Finding Value with Marriott’s Cash + Points Awards

Jul 2, 2015

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Many people get into award travel to score free flights and hotel stays, but another good way to maximize your travel rewards is through the points + cash rates offered by many hotel brands. Today, TPG Senior Points & Miles Correspondent Nick Ewen looks at how these redemption options stack up in the Marriott Rewards program.

Snagging an award ticket or hotel room using your points and miles can unlock luxurious travel experiences. However, there may be times when your account balance isn’t high enough to cover the entire redemption. Fortunately, many hotel chains offer ways to use a combination of points and money to cover a hotel stay. Today, I’ll follow up on Richard Kerr’s post about Wyndham’s new Go Fast points + cash rate, and take a look at a similar option from Marriott Rewards.

Marriott Rio
Marriott Rewards allows you to use both points and cash to pay for a stay, though the exact combination of award nights and paid nights is up to you!

For starters, the Cash + Points rate from Marriott works a bit differently than those offered by other chains. With Hyatt, Hilton, IHG and Starwood Preferred Guest, the points and cash requirements are fixed based on the category of the property. These awards typically require a set number of points (generally 40-50% of a full award redemption) and a flat cash copay (which could be as low as $30 or as high as $300 per night).

Marriott’s program goes in another direction entirely. Instead of setting fixed prices, Marriott Rewards actually gives you added flexibility by allowing you to specify a combination of award nights and paid nights in a single reservation of two nights or more. This is an easy way to avoid making multiple reservations for a single stay (which brings the dreaded possibility of having to check out and switch rooms part way through). It’s also not subject to the blackout dates or capacity controls that other chains impose on these types of awards. If a standard room is available using points, then you can take advantage of the Cash + Points rate as well. Finally, this can all be done online, in sharp contrast to Hyatt’s Cash + Points awards.

Here’s how to do it:

1. From Marriott’s homepage, enter your destination and dates, and check the Use Rewards points box, then click Find.

Marriott 1

2. Find your hotel on the search results and click View Rates.

Marriott 2

3. On the next page, click on Use Cash + Points to expand a calendar that shows the rate options for each date of your stay.

Marriott 3

4. Choose the date(s) you want to pay a Cash Rate and then click to Recalculate your rate combination.

Marriott cash + points 1

5. Once you have the combination you want, click Select and complete the reservation process.

One nice feature of the online search engine is that it will notify you if you’re making a poor decision when it comes to the combination of paid and award nights. Let’s stick with the above example and pretend that you want to stay at the Marriott Marquis in New York City over Labor Day Weekend. However, you don’t have enough points for the entire stay and want to pay for one of the nights. If you select Saturday to pay with cash and recalculate your rate combination, here’s what you’ll see:

Marriott cash + points 2

Marriott’s website lets you know there’s a better combination to be had. When I click the icon circled above, it reconfigures my stay with the same number of points, but the cheapest cash outlay possible:

Marriott's site easily identified a way for me to save $17 on this reservation.
Marriott’s site easily identified a way for me to save $17 on this reservation.

Unfortunately, I have found that this feature isn’t always accurate, so you should verify that you have the best combination before completing the reservation.

As I’ve written about in the past, Marriott allows you to book award stays even when you’re short on points, and this rule extends to Cash + Points reservations as well. When you complete the reservation process, you’ll see how many additional points you need to cover the entire stay. Just remember that you must earn, transfer or purchase those points at least one week before your arrival date.

There are some other key things to keep in mind with this redemption option:

  • Your reservations must be at least two nights long.
  • You do earn points and credit(s) toward elite status for any paid nights.
  • You can utilize this option when PointSavers rates are available.
  • You can still take advantage of the program’s fifth night free benefit (see below).
  • You can’t utilize special rates with this option (like government, corporate or AAA discounts).

For additional information about the rules and restrictions, check the FAQ page.

Some cards allow you to spend your way to top tier status, giving you valuable benefits at properties like the Kaua'i Marriott Resort
There are several ways to increase your Marriott balance quickly and unlock redemption options like the Kaua’i Marriott Resort.

Earning Additional Marriott Points

If you’re currently short on points and want to utilize this redemption option, there are several ways to boost your account balance quickly (aside from actually staying in a Marriott property, of course). The first is by signing up for the Marriott Rewards Premier Credit Card from Chase. The card currently offers 70,000 bonus points after you spend $2,000 on purchases in your first three months. It also includes automatic Silver Elite status (via the 15 elite credits given each year), and earns 5 points for every $1 spent at Marriott and Ritz-Carlton properties worldwide.

Marriott Rewards is also a 1:1 transfer partner of Chase Ultimate Rewards, so you can transfer points earned from cards like the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card or Ink Plus Business Card directly to the program. While transferring to Marriott may not be the best value for your Ultimate Rewards points, it’s still an easy way to add to your account.

Finally, Marriott also has an online shopping portal that offers you bonus points at a variety of online retailers, so be sure to check that out if you want to earn additional Marriott Rewards points for everyday purchases.

Marco Island Marriott
If you’re planning a longer getaway to a property like the Marco Island Marriott, be sure to consider the Cash + Points option!

When Should You Use Cash + Points?

Like any award redemption, value is in the eye of the beholder, so you may have your own strategy for maximizing Cash + Points rates. However, there are a few scenarios where I think it makes the most sense:

1. On stays of 6 nights or longer — Marriott Rewards gives all members the fifth night free on award reservations, including those booked with the Cash + Points rate. Marriott also allows you to pick a night in the middle of a stay to pay with cash. As long as you have at least five award nights on a stay of six nights or longer, the fifth night will be free.

For example, let’s say you want to book a week-long stay at the JW Marriott Cannes, where TPG stayed for the 2014 Cannes Film Festival (earning a Southwest Companion Pass in the process). Here’s what your rate would look like if you paid for two of those nights:

Marriott cash + points 4As you can see, I selected non-consecutive nights to pay with cash, but still got the fifth award night free.

The flip side of this is that you should never use this option on stays of exactly five nights, nor should you use it on longer stays in a way that brings your overall award nights down to four. Sticking with the same example above, if I decided to pay for the first three nights with cash, notice what happens to my total:

Marriott cash + points 5

This new Cash + Points reservation requires the same number of points as before, plus an additional €199.

2. When the rate jumps (or drops) significantly during your dates — Another great time to use the Cash + Points option is when you see a significant rate increase (or decrease) during the dates of your desired stay. The above example of the Marriott Marquis in New York City is a relatively insignificant difference, but I have often seen huge variations in mid-week versus weekend rates at properties (or destinations) that are popular with business travelers.

Take the Threadneedles in London, part of the program’s Autograph Collection. Here’s a sample three-night stay in mid-September:

Marriott Cash + Points 6

Paying cash for the first night requires an astonishing £699! If you pay for the second night instead, that rate drops to £599, so it’s still quite pricey. However, paying cash for the last night (Friday September 18) would only require £179.10. In this case, you can use the same number of points to cover two of the three nights; you’re just choosing to pay cash for the night that is significantly cheaper.

It's hard to imagine a better pool view than that of the J.W. Marriott in Venice.
I was surprised to see PointSavers availability at the JW Marriott in Venice this summer, though it wasn’t available every night.

3. When PointSavers rates aren’t available all nights — I’ve generally found that Marriott’s PointSavers awards are pretty tough to find, especially at luxurious properties like those on my list of awesome Marriott award redemptions. However, you may come across a property with availability for only some of the nights of your stay. In this case, you can choose to pay cash for the nights that require more points, and pay with points for the nights that are available at the PointSavers rate.

I managed to find a crazy example of this at the JW Marriott in Venice for early August. PointSavers rooms are available the nights of August 6-8 and 10-11, but not the nights of August 5 or August 9. If you wanted to spend that full week there, you could pay cash for the two nights without PointSavers availability and redeem points for the rest of the nights. This would still allow you to utilize the fifth night free benefit too! Here’s what you would see:

Marriott Cash + Points 8

The fifth night free benefit only applies if the five award nights are all available at the PointSavers rate. Once you start trying to combine different award rates, the search engine will automatically reprice the entire reservation at the standard (higher) redemption rate.

Bottom Line

Having options for using your hard-earned points and miles is always great, and while Marriott’s Cash + Points rate differs from the rate offered by other chains, it’s a nice way to combine award nights and paid nights on a single reservation. Hopefully you can take advantage of this on your next trip!

Have you redeemed Marriott Rewards using the Cash + Points rate?

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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