Many Starwood Preferred Guest members – especially those with elite status – have a lot to learn about Marriott Rewards. At first glance, a Hotel + Air Travel Package looks appealing. I wrote about it because it appears as if you receive a few more miles/Avios, as well as seven free nights at a Category 1-5 hotel. But perhaps jumping in and booking a Travel Package for Avios isn’t the best idea? Here are some things to keep in mind.
Do You Really Want a Full Week at a Marriott Category 4 or 5 Hotel?
Here is a link to the Marriott Rewards website. You can filter their hotels based on award category. I challenge any reader to find more than a handful of Category 5 hotels that are appealing for an entire week’s holiday. There appear to be a handful of decent options for taking the family to visit Mickey in Orlando. Some of the options available in beach resort areas such as the Caribbean, Bali or Thailand appear to be more down-market options such as Courtyard, which aren’t going to be expensive in the first place. It’s also likely that many of us have a mental block against using a 7-night award certificate on a 3/4 day bank holiday weekend escape, letting the remaining days go to waste.
Of course, you can always add thousands more points to stay at a decent Category 7 or above option, but then you’re not really getting “completely free” hotel nights along with your 120,000 Avios. And that newly minted Marriott Rewards Platinum or Gold status (thanks to the generous status match) doesn’t get you free breakfast at any “resort” property (or Courtyard, Edition or AC hotels either for that matter).
Hmmm… that’s why many of us were loyal to Starwood Preferred Guest in the first place. (and not Marriott)
Do You Really Want 120,000 More Avios or Virgin Atlantic Miles?
You might… But perhaps converting Starpoints to Avios (via Marriott) doesn’t make sense from a valuation perspective.
Lots of people use 1p per Avios as a rule of thumb. So, those 120,000 Avios are worth £1200. Every once in awhile, you can buy Avios directly or indirectly for roughly that price, perhaps through an Economist subscription or the Groupon offer in Spain.
I like to use a value of 2p per Starpoint. In reality, this is 2.6 US cents, which is roughly the price you can buy Starpoints at when the 25% discount is offered twice a year. Even though the Brexit referendum result screwed up the relative value of the pound versus the dollar and euro, most people also tend to use their hotel points outside of the UK, whilst Avios are often used for flights that would be priced in sterling. So I think my logic holds…
Anyhow, 90,000 Starpoints would then be worth £1800. So, by simple subtraction you’ve suddenly “spent” £600 on 7 nights at a hotel that you might not find particularly appealing or otherwise expensive if paid for. Oops… At the very least you’d better wait for a hotel point conversion bonus.
How About Miles with a Different Airline?
I know that most people don’t have the time or the inclination to look at more than a couple of frequent flyer programmes. Avios (both BA and Iberia), maybe Virgin Atlantic and/or a Star Alliance option. But since we’re talking about a serious number of miles here, we don’t necessarily have to worry about stranded miles or trying to earn more miles through credit cards or local partners.
My personal favourite amongst the Marriott partners offering 120,000 miles is Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan. I wrote about it years ago, and the advice still applies.
Want to fly with Cathay Pacific from Europe to Hong Kong? Business Class would cost 42,500 miles each way with Alaska Mileage Plan. First Class would cost 70,000 miles. With Avios, that Business Class award would cost 90,000 Avios each way; First Class will cost you 120,000 Avios. Of course you could fly on British Airways (off-peak) or Virgin Atlantic (60,000 each way in Upper Class to/from Hong Kong) to save miles, but who wants to pay those fuel surcharges for an inferior experience.
Want to fly to Los Angeles or elsewhere on the U.S. west coast? Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan will charge you between 50,000 and 62,500 miles for Business Class, depending on whether you find award availability on American Airlines, British Airways, Air France, KLM or Icelandair. First Class on British Airways costs 70,000 miles. With Avios, you’re going to need 75,000 Avios for Business Class and 100,000 for First Class, unless you can travel on an off-peak date.
Alaska Mileage Plan does add fuel surcharges to British Airways awards, but there are tricks to avoid some of the worst of it. You can also get free connecting flights and a stopover with Mileage Plan, whereas those would cost extra Avios.
I could go on and on… and offer examples from American Airlines AAdvantage, Air Canada Aeroplan, United Airlines Mileage Plus, etc. So perhaps you should think of your ideal destination, figure out who has the best award chart for that destination, and hold on to your Starpoints / Marriott points, until your plans start falling into place.
What About Those Airlines Offering 85,000 miles instead of 120,000?
It’s quite natural to dismiss this chart out of hand. After all 85,000 is roughly 70% of 120,000, so you’d need a pretty compelling reason to accept the discount.
Amongst the list of airlines, however, are a handful that are really quite appealing for a variety of reasons, yet are relatively much more difficult to accumulate miles with. I’m thinking of All Nippon Airways, Japan Airlines and Lufthansa Miles & More, programmes I’ve written about previously.
So, it’s worth remembering that we still have the option of Starwood Preferred Guest’s Nights + Flights. I’ve written about it previously.
Taking our standard 90,000 Starpoints (270,000 Marriott points) as a base, the Marriott Rewards Travel Package will get you 85,000 miles and 7 free nights at a Category 1-5 hotel.
With Starwood Preferred Guest, you could spend 60,000 Starpoints on a Category 3 Night & Flights package, getting you 50,000 airline miles and five free nights at a SPG Category 3 hotel. With your leftover 30,000 Starpoints (out of 90K), you could convert those to miles and get 35,000 miles. (although you should know by now that only chunks of 20,000 Starpoints should be converted to miles to maximise the bonus)
So, this works out to the same 85,000 miles, but with five nights at an SPG Category 3 hotel instead of seven nights at a Marriott Category 5 hotel. You could also trade those 10,000 inefficient Starpoints/miles for a Category 4 Nights & Flights package (70,000 Starpoints). I’d probably prefer the SPG nights (nicer hotels and better elite benefits), but this is a matter of preference and not an obvious advantage…
Regular Marriott Award Nights
Marriott Rewards has 9 award categories (for all hotels except Ritz-Carlton). If you remember to divide by 3, then you find that the highest category “only” costs 15,000 Starpoints per night. The fifth night free benefit is also offered by Marriott Rewards.
If you prefer Ritz-Carlton hotels (who wouldn’t?), then this award chart applies. Again, if you divide by 3, you get award nights costing between 10,000 and 23,300 Starpoints per night. You won’t receive any elite status benefits at a Ritz-Carlton hotel, but you might not mind if staying somewhere fabulous…
Five nights at one of the nicest Category 9 Marriott chain hotels in the world is going to cost 60,000 Starpoints (converted to 180,000 Marriott points) with the fifth night free benefit. So perhaps rather than blowing your large balance of Starpoints on Hotel +Air Travel Packages, you should just take a look at the list of Marriott hotels and see which ones might appeal to you once you divide by three…
Even though Marriott Rewards Hotel + Air Travel Packages appear to be the best value award option on offer, I recommend you pause and think about whether you really want those 7 low-category Marriott nights and/or 120,000 Avios. It still might make more sense to stick with spending those points on free nights or taking advantage of the opportunity to investigate other frequent flyer programmes with more attractive award charts…