I try to find an excuse to head over to New York once a year. This year I decided that it was time we reviewed the well-regarded American Airlines Boeing 77W business class seat. This is the product that finally confirmed that the US carriers are no longer a laughing stock when it comes to long-haul business class seating – the AA seat appears far superior to Club World. We will see, however ….
Needing a New York hotel for May, I took a look at my usual ‘luxury with points’ suspects. I wanted to see how the recent increase in the cost of top InterContinental hotels shaped my thinking.
The Hilton option:
Using Hilton Honors points, the best luxury option is Conrad New York in Battery Park where I have now stayed three times. I reviewed it here. This is an ‘all suite’ hotel so you are getting a lot of space for your points. Add in the fact that the hotel is only a few years old and so in excellent condition and you have a great place to spend a couple of days.
Conrad New York is 80,000 Hilton Honors points per night when I am there in May. The cash price is $705 (£504) per night including taxes, so I’d be getting 0.63p per Hilton point. This is double my usual 0.33p valuation. Not bad.
I would receive free breakfast (from a restricted la carte menu, the hotel has no buffet) as I am a Hilton Diamond, or indeed if I was Gold. There is no guarantee of late check-out before my 10pm flight home.
The IHG Rewards Club option:
Using IHG Rewards Club points, the best two luxury options I have tried are the two InterContinental hotels, either Times Square or Barclay. I reviewed Times Square here and I have stayed here three times – the plus point is the good views from the higher floors, the downside is the total lack of public space in the hotel. I reviewed the newly renovated Barclay here where I have only stayed once since it reopened (and once when it was scruffy!) – the plus side is the large amount of public space (lobby pictured above) and new rooms, the downside is that they are not very big.
Following the recent increases, both hotels are 70,000 IHG Rewards Club points per night. Times Square is $575 (£411) per night and Barclay is $500 (£357) so I’d be getting 0.59p or 0.51p per point. These are both above my typical 0.4p valuation for an IHG point.
As I am an InterContinental Ambassador (see here for more on this) I would get a guaranteed 4pm check-out.
I did not look at Hyatt options because I do not have enough World of Hyatt points. I did not look at Starwood options because Starwood luxury redemptions are almost always bad value at 35,000 points per night – I could convert those into 40,000 airline miles instead. That left Marriott Rewards.
The Marriott Rewards option:
Historically I have never been ‘a Marriott person’. The footprint is relatively light in Europe compared to the US and it has never been easy to pick up their points without doing the stays. Marriott Rewards was not an American Express Membership Rewards hotel partner and you could not get status via American Express Platinum. The UK credit card only earned a weak 1 point per £1.
Frankly there was no reason to bother with Marriott when IHG and Hilton offered easy routes to status, generous bonus promotions, better hotels and Amex transfer options.
However …. Marriott bought Starwood in 2015. From 2016 you could convert your Starwood Preferred Guest status (Amex Platinum cardholders get SPG Gold) into the same Marriott Rewards status. You could convert your Starwood points into Marriott Rewards points at 1:3. Marriott Rewards suddenly became interesting to me:
Two weeks ago I used points to stay at the excellent Berlin Marriott (reviewed here) at a time when hotel prices were inflated due to the ITB travel show, and got free lounge access and a guaranteed late check-out due to my Marriott Gold status
I thought I would take a look at what was available in New York. Because Marriott redemptions cap at 45,000 points (The Ritz-Carlton brand has a separate higher pricing chart) they seemed excellent value in an expensive city.
I settled on the JW Marriott Essex House which overlooks Central Park. This was a Jumeirah for a while and has also operated under other brands. JW Marriott is the most luxurious Marriott brand before you get to The Ritz-Carlton, which is more expensive in terms of points due to its separate pricing chart. Importantly for me:
it has just had a full refurbishment, and
the Executive Lounge, which I get guaranteed access to via my Marriott Gold status, is well regarded, and for breakfast you get to eat for free in a cordoned off section of the main restaurant with roughly the same food selection as paying guests, and
I would get guaranteed 4pm check-out which is key as my flight home departs at 10pm
I normally value a Marriott Rewards point at 0.5p. In pricey cities such as New York you can do far, far better.
For the dates I am there, the JW Marriott Essex House is an astonishing $958 (£685) per night. This means that I am getting a huge 1.52p per Marriott Rewards point based on 45,000 points per night.
I have booked myself in, and will do a full review in mid May when I get back.
Let’s look at the value here:
- Hilton Honors at the Conrad gets me 0.63p per point compared to the usual 0.33p
- IHG Rewards Club at the Barclay gets me 0.51p per point compared to the usual 0.4p
- Marriott Rewards at the JW Marriott gets me 1.52p per point compared to the usual 0.5p
…. which makes Marriott Rewards the clear winner in terms of maximising the value of the points I have. The recent 15%+ points rise in the cost of the two InterContinental properties has made them uncompetitive compared to Marriott Rewards in this example. The Conrad remains a decent alternative – especially as it is ‘all suite’.
The Marriott advantage is inflated by the high cash rate at the Essex House of course, but Essex House also has the ‘best’ location by classic New York standards. (That doesn’t mean it is necessarily the best location for you.)
Remember too that as a Marriott Gold Essex House will give me lounge access and a 4pm check-out. The InterContinental Barclay would give me a guaranteed 4pm check-out as an Ambassador but no breakfast. Conrad New York would give me breakfast as a Hilton Diamond but not a guaranteed 4pm check-out.
If you have not historically been ‘a Marriott person’ either, it is worth focusing on the chain a little more closely. This is especially true if:
you have Starwood points or American Express Membership Rewards points which can be transferred to Starwood, and then moved to Marriott Rewards at 1:3
If you collect Marriott Rewards or SPG points, remember that the Starwood Preferred Guest American Express credit card has a sign-up bonus of 10,000 SPG points which converts in 30,000 Marriott Rewards points. My full review of that credit card is here and we also discuss it in our other article today.
(Want to earn more hotel points? Click here to see our complete list of promotions from the major hotel chains or use the ‘Hotel Promos’ link in the menu bar at the top of the page.)