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Update: The 60,000-point pricing detailed below is no longer available as of March 5, 2019. For details on Marriott redemption options, please visit How to Redeem Points With the Marriott Bonvoy Program. Some offers mentioned below are no longer available – Starwood Preferred Guest® Luxury Credit Card from American Express, Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express, Starwood Preferred Guest® Business Credit Card from American Express
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 charge cards like The Business Platinum® Card from American Express) and Singapore’s waitlist option, you need the full amount of points in your account. This makes it difficult to plan for future trips, especially if you’re just beginning the accumulation phase of your points strategy and waiting for your credit card welcome bonus to post.
Marriott is a unique exception here thanks to its valuable ‘Points Advance’ award booking option. Today we’ll walk through everything you need to know to use Points Advance and how it can help you secure hard-to-get award stays.
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 1 point or 100,000 points, it works the same way. You can confirm an award reservation as soon as your plans are finalized and then earn the remaining points you need before your stay begins. It’s essentially no different than booking a refundable paid stay; with most paid rates, you don’t actually need to spend the cash up-front, and the same holds true here.
You can even use Points Advance if you do have enough points in your account but don’t want to spend them just yet (in case a better hotel opens up or you decide to transfer them to an airline partner instead). You can book Points Advance reservations online, and with the remaining legacy SPG brands now switched over to Marriott’s reservation system, this option should be available at just about every hotel in the combined portfolio.
It’s incredibly easy to use Points Advance. 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 automatically convert your search to a Points Advance booking. While I could really use an extended beach vacation, I’m just shy of the 1,380,000 points I’d need to spend the entire month of March at the newly opened Westin Maldives (yes, the award availability is REALLY that good!):
If I look at a shorter two-night stay, a reservation that I could book right now with the points in my account, I’m still given the option to use Points Advance instead:
If you have applicable free night certificates from an SPG or Marriott credit card, you’ll also be given the chance to apply them here.
After selecting Points Advance, simply complete the reservation like normal and Marriott will give you a confirmation number.
Once your reservation is booked, you then need to earn enough points to cover the stay. Now it’s worth noting that there’s a slight discrepancy between the timeline you should follow for this. Your confirmation may indicate that you have until seven days before check-in to log back into your account and pay for the award reservation before Marriott automatically does it for you:
However, here’s what section 3.6.a of the program’s terms and conditions say about this (emphasis mine):
“If a purchase of Points is not an option, or 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.”
Based on this verbiage, if you don’t have enough points in your account two weeks before your arrival, your reservation may be cancelled, though 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 14 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.
Why You Should Use Points Advance
There are a number of great reasons to use Points Advance, the simplest of which is that it doesn’t tie up your points. Even if you have enough Marriott points to pay for your stay, Points Advance keeps them liquid in case a better hotel opens up award space or you decide to use them for an airline transfer instead.
Points Advance also lets you lock in award availability during busy travel times, even if you’re short on points. As an example, the St. Regis in Washington, DC has award availability over July 4 weekend next year, and Points Advance would let me reserve that space while I decide 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.
Right now though, there’s a much more urgent use of Points Advance. Some of the best hotels in the Marriott portfolio (the dreamy, all-suite properties such as the St. Regis Maldives and Al Maha resort in Dubai) are currently priced as Category 7 properties, requiring just 60,000 points for a free night. Beginning in March 2019, Marriott will introduce Category 8 pricing, bringing a standard award at these hotels to 85,000 points per night (a jump of 41%). If you’re eyeing one of these hotels but haven’t gotten around to making travel plans, you can use Points Advance to hold the space without penalty.
Last but not least, you can use Points Advance as a hedge against the last real unknown in the Marriott merger — how heavily peak pricing will be used. Whether you’re traveling to a major event (like Art Basel in Hong Kong) that draws tens of thousands of tourists who compete for award space or a city like New York that is always in high demand, you can use Points Advance to lock in potential travel dates now instead of waiting around to see what will happen with peak pricing.
Boosting Your Marriott Balance
If you do utilize the Points Advance feature of Marriott Rewards, the program provides no shortage of ways to earn the extra 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 a number of different cobranded credit cards, and three currently have large welcome bonuses:
- Starwood Preferred Guest® American Express Luxury Card: Earn 75,000 bonus points after you use your new card to make $3,000 in purchases within the first three months.
- Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express: Earn 75,000 bonus points after you use your new card to make $3,000 in purchases within the first three months.
- Starwood Preferred Guest® Business Credit Card from American Express: Earn 75,000 bonus points after you use your new card to make $3,000 in purchases within the first three months.
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.
Marriott’s Points Advance feature is relatively unique in the world of travel rewards, and while the recent merger was far from perfect, you have to give credit where credit is due. While some airlines let you place a short hold on award tickets, Points Advance potentially gives you several months to make up your mind and earn the requisite number of points. As long as you pay attention to the hotel’s cancellation policy and make sure to earn enough points at least two weeks before your stay, this feature is essentially risk-free and can make your booking process much easier.
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