Hotel loyalty has long played second fiddle to airline frequent flyer miles. For years hotels have offered the choice to earn airline miles instead of hotel points, because so many of their guests simply preferred it. They were already members of airline programs and didn’t want to complicate their lives with another account.
Early on Hilton HHonors (with two H’s!) had an epiphany! They offered the ‘double dip’ where you could earn airline miles and hotel points for your stay. That way they wouldn’t lose out competitively (guests could still earn airline miles) while still building up their own loyalty program (since you didn’t have to choose between airline miles or hotel points).
Now hotel programs are all grown up, the Hilton double dip is gone and so is the second H in Honors. You can often still move hotel points to airline miles, but some programs actually let you move airline miles into hotel points. By offering transfers in both directions this does create the opportunity to launder airline miles through hotel programs from one airline to another, but there’s so much value lost in the process that it isn’t practical for most members.
Nonetheless it’s been interesting to watch the growth of options to move airline miles into hotel points, and not just the other way around. It’s actually something of a blast from the past, which was common in the Hilton program years ago and something that is now growing with Marriott.
Marriott has been building out the option to transfer miles from airlines into their Bonvoy program. They recently launched the ability to move Korean Air SkyPass miles into the Bonvoy program at 2 Korean miles -> 1 Bonvoy point. This is generally a bad deal, but it’s not the only option.
In fact there are several options to move airline miles into Marriott Bonvoy.
- Cathay Pacific -> Marriott at 2:1
- Hawaiian Airlines -> Marriott at 2:1
- Korean Air -> Marriott at 2:1
- Singapore Airlines -> Marriott at 2:1
- United Airlines -> Marriott at 1:1
The transfer rate from United to Marriott is better. United and Marriott have long had a closer partnership (it started shortly after Starwood partnered with Delta) which involves better transfer rates in both directions and United Airlines Silver status for Marriott Titanium members.
However it’s still not a good deal. A United mile is worth about twice what a Marriott point is worth. But it’s interesting to see an increasing number of options to move airline miles to Marriott points. Marriott is looking for revenue, and here they are selling their points to airlines. (They are also limiting how much they spend buying miles from airlines when you transfer out your Bonvoy points.) And airlines want you to redeem a bunch of miles for this because they’re spending real cash buying those points, not just filling excess seats that would go unsold.
Meanwhile, Marriott is hardly alone in this. It’s just that Marriott has just been the most active in adding options. For years Hilton offered two-way conversion. You could move Hilton points to airline miles, or airline miles to Hilton points. Options included converting American Airlines miles into Hilton at a rate of 1:2 (which a dozen years ago devalued to 1:1.67). Unfortunately Hilton largely got out of this game.
You can exchange Virgin Atlantic miles into IHG Rewards points at a 1:1 rate (minimum 10,000 points, increments of 5,000 after that). Don’t do this if you envision using Virgin points for air travel, because you’re giving up half the value of your points in the process.
The broadest airline miles to hotel points transfer options are with ALL Accor Live Limitless, which has 10 airline partners which allow transfer into Accor. Rates are generally 4:1 or worse. But the option exists.
One place where this will actually be useful is with miles that expire that cannot be extended. Singapore Airlines miles fall into this category (though you can pay to extend for a short period). If you aren’t going to use the points in your account, it’s better to transfer them to a hotel program than to lose them entirely.