Flexibility is key when it comes to maximising your frequent flyer points for travel in business and first class, and it’s no secret that American Express is the king of flexible rewards points in Australia.
The Amex Membership Rewards (MR) program offers ultimate control over how you use your points. While the program already trumps others with transfers to nine frequent flyer programs, there is a little-known trick that adds thirty-eight additional airlines to the mix!
It all starts with Amex’s partnership with Marriott Bonvoy, the hotel rewards program for Marriott Hotels and Resorts. Amex MR Points are normally converted at a 3:2 rate when transferred to Marriott, meaning every three MR points earns you two Bonvoy Points. But as part of American Express Member Month, you’ll receive a generous 50% bonus, pushing the conversion rate to a simple 1:1 until 31 August 2023. Therefore, every MR point equals one Bonvoy Point.
That’s handy if you’re looking at redeeming a hotel stay using Mariott Points, but even more useful when you realise that Bonvoy allows transfers to a long list of airline frequent flyer programs. Thus by transferring Amex MR points to Marriott, and then onwards to a chosen airline, your Membership Rewards points take up an entirely new life.
While from the outset, this Mariott detour might seem complicated, it’s simply a transfer from American Express to your chosen frequent flyer program, via Mariott Bonvoy. Here’s everything you need to know about this time-critical deal.
Why is Membership Rewards so valuable? Check out the 10 best Amex benefits here!
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Understanding Amex Transfer Partners
Before we proceed, it’s important to understand which airline loyalty programs Amex offers as direct transfer partners. American Express offers eleven airline partners and two hotel partners as standard, with transfers to Qantas Frequent Flyer made available for Platinum Card members.
As an American Express Card Member who earns Membership Rewards points, you will have access to the following programs.
Airline loyalty programs:
- Air New Zealand AirPoints
- Cathay Pacific Asia Miles
- Emirates Skywards
- Etihad Guest
- Hawiian Airlines HawiianMiles
- Malaysia Airlines Enrich
- Qatar Airways Privilege Club
- Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer
- Thai Airways Royal Orchid Plus
- Virgin Australia Velocity
- Virgin Atlantic Flying Club
- Qantas Frequent Flyer (Platinum cards)
Hotel loyalty programs:
- Hilton Honors
- Marriott Bonvoy
Marriott’s Long List Of Airline Partners
As soon as your transferred Membership Rewards Points land in your Marriott Bonvoy account, you will have access to a whopping 39 airline loyalty programs for onwards transfers. While some airlines aren’t quite as useful to Australian travellers, there are a few of particular interest.
Marriott offers a 3:1 transfer rate for all airlines, excluding Air New Zealand AirPoints, one of the world’s worst frequent flyer programs which runs on an annoying dollar-based system. So, in most cases, every 3 Marriott Bonvoy Points will transfer to 1 airline point/mile.
Marriott’s long lost of airline transfer partners (that aren’t also Amex partners);
- Aegean Miles+Bonus
- Aer Lingus AerClub
- Aeromexico ClubPremier
- Air Canada Aeroplan
- Air China PhoenixMiles
- Air France-KLM Flying Blue
- Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan
- American Airlines AAdvantage
- ANA Mileage Club
- Asiana Airlines Asiana Club
- Avianca LifeMiles
- British Airways Executive Club
- China Southern Sky Pearl Club
- Copa Airlines ConnectMiles
- Delta SkyMiles
- Frontier Miles
- Hainan Airlines Fortune Wings
- Iberia Plus
- Japan Airlines JAL Mileage Bank
- Korean Air Skypass
- LATAM Airlines LATAM Pass
- Saudia Alfursan
- Southwest Rapid Rewards
- TAP Air Portugal Miles&Go
- Turkish Airlines Miles&Smiles
- United MileagePlus
- Vueling Club
As you can see, Marriott offers huge flexibility when it comes to airline frequent flyer partners. By transferring your points from Membership Rewards to Marriott, you will have access to a raft of programs not otherwise available directly through American Express. Given the current bonus on transfers, these rates are looking pretty sweet.
We haven’t listed airlines above that are also direct transfer partners with American Express. That’s because the 2:1 transfer rate offered directly by Amex provides better value.
Amex Transfer Bonus To Marriott Bonvoy
With the 50% bonus on MR Point transfers to Marriott Bonvoy ending on 31 August 2023, there isn’t much time left to make the most of this promotion.
If you are ready for a getaway or have a specific redemption in mind, it could make sense to transfer your points before the bonus ends. Normally, a 3:2 rate applies when transferring MR points to Marriott Bonvoy, but with an extra 50%, the conversion rate is pushed to 3:3. More effectively that’s 1:1, meaning every MR Point is equal to one Mariott Bonvoy Point.
Note that the bonus points earned are not shown on the American Express website. For example, converting 60,000 MR Points suggests you’ll receive the standard 40,000 Marriott Points.
Marriott Bonvoy Adds Another Transfer Bonus
As if I haven’t typed the word bonus enough in this guide, I should mention Marriott’s long-standing airline transfer bonus offer. To sweeten the deal, Marriott adds an additional add 5,000 airline points/miles for every 60,000 Bonvoy Points sent to an eligible airline. If you’re a United MileagePlus member, you’ll get 10,000 bonus miles for every 60,000 points you transfer.
Note that this added Marriott bonus does not apply to American AAdvantage, Avianca LifeMiles, Delta SkyMiles and Korean Air Skypass transfers.
Is There Any Value To Be Had?
American Express has run several of these Marriott transfer bonus offers over the years. Without a doubt the best part of these offers is an improved overall transfer when taking a Matiott detour to your airline program of choice.
Let’s say you have recently obtained an American Express Platinum Card, which currently comes with a whopping 150,000 bonus Membership Rewards Points when you spend AU$5,000 on eligible purchases within the first 3 months.
Remembering that until 31st August, Amex is offering a 50% bonus on transfers to Marriott, those 150,000 Membership Rewards Points would get you 150,000 Mariott Bonvoy Points. From there, you could use the 3:1 transfer rate to send 150,000 Mariott Bonvoy Points to American Airlines, where you would end up with 50,000 AAdvantage Miles.
The first redemption that springs to mind is Qantas first class from Sydney to Singapore, which will perfectly require those 50,000 AAdvantage Miles, plus US$60.50 (AU$92) in taxes. Not bad considering it’s a flight that regularly costs over AU$5,000 for a ticket.
You might be thinking that because the Amex Platinum card allows direct transfers to Qantas Frequent Flyer, a convoluted transfer via Marriott and redemption with American is pointless. As as Amex offers 2:1 transfers to Qantas, those 150,000 Membership Rewards Points would land as 75,000 Qantas Points. The interesting part is that Qantas charges 102,400 of its points to travel to Singapore in first class, meaning those same MR points aren’t enough for this redemption when booked via Qantas.
TIP: How you can score 150K points and a $450 travel credit in our American Express Platinum card overview!
Summing Up: My Take
While taking your points on a Marriott detour will make a small dent in your balance, the access to frequent flyer programs not directly available through Membership Rewards makes it all worthwhile.
Finally, we should point out that American Express is currently running a similar 30% bonus on transfers to Hilton Honors. Although, Hilton uses a less generous conversion rate with its airline partners. Therefore, Marriott is the way to go.