Why I booked 6 upcoming Marriott stays with cash instead of points

Mar 10, 2021

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Over the last couple of months, my husband JT and I have ramped up our travel bookings for trips in mid to late 2021 and early 2022. After all, we’re hopeful that frequent international travel without quarantines will become feasible and responsible for fully vaccinated travelers later this year. And once it does, we plan to return to living out of hotels as global digital nomads.

I’ve booked a lot of hotel award stays recently with Hilton Honors and IHG Rewards points. After all, it’s easy to get great value from your points in these programs right now. In particular, our current award bookings in these programs are yielding 1.24 cents per IHG point and 0.7 cents per Hilton point. Both of these redemption rates are above TPG’s valuations, but our IHG Rewards redemption rate is an outstanding 2.48 times TPG’s valuation.

I’m also booking a lot of Marriott Bonvoy stays. After all, our elite status goals to each earn Titanium Elite status in 2021 mean we’ll need to stay with Marriott for at least 27 nights this year. But even though we have plenty of Marriott Bonvoy points, most of our Marriott bookings for stays later this year are paid rates. So, today I’ll discuss why I’m mostly booking paid Marriott stays right now as well as the Marriott stays I’ve booked.

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Why now is a great time to book paid Marriott stays

Fiji Marriott Resort Momi Bay
A bungalow at one of my favorite Marriott properties, the Fiji Marriott Resort Momi Bay. (Photo by JT Genter/The Points Guy)

Thanks to low occupancy, it’s been easy to find inexpensive hotel rates during the coronavirus pandemic. Many of my New York-based TPG colleagues have utilized excellent rates at New York hotels during the pandemic for staycations. And I was able to snag excellent rates on mid-pandemic Marriott stays last year in Istanbul, Turkey and Boulder, Colorado.

Even if you aren’t ready to travel yet, you may be able to snag low, flexible rates for stays in mid to late 2021 and early 2022. For example, I recently booked the “flexible rate without breakfast” for $56 per night at the Four Points by Sheraton Bogota for stays in June and August. I don’t mind the no-breakfast rate since, as a Platinum Elite, I’ll get lounge access (if the club lounge is open) or breakfast daily as an elite perk. But even non-elites could book a rate that gives buffet breakfast daily, two cocktails upon arrival and 20% off dinner for just $65 per night.

Likewise, some Marriott hotels offer inexpensive Work Anywhere Stay Pass rates that allow free cancellation until a day before arrival. For example, the Four Points by Sheraton Bali Ungasan in Bali, Indonesia, offers rates as low as $41 per night into fall that include a free upgrade to a Signature Deluxe Bay View room, private workspace, 6 a.m. check-in, 6 p.m. checkout and breakfast daily.

In short, it’s worth making fully-refundable bookings now for any upcoming trips you have planned. You can rebook if the price drops or cancel if you don’t end up taking the trip. But, you have the rate secured if prices jump. And I suspect we’ll see prices jump as more travelers become fully vaccinated and more destinations reopen to tourism.

It’s still worth pricing out both paid and award stays and calculating what your redemption rate would be, though. As I’ll discuss in a later section, redeeming Marriott Bonvoy points still makes sense for some stays. But even with off-peak pricing and PointSaver pricing, the Marriott Bonvoy award chart doesn’t allow for significant drops in award pricing. As such, it’s not surprising that cash rates typically provide better value than redeeming Marriott Bonvoy points right now.

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

6 paid Marriott Bonvoy stays I’ve booked

Bogotá, Colombia
We have several trips booked to Bogota, Colombia, this year. (Photo by Ilyshev Dmitry/Shutterstock)

As I mentioned above, many Marriott Bonvoy hotels currently offer lower-than-usual flexible paid rates. So, as JT has jumped on flight deals (such as Delta One from New York City to Bogota for 12,000 SkyMiles) and rescheduled flights, I’ve booked flexible hotel rates.

Our hotel reservations frequently change as we book, cancel and reschedule trips. But currently, we have the following paid Marriott stays. For these reservations, I also calculated the cents per point we would’ve gotten if we’d redeemed Marriott points. I used the lower of our reservation cost and the current best flexible rate for this calculation. Here’s a summary of our upcoming paid Marriott stays:

  • Courtyard Jacksonville Airport Northeast for two nights this month
    • Our reservation: $202
    • Current best flexible rate: $236
    • Current points cost: 40,000 points
    • Cents per point: 0.51
  • Fairfield Inn & Suites Columbus for one night this month
    • Our reservation: $73
    • Current best flexible rate: $90
    • Current points cost: 17,500 points
    • Cents per point: 0.42
  • W Santiago for four nights in April
  • Four Points by Sheraton Santiago for two nights in May
    • Our reservation: $172
    • Current best flexible rate: $157
    • Current points cost: 20,000 points
    • Cents per point: 0.79
  • Four Points by Sheraton Bogota for three nights in June
    • Our reservation: $170
    • Current best flexible rate: $170
    • Current points cost: 37,500 points
    • Cents per point: 0.45
  • Four Points by Sheraton Bogota for seven nights in August
    • Our reservation: $396
    • Current best flexible rate: $396
    • Current points cost: 75,000 points
    • Cents per point: 0.53

As you can see, we’d get below TPG’s valuation of Marriott Bonvoy points (0.8 cents per point) on each of these bookings if we redeemed points. I typically aim for higher than TPG’s valuations when redeeming points, though. So booking paid flexible rates for these stays was an easy choice for me.

Plus, on the first two stays mentioned above, I’ll utilize a Marriott Bonvoy promotion to earn up to two free night awards after two eligible paid stays. Specifically, after these two stays, I’ll earn two free night awards that are each redeemable for a night costing 35,000 points or less. Plus, thanks to an Amex Offer on my Marriott Bonvoy Business™ American Express® Card for $50 off a Marriott Bonvoy transaction of $200 or more, my first stay will effectively cost me $152. I’ll also earn double elite nights and points on this stay, thanks to another Marriott promotion.

Since I found a lower flexible cash rate while writing this article, I rebooked our stay at the Four Points by Sheraton Santiago. However, I didn’t rebook our W Santiago stay directly with Marriott since I’ll happily pay $30 extra across four nights for Amex Fine Hotels and Resorts perks.

As it becomes clearer which trips we’ll take and which we’ll cancel or reschedule, I may cancel some of our paid stays in South America to use expiring free night certificates instead. However, I’m happy to have these low rates locked in for now.

Related: When does it make sense to transfer Marriott points to airlines?

Marriott Bonvoy award stays I’ve booked

Larger king room at Protea Hotel Kruger Gate
We have two upcoming award stays booked at the Protea Hotel Kruger Gate in South Africa. (Photo by Katie Genter/The Points Guy)

Although I’ve booked most of our upcoming Marriott stays with cash, I redeemed Marriott Bonvoy points for three stays. As you’ll see below, each of these redemptions would get well over TPG’s 0.8 cents per point valuation of Marriott Bonvoy points.

  • Protea Hotel Kruger Gate for five nights in September
    • Our reservation: 52,500 points (worth $420 based on TPG’s valuations)
    • Current points cost: 50,000 points
    • Current best flexible rate: $974
    • Cents per point: 1.95
  • Courtyard Kuwait City for three nights in October
    • Our reservation: 35,000 points (worth $280)
    • Current points cost: 35,000 points
    • Current best flexible rate: $818
    • Cents per point: 2.34
  • Protea Hotel Kruger Gate for five nights in January 2022
    • Our reservation: 55,000 points (worth $440)
    • Current points cost: 55,000 points
    • Current best flexible rate: $974
    • Cents per point: 1.77

The Protea Hotel Kruger Gate was the last hotel we stayed at before returning to the U.S. last March as coronavirus lock-downs loomed. As such, returning to the property and beautiful Kruger National Park is a priority for us. I’m not sure whether we’ll return in September or January (or both), but I’m happy to have these stays on the books.

Meanwhile, Kuwait City hotels belonging to my primary hotel loyalty programs all carry high rates for our October trip. As you can see, we’re getting a massive 2.34 cents per point redemption value on our booking at the centrally-located Category 2 Courtyard Kuwait City. This redemption rate is impressive, especially considering our stay is too short for Marriott’s fifth night free on award stays perk.

Related: 6 reasons why now is the time to book travel with points and miles

Bottom line

With low paid rates in many markets now, it makes sense to book flexible rates for upcoming trips. These inexpensive paid rates and low occupancy translate to lower award night costs in dynamically priced programs like Hilton Honors and IHG Rewards. But the best way to take advantage of these low rates at Marriott Bonvoy properties is to book flexible paid rates.

Even if you have a large stash of Marriott points, I don’t recommend using them for sub-par redemptions. After all, Marriott recently did its annual category shift, so we’re unlikely to see devaluations on the hotel redemption side for at least another year. And you can also transfer Marriott Bonvoy points to airline partners — including some airlines that aren’t accessible with other transferrable currencies.

Featured image of The Westin Langkawi Resort & Spa by Katie Genter/The Points Guy.

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