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Compared to other hotel loyalty programs like Starwood Preferred Guest and Hyatt Gold Passport, Marriott Rewards might not seem very valuable at first glance. And while a Marriott point isn’t worth as much as the currencies of those other programs, the Marriott Rewards program offers solid elite benefits and the potential to get a ton of value out of your redemptions. In fact, a Marriott Rewards status challenge in 2010 is actually what started my travel
obsession lifestyle in the first place. Today, I’ll move on from covering the Hilton Honors program to show you how to get the most out of your stays, rewards, elite status and more with the Marriott Rewards program.
Let’s start by looking at the benefits of being a loyal Marriott customer — first in terms of elite status and then in terms of earning and redeeming points.
Marriott offers three levels of elite status: Silver, Gold and Platinum. If you want to get technical, you could say there are six levels of elite, as you’re also able to earn lifetime Silver, Gold or Platinum status. Just by signing up and becoming a Marriott Rewards Member, you’ll get free standard Wi-Fi, which is a solid benefit.
Silver Elite membership is earned after 10 qualifying nights. Highlights include a 20% point bonus on stays, late checkout, a 10% discount on Friday and Saturday rack rates at Courtyard and SpringHill Suite properties and 10% off logo merchandise at Marriott gift shops. This isn’t the most amazing set of perks, but 20% extra points is nice.
Gold Elite membership is earned after 50 qualifying nights — a whopping five times more than Silver requires. Although this is a large requirement for a mid-level status (50 Hyatt nights gets you Diamond status), Marriott offers Gold members some compelling benefits. In addition to Silver perks, Gold Elites receive a 25% point bonus, enhanced internet access, priority late checkout, room upgrades to include Executive-level rooms and suites (though I’ve never seen/heard of such an upgrade for Gold), free local phone calls, Hertz #1 Gold Membership and my favorite benefit: breakfast and lounge access for you and a registered guest. If the lounge is closed, you’ll receive 750 points for US and Canada hotels, or 1,000 points at “select hotels.”
Platinum Elite membership is earned after 75 qualifying nights. In addition to Gold benefits, Platinum members receive a 50% point bonus, United MileagePlus Silver status, 48-hour guaranteed availability and a Platinum arrival gift — either points or a food and beverage amenity. My best Platinum arrival gift was a dessert, cheese and wine selection at the Seattle Marriott Waterfront. My worst was a rotten apple and banana in plastic wrap at the Renaissance Sapporo.
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 Status benefits for Marriott elites vary at Ritz-Carlton properties, as compared with Marriott portfolio properties — Marriott Platinums do not receive Ritz-Carlton lounge access, for instance.
Marriott Rewards 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. Of note, Ritz-Carlton Rewards is technically a separate program, however, you can earn and redeem points across both brands. Stays at a Ritz-Carlton will earn points in your Marriott Rewards account.
It’s also worth noting that you can earn airline miles instead of Marriott points with one of 40 airline loyalty programs. With most programs, you’ll earn 2 miles per dollar spent on all qualifying charges at JW Marriott, Autograph Collection, Marriott Hotels & Resorts and Vacation Club properties; 2 miles per dollar spent on room rate only at Ritz-Carlton and Edition properties; and 1 mile per dollar spent on room rate at all other Marriott portfolio member properties.
1. Hotel Stays — Earn 10 Marriott Rewards points per dollar on all qualifying charges at JW Marriott, Renaissance, Marriott Hotels, Autograph Hotels and Vacation Club properties. Earn 10 points per dollar spent on room rate only at Ritz-Carlton, Edition, AC Hotels, Protea Hotels, Moxy Hotels, Gaylord Hotels, Fairfield Inn & Suites, Courtyard and SpringHill Inn & Suites. Earn 5 points per dollar on room rate only at Residence Inns and TownePlace Suites.
2. Credit Card Spending — There are several cards which you can use to earn Marriott Rewards points. Chase offers the Marriott Rewards Premier Credit Card, which earns you 5 points per dollar spent at all Marriott portfolio properties; 2 points per dollar on airline spending, car rentals and restaurants; and 1 point per dollar on all other spending. You also earn 15 nights toward elite status; 1 elite night with every $3,000 in spending; a free night at a category 1-5 hotel on each anniversary of being a cardholder; and no foreign transaction fees, all for an $85 annual fee. The current sign-up bonus is 75,000 points after spending $3,000 in the first three months.
You can also use the Ritz-Carlton Rewards Credit Card from Chase to earn points when you use your Marriott Rewards number on your card application. This elite card lets you earn 5 points per dollar at all Ritz-Carlton and Marriott hotels and offers 3 Club Level upgrades on paid stays at Ritz-Carlton properties; automatic Gold Elite status and the chance to earn Platinum status after spending $75,000 on the card in a year; a 10% points bonus on all annual spending; a $100 hotel credit on paid stays of 2 nights or longer; a $300 annual travel credit; and no foreign transaction fees, all for a $450 annual fee. My wife and I each signed up for the card when it offered a 140,000-point sign-up bonus (no longer available) last December.
In addition to using the Marriott and Ritz-Carlton cards, you can transfer Chase Ultimate Rewards points to Marriott at a 1:1 transfer ratio. This means all Ultimate Rewards points earned with the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card, Chase Freedom and Ink Plus Business Card can be sent to Marriott to top off your account. You can also transfer Diners Club Club Rewards points into Marriott Rewards points at a 1,250:1,500 ratio.
3. Rewarding Events — Event planners can earn big with this Marriott program. You’ll earn 3 points per dollar (50,000 max per event) or 1 airline mile per dollar (15,000 max) for any qualifying event held at a Marriott property. Earn 10 elite nights when booking 10+ rooms, as well as instant Silver Elite status. You have the ability to split your points with colleagues if you so choose.
4. Travel Partners – Earn 500 Marriott points per Hertz car rental, up to 6 Marriott points per dollar spent at CruisesOnly.com and up to 10 points per minute of calling with Travelling Connect international cell service. You can also convert The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas Identity points to Marriott Rewards.
5. Shopping/Bills — Earn points when shopping at hundreds of online merchants at the ShopMyWay portal. There’s a special portal for wine, gifts and flowers where you can earn points — though a quick browse shows pretty mediocre earning rates. Switch to Energy Plus and earn 10,000 bonus points plus 2 points per dollar of your power bill. If you’re in the market for solar panels, NRG Home Solar will give you 5,000 points for completing a consultation and 25,000 additional points for installing solar panels.
6. Refer a Friend — Refer up to five new members a year and earn 2,000 points for up to 5 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 5 paid stays. If you aren’t working this with your friends and family, I suggest formulating a plan.
7. 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. A fantastic aspect of Marriott Rewards is the ability to combine your points with a spouse or domestic partner for free at the time of award redemption. This is why my wife and I each became Ritz-Carlton Rewards cardholders with the 140,000 sign-up bonus — it put 280,000 Marriott points at our disposal.
8. Social Media Interactions — Earn 25 points each for linking your Twitter and Instagram profiles to your Marriott Rewards account. After that, follow Marriott on Twitter and tweet with specific hashtags to earn 25 points per tweet — up to 125 points per day.
Award Chart and Redemption Options
1. Free Nights — Marriott divides its properties into 9 categories, and Ritz-Carlton hotels into 5 tiers. A free night starts at 7,500 points and tops out at 70,000 points for a tier 5 Ritz-Carlton.
If you redeem points for four consecutive nights, you’ll receive the 5th night free. On a rotating basis, Marriott identifies certain properties to place in its PointsSavers promotion, where award stays cost up to 33% fewer points.
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. It seems like this isn’t a well-known method of redeeming points. When I try to use it, the 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 (0.2 cents per point) on your points, and I highly recommend avoiding this avenue.
4. Travel Redemptions — There are quite a few options for getting free travel with your Marriott Rewards points. You can book air travel or rental cars directly with your points, but you’ll only receive ~0.38 cents per point in value toward these direct redemptions.
You can redeem points toward a free cruise with CruisesOnly.com, but again you’ll only receive about 0.4 cents per point in value.
You can transfer your Marriott points into airline miles with one of 40 different airlines, with varying ratios depending on the carrier. The ratios get better the more Marriott points you transfer, but none are really stellar. The best is United’s highest transfer amount, which comes out to 2.24:1. The worst is transferring to JetBlue or Virgin America, which is 10:1.
An interesting travel redemption you may not be aware of is the ability to turn your points into luxury train travel on the Venice Simplon Orient Express. I wasn’t too keen on long-distance train travel until I looked up the service and saw what the cabins look like. Itineraries start at 85,000 points per person for a British Countryside trip and increase to 400,000 points per person for a round-trip London-Venice Superior Class ticket. This itinerary is currently selling for $4,850 per person.
5. Hotel + Air Redemption — Although this is still a travel redemption, I separated it out, as I believe it’s the best use of your Marriott Rewards. You can turn your points into airline miles plus a 7-night stay at Marriott and Ritz-Carlton hotels around the world. Packages for 7 nights at Category 1-5 properties and air miles begin at 200,000 points and increase to 540,000 points for Ritz-Carlton Tier 5 properties and 132,000 miles. Not all airlines award the same amount of miles, with United again being the best as the preferred air partner of Marriott.
If you look at the above chart, once you start to get into the higher mileage packages, for every one additional Marriott point you earn you can redeem for an additional United mile. With my wife and I going from 0-280,000 points off the Ritz-Carlton sign-ups, and the additional work I have done since December, we are now set for 132,000 United miles and 7 nights in a category 9 Marriott.
6. Shopping/Donate — You can redeem miles for merchandise through a 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.
Booking free nights through the Marriott website is easy. Simply click the Use Rewards Points box on the main search, and results will appear with the required points shown.
I often use the flexible date calendar to find where I can redeem for five consecutive nights, thus earning the fifth night for no extra points.
There are so many options for using your points (Marriott advertises 250+) that it’s important to recognize quickly those that do and do not offer you value. I absolutely recommend saving for a Hotel + Air package.
Leveraging Marriott Rewards
I’m not sure Marriott Rewards deserves the mediocre rap it has among many loyalty enthusiasts. Free nights can quickly cost a lot of points at the upper tiers, but there’s still plenty of value to be had. 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. 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. Taste of Platinum Challenge — I alluded earlier to the Platinum challenge, which started my points and miles obsession. Although not always available, Marriott often offers this challenge of staying 12 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 somehow still maintain Marriott Gold status with only a handful of paid Marriott stays each year. A couple years my status was carried over and this past February I simply called and requested to keep the status, to which the agent agreed!
3. Selective Free Nights — I try to find hotels that, in my opinion, are undervalued. My latest favorite example is the brand-new JW Marriott Hanoi, which looks fantastic and has great reviews. It’s only a Category 3 hotel, at 15,000 points a night. This also unfortunately works conversely, where what I believe are Category 2-worthy hotels are somehow in Category 7 (usually in expensive cities like NYC).
If you ever need to know more about the Marriott Rewards program, head over to Marriott Rewards Insiders and read through the message boards or pose a question. These are the people who eat, sleep and breathe Marriott. Make sure you also keep up with Marriott’s MegaBonus promotions, which have been fairly weak as of late.
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 lucrative travel packages, I’m a fan of Marriott Rewards. In particular, the lounge access with Gold Elite status is a huge win for the occasional road warrior. I’ll continue collecting Marriott points in the hopes of enjoying several 7-night free stays in addition to building my United account with the Hotel + Air options.
What’s your favorite aspect of Marriott Rewards?