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

Jul 19, 2020

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Editor’s note: This is a recurring post, regularly updated with new information.

In the nearly two years since Marriott launched its rebranded Bonvoy loyalty program, there have been a lot of changes. We saw limited-time award sales, where top-tier properties were bookable for only 60,000 points per night. Later Marriott introduced peak and off-peak pricing and some aggressive hotel category changes as well.

The Al Maha Dubai. (Photo by Ethan Steinberg/The Points Guy)
The Al Maha Dubai. (Photo by Ethan Steinberg/The Points Guy)

At this point it’s safe to say that we’re settling in to the new normal with Marriott. 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 Bonvoy program. However, when I look back on my own redemption patterns I’ve noticed another sweet spot emerging in the middle of the award chart, specifically with 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. This has led me to conclude that, 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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Earning Category 5 free nights

The simplest way to get a free night at a Category 5 hotel is to redeem your points. At standard pricing category 5 hotels cost 35,000 points per night though that number can range from 30,000 to 40,000 if the property is 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 award rates would be worth either $240 or $320, respectively.

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:

Note that both of the business cards above offer the chance to earn a second up to 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, meaning I’ll end up with four free night certificates this year.

For complete details of how to use these free night awards once they arrive in your account, check out TPG’s guide to using 35,000-point certificates.

Location, location… and luxury?

Photo courtesy of W Chicago Lakeshore
The W Chicago Lakeshore provides a solid combination of convenience and luxury. (Photo courtesy of the hotel)

Even after this year’s annual category changes which went into effect on March 4, 2020, Marriott still has more than 1,000 Category 5 hotels across the world. While it was hard seeing 120 hotels jump to Category 6 this year (216 moved up and 96 moved down from category 6 to 5), 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, and Tysons Corner, Va., outside of Washington, D.C. 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 choose 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 U.S. cities. Chicago alone has 17 such hotels, letting you choose between incredible options including 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 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 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).

 

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 offf-peak pricing, but 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.

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

Featured image of the Mira Moon, Hong Kong by the author.

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

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