5 ways to maximize Marriott Bonvoy award night redemptions
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There’s a lot to love about the Marriott Bonvoy program. Unlike other major hotel loyalty program rewards, you can even transfer Marriott Bonvoy points to over 40 airline partners. But, in this guide, I’ll focus on how to maximize Marriott Bonvoy award night redemptions.
Luxury brands like Ritz-Carlton and St. Regis provide no shortage of options for getting great value when redeeming Marriott Bonvoy points. But it’s also possible to maximize your Marriott points when staying at Category 1 and 2 hotels. Today I’ll discuss five strategies for maximizing your next Marriott award redemption.
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Marriott’s award chart
Marriott Bonvoy currently uses an eight-category award chart. And each category has off-peak, standard and peak rates.
Across Marriott’s 8,000 or so hotels worldwide, I think the eight-tier award chart is quite fair. There are some obvious Category 8 properties, like the St. Regis Maldives, that are priced appropriately. But, you’ll also find many steals in lower categories, including the Category 5 JW Marriott Shanghai Tomorrow Square.
Now, I’ll describe some of the best ways to maximize your Marriott points.
Fifth night free
One of the simplest ways to maximize Marriott Bonvoy redemptions is to use the program’s stay for five, pay for four perk to get a fifth night free on award stays. This perk will automatically apply when you use points to book a stay of five nights or more. However, if you book an upgraded room using points, you’ll only get the standard cost covered. And if some nights of your stay price differently than others, Marriott will comp the least expensive night instead of the actual fifth night.
You can earn the fifth night free more than once on a single Marriott Bonvoy award stay. Take the W Maldives, a property that has phenomenal award availability. How good, you ask? If you wanted to book a 25-night stay in October, you could do that. And with a 25-night stay, you’d get five free nights thanks to the fifth night free on award stays perk.
Of course, you can use the stay for five, pay for four perk at just about any Marriott hotel where you can find five consecutive nights of award space. And doing so is an easy way to automatically boost your redemption value whether you’re staying at a luxurious and exclusive Maldivian resort or a Sheraton in a major city.
This perk also means that there’s usually no reason to book a four-night award stay with Marriott. Assuming the hotel you’re staying at has award space for five nights, and the fifth night is free, why not extend your trip by a day? At the very least, that extra night might help you qualify for the next tier of Marriott elite status.
Cash + points combination
Given how many great options there are for redeeming Marriott points, it can be tricky to figure out when to use points for hotel stays and when to pay cash instead. TPG values Marriott points at 0.8 cents each, which is a great baseline to use. But, given how much hotel rates fluctuate, you might end up with part of your stay above that valuation and part below.
Thankfully, with Marriott’s cash + points combination feature, you can customize your stay and choose which nights to pay cash for and which to book as award nights. You should see a “Customize Payments” button under the points tab when you search award rates for stays of two nights or longer. If you click on it, you’ll be able to compare the paid and award rate for each night of your stay. In the example below, you can see a four-night stay at the JW Marriott Chicago:
Based on TPG’s valuation of Marriott points, the first three nights represent good-value award redemptions. After all, TPG values 50,000 Marriott points at about $400 and 60,000 points at about $480. So, redeeming Marriott points to book the three nights with a cash cost of $567 is a steal. However, the cash rate dips on the last night. So, cash becomes more attractive than points for the final night.
You can even use Marriott’s cash + points combination feature on a stay where you get a fifth night free. However, you must use points for at least five nights. For example, you can book a seven-night stay that starts with three award nights, then has two cash nights and then finishes with another two award nights.
As you can see, on this seven-night stay, you’d pay with points for four nights, pay with cash for two nights and get a fifth night free.
The Marriott portfolio has many fantastic hotels, including some of the most over-the-top, luxurious properties in the world. These include Ritz-Carlton and St. Regis properties, all-suite hotels and hotels in dreamy destinations (such as the Al Maha Resort in the desert outside of Dubai).
Most of these spectacular top-tier properties are part of Marriott’s Category 8 rewards tier. And a number of these destinations are highly seasonal. So, many of these properties — which include hotels like the St. Regis Maldives and St. Regis Bora Bora — will frequently show up with peak pricing. As a reminder, here’s how Category 8 pricing looks with peak and off-peak rates:
- Off-peak: 70,000 points (worth $560 based on TPG’s valuations)
- Standard: 85,000 points (worth $680)
- Peak: 100,000 points (worth $800)
Even at peak pricing, many of these properties are an incredible deal. For example, consider the popular Al Maha Resort. Award reservations at Al Maha are practically all-inclusive, as they include three meals and two desert activities a day (alcohol costs extra). But, when you compare that to a $1,300+ nightly cash rate, even paying 100,000 points per night doesn’t look so bad.
And, of course, there’s the St. Regis Maldives. This St. Regis is one of the most iconic and desirable points hotels in the world. While just saying ‘Maldives’ conjures to mind images of overwater villas, standard awards at the St. Regis book into a garden villa. And during peak season, these rooms sell for $1,300 a night or more before you even consider the resort transfer fees.
As these examples show, even redeeming 100,000 Marriott Bonvoy points per night can be a good value if you want to experience some of the most luxurious hotels in Marriott’s portfolio.
Focus on category 5 hotels
While it’s hard to argue with the over-the-top luxury of a hotel in the Maldives, I find myself getting the most consistent value out of Marriott Bonvoy Category 5 properties. This is good news, as most of the free night certificates you can earn with Marriott credit cards (like the Marriott Bonvoy Boundless Credit Card) are valid for a night costing up to 35,000 points. And, you can book a Category 5 hotel under standard (but not peak) pricing with 35,000 Marriott Bonvoy points.
Category 5 properties are a perfect mix of reasonably-priced luxury properties in most markets and quality hotels in expensive markets. In some big cities like Chicago, you have as many as a dozen different options to choose from when deciding how to redeem a free night certificate worth up to 35,000 points. I’ve enjoyed stays at the following Category 5 properties:
- St. Regis Beijing
- W Chicago Lakeshore & W Chicago City Center
- Sheraton Grand Sydney Hyde Park
- JW Marriott Shanghai Tomorrow Square
- The Mira Moon Hong Kong
And, whether I opted to redeem my points or use a free night certificate, I felt I got a pretty outsized value at each of these properties. Whenever I’m traveling to a new city, I focus on Category 5 first, and I’m rarely disappointed.
One great way to tie together all of these strategies is by taking advantage of Marriott’s Points Advance option. As the name suggests, Points Advance allows you to book an award reservation even if you don’t have enough points in your account.
If you book a stay using Points Advance, you’ll receive a confirmation number. Then you’ll have until 14 days before arrival to earn the remaining balance of points and actually pay for your reservation. If you don’t have sufficient points within 14 days of arrival, Marriott Bonvoy reserves the right to cancel your reservation. However, the program’s terms and conditions include the following verbiage:
“if a Member does not have sufficient Points to pay for an Award Redemption with Points fourteen (14) days or less from Member’s arrival date, Member will forfeit the Award Redemption part of the reservation. The Award Redemption may be canceled by the Loyalty Program or the Participating Property and the reservation will be converted to a cash reservation at the best available rate”
I certainly wouldn’t like to see a reservation at 60,000 points per night suddenly convert into one at $1,500+ per night. So, if you make a Points Advance reservation, it’s best to earn the Marriott points you need and finalize your reservation as soon as possible. Plus, completing your reservation will also help keep you under Marriott’s cap of three Points Advance reservations per account at any given time.
Unfortunately, having a Points Advance reservation only locks in your award space, not the rate you’ll pay. And keep in mind that each hotel has a slightly different penalty-free cancellation policy. I’ve seen anywhere from one day before arrival to 30 days. So, although there’s minimal risk to making a reservation far in advance, you’ll always want to mark the cancellation deadline on your calendar.
Marriott’s award chart has a good amount of value in it. Whether you like the redeem for luxurious Category 8 hotels or stretch your points at Category 1 and 2 hotels, you can use several of the strategies described above to maximize Marriott Bonvoy award redemptions. And, if you’re looking to earn more Marriott Bonvoy points, you may want to add a Marriott Bonvoy credit card to your wallet or sign-up for the Marriott Eat Around Town program.
Additional reporting by Katie Genter.
Featured photo by Ethan Steinberg/The Points Guy
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