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How To Fly Etihad First Class For $216

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Immanuel Debeer | 18/04/2018

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This September I’ll be travelling from Paris to Abu Dhabi on Etihad’s A380 in business class and then onto Sydney on board the Etihad First Class Apartments.

How much is this costing me?

Exactly US$216 and 58 cents. The retail price for this exact itinerary (one way) would come to AU$12,844.

And a whole bunch of points…

How the hell is this possible you may ask?

Ok let’s dive in and start from the beginning. The method we will be talking about is slightly more advanced but a real no-brainer when you get that “aha” moment.

In this tutorial, we will be talking about the Marriott Hotel + Air Packages. Marriott allows you to redeem your points for Travel Packages; this allows you to get a 7-night stay certificate + 132,000 United Airlines MileagePlus points or American Airlines AAdvantage Miles and 150,000 when there is a transfer bonus on. (There is a transfer bonus on right now although it appears to exclude hotel packages)

The cost of one of these travel packages is 270,000 Marriott Rewards.
Now you’re probably wondering “hmm I’ve never stayed at a Marriott Hotel in my life!”

No problemo!

Thanks to the recent merger with SPG (Starwood Hotels) it’s now possible to transfer your SPG points to Marriott Rewards. 1 SPG point is worth 3 Marriott Rewards. This means you will need a total of 90,000 SPG points to get 270,000 Marriott Rewards.

Marriott Hotel + Points Packages

The 2 most attractive air + points packages for Australian based travellers are the AAdvantage and United packages. Simply because they give us the best redemption offers AND also come with the most miles. It is advisable to wait for a 25% promo period which will see you walk away with 150,000 AA plus a 7-day category 5 hotel stay certificate!

Now how do we get those SPG miles in the first place? Luckily for those of us who collect American Express Reward points it’s as easy as selecting SPG from the list of transfer partners. American Express Membership rewards can be transferred at a 2:1 ratio, this also includes the Gateway rewards program attached to the Explorer and Essentials card. This means you will need a total of 180,000MR points to transfer to SPG to get the required 90,000.

Even though 180k MR points can be transferred at 1:1 ratio to a great number of Airlines it’s important to note that AA miles are more valuable in some situations. Interesting redemption partners for AA include Etihad, which happens to be the best value if you’re looking to travel to Europe from Australia. 142,500 AA miles will get you from Sydney or Melbourne in first class to Abu Dhabi and then onto Europe in business class with minimal taxes or 162,500 AA miles for first class all the way.

If you’re not planning to redeem Etihad first class with AA miles you can always use them for business class trips on Qantas or other Oneworld partners such as Cathay Pacific.

Where can I stay with a category 5 certificate?

Marriott has a very easy to use website which allows you to filter by category. The higher the number, the more expensive the hotel is in general so best use of your 7-night certificate is a category 5 hotel. You can browse the worldwide list here; it’s pretty extensive: https://www.marriott.com/hotel-search/Category5.hotels/

The best Category 5 hotels are found in Asia

Do Marriott Hotel Certificates Expire?

Yes! Marriott certificates have a 1-year expiry date from the time of issuing. However, I’ve heard plenty of report from friends who managed to extend their expiry date by calling the Marriott support line. SPG Gold status is a benefit of being an Amex Platinum card holder which means you can match that automatically your Marriott Gold status and take advantage of the extra benefits that come with that. It’s unclear if gold status helps in extending certificates.

How do I redeem my 7-night certificate?

Redeeming your certificate is pretty easy. Marriott is very generous with award space, so all you need to do is first run a dummy search through the Marriotts hotel website and tick the “Use points” box right underneath “Find”. If the engine returns a positive result, you will be able to redeem your certificate.

The next step is to call the Marriott support line on 02 8298 5250. When calling during business hours, you will get connected to the Sydney team and after hours goes to the US-based team. Just ask to redeem your 7-night certificate and the agent will ask you for a location and dates. Once booked, your booking will show up in your online account.

I’m still confused, walk me through this step by step?

  • Get an American Express card that earns Membership Rewards points.
  • Sign up for an SPG account here.
  • Sign up for a Marriott account here.
  • Link your SPG account to your Marriott account. Follow these instructions: https://starwoodworldwide.custhelp.com/app/answers/detail/a_id/8529/~/how-do-i-link-my-spg-and-marriott-rewards-account%3F
  • Transfer 180,000 Membership Rewards points to SPG; you can do this online in your Amex account or by calling the support number. Generally, it takes 1 to 3 days to transfer.
  • Now you have your points in your SPG account we can transfer them to Marriott, to do so visit this link while logged in: https://www.starwoodhotels.com/preferredguest/account/starpoints/redeem/moreOptions.html
  • Transfers from SPG to Marriott are instant so you should see 270,000 Marriott Points in your account straight away!
  • Now it’s time to redeem those points for a Hotel + Airline package. Call Marriott Rewards Support in Sydney on 02 8298 5250 and inform the agent you would like to redeem a Hotel + Air Package. The agent will ask you which package you’re looking to redeem so make sure you select the one for 120,000 Airline miles + 7-night category 1-5 certificate.
  • Your certificate will be issued to your account, and you will receive an email confirmation about this, there is no need to book your hotel right away. Same goes for redeeming your airline’s miles; these will take a few days to credit.

Make sure to redeem these packages during a transfer bonus period in which case the bonus percentage (in the past this has been as high as 25%) will automatically be added to your miles, usually this is done by the Airline rewards program so don’t confuse your Marriott call centre agent by asking them for confirmation, they simply may not know. 

Right now American Airlines is offering a 25% bonus but it appears to be excluding hotel + points packages.

Upgrading your Hotel certificate:

If a category 5 hotel does not meet your high standards, you may opt to upgrade your package for an additional 90,000 Marriott points from a category 5 to category 8. This can be achieved the same way by transferring SPG to Marriott when you’re ready to book your hotel just advice the call agent that you are looking to upgrade your certificate to a higher category hotel.

In Conclusion, is this a good deal?

Yes! It’s hard and expensive to fly Etihad first, or business using points, so AAdvantage miles are a perfect solution for this. Although it might be hard for most people to find time to redeem a 7-night stay, you can also utilise it to get an early check-in and late checkout for a 5-night stay. Although category 5 hotels aren’t exactly luxurious when you look into the US or European destinations, this changes when you’re in Asia where a higher standard of service and quality is present amongst the category 5 hotels. Alternatively, it’s also possible to book the certificate under the name of a family member or friend, so it makes for a great gift!

Important to keep in mind

Yesterday the new SPG + Marriott rewards program was unveiled, and while it’s good news all round, I would make sure to redeem your points for a hotel package before August 1 just in case the price goes up; at this stage no details have been revealed about the future pricing of these packages.

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Immanuel Debeer

Chief points nerd and travel hacker at Flight Hacks

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