Why Category 5 is the new sweet spot in the Marriott Bonvoy award chart

Sep 11, 2021

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


Since Marriott launched its rebranded Bonvoy loyalty program, there have been a lot of changes.

We saw limited-time award sales, when top-tier properties were bookable for only 60,000 points per night. Then Marriott introduced peak and off-peak pricing and some aggressive hotel category changes.

By this point, we’ve settled into the new normal with Marriott Bonvoy. With most award charts, the sweet spots lie at the absolute top and bottom. That’s definitely true with some Marriott hotels, including the aspirational Category 8 Al Maha resort outside of Dubai, which might be the single best value redemption in the entire Marriott Bonvoy program.

However, when looking back on my redemption patterns, I noticed another sweet spot emerging in the middle of the award chart: Category 5 hotels.

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. Despite the attention given to top-tier luxurious properties like the Ritz Carlton, Hong Kong, Category 5 offers travelers the best and most consistent value across the Marriott award chart. Here’s why.

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In This Post

Earning Category 5 free nights

The simplest way to get a free night at a Category 5 hotel is to redeem Marriott Bonvoy points. At standard pricing, Category 5 hotels cost 35,000 points per night. However, that number can range from 30,000 to 40,000 if the dates are off-peak or peak. Based on TPG’s valuation of Marriott points at 0.8 cents each, 35,000 works out to a $280 value. Meanwhile, peak and off-peak pricing would require redeeming points worth either $240 or $320, respectively.

Marriott Bonvoy award chart
(Screenshot courtesy of marriott.com)

As with any Marriott redemption, one of the best ways to maximize your value is to get a fifth night free when redeeming points. You can combine points and free night awards on your reservation, but you need to redeem points for at least five nights to get the fifth night free.

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

Many people might also recognize this standard award rate (35,000 points) as the value of the anniversary free night award that comes with select Marriott Bonvoy credit cards. The following credit cards are currently accepting new applicants and offer a free night award worth up to 35,000 points each year upon account renewal:

And you can earn a second up-to-35,000-point free night award if you spend at least $60,000 on the Marriott Bonvoy Business Amex in a calendar year.

Related: Am I eligible for a new Marriott Bonvoy card? This chart tells you yes or no

A free night worth $300 or more makes it easy to keep paying the annual fees on these Bonvoy credit cards. I wouldn’t be surprised if many people have multiple Marriott Bonvoy cards and hence earn multiple anniversary free nights each year. I have four Marriott Bonvoy credit cards and have spent $60,000 on my Bonvoy Business Amex some years to earn an extra free night award.

For complete details on how to use these free night awards once they arrive in your account, check out TPG’s post on how to use a Marriott Bonvoy 35,000-point certificate. And if you need inspiration, see TPG’s posts on great uses of Marriott 35,000-point free night certificates and best uses of Marriott 35,000-point certificates for family vacations.

Related: 7 of the best hotel credit cards that come with an annual free night

Location, location … and luxury?

Use your points at stunning Category 5 properties like the Mira Moon in Hong Kong. (Photo by Ethan Steinberg/The Points Guy)

Even after this year’s annual category changes, which went into effect on March 3, Marriott still has more than 1,100 Category 5 hotels across the world.

Category 5 is just above the midpoint of Marriott’s eight-category award chart, but this tier still includes several ultraluxurious hotels in Marriott’s most upscale brands. There are 21 different Category 5 Ritz-Carlton hotels, spanning diverse locations, like Beijing; Jakarta, Indonesia; Istanbul; Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates; and Tysons Corner, Virginia (outside of Washington, D.C.).

Further, St. Regis has another 12 hotels at Category 5, including locations in Mumbai, India; 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 more than 70 luxury hotels to choose from.

Related: 14 cities where you can book luxury hotels at budget prices

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 several major U.S. cities. Chicago alone has 17 such hotels, including the Hotel Chicago Downtown (a Luxury Collection property steps from the House of Blues) and two W hotels.

Los Angeles, Atlanta and New York are just a handful of other cities that have at least 10 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 award certificates. Of course, always double-check the cash rate of the hotel to make sure you’re getting a good deal. But, it’s typically easy to find Category 5 properties pricing out above the “break-even” point of $280 a night (based on TPG’s valuations).

Related: Stay here, not there: Using your Marriott free night certificate in the U.S.

Bottom line

Marriott smoothed the transition into Bonvoy by offering incredible discounts on awards at top-tier properties and delaying the introduction of peak and off-peak pricing. But even now, there’s still plenty of value to be had in the program.

However, knowing where to look can help. And there’s no better place to start than with Marriott’s more than 1,100 Category 5 hotels. Plus, if you have a Marriott Bonvoy credit card that earns a 35,000-point free night award after each account anniversary, it’s worth familiarizing yourself with your many redemption options.

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

Additional reporting by Katie Genter.

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

Featured photo of The Westin Langkawi Resort & Spa in Malaysia by Katie Genter/The Points Guy.

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