How I’m spending over 5 million Marriott Bonvoy points
With Marriott Bonvoy recently moving from a fixed-priced award categories to dynamic pricing, I'm afraid that a massive devaluation is imminent, with big changes for 2023. According to Marriott, while 97% of hotels now fall within their previous off-peak to peak points structure, that only lasts through the year's end.
As a result, I'm preparing for the worst by opening the floodgates on my more than 5,000,000 Marriott points.
Here's how I'm spending that $42,000-plus in value.
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How I earned 5 million Marriott points
So how did I get so many points in the first place? I first discussed where all these points came from in an article on my plan to spend 4 million Hilton points. The short version: During the early days of the coronavirus pandemic, college dorms were closed. Some students didn't want to be hunkered down in their childhood bedrooms while taking endless Zoom classes. And at the same time, many hotels across America were either closed or grappling with single-digit occupancy rates.
I realized this unique set of circumstances made for an opportunity: empty hotels as a solution to the temporary need for student housing. Many hotels were on board with the idea and agreed to compensate me for student business referrals. Part of this compensation was in hotel points.
At the peak of my business, hotels like the Residence Inn by Marriott Washington, D.C. Downtown had five students floors (more than 100 student rooms filled) and a waitlist of over 90 people. As I booked waitlisted students at other nearby hotels, the points started flowing in.
When my student housing project closed, I had created business partnerships with 21 Marriott, Hilton and Hyatt properties, referring 450 students and delivering $5.5 million of revenue to the hotels. And between Marriott Bonvoy, Hilton Honors and World of Hyatt, I now had 10 million points between my three accounts.
Related: How I’m spending 1 million World of Hyatt points
My plan for redeeming 5 million Marriott points
The secret to getting a good redemption starts with knowing what your points are worth.
At TPG, we value Marriott points at 0.84 cents apiece, but I usually try to get at least 1 cent per point. In other words, I aim for getting at least $100 in value from 10,000 points, $200 from 20,000 points, and so on.
While it's nice to log in to your accounts and see a huge points balance, holding on to large sums of points and miles has proven to be a bad long-term investment. Despite this, I originally planned to redeem about 1 million points per year over the next five years. But when Marriott announced its move to dynamic pricing in October 2021, I revisited my strategy.
Fearing that "expensive" hotels would be most unfavorably affected by dynamic pricing, I quickly booked some of the most aspirational properties in the Marriott portfolio: I'm talking about hotels like the London EDITION, St. Regis Maldives and JW Marriott Mauritius.
Here are a few guidelines I put in place for redeeming my points:
- Book the cheapest room. While it's nice to confirm a suite, I generally receive upgrades with my Ambassador Elite status, especially using Suite Night Awards. As a result, I find more value in holding on to my points and booking a standard room rather than paying more points for a suite.
- Include taxes when comparing cash and point prices since there are generally no taxes when using your points.
- When possible, take advantage of the fifth-night-free benefit.
- Use my points at hotels that I wouldn't be able to afford otherwise due to their laughably high cash prices.
With these parameters in mind, I began redeeming points for some stays in the U.S. and abroad.
5 nights at The Ritz-Carlton Bacara, Santa Barbara for 240,000 points
In the summer of 2020, before COVID-19 vaccinations, many of us got behind the wheel and embarked on road trips across the U.S.
My first pandemic trip was a drive down the California Coast. One of the stops was Santa Barbara, where we spent five nights at the Spanish hacienda-inspired Ritz Carlton. The hotel provided an upgrade to an oceanview suite with a separate living room from the bedroom and 1.5 bathrooms.
While in town, we stopped by La Super-Rica Taqueria, Julia Child's favorite taqueria, for some scrumptious Mexican fare.
Whether you opt to use cash or points, you'll be subject to the $50 nightly resort fee even if you have elite status. Oh, and valet or self-parking is $58 per night.
Despite this, the hotel proved to be a great redemption, as our five-night stay would have been around $5,200 before taxes and a resort fee. In turn, I scored 2.17 cents per point in value by redeeming points.
Related: Here’s Where to Look for Fun Family Activities in Santa Barbara
2 nights at JW Marriott Marco Island Beach Resort for 140,000 points
There's a lot to love about Marco Island, and it starts with the white sand beaches. While the JW Marriott is a colossal, impersonal resort, it offers an unbeatable beachfront location with stunning sunsets over the Gulf of Mexico.
Those views come with a ferocious cost of around $800 per night to stay in an introductory-level room, and there's a $35 nightly resort fee.
By using 70,000 points per night, I got around 1.3 cents per Marriott point in value, and as pictured, the hotel offered an upgrade to a standard oceanfront room.
Related: Our 15 favorite Florida hotels for every type of traveler
5 nights at The Ritz-Carlton Maui, Kapalua for 320,000 points
With my aunt and uncle having lived in Hawaii for 35 years, Maui has always been a second home to me.
On the West side of the island, it's hard to beat the Ritz Carlton Kapalua. With Hawaii closed off to mainland U.S. tourists for almost six months due to the pandemic, my early December 2020 stay at the Ritz Carlton — shortly after Hawaii reopened — felt semi-private. The hotel only had around 30% of the rooms filled and offered an upgrade to a two-bathroom oceanfront suite.
This property was a Category 8 Marriott hotel during my stay, so it required 320,000 points for five nights. While that might sound like a lot, the equivalent cash price was almost $6,000, largely because Maui has roughly an 18% hotel tax. I was thrilled to get 1.9 cents per point, though all guests are subject to the $40 nightly resort fee.
Pro tip: Drive to The Plantation House, about a mile from the hotel, for meals (especially breakfast). The food at The Plantation House is delicious and much less expensive than dining at the Ritz Carlton. Plus, it offers panoramic views of the Plantation Golf Course, the Pacific Ocean and the neighboring islands of Molokai and Lanai.
Related: Everything but the Beach: The Ritz-Carlton Kapalua in Maui
2 nights at The Ritz-Carlton Coconut Grove, Miami for 80,000 points
The Ritz Carlton Coconut Grove is a superb, upscale escape from the inflated prices and tourist pandemonium of Miami Beach. There are countless bars and restaurants just outside the hotel's front doors, and I was happy to learn that the Ritz Carlton Coconut Grove doesn't charge a resort fee.
It used to be a hidden gem in the Marriott portfolio as a Category 6 hotel requiring between 40,000 and 60,000 points per night. At the time of writing, award prices still fall within that approximate range.
My two-night March 2021 stay would have cost $1,150, and while I was only getting around 1.43 cents per Marriott point, the city view suite was more than adequate, and I left with a $0 bill.
The next time my travels call for Miami, I'll gladly return here.
Related: TPG’s ultimate guide to Miami and South Florida
5 nights at The Moana Surfrider, A Westin Resort & Spa, Waikiki Beach for 200,000 points
If the Moana Surfrider sold its rooms as apartments, I would buy one and never leave.
With the breathtaking views of the turquoise-blue Pacific Ocean juxtaposed against the white sand of Waikiki Beach, Diamond Head in the distance and the low-key, relaxing tropical tunes played by a live band every night, there's no beating a stay here.
In the heart of downtown Waikiki, the Moana Surfrider effortlessly unites history, luxury and paradise to make for one of my all-time favorite hotels. During a May 2021 visit, I was upgraded to an oceanfront suite on the 24th floor. Breakfast under the banyan tree consisted of macadamia nut pancakes and coconut syrup.
By using 200,000 points, I dodged what otherwise would have been a $2,200 bill, bringing in a redemption rate of 1.1 cents per Marriott point. While that's one of my less impressive redemptions on paper, it's a reminder that the best redemption rate doesn't always offer the best vacation.
If you stay at the Moana Surfrider, you'll find a $42 nightly resort fee attached to your bill.
Related: A time warp where SPG still exists: A review of the Westin Moana Surfrider in Honolulu
5 nights at The Westin Maui Resort & Spa, Ka'anapali for 200,000 points
Having recently stayed at the Ritz Carlton, I was eager to try the Westin Ka'anapali for a different experience. I was also hoping that the elite breakfast would deliver — though it didn't.
The hotel was completely overwhelmed by an invasion of Californians (like me), and while it's undergone significant renovations, only the Hokupa'a Tower reflects the most recent updates. I was disappointed to learn that Marriott's top-tier elites are excluded from upgrades to the Hokupa'a Tower.
The skimpy elite treatment didn't end there, either. At breakfast, a petite bowl of fruit and a small cup of coffee were offered.
Needless to say, with room rates over $850 per night and a $50 resort fee, the hotel doesn't feel a need to impress its elite guests to stay full.
Even though my 200,000 points yielded a redemption of around 2.4 cents per point, I would head back to the Ritz Carlton or Hyatt Regency the next time I stay in West Maui.
Related: 7 reasons to stay at the newly renovated Westin Maui on your next trip to Hawaii
5 nights at the Renaissance Newport Beach Hotel for 120,000 points
Located next to John Wayne Airport (SNA), the Renaissance offers easy access to South Coast Plaza, Fashion Island, Balboa and the 405 freeway. It's a no-frills experience, but its location and budget-friendly price point were enough to persuade me to stay here during a recent trip to Orange County.
The hotel offered a palatial suite that had 1.5 bathrooms and a terrace. With cash rates around $160 per night, I got roughly 1.4 cents per Marriott point with the fifth-night-free benefit
Related: The 22 best beaches in California
2 nights at The West Hollywood EDITION for 100,000 points
Some people would love The West Hollywood EDITION: It's sleek, posh, clean and modern. But my stay felt cold.
Going up to the rooftop bar felt like approaching an exclusive, snooty club where not everyone was welcome. If you didn't have the bags, brands or the Hollywood "looks," it felt like fellow guests expressed dismay by squinting and shaking heads. It turned many guests off, including myself.
The hotel certainly recognized my status by offering a Premier Terrace Suite (which was selling for over $5,000 per night). But in the effort to design a cool hotel, functionality took a backseat. It's hard to open up the drawers, and if you're in the shower or bathtub for more than 30 minutes, the lights will go out on you.
The introductory room was selling for $691 per night during my stay, so I got about 1.3 cents per Marriott point on this stay.
Related: King of the hills: A review of The West Hollywood Edition
5 nights at the Mauna Kea Beach Hotel, Autograph Collection for 200,000 points
Yes, we're going back to Hawaii, but to the Big Island this time.
Designed and constructed by Rockefeller shortly after Hawaii became the 50th state, the Mauna Kea Beach Hotel is one of the most iconic properties on the Big Island. My mom used to tell me stories of flying 747s (where there were volcano-inspired meal carts even in economy class) into Honolulu and then heading to the Mauna Kea as a young girl.
After its multi-million-dollar renovation where three rooms became two, the Mauna Kea Beach Hotel reopened its doors as an Autograph Collection property half a dozen years ago.
With the crescent-shaped beach, 1970s-inspired upscale decor and toiletries by L'Occitane, the Mauna Kea Beach Hotel makes for the perfect vacation setting.
Even though there's no resort fee, you'll want to use points to avoid taking out a second mortgage on your house to stay here. During my stay over Memorial Day last year, five nights would have come in just north of $7,000. Using points delivered a spectacular return of just over 3.5 cents per point.
Related: Best Beach on the Big Island: A Review of the Mauna Kea Beach Hotel
6 nights at The St. Regis Bora Bora Resort for 425,000 points
With United's relatively new service to French Polynesia and subsequent bargain deals, it was too hard to pass up the wide-open award space at the St. Regis Bora Bora last summer.
Arriving into Bora Bora from Moorea on a small Air Tahiti ATR 42-500, we found the hotel's yacht had anticipated our arrival. No road goes to the resort, so you travel by (an extraordinarily expensive) boat when going to and from the resort.
The hotel provided an upgrade to a two-bedroom, overwater bungalow with a private plunge pool. Six nights in this room would have cost around $30,000. That's right: Would you prefer a new Honda Accord or six nights in Bora Bora?
Most of the staff at this hotel are from France and stay at the property for six or nine months as part of their college internship experience. The hotel has separate staff accommodations on site. Halfway through the stay, I received an invitation for happy hour with the hotel's general manager.
Six nights in the standard room at the St. Regis Bora Bora would have cost around $8,500, so I got around 2 cents per Marriott point staying here. That being said, this stay was far from "free." While the Ambassador Elite breakfast was all-you-can-eat style for two people, lunch and dinner cost $100 to $300 per person.
Related: 60,000-Point Steal: A Review of The St. Regis Bora Bora
5 nights at The Westin Paris - Vendôme for 240,000 points
The Westin Paris - Vendôme is located right across from Tuileries Garden near Rue de Rivoli and just a block away from the infamous Park Hyatt Paris-Vendôme. As I discussed in my "Book this, not that: Paris edition" guide, this hotel has a special place in my heart.
While the rooms show their age, I'm a big fan of the made-to-order omelet station, which is complimentary for Platinum, Titanium and Ambassador elite members when chosen as their welcome gift.
Having spent four months last year in London, going to Paris was a quick 2-hour train ride on the Eurostar. Five nights at the hotel would have cost around $1,900, so I got just shy of 2 cents per point here.
If you stay in the area, try Angelina Paris for breakfast, lunch or tea. Its hot chocolate might be worth a trip to Paris in itself.
Related: Hotel Review: The Surprisingly Awesome Westin Paris – Vendôme
2 nights at The Ritz-Carlton, Half Moon Bay for 170,000 points
For my cousin's "big" birthday, we splurged at the Ritz-Carlton, Half Moon Bay.
The property is known for not offering any cash deals, and it's rare to find a room here for under $1,000 per night. Happy with a 1.4 cent per point redemption, we arrived at the Ritz Carlton to find a spacious suite in the guest house part of the hotel. The Ambassador team went above and beyond in arranging birthday treats to celebrate Chloe's big day.
Most mornings, a nature walk is offered by the hotel. The three-mile loop took us past some dramatic cliffs that sea otters and other marine life frequent.
While the stay was lovely, I can't imagine spending anywhere near the hotel's typical cash prices.
Related: A Very Expensive “Free” Hotel Night — Reader Mistake Story
5 nights at The London EDITION for 200,000 points
This is another property that I'd gladly return to. Even though there were no apparent elite benefits at The London EDITION, I enjoyed my stay here on a trip to London two months ago.
Situated in the heart of Soho, the London EDITION is a sanctuary with stylish looks in every direction. It was what I was hoping for from the West Hollywood EDITION and more: elegant, comfortable, clean and modern.
A five-night stay here on cash would have cost $4,750, so by using points, I got 2.4 cents in value from each Marriott point.
Related: Hotel Review: The London EDITION
2 nights at the Residence Inn by Marriott Maui Wailea for 80,000 points
On the Wailea side of Maui, a great go-to is the Residence Inn.
The property is only a few years old, so everything has been well-maintained and feels more like a Marriott Vacation Club property. I was pleased to see the hotel's upfront model for pricing: no resort fee and $30 per day parking. In my view, that's quite fair, especially since parking is double that at the Grand Wailea down the street.
I was offered an ocean view suite at check-in, which featured a separate living room and bedroom, and breakfast is included for all guests at Residence Inn brands.
Hotel prices in Maui are extremely inflated. Two nights here would have cost around $1,900, so using 80,000 Marriott points, I got around 2.4 cents in value from my points.
I'm already planning my next trip back to the Residence Inn — this time, for five nights.
Related: Book this, not that: Getting the most from your hotel points in Maui
Other hotels I am considering
I've spent 2.7 million points, and I still have another 2.5 million to go. I'm looking forward to going to other aspirational Marriott properties like the JW Marriott Mauritius Resort, The St. Regis Maldives Vommuli Resort, Fiji Marriott Resort Momi Bay, The St. Regis Bahia Beach Resort, Puerto Rico and The Tasman, a Luxury Collection Hotel, Hobart.
These hotels remain some great, points-friendly options. But with that in mind, I'm not sure how long they'll stay appealing on points, so I'm trying to book as many as possible before the end of the year.
How you can earn lots of Marriott points
I realize that my situation was unique, but I earned points by providing hotels with business. Ultimately, you could do the same by asking for points to be included in a rate agreement, even on a smaller scale like a group event (wedding or meeting).
You could also open up a Marriott account to boost your points balance. For example, the Marriott Bonvoy Boundless Credit Card offers a sign-up bonus of 75,000 Marriott Bonvoy bonus points after using your card to spend $3,000 on eligible purchases in the first six months; plus, earn 50,000 bonus points after you stay six eligible paid nights at Marriott hotels through Jan. 31, 2024. Offer ends August 10. You'll also earn 6 points per dollar when using your card for any purchase at a Marriott property. The card also comes with a free night certificate of 35,000 points each year.
Or you could open the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant® American Express® Card, which allows you to earn 150,000 Marriott Bonvoy bonus points after spending $6,000 on eligible purchases in the first six months; plus, earn 50,000 points after you stay six eligible nights at Marriott hotels through Jan. 31, 2024. Offer ends August 9. Similar to the Boundless card, you'll earn 6 points per dollar when using your card for any purchase at a Marriott property. The Brilliant card also comes with an up to $300 statement credit (up to $25 per month) per calendar year on eligible purchases at restaurants and an up to 85,000-point free night award each year.
Also, Marriott routinely runs promotions, which stack on what you'd normally earn for paid stays. Recently, we've seen Marriott promotions where you can earn double points and elite nights. As these promotions become available, we will update this page, so feel free to bookmark it for review.
Related: 17 ways to earn lots of Marriott Bonvoy points
With about 1.5 million rooms in over 130 countries, Marriotts are practically everywhere you go.
Still, I'm cautiously pessimistic about what's ahead for the Marriott Bonvoy program. While 97% of hotels are still pricing within their off-peak/standard/peak pricing model until the end of the year, I'm afraid that 2023 will start with a Wild West era of Marriott devaluations.
That's why I decided now, more than ever, is the time to crack your piggy bank of Marriott points.