For whatever reason, Marriott Rewards regularly wins awards for the best hotel loyalty programme. I find this hard to understand. Few Marriott properties are exciting options for holiday award nights. Reaching elite status is difficult and provides fewer benefits than other chains. Marriott Rewards is also one of the worst programmes for “category creep” – no big devaluations but year after year hotels are moved up in category and cost many more points. I suppose Marriott Rewards is popular purely because there are so many Marriott hotels, particularly in the US. So any business traveller can find it easy to remain loyal to the chain, earning lots of points during their paid-by-others work travel.
But with a fair amount of investment in Starwood Preferred Guest by many miles and points hobbyists, in terms of lifetime status and points balance, many people need to start paying more attention to Marriott Rewards. The terms of the loyalty programme merger will be publicised during 2016 or even 2017. But it can’t hurt to learn a bit about Marriott Rewards, in case it makes sense for you to get spending those Starpoints well ahead of any merger.
I’ve chosen to focus on the free nights + airline miles packages offered by both Starwood Preferred Guest and Marriott Rewards because they are often cited as the best award options in both programmes. Yesterday I looked at SPG, today it is Marriott Rewards’ turn…
Marriott Rewards offers a wide variety of Hotel + Air packages (H+A). There are five award charts published, depending on the airline programme chosen for the miles portion of the award. I will focus on the chart that includes British Airways Executive Club, although I think that Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan is a much better option for many Avios collectors…
A Marriott Rewards H+A package provides the member with 7 free nights at any hotel within the award category. It also provides a variable number of airline miles – I’ll start with 50,000 miles, to be comparable with the SPG version. In exchange for 7 nights + 50,000 miles, Marriott Rewards members must hand over:
- 200,000 points for a Category 1-5 H+A package
- 230,000 points for a Category 6 H+A package
- 260,000 points for a Category 7 H+A package
- 290,000 points for a Category 8 H+A package
- 320,000 points for a Category 9 H+A package
- 350,000 points for a Ritz Carlton Tier 1-3 H+A package
- 470,000 points for a Ritz Carlton Tier 4-5 H+A package
Phew… that is a large number of Marriott Rewards points. Members earn 10 points per US dollar spent on qualifying spend that varies depending on the brand.
Marriott Rewards also offers a fifth night free benefit, so seven award nights would cost:
- 150,000 points for 7 free nights at a Category 5 hotel
- 180,000 points for 7 free nights at a Category 6 hotel
- 210,000 points for 7 free nights at a Category 7 hotel
- 240,000 points for 7 free nights at a Category 8 hotel
- 270,000 points for 7 free nights at a Category 9 hotel
- 300,000 points for 7 free nights at a Ritz Carlton Tier 3 hotel
- 420,000 points for 7 free nights at a Ritz Carlton Tier 5 hotel
(members are free to stay at a Category 1-4 or Ritz Carlton Tiers 1,2 and 4 hotel, but these are sub-optimal options…)
Although the wide variety of numbers can be disorienting, the result is quite simple. By combining a 7-night hotel award with miles, 50,000 points equals 50,000 miles. Even better, the 1:1 ratio remains in place for conversions for up to 120,000 points equals 120,000 miles.
(Marriott Rewards points can be converted into airline miles without redeeming on a Hotel + Air package, but the ratio is quite poor and is therefore not recommended…)
At that 1:1 ratio, I would consider buying Marriott Rewards points, even though they rarely, if ever, are offered at a promotional rate. Members can buy an annual maximum of 50,000 points for US$625.
Spending points on a Hotel + Air package works different than might be expected. Points are deducted from members’ accounts and the appropriate number of miles are transferred to the airline. The member is then provided with an award certificate that is valid for 7 nights at any hotel within the purchased award category. This certificate is valid for one year, although this can often be extended. It is also possible to call Marriott and pay the difference in points to upgrade the hotel certificate – therefore it makes most sense to order a Category 1-5 package and upgrade later. As far as I know, this award certificate can be cancelled if necessary, but very few points will be refunded to your account.
It is really hard work to accumulate 200,000 Marriott Rewards points but, once there, a Hotel + Air package offers amazing value. Timed right, you could issue the package during an airline promotion offering extra miles for hotel points conversions, such as this 25% offer from British Airways Executive Club that is repeated a couple of times per year.
Tomorrow I’ll look at whether those with a large balance of SPG points should consider waiting for a conversion