The award traveller’s guide to Marriott Bonvoy
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While Marriott’s loyalty program has had a rough past couple of years, it’s finally emerging from its merger with Starwood Preferred Guest and Ritz-Carlton stronger than before.
However, as part of the integration, the rebranded Marriott Bonvoy programme has yielded new status tiers, hotel categories and other changes. So, whether you’re a long-term Marriott loyalist or someone new to the program, you might have the same questions about how to get the most value out of your Marriott stays and outsized value out of your redemptions.
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Let’s start by looking at the benefits of having elite status with Marriott, then move on to earning and redeeming points.
Marriott now offers five levels of elite status: Silver, Gold, Platinum, Titanium and Ambassador. If you want to get technical, you could say there are eight levels of elite, as you’re also able to earn lifetime Silver, Gold or Platinum status. Just by signing up and becoming a Marriott Bonvoy Member, you’ll get free standard Wi-Fi, which is a solid benefit in its own right. Every member at every level of status also has access to a number of other benefits including Member Rates when booking, the option to use their mobile phone for check-in and their room key as well as the ability to pay for a room by mixing cash and points. As higher levels of status are reached, a number of additional perks are unlocked.
You can get a complete breakdown of these benefits in TPG’s valuation of Marriott Bonvoy elite status, but here’s a high-level overview:
Silver membership is reached after 10 qualifying nights. Highlights at this level include a 10% point bonus on stays and priority late checkout. This isn’t the most amazing set of perks, but 10% extra points on stays is nice.
Gold membership is achieved after 25 qualifying nights. Marriott offers its Gold members some compelling benefits. In addition to Silver perks, Gold Elites receive a 25% point bonus, enhanced room upgrades (based on availability), enhanced internet access, 2 p.m. late checkout and 250 to 500 points per stay as a “welcome gift.”
Platinum membership is earned after 50 qualifying nights. In addition to Gold benefits, Platinum members receive a 50% point bonus, space-available room upgrades (including Select Suites), lounge access, 4 p.m. checkout, and a Platinum arrival gift, which will vary depending on the brand. You can expect your options to be points, a breakfast offering or an amenity of some kind. Note that breakfast is also included at most brands, though it’s sometimes in the lounge, other times in the on-property restaurant and in a few instances, available as room service.
Check out our guide to Marriott Platinum breakfast for complete details.
An additional benefit for members who have hit 50 qualified nights is an Annual Gift Choice. Guests will be able to choose from one of the following gifts: five Suite Night Awards, the opportunity to gift Silver Elite status, 40% off a mattress, five Elite Night Credits or a $100 charity donation. I’d go with the Suite Night Awards as these can be worth hundreds of pounds when used at high-end properties.
Titanium is Marriott’s newest status tier that’s earned after 75 qualifying nights. In addition to Platinum benefits, Titanium members receive a 75% point bonus, United MileagePlus Silver status as well as a guarantee that there will be a room for you when booking before 3 p.m, 48 hours before you’re due to arrive.
Titanium Elite members are also eligible for a second Annual Choice Benefit after staying 75 nights in a year, including the additional option of a free night certificate worth up to 40,000 points — again, you’re likely to get the most value out of the five Suite Night Awards.
Ambassador is an enhanced version of Titanium Elite. This is earned after 100 qualifying nights and $20,000 in annual Marriott spending. You get all Titanium Elite benefits plus a personal “ambassador” to help make your stays more enjoyable. You also get access to the “Your24” benefit that lets you choose your 24-hour check-in and check-out time. So if you arrive on a late 10 p.m. flight for a one-night stay, you may be able to check out the following night at 10 p.m.
A great aspect of Marriott Bonvoy elite status is that many of the benefits are guaranteed. If you don’t receive what you’re entitled to, Marriott has charts listing your compensation. For example, if you have a Ritz-Carlton reservation that the property cannot honour, you’ll receive a free night at a nearby hotel and 140,000 Marriott points.
Finally, be aware that benefits can vary significantly across brands. For example, Marriott Platinums do not receive Ritz-Carlton lounge access, and suites at Ritz-Carlton properties are only available to Titanium members as an upgrade, for instance.
Marriott Bonvoy functions like most hotel loyalty programmes: You earn the majority of your points by staying at Marriott properties or through credit card spending, and you redeem points for free hotel nights, with awards priced according to the desirability of a specific hotel property.
It’s also worth noting that you can earn airline miles instead of Marriott points with any of whole host of airline programmes. With most programmes, you’ll earn two miles per dollar spent on all qualifying charges at The Ritz-Carlton, JW Marriott, EDITION, Autograph Collection, Renaissance Hotels, Marriott Hotels, Marriott Vacation Club, Gaylord Hotels, Delta Hotels by Marriott, Design Hotels, Le Meridien, The Luxury Collection, Sheraton, St. Regis, Tribute Portfolio, W Hotels, Westin; and one mile per dollar spent on all qualifying charges at all other Marriott portfolio member properties.
You can check out our guide on best ways to earn Marriott points for additional details, but here’s a summary of how to earn points in the programme:
1. Hotel stays — The majority of Marriott hotels award 10 points per $1 spent on stays. The only exceptions are Element, Townplace Suites and Residence Inn properties, which award 5 points per $1 spent. In addition, elite status and any current promotions would boost your earning rates even further.
2. Credit card spending — There is only one cobranded card in the U.K. for earning Bonvoy points, unlike the three in the U.S. The card is a cobranded American Express and is aptly named the Marriott Bonvoy American Express Card. In terms of earning, you’ll get 2 Marriott Bonvoy points for every £1 spent on everyday purchases. The earning triples to 6 points per £1 when spending with participating Marriott group hotels. The card also comes with a welcome bonus of 20,000 Bonvoy points after spending £3,000 in the first six months and Silver Elite status in the Bonvoy programme, meaning you would no longer be required to stay the usual 10 qualifying nights, as well as generous insurance and protection, which you can read more about here.
Note that restrictions are in place on welcome bonuses from signing up to American Express-issued credit cards.
In addition to using the Marriott cobranded credit cards, you can transfer American Express Membership Rewards points to Marriott Bonvoy at a 3:2 transfer ratio. This means all Membership Rewards points earned in cards like the Preferred Rewards Gold and Platinum cards from American Express UK can be used to top up your Marriott Bonvoy account.
3. Rewarding events — Event planners can earn big with the Marriott programme. You’ll earn two points per dollar (limits per event vary from 60,000 for members and increase to as many as 105,000 for Titanium and Ambassador Elite members) for any qualifying event held at a Marriott property. Additionally, you’ll earn 10 elite-qualifying nights with your first event each calendar year and an additional night for every additional 20 rooms you book as part of your event.
4. Travel partners – Earn up to 2,000 Marriott points per Hertz car rental and up to 3 Marriott Bonvoy points per dollar spent on cruises with many companies including Norweigan Cruise Line, Carnival and Royal Caribbean.
5. Refer a friend — Refer up to five new members a year and earn 2,000 points for up to five of their paid stays. That gives you a maximum of 50,000 bonus points a year. The friends you refer will also earn 2,000 bonus points for each of their first five paid stays. If you aren’t working this with your friends and family, I suggest formulating a plan.
6. Buy, gift or combine — You can buy and gift a maximum of 50,000 points annually. You can purchase points here at a rate of 1,000 points for $12.50. However, you can avoid those fees by transferring points. A fantastic aspect of Marriott Bonvoy is the ability to combine your points with another Marriott Bonvoy member. You can transfer up to 100,000 points per account up to 500,000 points per year, so you could transfer 100,000 from five friends or family members. Better yet? These transfers are completely free.
Award chart and redemption options
1. Free nights — Marriott divides its properties into eight categories, each with three different rates depending on the time of your stay: of-peak, standard and peak. Generally, more premium properties in desirable cities are assigned a higher hotel category and cost more points. Off-peak pricing is usually applied to low-demand times and peak times to be assigned to seasons with higher demand like school summer holidays.
Here’s the current award chart:
However, there are a few ways to avoid paying full price for an award. If you redeem points for five or more consecutive nights, you’ll receive the fifth night free. On a rotating basis, Marriott identifies certain properties to place in its PointsSavers promotion, where award stays cost fewer points for a limited amount of time.
The PointsSavers reward chart looks like this:
Finally, you can use the programme’s Points Advance functionality to reserve an award stay when you’re short on points, which is a great way to confirm a room at a property before you earn enough points to cover the stay.
2. Point upgrades —Marriott Bonvoy members can use their points to upgrade either a paid or award reservation to an upgraded room such as an ocean view room or a suite. There’s no published chart for these Upgrade Awards, and they aren’t available at every property. So, you’ll need to search for these upgrades for your individual stay.
3. Instant redemption — Use points toward hotel credit against your total room bill. We wouldn’t recommend using this avenue as this is perhaps the worst return on your points at 0.3p (0.4 cents) per point.
4. Travel redemptions & airline transfers — There are quite a few options for getting free travel with your Marriott Bonvoy points. You can bundle up your hotel nights with You can book air travel or rental cars directly with your points, but you’ll only receive ~0.3p per point in value toward these direct redemptions.
You can redeem points toward a free cruise with Cruise With Points, but again you’ll only receive about 0.3 pence per point in value.
Finally, you can transfer your Marriott points into airline miles with over 40 different airlines at a ratio of 3:1 for most airlines. The exceptions to this rule are Air New Zealand Airpoints™ (200:1), JetBlue TrueBlue™ (6:1) and United MileagePlus® (3:1.1). When you transfer 60,000 points you get a 5,000-mile bonus. There are some unique transfer partners (see Part 1 and Part 2 of our analysis for more information), but there are likely only certain times when it makes sense to transfer your Marriott points to an airline programme. You’ll also want to review how long those transfers will take before committing to you.
5. Hotel + Air redemption — You can turn your points into airline miles plus a seven-night stay at Marriott and Ritz-Carlton hotels around the world. The packages were devalued back in 2018 and start at 255,000 Marriott Bonvoy points for seven nights at Category 1-5 properties and 50,000 miles in an airline programme of your choice. The packages increase in price based on the category of hotel you’d like to stay at and the number of miles you’d like to receive. The most expensive option is the Category 8 and 100,000-mile option that costs a whopping 750,000 points.
Nearly all of Marriott’s airline partners are eligible for a Hotel + Air package, but United is the one of the best redemptions, as you get 10% bonus miles when you choose to transfer your miles from a Hotel + Air package thanks to the RewardsPlus partnership.
6. Marriott Bonvoy moments — If you’re looking for a different type of redemption, consider exploring the Marriott Bonvoy Moments programme. This allows you to cash in your points for unique experiences like concert tickets, culinary events and even seats to see your favourite sports team. These packages change regularly, and while some are handled as auctions, others offer fixed price redemptions. It’s hard to peg a value on these, as many aren’t easily replicable using cash. However, we’d encourage you to view what’s currently available to see if you or a loved one would enjoy one of them.
Award booking process
Booking free nights through the Marriott website is easy. Simply click the Use Points box on the main search, and results will appear with the required points shown.
Click the Find Hotels button and you’ll be presented with a view of all of the hotels that match your destination alongside its respective pricing.
However, you’ll want to click View Rates to get to the following page and see what room types are available. Then, click “Select” next to the room type you want to book to move forward with the booking process:
Marriott has a “no blackout dates” policy. However, in practice, TPG has found this policy to be essentially worthless as hotels are still allowed to restrict award stays on select dates.
Leveraging Marriott Bonvoy
There’s no question that Marriott has had its fair share of issues since the integration, and there’s no denying the fact that free nights can quickly cost a lot of points at the upper tiers after the introduction of Category 8 pricing. However, there’s still plenty of value to be had in the programme. Here are some of the strategies that can be used to get the most out of Marriott experiences:
1. Best Rate Guarantee — Marriott’s version of the best rate guarantee offers 25% off a lower rate found on a third-party website and a 5,000-point bonus. Marriott, in our experience, is the hotel programme most likely to approve a BRG, but the process is a little tricky compared to other chains. You must make a booking on Marriott.com then fill out an online claim form referencing your confirmation number and the information for the lower rate found. It’s not advisable to submit claims for nonrefundable rates because if your claim is denied, you’re stuck with the hotel room. There are hundreds of dollars on Marriott hotels with this programme.
2. Platinum Elite status challenge — Although not always available, Marriott often offers this challenge of staying 16 nights in a 60- or 90-day period to earn Platinum status. In the past, you had to provide comparable status with another hotel chain, but many have reported being able to sign up without a status.
3. Fifth night free — All Bonvoy members can take advantage of this benefit when staying five nights or longer. If you’re planning to travel to a destination for a number of nights, it could be worth saving your Marriott points for a big redemption in order to secure this benefit.
4. Low-category hotel redemptions — You can really stretch your Marriott points by redeeming points at low-category hotels in the U.S. and around the world. And don’t dismiss these properties just because they are priced at very low award prices. For example, the Protea Hotel Lusaka Safari Lodge in Zambia is a Category 1 hotel priced at just 7,500 points per night on standard award nights. True to its name, this property has its own 2,500-acre private game reserve.
Through stays, partners, credit cards and promotions, it’s not too difficult to earn a lot of Marriott points. With all of the options available for redemptions, we’re fans of Marriott Bonvoy despite its recent devaluations. We’ll continue to collect Marriott points in the hopes of redeeming for more top-tier redemptions and fifth-night-free awards.
Additional reporting by Daniel Ross and JT Genter.
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