The award traveler’s guide to Marriott Bonvoy
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Marriott’s loyalty program has undergone some serious changes over the past couple of years. After acquiring Starwood Preferred Guest, it merged its loyalty program with SPG and Ritz-Carlton in August 2018 and eventually rebranded as Marriott Bonvoy. This process brought new status tiers, hotel categories and other changes. Some are great, some not so much.
Thankfully, Marriott Bonvoy still offers solid elite benefits and the potential to get a ton of value out of your redemptions. Today I’ll show you how to get the most out of your stays, rewards, elite status and more.
Also among the positive changes came a whole new suite of credit cards with fantastic welcome bonuses. For example, the Marriott Bonvoy Business™ American Express® Card comes with 100,000 bonus points after spending $5,000 on new purchases within three months of account opening (ending Oct. 23, 2019). TPG values Marriott points at 0.8 cents each, making the welcome bonus worth $800. I’ll explain in greater detail what you can do with those points in a bit.
Let’s start by looking at the benefits of having elite status with Marriott, then move on to earning and redeeming points.
Marriott now offers five levels of elite status: Silver, Gold, Platinum, Titanium and Ambassador. If you want to get technical, you could say there are eight levels of elite, as you’re also able to earn lifetime Silver, Gold or Platinum status. Just by signing up and becoming a Marriott Bonvoy Member, you’ll get free standard Wi-Fi, which is a solid benefit in its own right, but each tier of status unlocks a number of additional perks.
You can get a complete breakdown of these benefits in TPG Editor Nick Ewen’s valuation of Marriott Bonvoy elite status, but here’s a high-level overview:
Silver Elite membership is earned after 10 qualifying nights. Highlights include a 10% point bonus on stays, late checkout, and access to a dedicated elite reservation phone line. This isn’t the most amazing set of perks, but 10% extra points on stays is nice.
Gold Elite membership is earned after 25 qualifying nights. Marriott offers its Gold members some compelling benefits. In addition to Silver perks, Gold Elites receive a 25% point bonus, enhanced internet access, 2 p.m. late checkout, executive-level room upgrades and 250 to 500 points per stay as a “welcome gift.”
Platinum Elite membership is earned after 50 qualifying nights. In addition to Gold benefits, Platinum members receive a 50% point bonus, space-available room upgrades (including standard suites), lounge access, 4 p.m. checkout, and a Platinum arrival gift — either points or a food and beverage amenity. These welcome gifts will vary: The best Platinum arrival gift I’ve seen is a dessert, cheese and wine selection at the Seattle Marriott Waterfront. The worst was a rotten apple and banana in plastic wrap at the Renaissance Sapporo. Note that breakfast is also included at most brands, though it’s sometimes in the lounge, other times in the on-property restaurant and in a few instances available as room service.
Check out our guide to Marriott Platinum breakfast for complete details.
Platinum Elite members can choose from one annual Choice Benefit after staying 50 nights: five Suite Night Awards, the opportunity to gift Silver Elite status, 40% off a mattress, five Elite Night Credits, or a $100 charity donation. I’d go with the Suite Night Awards as these can be worth hundreds of dollars when used at high-end properties.
Titanium Elite is Marriott’s newest status tier that’s earned after 75 qualifying nights. In addition to Platinum benefits, Titanium members receive a 75% point bonus and United MileagePlus Silver status thanks to the RewardsPlus partnership. Titanium Elite members are also eligible for a second Annual Choice Benefit after staying 75 nights in a year, including the additional option of a free night certificate worth up to 40,000 points — again, I recommend choosing the five Suite Night Awards.
Ambassador Elite is an enhanced version of Titanium Elite. This is earned after 100 qualifying nights and $20,000 in annual Marriott spending. You get all Titanium Elite benefits plus a personal “ambassador” to help make your stays more enjoyable. You also get access to the You24 benefit that lets you choose your 24-hour check-in and check-out time. So if you arrive on a late 10 p.m. flight for a one-night stay, you may be able to check out the following night at 10 p.m.
A great aspect of Marriott elite status is that many of the benefits are guaranteed. If you don’t receive what you’re entitled to, Marriott has charts listing your compensation. For example, if you have a Ritz-Carlton reservation that the property cannot honor, you’ll receive a free night at a nearby hotel and 140,000 Marriott points.
Finally, be aware that benefits can vary significantly across brands. For example, Marriott Platinums do not receive Ritz-Carlton lounge access, and suites at Ritz-Carlton properties are only available to Titanium members as an upgrade, for instance.
Marriott Bonvoy functions like most hotel loyalty programs: You earn the majority of your points by staying at Marriott properties or through credit card spending, and you redeem points for free hotel nights, with awards priced according to the desirability of a specific hotel property.
It’s also worth noting that you can earn airline miles instead of Marriott points with any of 40 airline loyalty programs. With most programs, you’ll earn two miles per dollar spent on all qualifying charges at The Ritz-Carlton, JW Marriott, EDITION, Autograph Collection, Renaissance Hotels, Marriott Hotels, Marriott Vacation Club, Gaylord Hotels, Delta Hotels by Marriott, Design Hotels, Le Meridien, The Luxury Collection, Sheraton, St. Regis, Tribute Portfolio, W Hotels, Westin; and one mile per dollar spent on all qualifying charges at all other Marriott portfolio member properties.
You can check out our guide on the best ways to earn Marriott points for additional details, but here’s a summary of how to earn points in the program:
1. Hotel stays — The majority of Marriott hotels award 10 points per $1 spent on stays. The only exceptions are Element, Townplace Suites and Residence Inn properties which award five points per $1 spent. In addition, elite status and any current promotions would boost your earning rates even further.
2. Credit card spending — There are several cards you can use to earn Marriott Bonvoy points, but only four are available to new applicants: two from American Express and two from Chase. American Express’ portfolio includes one business card and one premium personal card.
On the business side, the Marriott Bonvoy Business™ American Express® Card earns 6 points for each dollar of eligible purchases at participating Marriott hotels; 4 points per dollar spent at U.S. restaurants and gas stations, on wireless telephone services purchased directly from U.S. service providers and on U.S. purchases for shipping; and 2 points per dollar spent on all other eligible purchases. It also comes with a free award night every year (valid up to 35,000 points), complimentary Boingo Wi-Fi, and free Silver Elite status for $125 per year (See rates & fees). The current welcome bonus is 100,000 bonus Marriott Bonvoy points after you make $5,000 in purchases within the first three months. This limited-time offer ends Oct. 23, 2019.
The other card in American Express’ portfolio is the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express® Card. With this card, you’ll earn 6 points for each dollar of eligible purchases at participating Marriott hotels; 3 points per dollar spent at U.S. restaurants and on flights booked directly with airlines; and 2 points per dollar spent on all other eligible purchases. You’ll also receive one free night every year after your card account anniversary (valid up to 50,000 points) and enjoy up to a $300 annual credit every calendar year toward Marriott stays. The card also comes with a Global Entry/TSA PreCheck credit (up to $100), Priority Pass lounge privileges and automatic Gold Elite status (with an upgrade to Platinum after spending $75,000) for a $450 annual fee (See rates & fees). The welcome bonus is currently 75,000 bonus Marriott Bonvoy points after you use your new card to make $3,000 in purchases within the first three months.
On the other hand, Chase offers the Marriott Bonvoy Boundless Credit Card, which earns you 6 points per dollar spent at all Marriott portfolio properties and 2 points per dollar on all other spending. You also earn 15 nights toward elite status; free Silver Elite status (Gold Elite after $35,000 in spending); a free night up to 35,000 points on each anniversary of being a cardholder; and no foreign transaction fees, all for a $95 annual fee. The card is currently offering a limited time bonus of 100,000 Marriott Bonvoy points after spending $5,000 on purchases in the first three months.
If you’re looking for a no-annual-fee option, Chase recently launched the Marriott Bonvoy Bold Credit Card, which earns 3 points per dollar at Marriott portfolio hotels (half the rewards rate of the other Bonvoy credit cards). You’ll also earn 2 points per dollar on travel purchases and 1 point per dollar on everything else. Currently, the welcome bonus is 30,000 Marriott Bonvoy points after spending $1,000 on purchases in the first three months.
Note that you may not be eligible for these welcome bonuses if you’ve had a Marriott, SPG, or Ritz-Carlton card from Chase or American Express in the past. TPG recently covered who is and isn’t eligible for a Marriott Bonvoy credit card welcome bonus — check it out before you apply.
In addition to using the Marriott cobranded credit cards, you can transfer Chase Ultimate Rewards and American Express Membership Rewards points to Marriott Bonvoy at a 1:1 transfer ratio. This means all Ultimate Rewards and Membership Rewards points earned in cards like the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card or American Express® Gold Card can be used to top off your Marriott Bonvoy account. Finally, you can also transfer Diners Club Rewards points into Marriott Bonvoy points at a 1,250:1,500 ratio.
3. Rewarding events — Event planners can earn big with the Marriott program. You’ll earn 2 points per dollar (60,000 max per event; 105,00 for Titanium Elite members) for any qualifying event held at a Marriott property. Additionally, you’ll earn 10 elite-qualifying nights with your first event each calendar year and an additional night for every additional 20 rooms you book as part of your event.
4. Travel partners – Earn up to 2,000 Marriott points per Hertz car rental and up to 3 Marriott Bonvoy points per dollar spent at Marriott Cruise With Points.
5. Refer a friend — Refer up to five new members a year and earn 2,000 points for up to five of their paid stays. That gives you a maximum of 50,000 bonus points a year. The friends you refer will also earn 2,000 bonus points for each of their first five paid stays. If you aren’t working this with your friends and family, I suggest formulating a plan.
6. Buy, gift or combine — You can buy and gift a maximum of 50,000 points annually. Points.com runs the transactions for Marriott and sells 1,000 points for $12.50. However, you can avoid those fees by transferring points. A fantastic aspect of Marriott Bonvoy is the ability to combine your points with another Marriott Bonvoy member. You can transfer up to 100,000 points per account up to 500,000 points per year, so you could transfer 100,000 from five friends or family members. Better yet? These transfers are completely free.
8. Social media interactions — Earn 250 points each for linking your Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram profiles to your Marriott Bonvoy account. Earn an additional 250 points for following Marriott Bonvoy on Twitter — an easy 1,000 points!
Award chart and redemption options
1. Free nights — Marriott divides its properties into eight categories, with off-peak, standard and peak pricing. Generally, more premium properties in desirable cities are assigned a higher hotel category and cost more points.
Peak and off-peak dates are determined by an algorithm at the program level and are adjusted monthly “to reflect market conditions.” Most dates will remain at the standard level, and Marriott claims it’ll publish a fairly equal distribution of peak and off-peak across all hotels.
Here’s the current award chart:
However, there are a few ways to avoid paying full price for an award.
If you redeem points for five or more consecutive nights, you’ll receive the lowest-priced night for free. In other words, if there’s a mix of award prices due to peak or off-peak awards, you’ll be reimbursed for the cheapest night.
And, on a rotating basis, Marriott identifies certain properties to place in its PointsSavers promotion, where award stays cost fewer points for a limited amount of time.
The program also allows you to reserve nights with Cash + Points. You can redeem points plus a cash copay for a discounted night. The point requirements will be based on peak and off-peak prices.
You can use the program’s Points Advance functionality to reserve an award stay when you’re short on points, which is a great way to confirm a room at a property before you earn enough points to cover the stay. However, it’s critical to note that you aren’t locking in a certain points rate until you actually reserve the hotel with points. Points Advance merely confirms award space for you. If Marriott decides to raise the room to peak pricing before you’ve actually earned the points and reserved the room, you’ll have to pay more points.
Marriott now asks that members only use Points Advance to reserve a maximum of three rooms per account.
2. Point upgrades — Use 5,000 points per night to upgrade your paid OR award nights. In practice, I’ve found this difficult to use at most international hotels, specifically in Asia, as this doesn’t seem to be a well-known method of redeeming points. When I try to use it, a check-in agent usually looks confused, makes a few phone calls and says it’s not available. I’d be happy to hear anyone’s success with using points to upgrade.
3. Instant redemption — Use points toward hotel credit against your total room bill. This is perhaps the worst return (0.4 cents per point) on your points, and I highly recommend avoiding this avenue.
4. Travel redemptions & airline transfers — There are quite a few options for getting free travel with your Marriott Bonvoy points.
You can transfer your Marriott points into airline miles with any of 40 different airlines at a ratio of 3:1 for most airlines. The exceptions to this rule are AeroMexico ClubPremier (3:1.6), Air New Zealand Airpoints™ (200:1), JetBlue TrueBlue™ (6:1) and MileagePlus® (3:1.1). When you transfer 60,000 points you get a 5,000-mile bonus. There are some unique transfer partners (see Part 1 and Part 2 of our analysis for more information), but there are likely only certain times when it makes sense to transfer your Marriott points to an airline program. You’ll also want to review how long those transfers will take before committing to you.
You can book air travel or rental cars directly with your points, but you’ll only receive ~0.39 cents per point in value toward these direct redemptions.
You can redeem points toward a free cruise with Marriott Cruise With Points, but again you’ll only receive about 0.4 cents per point in value.
5. Hotel + Air redemption — You can turn your points into airline miles plus a seven-night stay at Marriott and Ritz-Carlton hotels around the world. The recently-devalued packages start at 255,000 Marriott Bonvoy points for seven nights at Category 1-5 properties and 50,000 miles in an airline program of your choice. The packages increase in price based on the category of hotel you’d like to stay at and the number of miles you’d like to receive. The most expensive option is the Category 8 and 100,000-mile option that costs a whopping 750,000 points.
Nearly all of Marriott’s airline partners are eligible for a Hotel + Air package, but United is the one of the best redemptions, as you get 10% bonus miles when you choose to transfer your miles from a Hotel + Air package thanks to the RewardsPlus partnership.
6. Marriott Bonvoy Moments — If you’re looking for a different type of redemption, consider exploring the Marriott Bonvoy Moments program. This allows you to cash in your points for unique experiences like concert tickets, culinary events and even seats to see your favorite sports team. These packages change regularly, and while some are handled as auctions, others offer fixed price redemptions. It’s hard to peg a value on these, as many aren’t easily replicable using cash. However, I’d definitely encourage you to view what’s currently available to see if you or a loved one would enjoy one of them.
7. Shopping/donate — Marriott Bonvoy members outside the U.S. can redeem miles for merchandise through Marriott’s shopping catalog, but like with other programs, this yields little value and should be avoided. You can also donate your miles to the Red Cross/Red Crescent or the Hotels for Heroes program.
Award booking process
Booking free nights through the Marriott website is easy. Simply click the Use Points box on the main search, and results will appear with the required points shown.
Click the Find Hotels button and you’ll be presented with a view of all of the hotels that match your destination alongside its respective pricing.
However, you’ll want to click View Rates to get to the following page and see what room types are available. Unfortunately, the program’s no blackout dates policy might as well not exist for legacy Marriott properties, as they’re allowed to restrict award stays on select dates.
With so many options for using your points, it’s important to recognize quickly those that do and do not offer you value. With last year’s devaluation of Hotel + Air redemptions, I generally recommend using your miles for hotels or transfers to airlines, but only if you’re planning to immediately redeem them.
Leveraging Marriott Bonvoy
There’s no question that Marriott has had its fair share of issues since the integration, and there’s no denying the fact that free nights can quickly cost a lot of points at the upper tiers after the introduction of Category 8 pricing. However, there’s still plenty of value to be had in the program. Here are some of the strategies I use to get the most out of my Marriott experiences:
1. Look No Further Rate Guarantee — Marriott’s version of the best rate guarantee offers 25% off a lower rate found on a third-party website and a 5,000-point bonus. Marriott, in my experience, is the hotel program most likely to approve a BRG, but the process is a little tricky compared to other chains. You must make a booking on Marriott.com then fill out an online claim form referencing your confirmation number and the information for the lower rate found. I try not to submit claims for nonrefundable rates because if your claim is denied, you’re stuck with the hotel room. I’ve saved hundreds of dollars on Marriott hotels with this program.
2. Platinum Elite Status challenge — Although not always available, Marriott often offers this challenge of staying 16 nights in a 60- or 90-day period to earn Platinum status. In the past, you had to provide comparable status with another hotel chain, but many have reported being able to sign up without a status. I successfully completed the challenge in early 2011 and still maintain Marriott Gold status through my Business Platinum® Card from American Express card.
3. Selective free nights — I try to find hotels that, in my opinion, are undervalued. My latest favorite example is the new JW Marriott Hanoi, which looks fantastic and has great reviews. It’s only a Category 3 hotel, at 17,500 points a night. Unfortunately, this can also work against you, with what I believe are Category 2-worthy hotels somehow landing in Category 7 (usually in expensive cities like NYC and London).
Try to look beyond just the paid vs. award rates when you’re determining the value of a given stay, as wasting 50,000 or 60,000 points on a big city property with a poor reputation just because it can get away with charging several hundred dollars a night is not the best way to redeem your points.
Through stays, partners, credit cards and promotions, it’s not too difficult to earn a lot of Marriott points. With all of the options available for redemptions, including the ability to book a room without the full number of points required, I’m a fan of Marriott Bonvoy despite its recent devaluations, and I’m not the only one here at TPG. I’ll continue collecting Marriott points in 2019 in the hopes of redeeming for more top-tier redemptions and fifth-night-free awards.
Featured photo courtesy of Marriott