Why Category 5 Is the New Sweet Spot in the Marriott Bonvoy Award Chart
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From cataloguing TPG readers’ top complaints to pointing out buggy IT and hidden fees, we could write volumes about the new Marriott Bonvoy program. We’ve even gone so far as to list the hotels that have left the program as a result of the merger and provided guidance to travelers ready to switch their loyalty as well.
However, for better or for worse, I’m choosing to stick with Marriott (and I’m not the only one here at TPG). Knowing that the website will be glitchy and the customer service slow, I’ve stopped getting all worked up over every little issue that comes up. Instead, I’ve turned my attention to squeezing as much value as possible out of the new Bonvoy program. While I managed to book five different Category 8 hotels using points before they went up in price, that deal is now over, so it’s time to adjust to the new reality that is Marriott Bonvoy.
In looking at some of my favorite redemptions over the last few months, I noticed something: The hotels that offered me the best value — in terms of the overall experience and quality of the property coupled with the award cost relative to cash rates — were almost all Category 5 properties. This has led me to conclude that, despite the attention given to top-tier luxurious properties like the St. Regis Bora Bora, I think Category 5 offers travelers the best and most consistent value across the new Marriott award chart.
Earning Category 5 Free Nights
The simplest way to get a free night at a Category 5 hotel is to redeem your points. At the moment, all hotels are operating under standard pricing, meaning that a free night costs 35,000 points. Based on TPG’s valuation of Marriott points at 0.8 cents each, that works out to a $280 value. When peak and off-peak pricing is introduced (expected some point later this year), the pricing on those dates will adjust to either 40,000 or 30,000 points respectively, or a value of $240 to $320.
As with any Marriott redemption, one of the best ways to maximize your value is to book a five-night award stay and get the fifth night free. You can combine points and free night certificates on this reservation, but you need to pay for at least five nights with points to get the fifth night free.
Many people might also recognize this standard award rate (35,000 points) as the value of the anniversary free night certificate that comes with many Bonvoy credit cards. The following credit cards each offer a free night certificate worth up to 35,000 points upon account renewal:
- Marriott Bonvoy Card from American Express (closed to new applicants)
- Marriott Bonvoy Business™ American Express® Card
- Marriott Bonvoy Premier Plus Business Credit Card (closed to new applicants)
Note that both of the business cards above offer the chance to earn a second 35,000-point free night certificate by spending $60,000 in a calendar year.
A free night worth $300 or more makes it easy to keep paying the annual fees on these Bonvoy credit cards. As a result, I wouldn’t be surprised if a large number of people had multiple Bonvoy cards and multiple anniversary free nights. I personally have three of the four cards on this list and plan on spending $60,000 on my Bonvoy Business Amex this year, meaning I’ll end up with four free night certificates this year.
The Marriott Bonvoy Boundless Credit Card is offering 75,000 Bonus Points after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. The Bonvoy Business Card is offering an offer of 75,000 bonus Marriott Bonvoy points after you use your new Card to make $3,000 in purchases within the first 3 months.
For complete details of how to use these free night awards once they arrive in your account, check out Summer Hull’s guide to using 35,000-point certificates.
Location, Location… and Luxury?
Even after this year’s annual category changes which went into effect on March 5th, Marriott still has well over one thousand Category 5 hotels across the world. While it was hard seeing 72 hotels jump to Category 6 this year, you can’t say you don’t have options for redeeming these free night certificates.
Category 5 is just above the midpoint of Marriott’s eight-category award chart, but this tier still includes a number of ultra-luxurious hotels in Marriott’s most upscale brands. There are 20 different Category 5 Ritz-Carlton hotels from which to choose, spanning such diverse locations as Beijing, Jakarta, Istanbul, Abu Dhabi, Cleveland and Tysons Corner, Virginia. St. Regis has another 10 hotels at Category 5, including locations in Mumbai, Cairo and Bangkok. If you expand the search a little bit to include brands like EDITION, JW Marriott and W Hotels, you easily end up with another 50+ luxury hotels to pick from.
Of course picking the right hotel for your trip is as much about location as anything else, and the flexible Category 5 options let you pick the best spot in a number of major US cities. Chicago alone has 14 such hotels, letting you pick between incredible options like The Gwen, a stunning Luxury Collection property on the Magnificent Mile, the Cubs-themed Hotel Zachary (which recently opened across the street from historic Wrigley Field) or two different W hotels in different parts of downtown.
Los Angeles, Atlanta, New York and London are just a handful of other cities that have at least ten Category 5 properties for you to book, meaning that you should never struggle to find a good value redemption for your points or free night certificates. Of course, you’ll want to double-check the cash rate of the hotel to make sure you’re getting a good deal, but it’s easy to find Category 5 properties pricing out above the “break-even” point of $280 a night (based on TPG’s valuations).
While it’s sad to finally see the introduction of Category 8 pricing for Marriott’s top-tier, high-end resorts like the St. Regis Maldives, there’s still plenty of value to be had in the program. Knowing where to look can help, and there’s no better place to start than with Marriott’s 1,000+ Category 5 hotels. Especially if you have a Bonvoy credit card and will be getting a 35,000-point free night certificate the future, it’s worth familiarizing yourself with the many options you have to redeem it.
Featured image of the Mira Moon, Hong Kong by the author.
For rates and fees of the Marriott Bonvoy Business Amex, please click here.
This card from Bank of America gets really interesting if you have a BofA checking, savings or investment account. Depending on the value of your combined accounts you can potentially get as much as 3.5x points on travel/dining and 2.625x points on other purchases making it the richest consumer banking bonus out there.
- Receive 50,000 bonus points – a $500 value – after you make at least $3,000 in purchases in the first 90 days of account opening
- Earn unlimited 2 points for every $1 spent on travel and dining purchases and unlimited 1.5 points per $1 spent on all other purchases
- If you're a Bank of America Preferred Rewards member, you can earn 25%-75% more points on every purchase
- No limit to the points you can earn and your points don't expire
- Redeem for cash back as a statement credit, deposit into eligible Bank of America® accounts, credit to eligible Merrill accounts, or gift cards or purchases at the Bank of America Travel Center
- Get up to $200 in combined airline incidental and airport expedited screening statement credits + valuable travel insurance protections
- No Foreign Transaction Fees
- Low $95 annual fee