How to Book Marriott Award Stays When You’re Short on Points

Feb 17, 2015

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In order to maximize your points and miles, you first have to earn them. At least, that’s how it usually works. Today, however, TPG Senior Points & Miles Correspondent Nick Ewen explains how Marriott lets you spend points even before they reach your account.

Being a points and miles enthusiast can induce some anxiety. You might worry that an unannounced devaluation will derail your future plans, or fret about award availability suddenly disappearing on the dates you want to travel. If you’ve had one (or both) of these concerns about Marriott Rewards, you’ll be excited to know that you can pre-book award rooms even if you don’t have enough points in your account, and today I’ll show you how.

How It Works

I know what some of you are thinking right off the bat: many hotel chains allow this! While that’s technically true, Marriott’s approach is unique. Take Hilton HHonors as an example: I was fortunate enough to get in on the 100,000-point bonus last week, but my account balance still isn’t high enough for longer stays at top-tier properties. Fortunately, Hilton allows me to make up the difference by purchasing points.

Consider this five-night stay at The Trafalgar in London:

Hilton reward room
Hilton will help you book an award by letting you purchase points to cover the balance.

As you can see, Hilton offered to sell me 74,301 points for $1,429 in order to book the award I wanted. Given that TPG lists Hilton HHonors points at 0.5 cents apiece in his latest monthly valuations, I hope none of you would ever consider purchasing that many points at almost four times that rate!

Here’s how Marriott is different (and significantly ahead of the competition). If you don’t have enough points in your account, you can still make an award reservation. The only stipulation is that you do one of two things:

  1. Purchase the additional points (at a less terrible rate of $12.50 for every 1,000 points) when you make the reservation;
  2. Earn the additional points prior to check-in.

Generally speaking, purchasing points directly from a program is a relatively poor value, though if you’re just a few thousand short of a redemption, it can make sense.

The Pier One Sydney Harbour normally requires 40,000 points per night, but if you don't have enough to cover the reservation, don't let that stop you!
The Pier One Sydney Harbour normally requires 40,000 points per night, but if you don’t have enough to cover the whole reservation, don’t let that stop you!

However, option #2 can be incredibly valuable. In essence, Marriott Rewards is giving you an interest-free points loan that must be paid off before you begin your stay. Happily, you don’t need to jump through any hoops to exercise this option; it will automatically show up when you try to make an award reservation.


Let’s say you want to book a two-night stay for next month in sunny Miami (or anywhere to escape winter’s wrath). You’ve heard terrific things about the JW Marriott Marquis, but at 35,000 points per night, you don’t quite have enough for the full stay. Go ahead and search for available rooms and click the “View Rates” icon. That will take you to the room selection page:

Marriott Rewards
Marriott notifies you that your balance is insufficient to book your award stay.

The yellow box indicates that you can still book this room; you just need to earn (or purchase) additional points prior to check-in. If you select the Larger Guest room option, the next page presents you with two options:

Screen Shot 2015-02-12 at 6.15.59 PM

When you make any Marriott Rewards reservation, the program generates e-certificates that are sent directly to the hotel. In this case, you don’t have enough points to create an e-certificate. However, you can still book the room by redeeming 50,000 points and earning another 20,000 points prior to your stay:

Screen Shot 2015-02-12 at 6.20.48 PM

In my experience, I’ve found that the points are not actually deducted when you make the reservation, but instead are deducted once you earn (or purchase) the remaining points. You’ll then need to log in to your account, navigate to the confirmation page for that reservation, and order the required e-certificates for your stay:

Marriott e-certificates
Once you earn points to cover the balance, don’t forget to order e-certificates for your reservation.

There are a couple of very important stipulations to this option. First, if you do choose to purchase the additional points, know that Marriott Rewards allows you to purchase a maximum of 50,000 points in a calendar year. As a result, if you’re more than 50,000 points short of a given redemption, buying points won’t even show up as an option.

The second (and more important) stipulation is this: You must accrue the remaining points at least 7 days prior to your check-in date. While the initial booking page is more vague, using the language “prior to check-in,” the program’s terms & conditions specify that it must happen at least a full week before you arrive. Otherwise, you forfeit the redemption and must call customer service (1-800-MARRIOTT) to rebook the room at the best available rate.

You can book a room at the Ritz-Carlton Dubai, even if you don't have enough points to cover the entire reservation.
You can book a room at the Ritz-Carlton Dubai even if you don’t have enough points to cover the entire reservation.

A couple of other things to keep in mind:

  • This works in tandem with the “fifth night free” benefit. Marriott Rewards automatically gives you the fifth night free on all award reservations of five nights or longer. If you don’t have the necessary points, you can still book these rooms and earn (or purchase) additional points prior to check-in.
  • This also works with Ritz-Carlton properties. While Ritz-Carlton Rewards is technically its own program, it operates just like Marriott Rewards, so you can still make award reservations if you don’t have enough points for the room(s).
  • This does not work with Marriott’s Hotel + Air Packages. Last year, TPG utilized this option to visit Cannes and earn a Southwest Companion Pass, but unfortunately, you must have all of the required points at the time of booking for these packages.
The Lodge & Spa at Calloway Gardens in Georgia is a great property at which to utilize this benefit.

Maximizing Your Options

So when might you want to take advantage of this benefit? A few scenarios come to mind:

1. If you’re afraid award availability will disappear. This can be a nightmare for travel plans. You have everything lined up and ready to go; flights are booked, the itinerary is set, and you’re just waiting on your hotel account balance to get high enough to book the hotel rooms. When those last points hit, you immediately log in and search, but alas, no more rooms are available on points! With Marriott Rewards, this won’t be a problem, as you can lock in the room before earning all of the points.

2. If your plans aren’t set. You might be unsure of your exact travel dates, or deciding between two different properties in the same city. In either case, you can use this option to make reservations at multiple locations, and then cancel as needed once your plans are finalized.

3. If you’re waiting on a credit card bonus. Applying for a credit card and earning a sign-up bonus is a great way to bump your Marriott account balances. Right now, the Marriott Rewards Premier Credit Card from Chase offers a sign-up bonus of 80,000 points after you spend $3,000 in your first three months (unfortunately the 140,000-point sign-up bonus on the Ritz-Carlton Rewards credit card has expired). If you’re expecting this big haul of Marriott points before you plan to travel, you can still book your stay now.

4. If you’ll be earning bonus points through the spring Megabonus (or another promotion). Marriott has long offered its “Megabonus” promotion, where members can earn bonus points (or oftentimes free nights) during a given quarter. These offers are targeted and vary from one account to another; this time around, I (for example) can earn 3,000 bonus points on every paid stay (starting with my second stay) up to 24,000 points. To see your targeted offer, log in to your Marriott Rewards account and click on the “Promotions” link.

Bottom line

I wouldn’t describe this benefit as a game-changer in the world of hotel loyalty programs. However, it can be really useful for securing the travel dates you want and making sure you can use your points at the property you have in mind. Just make sure that you earn (or purchase) the additional points needed at least a week before your check-in date! Missing out on award availability is one thing; changing your travel plans with just 7 days notice is another!

Have you used this benefit to “borrow” Marriott Rewards points?

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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