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What is the best hotel scheme? – Marriott Rewards – The Opinion

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In my article yesterday, I outlined ‘the facts’ of the Marriott Rewards loyalty scheme. This article is my personal opinion, highlighting areas where I think you might want to focus.

Important: Marriott bought Starwood Hotels & Resorts in 2016. From 2019, Marriott Rewards and Starwood Preferred Guest will be merged into a new combined programme. This article covers the existing Marriott Rewards programme only. However, you can transfer Marriott points into Starwood Preferred Guest (at a 3:1 ratio) and vice versa so you should also look at SPG redemption options.

Clearly not every aspect of the current Marriott and Starwood schemes will survive the transition to a combined programme. You should bear this in mind if you consider working towards a major redemption such as a Marriott Travel Package.

The 10-second summary:

Strong points – big global network, decent benefits for Gold and Platinum members, able to book rewards before you have the points, good value ‘travel package’ rewards, Starwood merger brings more luxury hotels and free Gold status via Amex Plat and a UK credit card

Weak points – very high number of nights required to achieve Gold or Platinum, some benefits blocked at resorts, regular promotions unexciting, hotels generally uninspiring, few aspirational resort hotels unless you move your points to Starwood

Grosvenor House Marriott

The longer version:

Ignoring the positive impact of the Starwood acqusition, Marriott Rewards has not, in general, excited many people. It isn’t entirely clear why. It could be the utilitarian nature of the majority of the hotels, it may be the lack of luxury properties (The Ritz-Carlton is generally kept separate, and that is still relatively small). It may be the relatively unexciting promotions they run. Perhaps they feel they don’t need to try very hard when they have a hotel on every street corner.

Marriott cropped

What IS true is that, unless you manage to hit the (crazy) 50 nights a year required to reach mid-tier Gold status, there is not a lot in it for you. The good news is that you can now get Gold status for free by applying for an American Express Platinum charge card, getting the Starwood Preferred Guest Gold status that comes with it and using that to upgrade your Marriott account.

Silver status has modest benefits, and the lack of bonus point promotions means that you will struggle to earn a lot points. That said, the ability to earn via the Starwood credit card and conversions of American Express Membership Rewards points to Starwood Preferred Guest (and onward to Marrott Rewards) now makes point accumulation easier.

Marriott doesn’t have ‘cash and points’ awards, so you need a higher amount than other programmes before you can book. What IS good is that many hotels let you book, online, better rooms for a small cash surcharge plus the standard number of points. We are do this each August to get a Junior Suite for four at the JW Marriott Venice.

The conversion rates to airline miles are also skewed against smaller conversions – you get a substantially better deal for converting larger amounts.

For heavier stayers, Marriott Rewards becomes more interesting. Perhaps that is the point. Reach Gold and you are guaranteed lounge access (where available), guaranteed 4pm check out and an upgrade.

Restricting these benefits at resort and convention hotels is unfair though – we literally get no benefits for being Gold in Venice as it has classified itself as a ‘resort’.  Buying breakfast immediately adds £80 per night to our stay.

At Platinum level, you are earning 15 points per $1. The lifetime status requirements are achievable given a few years of heavy stays.

Travel Packages are the way to go

When it comes to redeeming, the Marriott travel packages – combining both airline miles and hotel nights – are a VERY good deal. 390,000 points would get you 7 nights in a top-tier Category 9 hotel (worth around £2,500 if you choose well) and 120,000 Avios points, worth a further £1,000. I wrote about those here. I hope these survive the launch of the new combined Marriott / Starwood scheme next year.

(Marriott does not have much in the way of beach or resort hotels, though, so it is not necessarily straightforward to find somewhere you want to redeem for seven nights.)

A Platinum member would need to be spend $26,000 to achieve this – less, in reality, as a heavy stayer would get bonus point offers as their targeted quarterly promotion. $26,000 is around £20,000, so getting around £3,500 of value back is pretty decent.

That said, apart from the higher points bonus (50% vs 25%), the difference between Platinum and Gold is modest – although arguably the step-up from Gold to Platinum (50 nights to 75) is also relatively small.

Book a reward night even if you have zero points

The other thing I love about Marriott Rewards is that you can book a reward stay even if you don’t have the points in your account. This means that you can secure your room now and then plan the mix of hotel stays, credit card sign-ups etc required in order to get the points. You have until eight days before arrival to get them into your account.

High-end options are improving

The other reason I have been paying more attention to Marriott Rewards recently is the improved number of high-end hotels on offer.

The new Marriott ‘Autograph Collection’ came first. Autograph is a group of independent luxury hotels who have agreed to use Marriott for sales and reservations and also issue and accept Marriott Rewards points. I have been impressed by the calibre of some of the participating hotels.

The Starwood merger will also deliver a lot of upmarket properties including the St Regis and The Luxury Collection chains. Redemptions at the best Starwood properties are currently disproportionately expensive at 35,000 SPG points per night – this might fall when the new programme is launched. Even the best The Ritz-Carlton hotel only costs 70,000 Marriott Rewards points which is equivalent to just 23,333 Starwood points.

Conclusion

Marriott Rewards must be doing something right because very heavy stayers are very supportive of the programme. These people can generate enough points to unlock the value in the travel package redemptions.

Historically I have tended to find more exciting properties (both for earning and redeeming) elsewhere. In the last year, the guaranteed 4pm check out and lounge access as a Gold has changed that.

If they don’t mess it up, the new combined Marriott / Starwood loyalty programme could be a stronger focus for me. I very much doubt, however, that Gold status will continue to be available via Amex Platinum.

(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.)

Bits: LHR T1 contents auction, Etihad UK call centre to close?, new Radisson for New York, 10% off LATAM
Two new Maldives resorts which will soon be bookable on points
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Comments

  1. KBuffett says:

    What options does one have to accumulate 390,000 Marriott points?
    The MR conversion rate via SPG isn’t great and Marriott stays for that many points is crazy.
    Any other options?

    • Genghis says:

      SPG credit card. I ran the numbers and decided to send MR points to SPG to make up quite a bit of the balance needed. For added (free) flexibility I also suggest getting the Cat 5 for 270k and later upgrading (or not) on booking the hotel

      • Graham Walsh says:

        Do you send the from MR points via Marriott first or straight to SPG?

        • Genghis says:

          MR -> SPG (combine with wife’s if necessary) -> Marriott

        • Graham Walsh says:

          Thanks Genghis

          Just researching this more and thinking the same problem arises in terms of finding available for Avios / VS rewards during school holidays plus when trying to use a 241. Alternatively just bank the miles and use another carrier as you are not bound to airline miles to be used for that reservation from what I read.

        • Alex W says:

          You just get the miles in your frequent flyer account and they can be used totally separately from the hotel booking. Best to wait until there is a hotel transfer bonus into your preferred airline scheme.

      • Ghengis – if I booked a cat 5+120k avios package, do you know what happens if I want to upgrade to cat 7, but only with 50k avios? (Just in case I haven’t earned enough marrriot points to convert to cat 7+ 120k)

        I guess they wouldn’t be able to take back the avios that you get when bought the cat 5 in the first case, so this wouldn’t be possible?

        So I should only book a 120k avios package if I’m sure I can earn enough for the cat7+120?

        Did someone also say that the 1 year expiration gets extended when you upgrade to a cat7?

        • Also wondering if I booked a Cat5 now, and then something changed in the merger, it worries me slightly that they wouldn’t allow me to upgrade to a higher level.

        • Genghis says:

          @Tom1. Once you have booked the cat5+120k avios (162k in bonus time) it is non-refundable (i.e. you can’t then select a package with fewer avios)

          Your choices are then to:
          – use Cat 1-5, no increase in points
          – pay the difference in the MTP price to upgrade the hotel element to a higher category (this extends the voucher for another year)
          – sell the hotel element of the voucher back to Marriott on expiry for, IIRC, 45k Marriotts.

          Note that Marriott will often extend a voucher for another year from time of asking.

          The maths of the MTPs only works at the higher numbers of airmails, IMO, so I wouldn’t bother looking at a 50k package.

        • MarkH says:

          I recently converted for a travel package and the CS agent pro-actively told me that it’s valid for a year but not to worry if I don’t manage to use it as they will extend it for another year

      • Amatuer says:

        Hi Genghis, I think you’re the resident expert!
        Assuming a brand new Amex Plat card is in use,
        1. Once a purchase is made, how long does it take for the respective MR points to post on the account? (e.g. Is it like 3-5 days later or at the end of the month after the statement is produced?) I’m curious to understand how quickly I can use/redeem them.
        2. Once £2000 is spent, how long does the corresponding 30000/35000 MR points bonus take to post on the account?
        3. Same query if a referral is made, how long does it take the 18000 MR points bonus to post on the account, after a successful referral application?
        Thanks!

        • Lawro says:

          1. MR points usually post the day after the transaction hits your account (so often 3 days after the purchase is made).
          2. 30k/35k MR bonus posts alongside the points for the transaction that takes you over the £2k threshold
          3. IME it’s anywhere between 2 and 5 working days.

  2. mark2 says:

    Another big advantage (now copied by Hilton) is the ability to transfer points to any other account holder (within limits on both schemes).
    You can transfer between SPG accounts at the same address, which is useful as you can earn 12,000 SPG (36,000 Marriott) from an SPG Amex credit card (+ referral).

  3. Rob MC says:

    What would 1 Marriott point be worth on average?
    Their BRG gives either 25% off or 5k points.

  4. Roger says:

    Are travel packages likely to survive following merger?
    I think it may, but opportunity to earn SPG/Marriott points might get limited unless there is an Amex card on offer.

  5. An the travel packages be booked without having the points? I know the hotels can, but wondered if the package was different. Also when you book a travel package, at what point are the airline miles transferred eg at booking, after payment or after stay

    • AFAIK the airline points are given immediately on booking the TP – which means you can’t book a package until you have the points.

      • Polly says:

        So, the miles are taken directly from my BAEC account on booking, is that the way it works? Presume the accounts are linked first…And then we can earn the extra Marriot points needed in the meantime? This is the 1st time we are working towards one of these, as not don’t hotel points before now.

        • Genghis says:

          You use your Marriott points to book a Marriott travel package. When you have the points for your desired package (no prebooking or whatever allowed), you call them up and tell them which one you want. You tell them which airline you want the airmiles in and give them your membership number. The miles then drop into your airmiles account of choice a couple of days later.

        • MarkH says:

          No you need to have the required Marriott points (270k for cat 1-5) which gets converted to a 7 night voucher and 120k Avios, which are then deposited into (not taken from) your BAEC account a few days later

        • Polly says:

          Thanks both of you. I actually thought the MP cost the marriot points plus avios. That’s so nice finding this out.

  6. AndyR says:

    Is it correct that if you apply for SPG Gold via the Amex Platinum now, it will be valid until March 2020 now that we are in April?

    • Jimbob says:

      Seems so, mine says valid until 2020

      • AndyR says:

        Cool thanks Jimbob!

      • FlyingChris says:

        Where can I find out the expiry date of either SPG or Marriott? Got Gold via Platinum in March this year and wanted to know how long it’s valid for?

        I always thought it was the year ‘earnt’, all of the following year and then drops the following following year in Feb/March?

        • Steve-B says:

          If you have iOS you can download the SPG app to you device. Add the SPG loyalty card to your Wallet/Passbook and you’ll find membership details including expiry under the ‘info’ icon.

        • Scallder says:

          SPG app also has a digital card (available on Android too) which shows the expiry date

  7. Cate ⛱️ says:

    I like Marriott. We’re upgraded every time (cash or points) staff are friendly without being in your face and never had a problem with the accommodation which include door safety latches. Plus they credit you a bonus night on your birthday towards status. The guaranteed late checkout is very useful indeed.

    • James says:

      Agreed, we also seem to get way more upgrades as Marriott gold than Hilton diamond. They even waive extra bed fees more often than not for us.

      Why bother with Hilton diamond?

  8. mark2 says:

    Marriott has got Cash and Points redemptions.

  9. Not booking through Marriott and getting the points is handy

    • Genghis says:

      This has never happened to me. How? I get benefits but that’s all…

  10. Brian says:

    I’m hoping that with the merger the Amex Platinum still has some scope for status but I’m not too positive about that. It’s been a very valuable status compared to Hilton to have lounge access, upgrades and late checkout.

  11. Graeme says:

    Rob, how easy do you find getting a room for the 4 of you with Marriott Rewards? I’m half thinking about saving up points for a travel package.

    I currently use IHG and find it quite easy to find somewhere that can (2 double beds) as the kids are young enough to share.

    • We usually pay extra on top of the standard points for a bigger room so rarely track what we could get in a base room. Given the scale of the Marriott portfolio you can’t be prescriptive.

      • Graeme says:

        Perfect thanks. I wasn’t aware you could do this. Is it usually the difference in cost per night for a base room to the bigger room you pay?

        I’d be happy to do this also.

        Do you knoe if this can be done for the travel package?

        Thanks again.

        • No, it is a fixed sum. Not all hotels do it. Look at JW Marriott Venice online for points, you’ll see it offers all room categories inc suites for 40,000 points plus a fixed Euro amount per night.

          Not sure if this is possible on a travel package but in theory I don’t see why not.

  12. JJ Almond says:

    Does any one know – Are there any cheeky status matches where you can use you AMEX Platinum and associated hotel schemes to get some form of airline status?

    • No.

    • AMEX Platinum – > shangri la jade – > Singapore airline silver – > Star Alliance silver
      Or AMEX Platinum -> SPG gold -> Marriott gold -> take platinum challenge with 9 stays -> Marriott Platinum to match United silver -> SPG platinum -> China Easten silver -> Skyteam Elite

      that’s how I get all airline status without flying

      • …. although Star Silver only gives lounge access with the airline which issues it.

      • Polly says:

        Very clever if you have the time and ability to achieve that status. And useful for those other group bargains out there. Looks time consuming but obviously doable.

  13. Chris says:

    How does it work with Ritz Carlton? Do I have to call up? Do I get lounge access as a Marriott Plat?

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