Want Great Value for Your Marriott Points? Go to South Africa
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Marriott has had a rough several months. Last August brought the integration of Marriott Rewards, Starwood Preferred Guest and Ritz-Carlton Rewards, and the new Marriott Bonvoy moniker took effect in February. The consolidation has produced winners and losers, and many of us have mourned the loss of the SPG American Express card. Thankfully, there's still an opportunity to continue to earn at total of 3x points on up to $100,000 worth of purchases through the end of 2019.
But if you're worried that you won't get great value when you redeem your Bonvoy points for free night stays, all you have to do is plan a trip to South Africa. That's where your Bonvoy points may be more valuable for free night stays than any other place on earth.
Why South Africa?
Visiting South Africa using points and miles isn't always an easy thing, nor is it cheap. However, there are values to be had. South Africa is home to Protea Hotels, the largest hotel company in Africa with 80 current properties and eight more under construction. Protea was purchased by Marriott in 2014 and is now one of 30 brands that are part of the Bonvoy program.
But more so than any other brand that I'm aware of, Protea Hotels are much more likely to be part of the Marriott Bonvoy program's lowest award level, Category 1.
There are 53 Protea Hotels in South Africa that are distributed as follows:
- 40 Category 1 properties requiring just 7,500 points per night.
- 9 Category 2 properties requiring 12,500 points per night.
- 3 Category 3 properties requiring 17,500 points per night.
- 1 Category 4 property requiring 25,000 points per night.
You could also redeem your Bonvoy points for free night stays at 10 other properties in the country:
- A Category 2 Sheraton property in Pretoria
- Three Category 2 Autograph Collection properties (one in Johannesburg, one in Pretoria and one in Magaliesburg)
- A Category 3 AC Hotel property in Cape Town
- A Category 3 Autograph Collection property about 100km outside of Cape Town
- A Category 4 Autograph Collection property in Cape Town
- A Category 4 Marriott property in Cape Town
- A Category 5 Design Hotels property in Johannesburg
- A Category 5 Westin property in Cape Town
In contrast, Hilton has just three properties in the whole country, and Hyatt has only one.
If you manage to grab the Marriott Bonvoy Boundless Credit Card before May 16, you could be looking at over two weeks in some of these hotels. The card is currently offering a sign-up bonus of 100,000 Marriott points after you spend $5,000 on purchases in your first three months from your account opening. With this haul of points alone, you'd be able to snag 10 free nights at one of the Category 1 properties; if some of those stays are for five nights or longer, you could get up 12 free nights thanks to Marriott's fifth night free benefit on award stays. That is simply an astonishing value for a single sign-up bonus.
It's unclear why Protea Hotels are categorized so low, but perhaps it's because Marriott lists them under its "Classic Select" brands; this designation is shared with Courtyard, Four Points by Sheraton, SpringHill Suites and Fairfield Inn & Suites. But as you'll see, there are plenty of unique Protea properties that I'd prefer over your typical "Classic Select" hotel in the United States.
It should also be noted that South Africa is a very affordable country to visit, especially because Americans enjoy a very favorable exchange rate between the US Dollar and the South African Rand. As a result, you should always check paid rates at these properties. While you some have nights for as little as $40, others sell for over $180.
When you're able to spend 7,500 Marriott Bonvoy points instead of paying $188, you are realizing 3.8 cents per point, nearly five times TPG's current valuation of 0.8 cents each. Normally you'd need to be booking top-tier properties like the St. Regis Bora Bora or Al Maha Resort to enjoy this level of value, or you may need to transfer your points to an airline partner. But with many of these Protea Hotels, you'll enjoy a phenomenal value when you use your points in South Africa.
Protea Award Nights in South Africa
Here is just a snapshot of some of the terrific award options that Protea Hotels can provide.
Protea Hotel Hazyview
This beautiful Category 1 property is located near the famed Kruger Park. I've found rooms with two queen beds for $107, including taxes and fees. That gives you 1.4 cents per point in value.
Protea Hotel Nelspruit
This is another Category 1 hotel near the Kruger Park, where larger rooms can be had for just 7,500 points, or about $131.
Protea Hotel Polokwane Ranch Resort
Only in South Africa could you find a four-star resort hotel with its own 1,000-hectare (100,000-acre) game preserve featuring antelope, hyenas, giraffes, zebra, buffalo and lions. Throw in pools, tennis courts and a golf course, and it's a bargain at 7,500 points per night. It's also a bargain if you pay cash, with some nights available for just $88.
Protea Hotel Mossel Bay
This Category 1 property occupies a historic building and has a view of the harbor. It often sells for $148 per night, including taxes and fees. This gives you a value of nearly two cents per point.
Protea Hotel Transit O.R. Tambo Airport
Johannesburg Airport (JNB) is a major hub for all of southern Africa, and you can't find a more convenient location than this property, located airside within the terminal. That means that when you arrive by air, you don't even have to clear customs and immigration before you check-in. However, you will need a boarding pass or e-ticket if arriving by land.
Award nights here are just 7,500 Marriott points, and with standard rates starting at ~$140, you can get nearly 2 cents of value for each point.
Protea Hotel Cape Town Waterfront Breakwater Lodge
Cape Town is one of my favorite cities in the world, and you'll only need to spend 12,500 points a night for this Category 2 property in an historic building. Not bad for a hotel that often costs $225 per night, including taxes and fees.
Protea Hotel Dorpshuis & Spa Stellenbosch
If you love wine, then you've heard of the famous Stellenbosch region of South Africa. This four-star property is classified as Category 2, but it's also a bargain at about $100 per night. It's walking distance from many restaurants and shops in downtown Stellenbosch, as TPG Editor Nick Ewen found during his March 2018 stay.
Protea Hotel Kruger Gate
For a mere 12,500 points you can stay at this hotel within 100 meters of the Kruger Park. This amazing looking property is even in view of its wildlife. A typical room rate is $207 per night, including taxes and fees.
Protea Hotel Stellenbosch
Here's another wine country hotel where you can get a "larger guest room" for 12,500 points per night, or about $139, including taxes and fees.
Protea Hotel Cape Town Victoria Junction
Finally, here's a hotel in the heart of Cape Town, right near the famous Victoria and Alfred Waterfront. And while it will cost you 17,500 points, that's still a pretty good deal for a hotel that often sells for $190, including taxes and fees.
Protea Hotel Mahikeng, South Africa
This property is located about three and a half hours west of the Johannesburg Airport and is adjacent to the Mafikeng Game Reserve which includes white rhino, buffalo, gemsbok and giraffe. This is also a Category 1 hotel, with standard rooms requiring just 7,500 points per night.
Protea Zebula Lodge
This Category 2 property is two and a half hour’s drive north of the Johannesburg Airport in Limpopo, South Africa, and it appears about as close as you can come to a true African safari while still being part of a major hotel loyalty program. It’s located near the Mabalingwe Nature Reserve, the Phala Phala Wildlife Refuge and the Bateleur Nature Reserve. From this property, you can depart on game drives, horseback rides and walks.
BONUS: Other Options
Of course, the value in these awards isn't limited to award nights in South Africa, nor are you limited to the Protea brand. Here are three "bonus" properties that allow you to get incredible value for your Marriott points in the southern part of Africa.
Protea Hotel Lusaka Safari Lodge
Here’s a Category 1 hotel in Zambia with a private game reserve and offering its own game drives. Award nights cost just 7,500 points, and with standard rates starting at ~$160/night, you'll be getting over 2 cents in value for every point you use.
Protea Hotel Zambezi River Lodge
This Category 1 property is in Katima Mulilo, Namibia, on the banks of the Zambezi River, which is full of hippos and other wildlife. It’s also near Victoria Falls and the Chobe National Park. Room rates are generally low at this hotel, but it's currently showing PointSavers award rates of just 6,000 points per night on weekends (including Sunday nights) through the end of the booking calendar.
African Pride Mount Grace Country House & Spa, Autograph Collection
This final property isn't part of Protea Hotels, but it's still worth mentioning as a great deal. It's located in Magaliesburg, South Africa, about one hour west of the Johannesburg Airport, and it’s situated near the Krugersdorp Game Reserve, home to giraffe, zebra, antelope, roan, sable, hippo and gemsbok. As a Category 2 hotel, a standard award room will set you back just 12,500 points per night.
A lot of people are upset with the problems that the Marriott Bonvoy program has had during its introduction, but if you have a stash of points, you might as well look at the bright side. By planning a trip to South Africa, you can stretch your points further than you ever thought possible. With all of these options, however, be sure to compare the cash rates to the award prices, as you may get an even better deal by simply paying for the room.