Here’s Why Bank Application Restrictions Have Made Marriott Points the Best Hotel Points to Earn (And It Has Nothing to Do With Free Hotel Stays)

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The harder something is to get the more valuable it’s going to be.  That’s why if you’re lucky enough to stumble across an amazing deal that’s easy to get in on, it won’t last long.  And it’s also the reason I’m focusing on earning Marriott points – over all other hotel points – in 2019.

Marriott points can be okay for hotel stays, but I’m not really interested in them for that.  Marriott points transfer to more airlines than any other flexible rewards and that’s why they are – hands down – the best hotel points to earn.  You can convert Marriott points into so many hard-to-earn airline miles that are incredibly valuable.  And they are the only option for topping up your account for a bunch of different airlines.

If you’re looking to earn more Marriott points, here are all the ways to do just that.

Marriott Points Are Great for Getting the Miles You Need to Book Alaska Airlines Partner Awards on Cathay Pacific Flights to Hong Kong

When it comes to hotel loyalty programs, Hyatt is the best for elite status benefits and using your points for free hotel stays.  But they only have just a bit over a tenth of the locations that Marriott does.  So if you want to be loyal to Hyatt, you’ll have to go out of your way.  At times it’s not worth the inconvenience.

Not only that, but I’ve been changing up how I plan to use miles and points going forward.  Personally, I’ve found free Business or First Class flights to be much more valuable to me than a free luxury hotel stay.  Having a comfortable lie-flat seat on a 12-hour flight changes your vacation more than having access to a hotel concierge or over-priced minibar ever will.

Not only that, but for lots of trips Airbnb makes more sense than booking a hotel (even if you use points for a free night) because with Airbnb you get to pick your location.  And being close to the sites you want to visit can save you from all sorts of headaches.

So this year I’m not concerned about earning hotel points for free nights, and that’s why I’m moving all of my paid hotel stays to Marriott.

These Airlines Make Marriott Points Uber Valuable

Marriott points transfer to 40+ airlines, which is far more than any of the other major flexible points programs.  Granted, they don’t transfer at a 1:1 ratio (for most of their airline partners the ratio is 3:1), but they can still be incredibly useful.  And for every 60,000 Marriott points you transfer you’ll get a bonus of 15,000 points tacked on to the transfer, which in most cases equals 5,000 bonus miles.

But the real value in having a stockpile of Marriott points is they are a great way to collect hard to earn miles or transfer miles to airlines that have few (or no) other transfer partners.

1.   Alaska Airlines

Alaska Airlines has very few international flights, but you can use your Alaska Airlines miles for a handful of exceptional partner airline awards.  With Alaska Airlines miles you can book super lucrative award flights on posh partner airlines, like:

  • Japan Airlines – US to Asia for 60,000 miles in Business Class or 70,000 miles in First Class
  • Cathay Pacific – US to Asia for 50,000 miles in Business Class or 70,000 miles in First Class
  • Qantas – US to New Zealand or Australia for 55,000 miles in Business Class or 70,000 miles in First Class

Right now the 2 best ways to earn Alaska Airlines miles, without flying, are:

  • Open a Bank of America Alaska Airlines credit card (business or personal version)
  • Transfer points from Marriott at a 3:1 ratio with a 5,000 mile bonus for every 60,000 points transferred

The Bank of America Alaska Airlines credit cards usually have a bonus of 30,000 miles after meeting minimum spending requirements, although sometimes it’ll be slightly higher or lower.  So unless you can get a personal and business card, you’ll need Marriott points if you want to book the best Alaska Airlines partner awards.

Note:  You can’t search for some of the best Alaska Airlines partner awards on their website.  Here’s a post explaining how to find the Alaska Airlines partner awards seats you want.

2.  Korean Air

If you want to fly First Class to Japan, Korea, China, or North Asia you can book Korean Air First Class award flights from the US for only 80,000 Korean Air miles one-way during the off-peak season.  The best part of this deal is that Korean Air usually classifies ~8 months out of the year as off-peak and they might just have the best First Class award seat availability of any airline.

Korean Air used to be a transfer partner of Chase Ultimate Rewards, but their partnership with Chase ended in August 2018.  That means that Korean Air miles are harder to earn, but they should be easier to redeem because they’ll be less competition for the awards you’re trying to book.

If you want to stock up on Korean Air miles, without flying, the easiest options are:

  • Transfer Marriott points at a 3:1 ratio with a 5,000 mile bonus for every 60,000 points transferred
  • Apply for a SkyPass Visa Credit Card

The Korean Air credit cards (business & personal versions) typically have an intro bonus that hovers around 30,000 miles after meeting minimum spending.  So even if you open a card, you’ll still need to transfer Marriott points to be able to book the best sweet-spot Korean Air awards.

Korean Air miles are also exceptional for booking awards to Hawaii (on Delta) for only 25,000 miles round-trip from anywhere in the US.  But you will need to be able to find saver level Delta award flights, which can be tough.

3.  Whatever Airline Is Having an Award Sale or the Airline You Need to Top-Off Your Account With

When it comes to earning miles & points, the biggest thing to keep in mind is that your rewards are worthless if you can’t redeem them.  So if you’re 10,000 miles short of being able to book the travel you want, it doesn’t matter how many points you earned with that last card bonus.

That’s where having a stash of Marriott points can come in handy because you can top off an airline account that other programs don’t transfer to, like American Airlines.  And if an obscure airline just happens to introduces a sweet deal, you’ll have the flexibility to take advantage of it.

For example, until January 31, 2019, TAP Portugal is having a 50%-off award sale.  With this sale you could book a one-way Business Class flight to Europe for 120,000 Marriott points (converts to 50,000 miles) or a round-trip coach flight for only slightly more than that.

What other hotel points would even come close?  If you transferred 120,000 Hilton points to an airline you’d have less than a 3rd of what you’d need for a one-way Business Class flight to Europe (and they also don’t transfer to TAP Portugal).

Would You Rather Book One Night at the St. Regis Aspen During Peak Season or a One-Way Business Class Flight?

What would you be giving up if you transferred 120,000 Marriott points to TAP Portugal?  Well, once Marriott’s new Category 8 is added to their award chart in March, their top-tier properties will cost 100,000 Marriott points during peak season.  So you could look at as one night in an expensive hotel or it could potentially be a bed in the sky for a flight across an ocean.

Marriott points are also great if you want to take on a bucket-list flight, like Emirates First Class (transfer Marriott points to Japan Airlines) or a Lufthansa First Class flight between the US and Europe (transfer 120,000 Marriott points to Asiana for a one-way award flight with $400 to $500 in fees).

Valuable Miles & Points Keep Getting Harder to Earn – Even Marriott Points

Alaska Airlines miles have never been easy to earn, there are only 2 Alaska Airlines cards (personal and business versions), both issued by Bank of America.  And both cards normally have a smaller intro bonus that hovers around 30,000 miles after meeting minimum spending.  To add to that,  Bank of America recently introduced new restrictions on the Alaska Airlines personal credit card.  Now you won’t qualify for the card if you have or have had it in the previous 24 months.

Bank of America isn’t the only bank that’s tightening up their credit card application requirements.

And Chase expanded their “5/24” rule to all of their credit cards.  To top it all off, AMEX and Chase have teamed up with Marriott to created an incredibly convoluted stack of application rules that apply to their Starwood & Marriott cards (you can read about those here).  So even earning Marriott points with credit card bonuses is getting tougher.

Plus, every credit card you open makes it just a bit more difficult to get the next one (small business cards are usually the exception).  And this doesn’t just apply to Chase’s “5/24” rule.  I’ve been denied for cards from Barclays and Capital One for having too many recently opened accounts, even though they don’t necessarily have an official rule, like Chase’s.

At this point, I take any opportunity I can to earn rewards to put toward a free flight without having to open a credit card.  That’s the biggest reason to go for Marriott points over other hotel rewards.

If you’re interested in amassing a stock of Marriott points, check out our post on all the ways to earn Marriott points.

What are your thoughts?  Is there an angle I didn’t consider?

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Editorial Note: We're the Million Mile Secrets team. And we're proud of our content, opinions and analysis, and of our reader's comments. These haven’t been reviewed, approved or endorsed by any of the airlines, hotels, or credit card issuers which we often write about. And that’s just how we like it! :)

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