Using Marriott Flight + Hotel Awards for the Southwest Companion Pass

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Later this month I’ll be heading to Cannes to attend some film festival screenings, but mostly to relax with friends over the Memorial Day weekend eating our way through the south of France. When considering my options for accommodations I looked into local hotels in Point Croisette, Antibes and Juan-Les-Pins, but even the cheapest options were going to set me back a ton of cash. Airbnb had some decent options, but for this stay I wanted to be in a hotel close to the action.

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Eventually I came across the JW Marriott Cannes which had standard points room availability for just 40,000 points a night where the daily room rate was $1,300 (929 Euro)! Marriott points are usually worth .7ish cents a piece, so to get over 3 cents per point (whether I would have paid that crazy nightly rate or not) is a good deal, no matter how you slice it. On top of that, Marriott gives the 5th night free on award stays, so 5 nights would only cost 160,000 points, but I wanted to stay for 7, which would be 240,000 points.

Hotel + Air Packages
However, my wheels started turning, because Marriott offers Flight and Hotel packages that allow you to book 7 nights hotel and get a certain number of airline miles for one fixed price. Marriott allows you to choose from numerous airline mileage currencies, though the best mileage ratio is choosing United MileagePlus, where you get an additional 10% increase in airline miles.  In my case, I could get 7 nights at a category 8 hotel (like the JW Cannes) for 290,000 Marriott points. So, 50,000 more Marriott would net me the same 7 nights, but also 55,000 valuable United miles, which in my opinion are much more valuable than Marriott points. Normally, if you wanted to turn Marriott points into United miles without booking one of these packages, you’d need to spend 112,000 Marriott to get just 50,000 United miles.

Screen Shot 2014-05-05 at 2.28.41 PMHowever, I decided against United miles since they are easy enough to get via Chase Ultimate Rewards. I decided to select Southwest because the points portion of the award counts towards Companion Pass Qualification, which is one of the best airline perks out there if you know how to maximize it. I selected the highest category 8 package (7 nights + 120,000 Southwest points) for 360,000 Marriott points. Even after the recent March devaluation, 120,000 Southwest Points are worth about 1.5 cents a piece towards Wanna Get Away fares, so 120,000 = $1,800, however if you use those points in tandem with the companion pass (where a companion travels with you for free, just paying minimal taxes, whether you pay cash or use points), then you’re really getting upwards of $3,600 in value from those Southwest points.

Racking up Marriott Points Quickly 
The next step was figuring out how to rack up 360,000 Marriott points quickly in order to snag this package while it was available. I didn’t have any Marriott points because I am a Ritz-Carlton Rewards member, but my Dad had 110,000 and my mom had 50,000 points. Marriott allows free transfers to “…your legal spouse or domestic partner at time of reward redemption provided he or she is also a Marriott Rewards member”.

My plan of action would be to build up my Dad’s balance to 360,000 and then have him book my stay in my name (which you can do- just call Marriott to add the other person’s name to the reservation, but lucky for me my dad and I share the same name). The Southwest points would go to his account so my parents could get the Companion Pass since they live outside of Philadelphia and my sister and I both live in Florida so this would allow them to visit us more often, which is a win-win all around. So even though I’d have to use a bunch of my own Chase points to top his account up and some cash outlay to buy 50,000 points, I told them the Companion Pass would be my gift to them for Mother’s and Father’s Day this year and they were very appreciative. Hey you created this monster, you should reap the benefits as well!

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Buying Marriott
You can buy up to 50,000 points a year at 1.25 cents a piece, so I bought 50,000 for my dad’s account for $625 and they posted about 12 hours after they were purchased. Unfortunately these transactions are run through Points.com so I wasn’t able to earn 2x using my Sapphire Preferred.

Transferring from Chase
To be honest, I never thought I’d use Chase points to transfer to Marriott, but in this situation, it was the quickest way to top up my dad’s account and get this package booked- plus when all is said and done, the value of this package trumps most other transfer options and I’m lucky enough to have a ton of Chase points from sign-up bonus and maximizing my daily spend.

On the evening of April 17th I transferred 150,000 points from my Ultimate Rewards account to Marriott and while Ultimate Rewards transfers are instant for most partners, this transfer took two days to post and showed up in the account on Saturday April 19th.

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Put the Package on Hold While Points Are Transferring
That night I called Marriott to see if I could put the travel package on hold. Even though Marriott Rewards is only open Mon-Fri from 8:15am to 9pm the representative was very helpful and was able to assist me. He told me I would have to send in a point transfer request form in order to get the additional 50,000 points from my mom’s account to Dad’s, but I would have to wait until the Rewards Desk opened up on Monday morning. The reservation would be on hold until the 24 hours before the booking.

Monday afternoon I called Marriott Rewards, confirmed the reservation was on hold and asked to receive the authorization form so the 50,000 point transfer could be completed. Marriott Rewards either has to fax the form or put it in the mail so I opted to receive it by fax and got it a few moments later. Before sending the form to me, the representative collected all relevant account information including my parents Marriott numbers and my Dad’s Southwest account  where they would transfer the 120,000 Rapid Rewards points. I completed the form, scanned and returned it by email to [email protected] that Wednesday morning and waited to receive a final confirmation email.

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By Friday April 25th I hadn’t seen anything come through so I call Marriott Rewards and they told me they hadn’t received it. I sent it again, this time to a different representative’s attention while I had her on the phone and the order was completed within a few minutes.

My companion pass is valid until December 31, 2015!
My Dad’s companion pass is valid until December 31, 2015!

Now that the hotel booking was complete I was just waiting on the 120,000 Rapid Rewards points to post which I was told could take up to 3 business days. The transfer was initiated on April 25th by Marriott, which is also the day the Companion Pass was activated and the points posted in my Rapid Rewards account the next day on the 26th.

Hotel + Air Package Value

Paying for the room would have cost me 5,822.10 EUR ($8079.12 USD).
Paying for the room would have cost me 5,822.10 EUR ($8079.12 USD).

Had I paid for the room instead of using points, it would have cost me 929 EUR for each of the first 6 nights and 239 EUR for the last night totaling 5,822.10 EUR or $8,079.12 USD + the 120,000 Southwest points will be worth roughly $1,800 x 2 (since the Companion Pass doubles the value of the points) $3,600 =$11,679 in value from 360,000 Marriott Rewards points, bringing my cent per point to 3.2 cents each.

This is clearly an extreme example of  maximizing both the hotel stay and airline partner and I highly encourage you to do the math before you decide on redeeming for one of these packages, but I feel strongly that this was a good use of my points and money (and my parents agree too!). BTW, Happy almost Mother’s Day!

If you want to add to your Marriott point balance, consider signing for a Marriott credit card. The Marriott Rewards Premier card will bank you 70,000 points after $1,000 spend within the first 3 months (business version comes with 50,000 points after $1,000 spent within 3 months) and the basic Marriott Rewards card will get you 30,000 points after $1,000 spent in the first 3 months.

If you’re looking to bump up your Ultimate Rewards point balance you can sign up for the Ink Bold or Ink Plus card for 60,000 points after $5,000 spent within the first 3 months or the Sapphire Preferred card which will earn your 40,000 points after $3,000 spend within the first 3 months.

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