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Does the Marriott Rewards Experiences Marketplace Offer Good Value?

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Award nights are the most popular (and typically most valuable) way to redeem your hotel points, but many loyalty programs offer a variety of other ways to put your rewards to use, such as exclusive VIP experiences at sports events, restaurants and more. Below, TPG Senior Points & Miles Contributor Nick Ewen takes a look at one such recently introduced program: the Marriott Rewards Experiences Marketplace.

Generally speaking, you’ll get the most value out of redeeming your airline miles for free flights and your hotel points for free stays. However, many loyalty programs have expanded to include unique experiences as part of their redemption options. TPG has utilized the SPG Moments program before, and we’ve also written about other options like IHG Rewards Club Auctions and the Hilton HHonors Auction Platform, but today I want to take a look at another program’s offering. Is it worth redeeming points through the Marriott Rewards Experiences Marketplace?

Let’s start with a quick look at navigating the site. Once you reach the main landing page, you’ll want to start by clicking Sign In at the top right. This will take you briefly to Marriott’s homepage, where you’ll enter your email address and password. Once you log in, you’ll automatically be directed back to the Experiences Marketplace site, and it should display your total point balance at the top right:

Screen Shot 2016-06-28 at 9.45.05 PM

Note that this process is the same regardless of whether you are a member of Marriott Rewards or Ritz-Carlton Rewards. Even though the programs are technically separate, they utilize the same redemption scheme for hotels stays, and this extends to the Experiences Marketplace as well.

Once logged in, you’ll see the four main categories listed across the top:

  1. Culinary
  2. Lifestyle
  3. Sports
  4. Entertainment

Then if you scroll down, you’ll find a few examples of packages that are currently available, though you can expand each one to see all of the experiences within a given category at once. You’ll also want to note that some packages might be listed as sold out or no longer available. As the FAQ page indicates:

“The Marriott experiences marketplace site offers such unique experiences that they can only be offered for a limited time and in limited quantities.”

I’ve also seen at least one marked as Elite Members Only, though hopefully many of you have the Marriott Rewards Premier Credit Card and the automatic Silver elite status that comes along with it.

Purchasing a Package

The Windy City Smokeout is a great place to enjoy fantastic BBQ and music.
The Windy City Smokeout is a great place to enjoy fantastic BBQ and music.

Once you’ve identified a package for which you want to redeem your points, simply click the Learn More icon underneath the listing. This will take you to a page with additional information about the experience along with the specific terms and conditions. While you don’t have to read them, I’d strongly encourage you to do so, as it will include details like the validity period, age restrictions and other aspects that aren’t included in the redemption.

You’ll also notice that all of these packages are fixed redemption amounts. While other programs include auctions as part (or all) of their platforms, the Marriott Rewards Experiences Marketplace doesn’t include any variable pricing that’ll increase as more members bid.

Once you’ve decided you want to book, simply click the Redeem Now icon to begin the redemption process. You even have the option to purchase points right from the site if your balance is a bit short, though remember that you can only purchase 50,000 Marriott Rewards points per calendar year. At a standard rate of 1.25 cents per point, this is a pretty poor value proposition, especially compared to TPG’s most recent valuation of Marriott Rewards points (0.7 cents apiece). As you’ll see below, there are some much easier ways to boost your account balance.

Just note that there are some additional important restrictions to keep in mind:

  • You must cover the entire package using points. As mentioned above, you do have the option to purchase additional points to allow you to complete the redemption, but you can’t book an experience and earn points after the fact. Remember that this is allowed for free night stays with Marriott.
  • All purchases are final. You can’t obtain a refund for any reason, another notable difference between these experiences and award stays, which are typically refundable up until a day or two before check-in.
  • You may be able to gift these redemptions after purchase. You are allowed to gift items that do not require “will call” pick-up. However, any package that requires you to physically pick up an item (with an ID) can only be gifted with prior verification with Marriott Rewards (call 1-844-892-0634 or email marriottexperiencesmarketplace@maritz.com). In some cases, the package may be handled entirely through a third party, in which case you’ll want to contact that vendor directly to discuss transfer options.
  • These packages can’t be sold. Hopefully this goes without saying, as virtually every program forbids selling points or other redemptions. While you may not get caught, you do risk losing the package, your entire points balance and the ability to participate in the program.

Is it worth it?

jw-marriott-venice-resort-and-spa
If the package fits your need and you have the required number of points, go for it! Image shows the JW Marriott Venice Resort & Spa.

So I’m sure the big question on your mind is whether or not these packages are worth it, and like most aspects of the points and miles world, there’s no easy answer to that. For starters, it depends on your personal feelings on the experience and how you want to redeem Marriott Rewards points. In addition, the vast majority of the packages include some type of unique, “insider” access, so it isn’t possible to place a true value on each. In other words, you can’t make a statement like, “I could purchase this for $500 but it costs 200,000 Marriott Rewards points, so that’s a poor use of points.”

However, there is a way to help you decide whether or not it’s worth using this site to redeem your Marriott points: valuing each experience based on the value of the points you’d be redeeming. For this analysis, I will use TPG’s valuation of 0.7 cents per point and calculate the dollar equivalent of the redemption price. If you would pay more out of pocket for the experience, it’s a good deal. If not, then stay away!

Here’s a breakdown of the currently available Culinary events (at the time of this writing), with location, date(s), the number of points required and the total value of the package (and value per person in parentheses):

Experience

Location

Date(s)

Points Required

Total Value (per person)

Windy City Smokeout (for two)

Chicago, IL

July 15 – 17, 2016

175,000

$1,225

($612.50)

Cocktail & Culinary Experience at the AC Hotel Miami Beach (for four)

Miami Beach, FL

Flexible (within 1 year of redemption)

375,000

$2,625

($656.25)

Art of Beer Making at Brickstone Brewery (for six)

Chicago, IL

Flexible (before December 31, 2016)

150,000

$1,050

($175)

Thai Cooking Class at the JW Marriott Phuket (for two)

Phuket, Thailand

Flexibile (within 6 months of redemption)

32,500

$227.50

($113.75)

Thai Cooking Class at the JW Marriott Khao Lak (for two)

Khao Lak, Thailand

Flexible (within 6 months of redemption)

25,000

$175

($87.50)

HALL Wines Wine Tasting and Art Collection Tour (for two)

Napa Valley, CA

Flexible (based on availability)

87,500

$612.50

($306.25)

As you can see, these redemptions are pretty steep. However, none of these packages can easily be replicated outside of the Marriott Rewards Experiences Marketplace, so be sure to look at everything that’s included with each one to decide if it’s worth it. If you could pay in cash and would pay more than the value listed for the given package, it could be a great redemption option.

Here’s the same analysis for the Lifestyle category:

Experience

Location

Date(s)

Points Required

Total Value (per person)

Proposal at the JW Marriott Venice (for two)

Venice, Italy

May – November 2016

492,500

$3,447.50

($1,723.75)

Biggest Loser Resort (for one)

Palm Desert, CA

Flexible (within 1 year of redemption)

825,000

$5,775

Hertz Dream Cars Experience with Mercedes (for one)

Participating locations in US

Flexible (through January 31, 2017)

80,000

$560

Hertz Dream Cars Experience with Porsche

Participating locations in US

Flexible (through January 31, 2017)

110,000

$770

This category takes some prices even higher, though some of these redemptions are a bit easier to replicate on their own. For example, the top option includes a three-night stay in a Uliveto Deluxe room, buffet breakfast, candlelit dinner and a two-hour photography session. Rates for standard rooms at the JW Marriott Venice can easily top 500 euros per night during the summer, and the Deluxe rooms are even pricier. If you time it out right (read: not traveling in October or November), you could get $2,000+ of value out of the room alone.

The two Hertz Dream Cars packages are also readily available online at HertzDreamCars.com and provide a one-day rental with unlimited mileage plus taxes and fees. In my searches of a handful of participating airports, I could only get the Mercedes to price out at around $350 and the Porsche options to price out around $475. In both cases, not a great redemption.

Here’s a similar rundown of the sports packages:

Experience

Location

Date(s)

Points Required

Total Value (per person)

International Champions Cup VIP Package (for one person)

Various cities

Various dates

125,000

$875

Boston Red Sox Batting Practice (for two)

Boston, MA

July 22, 2016

175,000

$1,225

($612.50)

Nashville Entertainment Experience (for two)

Nashville, TN

Flexible (during Predators’ 2016-17 regular season schedule)

125,000

$875

($437.50)

Shark Fishing Adventure (for two)

St. Andrews By-the-Sea, Canada

June – early September 2016

350,000

$2,450

($1,225)

Grand Prix Weekend (for two)

San Francisco, CA

September 16 – 18, 2016

1,000,000

$7,000

($3,500)

In case the Lifestyle category had you thinking these were getting better, the Sports options could change your mind. I can’t get excited about spending a million points on a Grand Prix event, even if it is in the owner’s suite. A previously available package did offer the exclusive opportunity of a meet and greet with world-class soccer player Cristiano Ronaldo — but at the extremely steep price of five million points for two people (equivalent to $35,000).

However, the Red Sox package is quite intriguing. Many of my friends from college are die-hard Sox fans, and they’d be hard-pressed to put a value on shagging flies in center field during batting practice at Fenway Park. Again, it all comes down to how much you (personally) value the given experience.

Here’s the final category of Entertainment:

Experience

Location

Date(s)

Points Required

Total Value (per person)

Hamilton the Musical Package (for two)

New York, NY

Flexible (before December 30, 2017 but with 60 days of notice)

450,000

$3,150

($1,575)

Thanksgiving Parade Viewing Party (for family of four)

New York, NY

November 23 – 24, 2016

500,000 (Elite members only)

$3,500

($875)

Nick Jonas and Demi Lovato (for two)

Denver, CO

August 9, 2016

50,000

$350

($175)

This is another category with very high package redemption amounts. Even though Hamilton is clearly a popular show, you’re basically paying close to $1,500 apiece for rear mezzanine tickets (once you take out the cost of the included dinner). Neither of the other packages jumps off the page to me either.

As you can see, the vast majority of the packages require a very high number of points, and the cash equivalent (based on TPG’s most recent valuations) makes it a bit challenging to justify redeeming points for them, especially when there are so many great hotel options out there. That being said, if you are a Marriott loyalist and swimming in hundreds of thousands of Marriott Rewards points, you may be able to find some value out of certain redemptions.

Earning Marriott Rewards Points

M
There are many ways to quickly boost your Marriott Rewards balance.

If you do find yourself eying one of these experiences, there are many ways to quickly earn a bunch of points that will help you book. In addition to earning points by actually staying at Marriott properties around the world, there are several credit cards that will help boost your Marriott Rewards balance. The first is the Marriott Rewards Premier Credit Card, which is currently offering an increased sign-up bonus of 80,000 points after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first three months from account opening plus 7,500 bonus points when you add the first authorized user and make a purchase in the first three months from account opening. This card will also grant you Silver elite status (courtesy of the 15 annual elite night credits) and comes with a free night certificate in a Category 1-5 property every year when you renew your card.

Another terrific option is the Marriott Rewards Premier Business Card, which is also currently offering 80,000 points after you spend $3,000 on purchases in your first three months from account opening. The perks are very similar to the personal version, with the added benefit of earning automatic Gold elite status by spending $50,000 on purchases each account year. Remember too that you don’t need to have a formal business to qualify for a business rewards credit card.

You also have the option of the Ritz-Carlton Rewards Card, since this redemption option applies to both programs. However, the current sign-up bonus on the card is two complimentary nights at any participating Tier 1-4 Ritz-Carlton hotel after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months from account opening. As a result, only the purchases you charge to the card will boost your account.

If you want to be able to transfer points to Marriott but also have the flexibility to transfer to other programs, than the Chase Ultimate Rewards program should be high on your list. TPG’s favorite card for earning these points is the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card, currently offering a sign-up bonus of 50,000 Ultimate Rewards points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months from account opening. However, you can also open the Ink Plus Business Card, currently offering a sign-up bonus of 60,000 bonus points after you spend $5,000 on purchases in the first three months after account opening.

Bottom Line

Marriott-Featured-Pool
This may not be the most rewarding program out there, but it may have some takers!

It’s always great to see programs open up additional redemption options outside the “traditional methods” (airline miles for free flights, hotel points for free stays). Unfortunately, the Marriott Rewards Experiences Marketplace falls a bit short when it comes to offering truly valuable ways to redeem your points. However, if you have a wealth of Marriott Rewards points and don’t know how or where to use them, you may find something of value on the site!

Have any of you redeemed Marriott points for an experience before?

Featured image courtesy of the Marriott Costa Rica.

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