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Today, I want to share a story from TPG reader Jane, who missed an important stipulation when buying hotel points:

I was on vacation in Japan with my boyfriend, and we decided to spend an extra night in Hiroshima. Our initial plan was to go back to Tokyo to meet a friend, but she canceled the day before, so we didn’t have a hotel for that night and needed to book one immediately. The hotel we were staying in was full, so I looked frantically for a place online, but everything seemed over our budget and most hotels were full.

Finally, I saw that the Sheraton Hiroshima was available for 35,000 Marriott points. The hotel got amazing ratings, so I really wanted to book it. I had 5,000 Marriott points already in my account. I transferred 28,000 Amex points, which gave me a total of 33,000. I also knew I could buy 2,000 Marriott points online for $25, which I thought would give me the 35,000 points I needed to immediately book the hotel for the next day.

I received an email with the receipt for my purchase, and happily went to the Marriott website to book my award night, but my points didn’t arrive! After anxiously waiting an hour (and refreshing the website every 10 minutes), I re-read the receipt email and saw it said “points may take 24-48 hours to show up in your account.” In the end, the points didn’t arrive in time. We had to book a different hotel, and I had converted my valuable Amex points to Marriott points that I couldn’t use.

Don’t make my mistake of buying points too late. If you ever buy Marriott points, remember that they can take 48 hours to show up in your account!

I generally don’t recommend buying points, because the retail price of rewards tends to be inflated, and in most cases you won’t get enough value from them to justify the cost. Buying sometimes makes sense if you need to top off your balance for a valuable award, but as Jane learned, it’s not a good strategy for last-minute bookings. Marriott specifies a wait of 24-48 hours for points to reach your account (this is noted before you complete the purchase), while Hilton and Hyatt specify waits of 24 and 48 hours, respectively. Your points may be deposited more quickly, but you shouldn’t bank on it.

I think Jane also erred by transferring her Amex points to Marriott. Rooms at the Sheraton Grand Hiroshima Hotel rarely top $300 per night even at the last minute, and there are less expensive options in the vicinity. That means she was almost certainly getting a redemption value of less than one cent per point, which is low for Membership Rewards. A better move would have been to transfer 8,000 points to Choice Privileges for a night at the Comfort Hotel Hiroshima Otemachi, or to just pay cash unless minimizing out-of-pocket costs was a priority.

When you’re booking further in advance, keep in mind that Marriott lets you book awards even if you don’t have enough points in your account using the Points Advance. Once your reservation is confirmed, you have until 14 days before your stay to earn or transfer in the requisite number of points. This approach wouldn’t have worked for Jane — aside from the 14-day requirement, Sheraton and other former SPG properties are currently excluded — but it’s helpful if you want to nail down your itinerary while you wait for points to show up.

I appreciate this story, and I hope it can help other readers avoid making the same mistake. In appreciation for sharing this experience (and for allowing me to post it online), I’m sending Jane a $200 airline gift card to enjoy on future travels, and I’d like to do the same for you. Please email your own travel mistake stories to info@thepointsguy.com, and put “Reader Mistake Story” in the subject line. Tell us how things went wrong, and (where applicable) how you made them right. Offer any wisdom you gained from the experience, and explain what the rest of us can do to avoid the same pitfalls.

Feel free to also submit your best travel success stories. If your story is published in either case, I’ll send you a gift to jump-start your next adventure. I look forward to hearing from you, and until then, I wish you a safe and mistake-free journey!

Featured photo courtesy of Sheraton Grand Hiroshima Hotel.

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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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