The award traveler’s guide to Marriott Bonvoy

Jan 27, 2020

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While Marriott’s loyalty program has had a rough past couple of years, it’s finally emerging from its merger with Starwood Preferred Guest and Ritz-Carlton stronger than before.

However, as part of the integration, the rebranded Marriott Bonvoy program has yielded new status tiers, hotel categories and other changes. So, whether you’re a long-term Marriott loyalist or someone new to the program, you might have the same questions about how to get the most value out of your Marriott stays and outsized value out of your redemptions.

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Today, I’ll arm you with all of the information you need to do so.

In This Post

Elite status levels

Before we get into earning and redeeming points, let’s start by looking at the benefits of having elite status with Marriott.

Marriott now offers five published levels of elite status: Silver, Gold, Platinum, Titanium and Ambassador. You can get a complete breakdown of these benefits in TPG’s valuation of Marriott Bonvoy elite status, but here’s a high-level overview.

Member

Just by signing up and becoming a Marriott Bonvoy Member, you’ll get free standard Wi-Fi, access to member rates and mobile check-in. Plus, you’ll earn points which you can redeem for free nights or a variety of other redemptions. So, even if you don’t think you’ll ever earn Marriott status, you’ll at least want to sign up for the Bonvoy program.

Related: Maximizing redemptions with the Marriott Bonvoy program

Silver Elite

You’ll gain Marriott Silver Elite after earning 10 qualifying nights. Benefits include a 10% point bonus on stays, late checkout based on availability and access to a dedicated elite reservation phone line. These are fairly minimal benefits — which is why TPG values Silver Elite status at just $45.

With that said, one benefit that all Marriott elites receive is the “Ultimate Reservation Guarantee.” While hopefully you’ll never need it, this guarantee promises elite members up to $200 and 90,000 Marriott points — plus accommodation at a nearby hotel — for being “walked” from a Marriott hotel:

You can shortcut your way to Marriott Silver Elite status through the:

Also, you can earn Lifetime Silver Elite by accumulating 250 lifetime nights and earning Marriott status for at least five years.

Related: Is it worth earning lifetime elite status?

Gold Elite

Marriott Gold Elite membership is earned after 25 qualifying nights and TPG values this status at $840. In addition to Silver perks like the Ultimate Reservation Guarantee and a dedicated elite reservation line, Gold Elites receive enhanced internet access, a 25% point bonus, 2 p.m. late checkout based on availability, upgrades to an “enhanced room” (excluding suites) and 250 or 500 points per stay as a “welcome gift.”

You can shortcut your way to Marriott Gold Elite status through the:

Members will achieve Lifetime Gold Elite status once they earn 400 lifetime nights and have Gold Elite status for at least seven years.

Platinum Elite

Marriott’s Platinum Elite status 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, except at Ritz-Carlton hotels) at most brands, lounge access, guaranteed 4 p.m. checkout, and a Platinum welcome gift.

These welcome gifts vary based on the brand but generally are a choice of points, an amenity or breakfast. For Platinum Elites, breakfast is either included or available as a welcome gift choice at most brands, although it’s sometimes in the lounge, other times in the on-property restaurant and in a few instances available as room service.

From experience, I recommend bookmarking TPG’s complete guide to Marriott elite breakfast benefits and refer back to it before check-in.

Platinum Elite members can choose from one Annual Choice Benefit after earning 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. Unless you end the year with between 70 and 74 nights, I’d recommend choosing the Suite Night Awards.

Factoring in all of these benefits, TPG values Platinum Elite status at $2,655.

You can shortcut your way to Marriott Platinum Elite status through the:

To lock in Lifetime Platinum Elite status, you’ll need to accumulate 600 lifetime nights and 10+ years as a Platinum Elite (or higher).

Titanium Elite

Members earn Titanium Elite status tier after 75 qualifying nights in a calendar year. Titanium Elite benefits are pretty much identical to Platinum Elite benefits with a few additions: a 75% point bonus, 48-hour guaranteed availability and United MileagePlus Silver status through the RewardsPlus partnership.

Titanium Elite members are also eligible for a second Annual Choice Benefit after staying 75 nights in a year. In addition to the Platinum Elite options, Titanium Elites also have the option of choosing a free night certificate worth up to 40,000 points. This free night certificate or five Suite Night Awards are the top choices.

TPG values Titanium Elite status at $4,840 per year.

Ambassador Elite

The top published elite status tier is Ambassador Elite. Effectively an enhanced version of Titanium Elite, Ambassador Elite status is earned after earning 100 qualifying nights and accumulating $20,000 in qualifying Marriott spending. While that’s a lot of spending, TPG values the benefits of Ambassador Elite status at around $6,550.

You get all Titanium Elite benefits plus a personal “ambassador” to help you out with booking and managing stays. 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.

Cobalt program

You won’t find any mentions of “Cobalt” in any official Marriott Bonvoy promotional material, but TPG received leaked information in August 2019 about this secret invitation-only Marriott status. This elite level is so exclusive that it’s only available through invitation from Marriott International’s President and CEO.

The benefits are largely that of Marriott Ambassador Elite but with additional touches such as a personalized note from the General Manager, a meeting with the GM and a “distinctive experience on-property” at luxury brands:

Guaranteed benefits

A great aspect of Marriott’s 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 JW Marriott reservation that the property cannot honor, you’ll be accommodated at a nearby hotel and you’ll get 90,000 Marriott points plus $200.

Ways to earn points

There’s a number of ways to earn Marriott Bonvoy points from staying at Marriott properties to spending on credit cards. 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:

Hotel stays

Marriott members will earn a base of 10 award points per dollar spent on qualifying charges for stays at a majority of Marriott hotel brands. There are four brand exceptions to that general rule: Element, Residence Inn, TownePlace Suites and Homes & Villas by Marriott International — which award five Marriott points per dollar spent.

In addition, elite status and any current promotions would boost your earning rates even further. For example, during a recent three-night stay in Birmingham, Alabama as a Platinum Elite, I earned 16,375 Marriott points — worth $131 at TPG valuations — from a $270 Four Points stay:

  • 2,250 points from base earnings ($225 qualifying spend x 10 points per dollar spent)
  • 1,125 points as an elite bonus (50% bonus as a Platinum Elite)
  • 500 points as a welcome gift
  • 12,000 points as a bonus for completing five stays through the Unlock More promotion
  • 500 points for declining housekeeping two days

However, to earn points for a stay, you’ll need to book directly with Marriott. Stays that don’t earn points include rooms booked through online travel agencies (like Expedia, Hotwire and Priceline), part of an event, through a tour operator or a comped stay.

Credit card bonuses and 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.

Related: Which Marriott Bonvoy credit card is right for you?

The Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express® Card is the only personal Marriott cobranded card available through Amex. The welcome bonus is currently 75,000 bonus Marriott points after you make $3,000 in purchases within the first three months of account opening. This card has a hefty $450 annual fee (see rates and fees), but comes packed with benefits including:

  • An up to $300 annual credit every calendar year toward Marriott stays
  • One free night every year after your card account anniversary at a redemption level of up to 50,000 points
  • Up to $100 Global Entry/TSA PreCheck credit (once every four years)
  • Priority Pass membership
  • Automatic Gold Elite status, or Platinum Elite status if you spend $75,000 in a calendar year
  • 15 elite qualifying nights to help you toward qualifying for Platinum Elite status or higher
  • 6x points on eligible purchases at participating Marriott hotels; 3x points for purchases at U.S. restaurants and on flights booked directly with airlines and 2x points per dollar spent on all other eligible purchases

Business owners can apply for the Marriott Bonvoy Business™ American Express® Card — which is currently offering a welcome bonus of 75,000 bonus Marriott Bonvoy points after making $3,000 in purchases within the first three months of account opening. This card has a $125 annual fee (see rates and fees), but it makes up for that fee with an anniversary free night after your card account anniversary (limited to a redemption level of 35,000 points).

Related: How to use a Marriott 35,000-point certificate

Plus, you’ll earn 6x points on eligible purchases at participating Marriott hotels; 4x points for purchases 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 2x points per dollar spent on all other eligible purchases.

Chase’s Marriott Bonvoy Boundless Credit Card is currently offering a limited-time bonus of 100,000 Bonus Points after you spend $5,000 on purchases in the first three months from account opening. This card comes with perks like 15 nights toward elite status (which is enough for Silver Elite status) and a free night up to 35,000 points on each anniversary of being a cardholder for a $95 annual fee. The card also earns 6x points at all Marriott portfolio properties and 2x points on all other spending.

Related: 11 best uses of Marriott 35,000-point certificates for family vacations

For those looking for a no-annual-fee card option, Chase offers the Marriott Bonvoy Bold Credit Card. Despite the card not having an annual fee, you’ll earn 50,000 bonus Marriott points after spending $2,000 on purchases in the first three months for a limited time. This card also offers 15 elite night credits — which grants the cardholder Silver Elite status and a nice start towards higher elite status. However, you’ll only earn 3x points at Marriott portfolio hotels (half the rewards rate of the other Bonvoy credit cards), 2x points on travel purchases and 1x points on everything else.

Keep in mind 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 has a handy guide of who is and isn’t eligible for a Marriott Bonvoy credit card welcome bonus, so make sure to check it out before you apply.

Organizing events

Event planners will earn 2 points per dollar for any qualifying event held at a Marriott property, up to a maximum base earning of 60,000 points per event. Marriott elite members then get a bonus on that earnings to increase the total potential earnings to 105,000 for Titanium Elite and Ambassador members.

Additionally, you’ll earn an additional Elite Night Credit for every additional 20 rooms you book as part of your event. Note that the option to earn 10 Elite Night Credits after your first event of the year was terminated at the end of 2019.

Refer friends

Marriott Bonvoy will reward you for referring friends to the program. You can refer up to five new members each calendar year, and you’ll earn 2,000 points for each of up to five of their paid stays.

If all five of your referred friends complete at least five stays, you’ll earn the maximum of 50,000 bonus points a year. At TPG valuations, that’s $400 in value per year that you can get by maximizing this opportunity.

Plus, the friends that you refer will also earn 2,000 bonus points for each of their first five paid stays for a maximum of 10,000 bonus points.

Eating out

In October 2019, Marriott launched a new way of earning points: eating. The new “Eat Around Town” program offers Marriott elites 6x Marriott points per dollar spent — in addition to the points you’d otherwise earn from the dining purchase — just by connecting your credit card to the program and dining at participating restaurants.

Related: The best credit cards for restaurants and dining out

Travel partners

You can earn up to 2,000 Marriott points per Hertz car rental by booking through Marriott’s Tours & Activities page.

Marriott Bonvoy members can typically earn up to 3x Marriott points by booking a cruise through Marriott Cruise With Points. However, there’s currently a promotion to earn an additional 3 points per dollar on balconies and suites for a total of 6x points per dollar spent.

Buying a mattress

Bonvoy members will earn 10,000 Marriott points by buying a mattress on any of Marriott International’s online retail websites: Shop EDITIONThe Ritz-Carlton ShopsThe Luxury Collection StoreSt. Regis BoutiqueW Hotels The StoreCurated by JWShop MarriottSheraton StoreWestin StoreCollect RenaissanceGaylord Hotels The StoreShop Courtyard, and Fairfield Store.

Transferring points from other programs

While it’s not the best use of more-valuable points, you can transfer Chase Ultimate Rewards (39-hour transfer time) and American Express Membership Rewards (instant transfer) points to Marriott Bonvoy at a 1:1 transfer ratio.

So, if you need a few more Marriott points, you can transfer Chase Ultimate Rewards points earned through cards like the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card or Membership Rewards points earned through the American Express® Gold Card to top off your Marriott Bonvoy account.

Related: Maximize your wallet with the perfect quartet of Chase cards

Transferring points from other members

A fantastic aspect of Marriott Bonvoy is the ability to combine your points with another Marriott Bonvoy member. Each member can transfer up to 100,000 points to another account, and each member can receive up to 500,000 points per year. Unlike in other programs, these member-to-member transfers are completely free. Just note that there are restrictions on new members.

Buy or gift points

You can buy and gift a maximum of 50,000 points annually. The purchase rate is generally $12.50 per 1,000 points. However, Marriott will run promotions periodically to drop the price lower than that.

Earn miles instead of points

It’s also worth noting that you can earn airline miles instead of Marriott points with any of 43 airline loyalty programs. Generally, 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 brands.

Award chart and redemption options

There are many options for using your Marriott Bonvoy points. TPG values Marriott points at 0.8 cents each — which should generally be the value you get from redemptions for hotel stays or transfers to airlines. However, most other redemption options don’t offer a good value for your Marriott Bonvoy points.

Award nights

Marriott divides its properties into eight categories, with off-peak, standard and peak pricing.

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.

Related: TPG Points Lab: How significant is Marriott’s new peak and off-peak pricing?

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, Marriott will put some properties on sale through its PointsSavers promotion — where award stays cost fewer points for select dates.

Marriott also allows you to reserve nights with Cash + Points. You can redeem points plus a cash copay for a discounted night. The point requirements are 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 important to note that you aren’t locking in a certain points rate by using Points Advance. 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 paid for the room with points, 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.

Related: How to extend your hotel award stays with a free night

Point upgrades

Marriott Bonvoy members can use their points to upgrade either a paid or award reservation to an upgraded room such as an ocean view room or a suite. There’s no published chart for these Upgrade Awards, and they aren’t available at every property. So, you’ll need to search for these upgrades for your individual stay.

Related: How to redeem Marriott points for upgraded rooms

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, seats to see your favorite sports team and even redeem Marriott points to attend the TPG Awards.

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.

Instant redemption

You can use points toward hotel credit against your total room bill. This option only offers a redemption rate of 0.4 cents per point — half of TPG’s valuation of Marriott points — so I recommend avoiding this option.

Travel redemptions and 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 43 different airlines. Most of these airlines have a transfer ratio of 3:1. The exceptions to this rule are Air New Zealand Airpoints (200:1), JetBlue TrueBlue (6:1) and United’s MileagePlus which offers a slightly-better 3:1.1 ratio.

Marriott also offers 5,000 bonus miles for transferring at least 60,000 points. That means you’ll get a total of 25,000 airline miles for transferring 60,000 points to most airline partners.

Related: When does it make sense to transfer Marriott points to airlines?

Keep in mind that transfer times vary based on the airline.

You can book air travel or rental cars with your points through Marriott’s Air and Car program, but you’ll get less than 0.4 cents per point in value toward these 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.

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. While this program used to provide solid value, it was devalued in July 2018 and now provides a disappointing value for your Marriott points.

Packages start at 255,000 Marriott Bonvoy points for seven nights at Category 1 to 4 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 choose to receive. The most expensive option is the Category 8 and 100,000-mile option that costs a whopping 750,000 points.

Note that you’ll get a slightly better redemption rate for redeeming Hotel + Air packages for United miles thanks to the RewardsPlus partnership:

Award booking process

You can start your award booking process right on Marriott’s homepage. Just click the “Use Points/Certificates” box on the main search, and results will appear with the required points shown.

Related: How to redeem Marriott points

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.

Click “View Rates” to see which room types are available at these prices and your booking options. Then, click “Select” next to the room type you want to book to move forward with the booking process:

Marriott has a “no blackout dates” policy. However, in practice, TPG has found this policy to be essentially worthless as hotels are still allowed to restrict award stays on select dates.

Leveraging Marriott Bonvoy

Here are some of the strategies you can use to get the most value out of your Marriott experience:

Best Rate Guarantee

Marriott’s version of the best rate guarantee will match the rate found on another website if you submit a claim within 24 hours of making your reservation on Marriott’s website. Plus, Marriott will give you an additional 25% discount off of that rate or a 5,000-point bonus. Note that you might want to avoid submitting claims for nonrefundable rates because — if your claim is denied — you’re stuck with the hotel room.

Platinum Elite Status challenge

Although not always available, Marriott often offers a challenge of staying 16 nights in a 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. While award nights generally count toward earning elite status, these challenges usually only count paid nights.

Fifth night free

All Marriott Bonvoy members get a free night on award stays of five nights or longer. While some travelers might not want to spend five or more nights in one place while on a trip, this benefit is a great way to save points on longer stays.

Stretch your points at low-category hotels

You can really stretch your Marriott points by redeeming points at low-category hotels in the U.S. and around the world. And don’t dismiss these properties just because they are priced at very low award prices. For example, the Protea Hotel Lusaka Safari Lodge in Zambia is a Category 1 hotel priced at just 7,500 points per night on standard award nights. True to its name, this property has its own 2,500-acre private game reserve.

Image courtesy of Protea Hotel Lusaka Safari Lodge.
(Photo courtesy of Protea Hotel Lusaka Safari Lodge.)

Related: Best ways to redeem points and miles for safaris

Bottom line

Through stays, partners, credit cards and promotions, it’s not too difficult to earn Marriott points. And now with peak-period Category 8 properties costing 100,000 points per night, it’s never been easier to quickly spend those points.

There’s no question that Marriott has had its fair share of issues since the integration of Starwood Preferred Guest and Ritz-Carlton. While there’s no denying the fact that free nights can quickly cost a lot of points at the upper tiers, there’s still plenty of value to be had in the program.

With solid elite benefits and plenty of good-valued options for redemptions, I’m a fan of Marriott Bonvoy despite its recent devaluations — and I’m not the only one here at TPG sticking with the program. After earning Titanium Elite status for the first time at the end of 2019, I’m planning on continuing to collect Marriott points and stays in 2020 with the plan to redeem for more high-valued fifth-night-free awards in my travels around the world.

Richard Kerr and Andrew Kunesh contributed to this post.

Featured photo by Brian Biros/The Points Guy

For rates and fees of the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant card, please click here.
For rates and fees of the Marriott Bonvoy Business card, please click here.

Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser’s responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.