7 ways to maximize Marriott Bonvoy award night redemptions
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There's a lot to love about the Marriott Bonvoy program. For example, you can often get excellent value when redeeming Marriott Bonvoy points at luxury brands like Ritz-Carlton and St. Regis. But it's also possible to maximize your Marriott points when staying at low-category hotels. And you can even get a fifth night free when redeeming Marriott points for award stays of four consecutive nights or more.
You can also transfer Marriott Bonvoy points to over 40 airline partners at mostly competitive ratios. But, in this guide, I'll focus on strategies for maximizing your next Marriott award night redemption.
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Marriott's award chart
Before I discuss maximization strategies, let's take a quick look at Marriott's award chart. Marriott Bonvoy uses an eight-category award chart, where each category has off-peak, standard and peak rates.
Some Marriott properties are justifiably Category 8 properties, like the St. Regis Maldives. But, you'll also find many steals in lower categories, including the Category 5 Le Méridien Maldives Resort & Spa and the Category 2 Protea Hotel Kruger Gate.
Across Marriott's more than 7,000 hotels worldwide, it's possible to find high-value redemptions within this eight-tier award chart. So, now I'll describe some of the best ways to maximize your Marriott redemptions.
Get every fifth night free
One of the easiest 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. As a Marriott Bonvoy member, you'll get this perk automatically when you use points to book a stay of five nights or more.
However, you'll only get the standard cost covered if you book an upgraded room using points. And if some nights of your stay price differently than others, Marriott will comp the least expensive night instead of the actual fifth night.
Finally, you can earn the fifth night free more than once on a single Marriott Bonvoy award stay. So, if you redeem points for a ten-night stay, you'll get two nights free.
This perk means you usually won't want to redeem Marriott Bonvoy points for just a four-night stay, but try to stretch it to five. After all, assuming the hotel you're staying at has award space for five nights, booking for five nights won't cost you more points than four nights (unless your extra night would cost more points than any of the nights you actually need). By booking an extra night, you can extend your vacation -- or effectively guarantee early check-in or late check-out -- and get one more night toward qualifying for the next tier of Marriott elite status.
Combine points and cash
Low rates mean I'm currently paying cash for most Marriott stays instead of redeeming points.
TPG values Marriott points at 0.8 cents each, so I typically try to get at least 0.8 cents per Marriott point when redeeming. 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 choose which nights to pay cash for and which to book with points. You'll 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 rates for each night of your stay.
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, has two cash nights, and finishes with another two award nights.
As you can see, on this seven-night stay, you'd get your first night free, then pay with points for two nights, pay with cash for two nights and then pay with points for two nights.
Stay at top-tier properties
The Marriott portfolio has many fantastic hotels, including some of the world's most over-the-top, luxurious properties. 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).
Many 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 — including 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. When compared to a nightly rate of more than $1,800, even paying 100,000 points per night may look appealing.
And, of course, there's the new The Ritz-Carlton Maldives, Fari Islands. You can redeem between 70,000 and 100,000 points per night for an ocean pool villa at this resort. However, the nightly cash rate for this aspirational room often tops $1,600 before taxes, fees and 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.
Redeem for low-category hotels
Although high-category redemptions can provide excellent redemption value, you can also find significant value when redeeming for lower category Marriott Bonvoy hotels.
Low-category redemptions don't require nearly as many points as high-category redemptions. And, it's still possible to get outsized value at low-category hotels. For example, consider one of my favorite Marriott hotels, the Protea Hotel Kruger Gate, just outside Kruger National Park in South Africa. For a sample five-night stay next August, I'd get 1.44 cents per point when redeeming Marriott points.
Likewise, for a sample five-night stay next August at the Courtyard Kuwait City, I could get a massive 2.65 cents per Marriott point. Marriott's PointSavers pricing makes this award stay even more lucrative than it would be with regular pricing.
So, even if you prefer to redeem for more nights at lower category Marriott hotels, it's still possible to maximize Marriott Bonvoy award night redemptions.
Search the calendar for off-peak dates
If you have flexible dates for your travel, you can stay at properties on their off-peak award dates. After all, Marriott Bonvoy's calendar search makes it easy to find the least expensive award dates.
To use the calendar search, go to Marriott's website, enter the name of your hotel and then click "My dates are flexible" instead of selecting dates. Then check "Use points/certificates" to see award pricing before clicking "Find hotels."
Click "Lowest rates calendar" under the hotel you want to book. Then click through months until you find dates and pricing that work for you.
As you can see in this example, if I wanted to visit Al Maha next September, I could redeem 280,000 points for a five-night stay. However, on other dates, I'd need to redeem up to 400,000 points for a five-night stay.
Plan a trip around an exceptional redemption
You could also maximize Marriott Bonvoy award night redemptions by planning trips around specific redemptions. Although doing so might seem crazy to some travelers, I've booked several trips to utilize lucrative airline and hotel redemptions.
And I'm not alone. For example, some Marriott loyalists have booked trips to the Maldives primarily to take advantage of the new Category 5 Le Meridien Maldives Resort & Spa. After all, if you find off-peak availability and stay for five nights, you could redeem as few as 24,000 Marriott Bonvoy points per night.
Even if you aren't interested in visiting the Maldives, you may still want to plan a trip around a specific redemption. For example, I'm looking to book a trip to Zambia to visit the Category 1 Protea Hotel Lusaka Safari Lodge outside Lusaka and the Category 2 Protea Hotel Livingstone near Victoria Falls.
Use your free night awards carefully
There are various ways to earn free night awards, including Marriott Bonvoy promotions and Marriott Bonvoy credit cards. But, once these awards are in your account, Marriott will default to using these awards when you book online. So, be sure to select the points option if you don't want to use a free night award when booking.
I typically use free night awards for one or two-night bookings. But, you'll want to avoid using free night awards on a booking for which you'd otherwise get a fifth night free.
Additionally, it's typically best to avoid using a free night award for significantly less than its maximum value. For example, you wouldn't want to use the up to 85,000-point bonus free night award, that's part of the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant® American Express® Card's current welcome bonus (after spending $5,000 in eligible purchases within the first three months of card membership; offer ends 11/3/21) for a night at a low-category property. However, you also don't want to wait for the perfect redemption too long and then fail to use your award before it expires.
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 and sign-up for the Marriott Eat Around Town program.
Additional reporting by Ethan Steinberg.
Featured photo of The Westin Langkawi Resort & Spa by Katie Genter/The Points Guy.
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