How Easy Is It to Use Marriott Suite Night Awards?

Mar 14, 2019

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While suite upgrades might not be strictly necessary for solo travelers or those on shorter trips, it’s safe to say that snagging a comically oversized room stocked with luxury amenities is one of the most eye-grabbing benefits of hotel elite status.

Marriott Bonvoy Platinum and Titanium elites have two ways to secure upgrades. The simplest option is to wait until you arrive at the hotel, as these elites are provided space-available upgrades to the best available room at check-in. This even includes standard suites at most brands (only Titanium elites are eligible for suite upgrades at Ritz-Carlton properties). Still, if you’re traveling for a special event or looking to make your stay even more memorable, it’s possible to confirm an upgrade in advance.

Qualifying for Bonvoy Platinum status requires staying 50 nights in a year, while Titanium requires 75. At each of these thresholds, elites are given the chance to select a “Choice Benefit” as a reward for qualifying. The options for attaining 50 nights are as follows:

  • Five Suite Night Awards
  • 40% off bed
  • $100 Charity Donation
  • The gift of Silver Elite status for a friend or family member
  • Five Elite Night Credits

For reaching 75 nights, you have a similar yet slightly enhanced list of choices:

  • Five Suite Night Awards
  • 40% off bed
  • $100 Charity Donation
  • The gift of Gold Elite status for a friend or family member
  • Five Elite Night Credits
  • One free night award (valid up to 40,000 points)

While the free night award for Titanium qualification is appealing, I’ll venture a guess that most people select Suite Night Awards (SNAs) as their benefit for both levels. If you fail to make your selection by January 14 of year after you earned the choice benefit, Marriott will even automatically select the SNAs for you.

W Santiago
Suite upgrades can be quite valuable at properties like the W Santiago, but are these as valuable as they seem? (Photo courtesy of Marriott)

ON the surface, these sound simple enough: Book a standard room and use one or more SNAs to upgrade. However, there’s been a lot of confusion about how these upgrade certificates work, how easy they are to use, and just how much they’re worth, so today we’re going to clear the air and talk about your options for redeeming Marriott SNAs.

When a Suite Isn’t Actually a Suite

SNAs can be used to confirm a room upgrade in advance, and they are eligible on paid stays, award stays and points+cash reservations. According to the program’s terms & conditions, they may only be used for “standard suites or other premium rooms as designated by the property,” though in reality there’s a lot of variance in how this is implemented.

You need to redeem one SNA per room per night, and you can only redeem them if you have enough in your account to cover the entire stay. If you have two SNAs, you can’t request to apply them to part of a three-night stay. Once your request is made, the hotel will begin looking for available upgrade inventory starting five days before your arrival. If your upgrade hasn’t been confirmed by 2pm local time the day before your arrival, the SNA(s) will be returned to your account. This doesn’t preclude you from getting an upgrade at check-in; it just means the hotel wasn’t able to confirm it in advance.

A suite at the Ritz Carlton Buckhead. Image courtesy Ritz Carlton/Marriott
SNAs can’t be used at certain brands, including Ritz-Carlton properties. (Photo courtesy of Ritz-Carlton/Marriott)

So can you use your SNAs at every Marriott hotel? Well, not exactly. Here is what the terms and conditions say about suite night awards (emphasis mine).

“Not all Participating Properties participate in Suite Night Awards. Suite Night Awards are not redeemable at the following brands:  The Ritz-Carlton, The Ritz-Carlton Reserve, The Ritz-Carlton Destination Club, EDITION, Protea Hotels, Aloft, Element, Design HotelsTM, all-Suite Hotels, Marriott Executive Apartments, ExecuStay, Marriott Vacation Club, Marriott Grand Residence Club properties and participating Vistana properties. In addition, Suite Night Awards are not redeemable at select Participating Properties. Contact a Customer Engagement Center for individual Participating Property Suite Night Award participation.”

Not being able to redeem SNAs at Ritz Carlton and EDITION hotels follows Marriott’s policy of restricting elite benefits at those brands, but the fact that they aren’t redeemable at “select participating properties” is alarmingly vague, as it opens the door to properties opting out of this benefit without setting any clear standards.

We’ve reached out to Marriott for a list of properties that don’t participate in suite night awards but haven’t received a response at the time of publication. We’ll be sure to update this guide if we receive additional information.

Using SNAs: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

With Ritz-Carlton hotels excluded, there’s no more luxurious brand in the Marriott portfolio than St. Regis, and these properties are a great choice for using your upgrades. Not only will you get a larger room; suites include the signature St. Regis butler service, which provides complimentary coffee, clothes pressing and packing/unpacking. I’ve found the selection of room categories available for upgrades at St. Regis hotels to be very generous, and there are often several different types of suites available for you to pick from.

For my upcoming stay at the St. Regis Beijing I had four different types of suites I could pick from, and I opted for two of them. I applied two SNAs for the two-night stay and hope to score an Ambassador Suite, one that covers over 1,000 square feet.

However, many properties don’t have that many types of suites, so you should be prepared to encounter more limited options. I’m staying at the Renaissance Amsterdam in a few weeks, and this suite with lounge access is the only upgrade option available.

Since I already get complimentary club lounge access as a Bonvoy Titanium elite, I don’t see much of a value-add here other than the extra space, so I’ll save my upgrades.

What starts to get confusing is seeing Suite Night Awards offered at hotels that don’t have any suites. As an example, I have a one-night stay booked at the Courtyard New York Queens/Fresh Meadows, and my Marriott account is prompting me to “Take an upgrade, you’ve earned it!”

The highest category of room at this property is a “larger studio,” and that’s not even what I’m offered. My choice here would be to upgrade my 1 king room to a 2 double room with a sofa bed, which I absolutely don’t need.

Of course between St. Regis on the high end and Courtyard on the low end, you’ll find a lot of variation in the middle. If you want to see how generous a hotel is being with its upgrade options, you should look at the list of room types on the hotel website and cross reference that with the room categories offered towards SNAs.

Finding the Sweet Suite Spot

Only you can decide which of your trips are worth the splurge of using your upgrades, but if you want to get the best value possible, it helps to think about why you want a suite in the first place. If you need the extra space to host friends or family, you might not care what brand you’re staying at and take whatever options are given. Remember, there’s no guarantee your upgrade will clear, so if you absolutely need the extra space you should book the room you want outright.

Still, if you travel frequently and can afford to be judicious with how you use your upgrades, you should save them for stays at luxury brands like JW Marriott, Luxury Collection, Autograph Collection, Westin, W Hotels and St. Regis. These hotels typically offer multiple different categories of suites, and you might find that a property is making non-standard suites available for upgrades. This is the best value in my opinion, as it can help you get an even better room than you’re likely to be offered at check-in.

For example, the “standard suite” at the Sheraton Sydney is an Executive Suite, nice but nothing special. I was able to use my upgrades to select one of the hotel’s top room categories, a 1,300-square-foot Deluxe Terrace Suite with two different balconies.

Of course, this generosity won’t be available everywhere, as the Marriott Bonvoy terms & conditions provide a lot of leeway for hotels to offer a single type of suite or even opt out of Suite Night Awards entirely. It’s also worth noting that just because your requested room type is available within five days of arrival doesn’t mean that you are guaranteed to be upgraded. A property may choose to hold back inventory if it’s confident the suite can go to a paying customer, as there’s nothing to obligate a hotel to release unsold suites for SNAs.

Bottom Line

Suite Night Awards are another example of the Marriott Bonvoy program lacking cohesion, as the benefit varies significantly across the combined portfolio of properties, much like the program’s elite breakfast offerings. While I’ve been happy with my experience redeeming SNAs so far, from an ocean-view suite at the St. Regis Abu Dhabi to my suite at the Sheraton Sydney, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t worried about the apparent wiggle room for properties in Marriott’s terms & conditions. When it’s up to each hotel to decide what room categories to offer (and even apparently whether or not to participate in SNAs at all), there’s always a chance that this benefit could appear more valuable on paper than in practice.

What experiences have you had redeeming (or trying to redeem) your SNAs?

Featured photo by Ethan Steinberg/The Points Guy

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