The award traveler’s guide to Marriott Bonvoy

Jun 10, 2020

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Editor’s note: This post has been updated with current information.

While Marriott’s loyalty program has had a rough few years, it finally emerged from its merger with Starwood Preferred Guest and Ritz-Carlton stronger than before. As part of the integration, the rebranded Marriott Bonvoy program yielded new status tiers, hotel categories and other changes. Many of you may resume traveling in the near future, in which case you’ll want to reacquaint yourselves with the Marriott Bonvoy program.

Whether you’re a long-term Marriott loyalist or 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 Marriott Bonvoy redemptions. Today, I’ll arm you with all of the information you need to do so.

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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 the benefits associated with each status level in TPG’s valuation of Marriott Bonvoy elite status, but here’s a high-level overview.

(Courtesy of Marriott)

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 that you can redeem for free nights or a variety of other redemptions. So, even if you don’t think you’ll ever earn Marriott elite status, you’ll at least want to sign up for the Bonvoy program.

Related reading: How to choose the best hotel loyalty program for you

Silver Elite

You will earn Marriott Silver Elite status after completing 10 qualifying nights in a calendar year. Silver Elite benefits include a 10% point bonus on stays and late checkout, based on availability. These are fairly minimal benefits — which is why TPG values Silver Elite status at just $45.

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

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

Gold Elite

Marriott Gold Elite status is earned after 25 qualifying nights in a calendar year. TPG values this status at $840. In addition to Silver Elite perks like the Ultimate Reservation Guarantee, 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) based on availability at check-in and a “welcome gift” of points.

You can shortcut your way to Marriott Gold Elite status with the following credit cards:

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

Related reading: Your guide to Marriott Bonvoy lifetime elite status

Platinum Elite

Marriott’s Platinum Elite status is earned after 50 qualifying nights in a calendar year. In addition to Gold Elite benefits, Platinum members receive a 50% point bonus, space-available room upgrades (including select suites, except at Ritz-Carlton hotels), lounge access, guaranteed 4 p.m. checkout and a Platinum welcome gift.

Platinum welcome gifts vary based on the brand but generally include 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. Breakfast is usually offered in the lounge or on-site restaurant, although some properties such as the St. Regis New York will offer a room service credit instead.

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

Marriott Platinum breakfast at the St. Regis New York (Summer Hull / The Points Guy)
Marriott Platinum breakfast at the St. Regis New York (Photo by Summer Hull/The Points Guy)

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 charitable donation. Unless you end the year with 70-74 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 spend your way to Platinum Elite status with the following credit cards:

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 completing 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 completing 75 nights in a year. In addition to the options Platinum elites receive, Titanium members 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 my top choices.

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

Related reading: The case for burning 80,000 points to earn Marriott Titanium status

Ambassador Elite

Marriott’s top published elite status tier is Ambassador Elite. Effectively an enhanced version of Titanium Elite, Ambassador Elite status is earned after accumulating 100 qualifying nights in a calendar year and reaching $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 checkout 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.

Related reading: What purchases count towards earning Marriott Ambassador elite status?

Cobalt program

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

(Courtesy of Marriott)

Guaranteed benefits

A great aspect of Marriott Bonvoy is that many of the benefits are guaranteed. For example, the “Ultimate Reservation 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.

(Courtesy of Marriott)

Marriott has charts listing your compensation if you don’t receive what you’re entitled to. However, Marriott has suspended brand standards and elite benefits guarantee through July 5, 2020, due to coronavirus.

Related reading: You can now earn up to 30 elite nights per year with Marriott credit cards

Ways to earn Marriott 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.

Hotel stays

St. Regis Bal Harbour (Photo by Nick Ellis / The Points Guy)
St. Regis Bal Harbour (Photo by Nick Ellis/The Points Guy)

Marriott members will earn a base of 10 award points per dollar spent on qualifying charges for stays at most Marriott hotel brands. There are a few exceptions to that general rule. For example, Element, Residence Inn and TownePlace Suites earn five Marriott points per dollar spent. And, Marriott Executive Apartments and ExecuStay earn 2.5 Marriott points per dollar spent on qualifying room rates.

In addition, elite status and any current hotel promotions would boost your earning rates even further. For example, during a three-night stay in Birmingham, Alabama last winter 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.

Related reading: How much value does Marriott status provide when you book direct?

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:

Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant American Express Card

(Photo by Eden Batki / The Points Guy)
(Photo by Eden Batki/The Points Guy)

The Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant American Express Card is the only personal Marriott cobranded card available through Amex. The welcome bonus is currently 75,000 points after spending $3,000 in 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:

  • Up to $300 in statement credits each year of card membership for eligible purchases at participating Marriott Bonvoy hotels (eligible purchases at U.S. restaurants will also qualify from June through August 2020)
  • One free night every year after your card account anniversary for us at a redemption level of up to 50,000 points
  • Up to $100 Global Entry/TSA PreCheck credit (once every four years for Global Entry or every 4.5 years for TSA PreCheck)
  • Priority Pass Select membership
  • Automatic Gold Elite status, or Platinum Elite status if you spend $75,000 on your card 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 (and on up to $7,500 spent at U.S. supermarkets from May through July 2020); 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

Related reading: Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant American Express Card review

Marriott Bonvoy Business American Express Card

(Photo by Eric Helgas/The Points Guy)
(Photo by Eric Helgas/The Points Guy)

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 up to 35,000-point certificate that’s awarded each year after your card account anniversary.

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.

Related reading: Marriott Bonvoy Business Amex credit card review

Marriott Bonvoy Boundless Credit Card

(Photo by John Gribben for The Points Guy)
(Photo by John Gribben/The Points Guy)

Chase’s Marriott Bonvoy Boundless Credit Card is currently offering 100,000 bonus points after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first three months from account opening. This card comes with perks like automatic Silver Elite status and a path to Gold Elite status when you spend $35,000 on purchases each account year.

The card also earns 6x points at participating Marriott Bonvoy hotels and 2x points on all other spending. Plus, you’ll earn 6x points on the first $5,000 you spend at grocery stores between May 1 and July 31, 2020. And, you’ll get one free night award every year after your account anniversary that’s valid for a one-night hotel stay at a property with a redemption value up to 35,000 points.

Related reading: Marriott Bonvoy Boundless credit card review

Marriott Bonvoy Bold Credit Card

(Photo by Eric Helgas/The Points Guy)
(Photo by Eric Helgas/The Points Guy)

For those looking for a no annual fee credit card, 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 $1,000 on purchases in the first three months of account opening. This card also offers 15 elite night credits — which grants the cardholder Silver Elite status and a nice start towards higher elite status.

You’ll only earn 3x points at participating Marriott hotels (half the rewards rate of the other Bonvoy credit cards), 2x points on travel purchases and 1x points on everything else. But, you’ll earn 6x points on the first $5,000 you spend at grocery stores between May 1 and July 31, 2020.

Related reading: Marriott Bonvoy Bold credit card review

Welcome bonus eligibility

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 two points per dollar for any qualifying event held at a Marriott property, up to a maximum base earning of 60,000 points per event. However, Marriott elite members get a bonus on these base earnings. So, Titanium Elite and Ambassador Elite members can earn up to 105,000 points per event.

(Courtesy of Marriott)
(Courtesy of Marriott)

Additionally, you’ll earn an additional elite night credit for every 20 rooms you book as part of your event, up to 20 elite night credits per 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.

Related reading: Maximizing points and miles when planning your wedding and honeymoon

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.

(Courtesy of Marriott)

If all five of your referred friends complete at least five stays, you’ll earn a 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.

Related reading: How to refer friends and earn points, miles or cash credits

Eating out

In October 2019, Marriott launched a new way of earning points: eating. The “Eat Around Town” program offers Marriott elites 6x Marriott points per dollar spent and non-elite Marriott members 4x Marriott points per dollar spent. To earn, all you need to do is connect your credit card to the program and use your card to eat at participating restaurants.

(Courtesy of Marriott)

Note that points earned through the Eat Around Town program are in addition to the points you’d otherwise earn from the dining purchase, such as credit card rewards or rewards from the restaurant’s loyalty program.

Travel partners

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

And, you can earn 3x Marriott points (up to 30,000 points) by booking a cruise through Marriott Cruise With Points.

Buying a mattress

(Photo by Katie Genter/The Points Guy)
You can earn points by purchasing a new St. Regis mattress. (Photo by Katie Genter/The Points Guy)

Bonvoy members will earn 10,000 Marriott points by buying a mattress from any of Marriott International’s retail stores online: 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 cards like the American Express® Gold Card to top off your Marriott Bonvoy account.

Combining points with 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 44 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.

Related reading: What are points and miles worth?

Redeeming Marriott points

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.

(Courtesy of Marriott)
(Courtesy of Marriott)

Peak and off-peak dates are determined by an algorithm at the program level and are adjusted monthly “to reflect market conditions.” Marriott claims it maintains a fairly equal distribution of peak and off-peak across all hotels.

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.

(Courtesy of Marriott)
(Courtesy of Marriott)

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 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.

And, Marriott now asks that members only use Points Advance to reserve a maximum of three rooms per account.

Related reading: 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 a higher category, 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.

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 44 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. 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.

(Courtesy of Marriott)

You can also 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 Category 1-8 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.

(Courtesy of Marriott)
(Courtesy of Marriott)

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

(Courtesy of Marriott)

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.

(Courtesy of Marriott)

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.

(Courtesy of Marriott)

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:

(Courtesy of Marriott)
(Courtesy of Marriott)

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.

Related reading: 11 places to get more than $1,000 in value from 100,000 Marriott points

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.

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.

Related reading: Do fifth night free awards apply to suites or only to standard rooms?

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.

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 going forward with the plan to redeem for more high-valued fifth-night-free awards in my travels around the world.

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.

Additional reporting by Katie Genter, Richard Kerr and Andrew Kunesh.

Featured photo by Brian Biros/The Points Guy.

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