I earned 15,000 Marriott points just by renting a home for 10 days — here's how
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When coronavirus forced me to completely rethink our family's summer vacation plans, I focused on home rentals with maximum flexibility.
That's when I stumbled upon Marriott Homes & Villas. We had rented homes in the past using Airbnb and VRBO, but I had not used Marriott's relatively new service. However, a two-day flash sale offering a 10% discount and a policy that let me cancel until pretty close to the check-in date led me book a stay. In fact, I booked three homes speculatively, not knowing how bad the pandemic would be and what type of trips we'd actually be able to take this summer.
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By booking through Marriott, I could cancel within 30 days without a penalty or within 10 days and only pay a $75 credit card processing fee. There was an instant booking confirmation and no back-and-forth with a host. That's great news if you want to lock in your plans on the fly, but it also means that you can’t negotiate the price with an individual owner.
It also means that you'll always be dealing with the management company. Over the years, my family has built relationships with VRBO and Airbnb owners and subsequently rented through them directly, sparing us the booking fees.
But there are nice perks when you book with Marriott, compared to other vacation rentals. The homes offer amenities such as high thread count sheets and coffee, and my home also had laundry detergent, dishwasher soap, towels and beach chairs.
Perhaps best of all for a points geek, I would earn 5 Marriott Bonvoy points per dollar spent on the base price of rooms (excluding cleaning fees and add-ons) plus elite bonuses. And each night will count toward my Marriott elite status qualification. I don't need those nights this year given Marriott's decision to extend status until February 2022. But it never hurts to have extra nights toward lifetime status.
I charged the rental to my Chase Sapphire Reserve, hoping for 3x on travel, but it coded as “professional services” instead, meaning I would only earn one point per dollar. But after a quick chat with Chase, I was given the extra points.
When Marriott launched the Homes & Villas program last year, it partnered with third-party property management companies including TurnKey Vacation Rentals, LaCure, Loyd & Townsend Rose, Veeve and London Residents Club.
Our home was managed by TurnKey, which communicated with us through email and text messages. At one point during our stay, I had a question, and couldn't get through on the phone, but got a prompt reply – and answer – in a text.
Related: TPG's guide to the best credit cards for home rentals
Our 10-night rental came to $2,555.92, including 14.45% in taxes and a $299 cleaning fee. While not cheap, it was a fair price to pay to escape our Manhattan apartment and let our 5-year-old daughter run around a backyard with a private swingset and playground. The same house for 10 days in August is renting for $4,564.08.
The home could have been booked using Marriott Bonvoy points instead of cash – but not with a mix of cash and points. In the past, the rentals were pricing out at 0.7 cents a point, but that seems to now dropped to 0.6 cents a point. TPG values Marriott points at 0.8 cents each, so using points won't be a great deal.
Marriott Bonvoy Benefits
With a base rate of just under $2,000, I'm expecting to earn 10,000 points plus a 50% bonus for being a Platinum Elite member. Because I'm writing this during my stay, and Marriott says it can take between 21 and 42 days for the points and nights to post, I'll update this story if I earn something different than expected.
The stay will also let me requalify for Platinum status (again, not necessary this year). I had 15 nights thanks to the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express® Card, plus four nights for stays that occurred before I stopped traveling in March. Marriott also just announced it would deposit Elite Night Credits into members’ accounts amounting to 50% of the nights required for the status they earned in 2019 – so, 25 extra nights for me.
That means I'll have 54 elite nights by the middle of 2020, just 21 nights shy of the 75 needed for Titanium Elite status. If I start traveling again for work relatively soon (probably unlikely) or rent another home, that could be doable. But I'm not going to push for it. At the very least, I'll now get another five suite upgrade nights as my Choice Benefit, or I'll pick five elite nights if I'm just shy of Titanium.
My wife and I want to feel comfortable in a vacation home. Unlike an urban hotel, we plan to spend most of our time at the house, as if it were a resort.
I've found some of the other home rental sites to be very hit-or-miss. There are some great properties and others that would give me nightmares. I'm sorry, but dark wood panels are just not our style at home or away.
This home was modern, with lots of light, new appliances and comfortable furniture.
The official check-in time was 4 p.m., but the night before I received a text message saying we could enter the house at noon, along with a code to open the front door. There was even a video to help me figure out how to use the door. Spoiler: It wasn't hard and I never watched the video.
In the age of coronavirus, it was nice not to have to interact with any other humans.
The only real complaint about the house was the Wi-Fi, which didn't reach to the back porch and struggled to handle two working adults, one toddler doing school via Zoom and my parents, who joined this trip, surfing the web or streaming television shows. Yes, it was a heavy bandwidth considering nobody expected so many folks to be working from a vacation home. But it was still a letdown.
Related: Inside a socially distant vacation
Outside, we had a fire pit and barbecue, plus a playground and hammock.
My daughter loved running around outside, using the playground, trying to get into the hammock (and knocking me out of the hammock) and making s'mores in the fire pit.
As I noted earlier, the home came with just about everything we needed for our stay, including towels, linens, soaps, shampoo and even laundry detergent. There were table settings for a fancy dinner party and enough plastic straws to keep an energetic 5-year-old entertained.
There was even a nice welcome basket — sort of like a hotel elite welcome gift — that included Cape Cod potato chips, extra coffee and chocolates. I've stayed at a few home rentals were we received similar gifts and it's always a nice touch.
There were cheaper homes on the market, sure, but the flexibility of Marriott's cancellation policy made this the ideal choice for my family in 2020 – a year of mass uncertainty. The home was extremely well-maintained, modern and true to the online photos.
The ability to earn points and elite night credits isn't something that would normally factor into my decision to rent a home. But it's a nice perk, especially when I'm not traveling as much as I normally would.
My biggest complaint? The lack of home inventory. The site is still relatively new, but there are still many large vacation destinations that lack a Marriott home rental at this time. (If you want a vacation rental in New York, you'll need to stay in the Hamptons; in Massachusetts, the only market is Cape Cod; and if you want to book a home rental in the state of Vermont, you're simply still out of luck.)