How to use Marriott Points Advance when you’re short on points

May 29, 2021

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Most loyalty programs require you to have the full number of points or miles in your account before you can book an award. Even with things like Amex’s Pay with Points rebate (available on select cards like The Business Platinum Card® from American Express) and Singapore’s waitlist option, you need the full amount to cover the entire redemption. This makes it somewhat difficult to plan for future trips, especially if you’re beginning the accumulation phase of your points strategy and waiting for your welcome bonus from a new travel rewards credit card to post.

Marriott is a unique exception here, with its Points Advance award booking option. However, the program underwent a significant change recently that dramatically limits its usefulness. Today we’ll walk through everything you need to know to use Points Advance, including how it can help you secure hard-to-get award stays and why you need to keep monitoring your reservations after you book them.

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The basics

As the name suggests, Points Advance allows you to book a Marriott award reservation even if you don’t have enough points in your account. It doesn’t matter if you’re short by one point or 100,000. It works the same way. You can confirm an award reservation as soon as your plans are finalized and then earn the remaining points within 60 days. It’s essentially no different than booking a refundable paid stay. Except, with most paid rates, you don’t actually need to spend the cash up front and the same holds true here.

In the past, you could even use Points Advance if you did have enough points in your account, but this loophole was changed (without warning) in April 2019. Up until recently, Marriott allowed you up to 14 days before your stay to earn enough points for a Points Advance reservation. Unfortunately, that has been changed to 60 days after booking.

Related: The award traveler’s guide to Marriott Bonvoy

Use Points Advance is straightforward. Simply log on to the Marriott website and search for hotels as if you were going to make an award booking. If you’re short on points, Marriott will still display the number of points required but will allow you to confirm the room if you don’t have enough to cover the entire stay, like this 10-night award trip at the Westin Maldives:

Westin Maldives beach villa rates point advance
(Screenshot courtesy of Marriott.com)

From there, simply complete the reservation like normal and Marriott will give you a confirmation number

Here’s what section 3.6.a. of the program’s terms and conditions say about the Points Advance policy:

“If a Member does not have sufficient Points to pay for a Points Advance Redemption Reservation by the end of the 60-day hold, or the date that is fourteen (14) days prior to the Member’s arrival date, whichever occurs sooner, the Points Advance Redemption Reservation will be cancelled.”

Based on this verbiage, your reservation may be canceled if you don’t have enough points in your account either within 60 days of booking or 14 days before your arrival. However, Marriott has told us that the individual properties should reach out to you first to discuss your options. Nevertheless, I would highly recommend making arrangements to earn enough points to then order your e-certificates at least 15 days before the start of your stay.

Finally, you should definitely pay attention to the penalty-free cancellation window, as it varies by hotel. I’ve made a few different Points Advance reservations for upcoming trips and have seen cancellation windows that range from one day before arrival to 30 days before.

Related: Maximizing redemptions with the Marriott Bonvoy program

Points Advance does not lock in the award rate

Unfortunately, when Marriott implemented peak and off-peak pricing at its 8,000+ properties worldwide two years ago, it significantly devalued the Points Advance feature. Now, roughly every month, the Marriott reservation system will determine what properties have higher award rates (peak pricing) and which will be discounted (off-peak pricing).

In the past, if a property’s award rate changed after you booked a Points Advance stay but before you actually redeemed points, you were effectively grandfathered in and paid the rate you originally booked — even if your online reservation showed the higher price. However, for all Points Advance reservations made on or after Sept. 14, 2019, you are no longer locking in the rate. You’ll be required to cover the award stay at the price in effect when you use points, not the time you book.

Finally, Marriott also restricts members to three Points Advance reservations at one time, though it remains to be seen how strictly this will be enforced.

Related: How to ensure your existing Marriott Points Advance reservations are honored

Why you should use points advance

Despite these changes, there is still one major benefit to making a Points Advance reservation: locking in award availability during busy travel times. As an example, the St. Regis in Washington, D.C. has award availability over July 4th weekend next year. If I don’t have enough points in my account, Points Advance will let me reserve that space while deciding if I’ll be going home to spend the weekend with my family.

If I hold off on booking the room, there’s no guarantee that it’ll be there in a month, a week or even by tomorrow.

However, you’ll need to be aware that the aforementioned changes mean that you’re just reserving the room, not confirming the rate. As a Category 7 property, the St. Regis in Washington would require 70,000 points per night on peak travel dates — and a holiday weekend would likely fall into that band. This means you should go ahead and make the Points Advance reservation now, but understand that you might end up needing to spend more points than you see on the checkout page.

Boosting your Marriott balance

If you utilize the Points Advance feature, there is no shortage of ways to earn the extra Marriott points needed to cover your reservation. In addition to earning points through actual stays, you can also transfer points from both Chase Ultimate Rewards and Amex Membership Rewards at a 1:1 rate — though given how highly we value those currencies, I’d only recommend doing this to make up a minuscule shortfall.

Marriott also allows you to freely transfer up to 100,000 points per calendar year between any two accounts that have each been open for 60 days or longer, so if a friend or family member is feeling generous, that’s a quick (and free) way to earn a large number of points.

Finally, the combined program offers several different cobranded credit cards, see below for current welcome bonuses:

  • Marriott Bonvoy Boundless Credit Card: Earn 3 Free Night Awards (each free night award has a redemption value up to 50,000 bonus points, that’s a value of up to 150,000 total points) after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. Plus, earn 10X total points on up to $2,500 in combined purchases at grocery stores, restaurants, and gas stations within the first 6 months from account opening.
  • Marriott Bonvoy Bold Credit Card: Earn 30,000 Bonus Points after you spend $1,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening.
  • Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express® Card: Earn 75,000 bonus points after you spend $3,000 in purchases within the first three months.​ Plus, earn up to $200 in statement credits for eligible purchases at U.S. restaurants within the first six months of card membership.
  • Marriott Bonvoy Business™ American Express® Card: Earn 75,000 bonus points after you spend $3,000 in eligible purchases in the first three months of card membership. Plus, earn up to $150 back in statement credits on eligible purchases made within the first three months of card membership. Terms apply.

Just note that Chase and Amex did make it more challenging to earn these welcome bonuses shortly after the integration, so be sure you’re eligible for an offer before applying.

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

Bottom line

Marriott’s Points Advance feature is relatively unique in the world of travel rewards, allowing you to book an award stay when you’re short on points. This can be a great option during high-demand travel dates, though it’s unfortunately lost some significant utility since recent changes were introduced.

You’re no longer locking in the rate for Points Advance reservations, as you’ll need to pay the applicable peak and/or off-peak pricing in effect when you ultimately redeem points for the stay. This could result in using fewer points than you originally planned, but it could also result in higher rates.

Featured image of the JW Marriott Orlando Bonnet Creek by Andrea Rotondo/The Points Guy

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Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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