Finding Value With Marriott’s Cash + Points Awards
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While the cost of an award night at Marriott properties is constant from day-to-day (at least until peak and off-peak pricing are instituted), the cash price of a room can fluctuate much like a plane ticket does. This means that you could use your Marriott points for great value on a Saturday night, but that same room might represent a poor value (possibly even below TPG’s valuations) the following night.
Thankfully Marriott gives you two fantastic tools to combat this, allowing you to use a combination of points and cash to maximize your award stays. Today we’ll take a look at these two options, which confusingly both fall under the umbrella term of “Cash + Points” with the program.
Mixing Points and Cash on Different Nights
The first and simplest option allows you to pick and choose what nights to pay for in cash and what nights to book using points. While you could accomplish the same thing by creating multiple reservations for the same stay, Marriott allows you to conveniently do this under a single reservation. Simply search for award rates at the hotel where you want to stay for two or more nights and the online search engine will easily allow you to select the optimal combination of paid and award nights.
Here’s how this works. Let’s say you wanted to book a three-night stay in Washington, DC. Start by visiting Marriott.com and logging into your Bonvoy account. Enter your search criteria, and be sure to check the Use Points box before clicking Find Hotels.
From there, find the hotel you want (we’ll choose the Westin for this example) and click on View Rates.
Scroll down to see what rooms are available using points. While some properties might only give you one selection, the Westin allows award stays in either a Traditional Double or Traditional King room. However, the most important item you want to find is the link to Customized Cash + Points.
When you expand that out, you’ll see the paid and award rates for each night of your stay.
As you can see, the Westin typically costs 35,000 points for a free night, so based on TPG’s most recent valuations, that works out to $280 worth of Marriott points. If the paid rate is higher than that, it’s a good redemption value. If the paid rate is lower than that, it’s a poor redemption value.
Given the above rates, the first and third nights of your stay should be an easy decision. Use points for the $459 night (giving you a redemption value of 1.3 cents per point without even factoring in taxes and fees) and pay for the $144 night. The second night is a bit harder. $287 is just above that $280 “break-even” point based on TPG’s valuations, so while it’s a decent value, it’s by no means stellar.
However, bear in mind that the rates displayed here are base rates only. If you search for that night alone in a separate browser, you’ll see that paying for it will add over $40 to the rate, bringing your total to $330.07.
This redemption value (0.94 cents per point) may push you to select to use points for that night too.
Once you’ve determined and selected the best breakdown of paid and award nights, click Preview Combination to see the final price of your stay in points and cash (before taxes and fees).
From there, simply click Select and follow the on-screen prompts to finalize the reservation.
There are a few additional items to keep in mind if you’re going to use this option. First, there’s no restriction that requires the nights to be consecutive. On a four-night stay, you could redeem points for the first and third nights and then pay for the second and fourth nights. You can control the combination.
Second, you can use it and still take advantage of Marriott’s fifth night free on award stays. However, you must have at least five of the nights selected with points in order to do so. As soon as you drop below this number, the fifth night free perk disappears.
To see this in action, let’s stick with the Westin in Washington, DC. Instead of departing on Saturday June 1, let’s say you wanted to checkout on Tuesday June 4. All six nights are available using points, and since your stay is five nights or longer, one of the nights is free. You can see this when you click on Customized Cash + Points.
If you change the Friday night to cash instead of points and then click Preview Combination, the free night is still reflected.
However, if you change both Friday and Sunday nights to cash, the free night suddenly disappears, because you only have four of the six nights selected for points.
Third, you can still use any applicable free night certificates in conjunction with this award option. For example, let’s say you had a free night award certificate (up to 35,000-points) from the Marriott Bonvoy Boundless Credit Card. Since you could use this free night award at the Westin, it’ll appear as a payment option on the confirmation page just before you finalize your reservation. For the three-night stay above, you’re given the option of using 70,000 points for the two award nights you’ve selected, but you could instead use your certificate and 35,000 points.
However, just note that this certificate does not count as a night paid with points when it comes to the fifth night free perk. In other words, if you try to book a six-night stay with one night paid in cash and one with a free night certificate, the other four will require the full number of points.
Finally, it’s worth noting that booking these reservations only allow you to pay Marriott’s Member Rate for the nights you select. If you’re wanting a prepaid rate or have access to other discounts like AAA or government rates, you’ll want to compare those prices to the Member Rate to see if you’d be better off booking separate reservations (and then calling the hotel to link them so you could hopefully stay in the same room).
Overall Verdict: This version of Points + Cash is a great option when cash rates are fluctuating significantly over the course of your stay. It applies to any stay and can be combined with Marriott’s fifth night free along with free night certificates.
Cash + Points Award Rates
In addition to the above options, Marriott has a separate Cash + Points award chart that allows you save points on an individual award night by spending some extra cash. Both the points and paid portions are fixed based on the category of the hotel, and you can see them in the award chart shown below:
In this scenario, you’re essentially buying Marriott points at a rate of anywhere from 0.76 to 1.38 cents per point. Using TPG’s valuation as a guideline, you’ll get the best values from this booking option at Category 5, 6 and 7 hotels, where Marriott is selling you points at around 0.8 cents or less.
That being said, one of the biggest drawbacks to this option is that participation in Cash + Points is up to the discretion of each individual hotel. In addition, there’s no way to know if a property will be offering it without searching for your dates. From what I’ve seen, it’s a very limited set of properties and dates that allow you to redeem points in this way.
That being said, there are some examples where this would be a good value, one of which is the Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center just outside of Washington, DC. The Category 5 property normally costs 35,000 points a night, but you could save a large chunk points by spending $140 and 17,000 points instead.
Just be sure to compare the paid rates with these Cash + Points rates, as they generally appear when rooms are cheaper. And if you plan to book this type of Cash + Points rate, be aware of the following terms:
- Fifth night free does not apply.
- You will not earn points on the cash portion of the rate.
- You will receive one elite night credit for each night booked.
Overall Verdict: This award option can be great when paid rates are high, but given that it’s a very limited offering and entirely at a hotel’s discretion, don’t expect to find many examples of even good value.
Marriott doesn’t get enough credit for the seamless way it lets travelers alternate between cash and points within a single stay, maximizing your redemptions and saving as much money as possible. The more conventional Cash + Points booking method — where you pay a mixture of cash and points to book a single specific award night — is not nearly as valuable. Still, when you combine these two options with Marriott’s Points Advance functionality, Bonvoy members have plenty of creative tools at their disposal to get even more value out of their upcoming award reservations.
Featured photo courtesy of Marriott.