 1.25 cents each, with a 50K per calendar year limit.   
  6. Look next to your United miles (before Ultimate Rewards) to top off your Marriott account to get enough for the 120K mile travel package.  There is a 50K per year limit to these transfers, though.
  7. If you still do not have enough Marriott points to get to the 120K mile travel package, then consider transferring Ultimate Rewards points to Marriott to top off your account.  Never transfer more than are needed to get the targeted travel package.

The benefits of following the above rules are:

  1. Convert Marriott points to more valuable airline miles (+ get a 10% bonus on top).
  2. Get free United miles by converting to Marriott and then back to United with a 10% bonus.
  3. Transfer Ultimate Rewards points to United at a slightly better than 1 to 1 ratio (thanks to the 10% bonus).

 

Beyond United

Selecting to receive United miles for your travel packages is almost always sensible given how valuable and easy to use those miles are.  However, there may be situations where selecting other types of miles make sense.  Here are two examples:

  1. Sometimes US Airways offers a bonus on miles transferred from hotel programs.  See a recent example of how to take advantage of these promotions here: Convert Ultimate Rewards to US Airways / American miles
  2. You may want to try to get enough Southwest points for a Companion Pass.  See how here: Earning a Southwest Companion Pass With Marriott Vacation Package.

 

Reader Experiences

Have you ever booked a Marriott Travel Package?  How did it go?  Did I miss any good tricks or details?

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