Ever since Marriott acquired Starwood Hotels & Resorts, we have spent a lot more time talking about Marriott Travel Packages than we did previously.
Today I wanted to go back to basics for the benefits of readers who have seen our comments on these but were not clear why we were so keen. I will also look at what happens to these rewards following the full merger of the Marriott and Starwood loyalty schemes in August.
What is a Marriott Travel Package?
Marriott Travel Packages allow you to redeem large quantities of Marriott Rewards points for 7 nights in a Marriott hotel plus a large pile of airline miles.
Historically I had never focused on them much because of the sheer volume of Marriott points needed. Because you couldn’t easily earn Marriott Rewards via credit card spending or Amex Membership Rewards transfers, it meant that very few UK residents would find them useful.
This changed with the acquisition of Starwood. For the last 18 months it has been fairly easy to build up a large pile of Marriott Rewards points:
You can boost your existing Marriott Rewards stash by transferring across any Starwood points, or by converting any Amex Membership Rewards points to Starwood (at 2:1) and then onto Marriott (as 1:3)
How does a Marriott Travel Package work?
This page of the Marriott website outlines all you need to know. There are different deals for different airlines. In this article I am looking at British Airways and Virgin Atlantic.
Here is the British Airways and Virgin Atlantic conversion chart. Remember that you need to divide these numbers by three to get to the relevant number of Starwood points needed, given the 3:1 conversion rate (click to enlarge):
As you can see, 270,000 Marriott Rewards points (90,000 Starwood points) will get you 7 nights in a Marriott Group Category 1-5 hotel AND 120,000 Avios points.
This is a very attractive deal.
At present, if you convert 90,000 Starwood points to British Airways or Virgin you will receive 110,000 Avios points or Flying Club miles.
If you move those 90,000 Starwood points to Marriott Rewards and redeem for this travel package, you will receive 120,000 miles AND 7 nights in a Marriott Category 1-5 hotel!
That is a Category 9 hotel, not surprisingly given the €400+ per night cost. If you have 130,000 Starwood Preferred Guest points, they would convert into 390,000 Marriott points. That would get you:
7 nights at the JW Marriott in Venice, worth at least £2,500
120,000 Avios points or Virgin Flying Club miles
You are getting around 2.5p of value per Starwood point in this case.
The only downside of these packages if that you may not want to stay for a week in the same hotel. Even if you do, there is no guarantee that reward nights will be available for a seven night block. The Marriott call centre can book stays with a mix of paid and free nights, for example an 8 night stay which had 3 free nights, 1 paid night in the middle due to no reward availability and then 4 free nights on the end.
To be clear – the miles are dropped into your airline account. You do NOT need to use them for a redemption linked to your stay. You can spend the miles as you please.
Now that you can convert into Marriott Travel Packages, there is NO reason at all to transfer large volumes of Starwood points into Avios or Virgin miles via Starwood Preferred Guest.
What will change in August 2018 when the two schemes merge?
There are two elements to this:
What will happen to travel package pricing if you haven’t already redeemed?
What will happen to your existing package if you have already redeemed but not booked the hotel part?
The good news is that Marriott has confirmed that Travel Packages will continue. The even better news is that, with the addition of the Starwood portfolio, there will be a lot of additional redemption options. This includes the many Starwood beach resorts in the Algarve and Middle East.
From August, the existing 14 reward categories (nine for Marriott plus the five The Ritz-Carlton tiers) will be collapsed to seven. Category 8 will be added in January 2019.
With just seven reward categories from August, there will be some changes to Travel Package pricing. It would be hard for Marriott to devalue the packages by much, because the pricing will always be capped by the individual cost of booking seven hotel nights plus redeeming for airline miles. Marriott also sees these packages as a great way of locking in members, forcing them to continue staying with the chain to build up enough points to get one.
However, this is what we don’t know:
what the exact pricing will be
which hotels will be in which category
if all airlines will convert at the same rate or, as of now, some are at a higher rate. At present, a Travel Package gives you more Avios than Lufthansa Miles & More miles for example. If this was to be equalised, someone who is after Miles & More would do better to wait whilst an Avios collector wouldn’t care. Of course, perhaps they are equalised somewhere in the middle – so Avios collectors could be worse off.
This means that it is impossible to say with certainty whether redeeming now is a good idea or not, especially if you have a particular hotel in mind.
All we can hope is that Marriott publishes the pricing and hotel category lists in advance of the switch to allow us to make an informed choice.
If you already have a Travel Package redeemed but not booked, you have another dilemma. Should you lock in your hotel now?
It is not clear how the existing nine categories (14 when you include The Ritz-Carlton tiers) will map across to the new seven reward categories. It can’t be a ‘1 to 1’ mapping.
If you are targeting a hotel which is currently in the Starwood portfolio and not the Marriott one, you have no choice but to wait until August when the schemes merge.
This article from US site Frequent Miler runs through the various ‘should I book now?’ scenarios. I couldn’t write a better analysis of the situation if I tried, so I recommend you read this article if you are unsure about what to do. It is difficult to disagree with the thesis that the current Category 1-5 package will only be bookable at Category 1-4 hotels from August.
(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.)