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The Marriott Bonvoy program has had its fair share of issues since integrating SPG and Ritz-Carlton, and sadly these continue to crop up. That being said, there are still some terrific uses of Marriott points, from unique experiences to luxurious resorts like the St. Regis Bora Bora. But did you know that you can sometimes redeem Marriott points for rooms above and beyond the standard variety? This is a way to guarantee your suite or upgraded accommodations ahead of time without needing to rely on a last-minute upgrade at check-in.
Today we’ll show you how to do exactly that the next time you go to redeem your Marriott Bonvoy points.
Let’s start off with a quick overview of this process. Sadly, there are two major drawbacks to this award option with Marriott that make it significantly different from those offered by Hilton and Hyatt, the program’s two main competitors. First, unlike World of Hyatt, there’s no published chart that breaks out the redemption costs. Second, unlike both Hyatt and Hilton Honors, this isn’t available at every property across all dates. This means you’re left to Marriott’s website to search for properties with this option, and sadly, our searches indicate that it’s a relatively small minority that offer it.
If you are lucky enough to find one that does, there are two different types of upgrades available using points:
- Redeem the number of points required for a standard room and upgrade using a cash copay.
- Redeem a higher number of points to book the upgraded room.
As noted above, many properties won’t offer any option for booking upgraded rooms with points. Some will offer both of these awards, and still others will offer one or the other. Again, searching is the only way to find this availability, and you’d do this in the same way you’d search for regular award rooms. Visit Marriott’s website, login to your Bonvoy account, enter your search criteria and check the box for Use Points.
If the property has one of the above options available, you’ll see them once you go to select your room.
Let’s take a closer look and see what this looks like in practice.
Upgrade With Cash Copay
Certain Marriott properties will give you the option to use the same number of points you’d use on a standard room and then pay a nightly cash copay to secure an upgraded one. An example of this is the St. Ermin’s Hotel in London, part of the Autograph Collection. If you search for award rooms here, you’ll frequently be presented with rooms beyond the standard “Guest Room” for you to book with points, like this option to book a Junior Suite:
In this case, you’re redeeming 50,000 Marriott points — the standard award rate at this Category 6 hotel — plus paying £150 (~$190) per night to secure a much larger room, including a separate living room a sofabed.
In our searches at this property, we’ve also seen the following upgrade options:
- Executive room: 50,000 points + £60 per night
- Deluxe room: 50,000 points + £150 per night
- Suite: 50,000 points + £250 per night
This gives you a number of ways to snag a better room in advance by paying money out-of-pocket.
It’s worth noting that Marriott’s Points Advance is still an option for these awards. In addition, since you’re redeeming the standard number of points, this type of reservation is eligible for Marriott’s fifth night free perk on award stays. You still need to pay the cash copay for all of the nights, but the points required for one of the nights would be zero:
Upgrade With Points
The second way to upgrade — at select properties — is by redeeming more points than you would for a standard room. One example of this is the JW Marriott Marquis in Miami. This too is a Category 6 property, so a standard room would set you back 50,000 points. However, you could book directly into a better room by using additional points.
For example, on a random Friday night in August, you could spend 36,000 extra points to book into a room that includes access to the Concierge Lounge:
Or redeem an additional 41,000 points for a junior suite:
In all, this date provided seven different options for booking upgraded accommodations using points, all of which are classified as “Redemption with Points Upgrade” in the room list.
Like upgrading with a cash copay, you can book these as Points Advance reservations, and this type of award also allows you to utilize Marriott’s fifth night free on award stays. However, the free night is based on the standard award rate:
In this case, the free night saves you 50,000 points, but you still need to pay the additional 41,000 points for that night.
Choose Your Upgrade Type
Finally, there are some properties that will allow you to select between both of these options, like the JW Marriott Cancun Resort & Spa. This is yet another Category 6 property, requiring 50,000 points per night for a standard room. However, you are given seven upgraded room types and can select either upgrade method, up to and including a Grand Ocean Front Suite:
As you can see, you have the choice to pay a copay of $125 or redeem an extra 25,000 points. Since TPG values Marriott points at 0.8 cents apiece, you can think of it as paying $125 or spending $200 worth of points, so the upgrade with cash copay is probably the better option here. However, if you’re points-rich and cash-poor, you may want to simply redeem the points, especially since hoarding points is almost always a bad idea.
It’s worth noting here that the cash copay isn’t simply the difference between the paid rates on the two room types. On this date, the standard room has a base rate of $199 per night ($238.21 with taxes and fees), while the Grand Ocean Front Suite is $339 per night ($404.81 with taxes and fees). If you booked the cash upgrade option, you’d pay $150.15 all-in, while the difference between the two room types is $166.60.
As noted above, the biggest limitation of this redemption option is that it isn’t widely available, but if you do find it, there are a few additional things to keep in mind.
Each individual property has complete a total control over when (or if) to make this award option available. Just because it’s there one night doesn’t mean it’s available the next night, even if the room is available as a paid stay for both nights. Once again, the only way to see if it’s being offered is by searching for availability on Marriott’s website.
Free night certificates
Many popular Marriott cobranded credit cards offer free night certificates every year. While you can use these on upgrades with cash copays, you can’t use them on upgrades with points. Any applicable certificates will appear as a payment option right before confirming the reservation:
This can be a fantastic use of these certificates, as you’re essentially covering a standard award with a free night award and then paying a (relatively) small cash amount to confirm right into an upgraded room.
If you have Marriott Bonvoy elite status, you may not want to use extra points or pay a cash copay to upgrade into a room to which you might get upgraded anyway. Gold members — a tier provided automatically to holders of the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express® Card and The Platinum Card® from American Express — enjoy space-available upgrades to preferred rooms, while Platinum and Titanium members can snag standard suites with this perk. These members could also use Suite Night Awards as part of their annual Choice Benefits, though these will only start clearing within five days of arrival.
It’s up to you to decide if confirming the suite in advance is worth it or if you’d rather wait and play the upgrade lottery.
Value of the redemption
Finally, be sure to crunch the numbers to make sure the redemption is worth it rather than simply paying the full rate outright. For example, here are your booking options for the Grand Ocean Front Suite at the JW Marriott Cancun Resort & Spa on the date we searched above:
- Paid stay: $404.81
- Award stay with cash upgrade: 50,000 points + $150.15 (redemption value = 0.51 cents per point)
- Award stay with points upgrade: 75,000 points (redemption value = 0.54 cents per point)
Both of these values are well below TPG’s most recent valuations, and they don’t even factor in the additional Marriott points you’d earn for the stay. As a result, if you’re dead-set on booking this hotel on this date and must have the upgraded room, you may be better off simply paying for it.
Earning Marriott Points
Speaking of Marriott points, there are many ways to boost your account balance beyond simply staying in one of the program’s thousands of properties. One of the best is via cobranded credit cards, like one of the following:
- Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express® Card: Earn 75,000 points after you use your new card to make $3,000 in purchases within the first three months. Enjoy automatic Gold status plus $300 in annual statement credits at Marriott properties. You’ll also get a free night certificate every year valid at properties up to 50,000 points, which can offset a large portion of the card’s $450 annual fee (See Rates & Fees).
- Marriott Bonvoy Boundless Credit Card: Earn 75,000 points after you spend $3,000 on purchases in your first three months from your account opening. You’ll receive a free night certificate every year valid at properties up to 35,000 points, which will almost certainly cover the card’s $95 annual fee.
- Marriott Bonvoy Bold Credit Card: Earn 50,000 points after you spend $2,000 on purchases in your first three months from your account opening. This new card from Chase has no annual fee but still awards automatic Silver status plus 3x points at Marriott properties and 2x points on all other travel purchases.
You can also transfer Chase Ultimate Rewards points and American Express Membership Rewards points directly to Marriott at a 1:1 ratio, but given that TPG values these transferable point currencies at two and a half times what he values Marriott points, you’d be giving up some significant value in the process.
Saving money by using points and miles is a great way to enhance your vacations. While other programs make it relatively straightforward to book directly into premium accommodations, Marriott’s approach is much more hit-or-miss. That being said, if you’re sitting on a large stash of Marriott points or looking to snag a suite for your next family vacation or special occasion trip, you’ll definitely want to crunch the numbers to see if any of the above options are available for your dates and worth booking.
Featured photo courtesy of Marriott.
For rates and fees of the Bonvoy Brilliant, please click here.
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*Bonus value is an estimated value calculated by TPG and not the card issuer. View our latest valuations here.
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