Maximise your Avios, air miles and hotel points

For the brave, potentially cheap airline miles via Marriott Travel Package arbitrage

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In my article yesterday on the latest announcements concerning the merger of Marriott Rewards and Starwood Preferred Guest, I reported what Marriott’s big chief of loyalty, David Flueck, had told me on the ‘phone on Wednesday: that Marriott is thinking of voiding non-redeemed Marriott Travel Package hotel certificates on merger day, 18th August.

(Because this article is discussing a slightly risky strategy, I am not going to start with all our usual links explaining what Travel Packages are etc.  If you are not a regular reader and don’t know what we’re talking about, what I’m about to discuss is not for you.)

Doing a fair like-for-like transition of unused Travel Packages bought under the current scheme will be very hard.

There are currently an astonishing 140 (yes, one hundred and forty) Travel Package price points.  There are seven hotel category bands multiplied by four permutations of the miles you receive.  This entire structure is then duplicated for three other tiers of airline partners where Marriott gets less generous.  On top, there are 28 additional price points for United Airlines members where Marriott has a preferential deal.

The current Travel Package pricing is here (click).  The chart below covers “just” 28 of the possible price permutations:

Marriott Travel Packages chart

From 18th August, those 140 price points collapse to just TEN, with a flat 10% bonus if you convert to Marriott’s preferreed US airline partner United:

Marriott Travel Packages new chart 2018

If existing but unused Travel Package hotel certificates were kept open, Marriott would need to find a fair way of collapsing 140 into 10.  Tricky, but not impossible.

It gets messier though.  Marriott has always allowed you to ‘buy up’ after the initial purchase.  If you had a Category 6 package and decided you wanted a Category 7, you could simply pay the extra at the time of the booking.  Because there were no refunds the other way (if you bought a Category 7 and ended up redeeming at a Category 6 you lost out) most people just bought the cheapest Category 1-5 package with the intention of upgrading at the time of booking.

The requirement to find an equitable way of charging for this after 18th August is probably what is making Marriott think that the best thing to do is clear the decks.

JW Marriott Maldives

So, what happens if an existing Travel Package is refunded?

On paper, there are three options.  However, I think two are unlikely to happen.

Option one:

At present, if you cannot use a Travel Package within the 12 month validity, Marriott will take pity on you and give you 45,000 points (for a Category 1-5 certificate) as compensation.   This is a nice gesture but doesn’t begin to cover your outlay.  I would be shocked if Marriott did this and, legally, it would be hard.

Option two:

The second option would be to deduct the current number of points required to redeem for the airline miles you’ve received.  For example, imagine you used 270,000 points (see the top chart above) for 7 nights in a Category 1-5 hotel plus 120,000 Avios.   Marriott could just reimburse you the difference between the points needed for a direct 120,000 Avios redemption and what you paid.

However, that certainly isn’t happening!  As you can see from this chart, you would usually need 340,000 Marriott points (140k + 140k + 30k+ 30k) to redeem for 120,000 Avios.   This is why a Travel Package (270,000 points for seven hotel nights AND 120,000 Avios) is such a bargain.  We can safely assume this will not be the route taken.

Option three:

Option three is to refund the equivalent number of points that the hotel stay would have needed if booked on its own.

Here is the current redemption chart BUT you need to remember that Marriott Rewards offers ‘five for four’ so you need to multiply the number below by six and not seven to work out your potential refund:

Marriott Rewards reward chart

In this scenario, here is what would happen:

You have a Category 1-5 Travel Package and paid 270,000 Marriott points for seven nights plus 120,000 Avios.

Marriott would refund you (6 x 25,000 points ie the cost of a Category 5 hotel) which is 150,000 points.

You have, effectively, paid just 120,000 Marriott Rewards points for 120,000 Avios.  This is an exceptional exchange rate.

The maths is the same on all of the other packages.  For example:

You have a Category 8 Travel Package and paid 360,000 Marriott points for seven nights plus 120,000 Avios.

Marriott would refund you (6 x 40,000 points ie the cost of a Category 8 hotel) which is 240,000 points.

Again, you have, effectively, paid just 120,000 Marriott Rewards points for 120,000 Avios. 

The maths is slightly worse if you redeemed for an airline in the 2nd tier of Travel Packages.  Such airlines include Lufthansa / Miles & More, Singapore, Turkish, Qatar, South African, Emirates, Etihad and Air France / KLM.

With those airlines you would have redeemed 120,000 Marriott Rewards points for 85,000 miles.

The million dollar question ….

Is it worth redeeming for a Travel Package if you have absolutely no intention of using the hotel room?

If we knew with 100% certainty that Marriott was going to refund unused Travel Package hotel certificates after 18th August, my advice would be clear – you should be redeeming every single Marriott point you have for a Travel Package in order to pick up some exceptionally cheap airline miles.

However, we do NOT know this.

If you redeem 270,000 Marriott Rewards points for seven nights in a Category 1-5 hotel plus 120,000 Avios, and Marriott does NOT choose to void your hotel certificate, you will have either a) some expensive Avios or b) a requirement to spend seven nights in a low end Marriott property.

Many people, especially without children, are not very keen on spending seven nights in the same hotel.  You may have ended up ‘wasting’ hard earned Marriott Rewards points.

Conclusion

I’m certainly not going to recommend what you should do in this scenario.

What I WILL say is that there is evidence elsewhere that Marriott is planning to void unused Travel Package certificates.  The Starwood official representative on Flyertalk stated it as a fact a few weeks ago, although he is clearly not ‘management’.  Other US bloggers have been suggesting the same idea in a way which suggests they have inside information.

What David Flueck said to me yesterday – to be clear – is that they were still hoping to find a way of migrating existing Travel Package certificates but that the alternative (voiding them all and doing a refund) is a very real possibility.

Given that the new Marriott / SPG scheme will have 110 million members and there are probably less than 1,000 unused Travel Package certificates in circulation you can see why he doesn’t want to spend too much time on this, and would happily ‘overpay’ to refund them at a generous rate to make the problem go away.

Up to you ……

The current Marriott Travel Packages pricing page online is here.  The ‘new scheme’ package pricing is here.


How to earn Marriott Bonvoy points and status from UK credit cards

How to earn Marriott Bonvoy points and status from UK credit cards (July 2024)

There are various ways of earning Marriott Bonvoy points from UK credit cards.  Many cards also have generous sign-up bonuses.

The official Marriott Bonvoy American Express card comes with 20,000 points for signing up, 2 points for every £1 you spend and 15 elite night credits per year.

You can apply here.

Marriott Bonvoy American Express

20,000 points for signing up and 15 elite night credits each year Read our full review

You can also earn Marriott Bonvoy points by converting American Express Membership Rewards points at the rate of 2:3.

Do you know that holders of The Platinum Card from American Express receive FREE Marriott Bonvoy Gold status for as long as they hold the card?  It also comes with Hilton Honors Gold, Radisson Rewards Premium and MeliaRewards Gold status.  We reviewed American Express Platinum in detail here and you can apply here.

The Platinum Card from American Express

40,000 bonus points AND (to 27th August) £400 to spend at Amex Travel Read our full review

You can also earn Marriott Bonvoy points indirectly:

and for small business owners:

The conversion rate from American Express to Marriott Bonvoy points is 2:3.

Click here to read our detailed summary of all UK credit cards which can be used to earn Marriott Bonvoy points

(Want to earn more hotel points?  Click here to see our complete list of promotions from the major hotel chains or use the ‘Hotel Offers’ link in the menu bar at the top of the page.)

Comments (107)

This article is closed to new comments. Feel free to ask your question in the HfP forums.

  • Roger says:

    150K MR points back please!

  • Ian M says:

    I’ve recently bought 3 travel packages and considering buying 2 more before 18th August.

    My guess on what will happen with floater travel package certificates is that either…

    1. All packages are transferred to a new Cat 1-4 certificate. People with certificates higher than the current 1-5 have receive a points refund for the difference. Like you say Rob, most people redeem for cat 1-5 and the new cat 1-4 replicates the old 1-5 perfectly. So for the vast majority of people this is completely fair and for the rest they get a refund.

    2. Marriott simply turn all existing category certificates into 7 night points certificates. So if you hold a cat 1-5 Marriott give you a certificate for 150,000 points off a 7 night booking. If you have a cat 9 for instance, they give you a certificate for 270,000 points off a 7 night booking. I believe this is the most likely. It’s very fair on holders of the packages and also works out a little better for Marriott than a straight up points refund as some people just don’t get round to using these certificates and the they’ll expire.

    • BJ says:

      I agree with your option 1. I have been suggesting this from the outset and still believe it is the most likely outcome. However, I have seen no support for it from Rob or other bloggers which makes me think I’m missing something. I imagine there is a lot more than 1000 unused TP around, my partner and I still have ours from the 35%avios conversion a few months ago.

      • Rob says:

        This is what you’re missing (I think). The holders of these packages are, in the main, Marriott and SPG’s best customers. You need to be in order to have the points. Not the best choice of group to leg over.

        • Ian M says:

          I don’t think either of the 2 options legs over the customer. I’d be happy enough with either result.
          If this is therefore worst case scenario then it’s definitely time for me to buy more packages 😀

        • BJ says:

          But would it in practice? They would be providing a cat 1-4 certificate which could presumably be upgraded, and for those with cat 6 and above packages, a bunch of points to do as they like with. The flexibility is valuable and with redemptions being capped at 60k for a while I think most members would welcome that. Not as much as they would welcome a full refund of 150k+ but still happy enough. I agree though that voiding existing packages is simplest and also the most welcome option.

        • Wil says:

          Yes it certainly would, you’d be getting a refund at existing rates, and to upgrade under the new rates which are much more expensive in points. For example, taking the 7 nights + 100k options on old and new charts the difference between the cheapest package (1-5) and most expensive (tier 4-5) is 270k points, whereas under the new chart a 1-4 upgrade to a cat 8 (not even the highest cat as 9 will be introduces in 2019) is 420k points.

          Then people would be left with 1-4 certs that they may never want to use.

        • Tracy says:

          Totally agree Wil, I want to book an old category 9, new category six so I would be worse off if they swapped the certs for new category 1-4 certs. I would want a generous refund of points……

        • BJ says:

          Ok ok, proving Robs point 🙂 I just figured many might be happy with flexibility of points with prices capped at 60k for a few months.

    • xcalx says:

      I think your option 2 looks the most sensible but hope Marriott feel generous and deposit 180000 MR points (cat 6) back into my account.

    • Russ says:

      1. sounds reasonable but not sure how that fits in with next yrs peak/off peak pricing. Personally think they’d like to draw a line underneath and write it off in readiness for Jan 1st. I’ve enough points for 3 packages so worth a punt with 1. Worst outcome I’d still get 120,000 avios for incidental spend.

  • Louise says:

    Wish I bought some of those spg points during the bonus now

  • BJ says:

    audentes fortuna iuvat 🙂

  • Carl says:

    I think I’ll take a punt.

    • the real harry1 says:

      Punts can work out…—> IB 90K £200! 🙂

      Glad I was onto that one superkeen, early adopter ̶r̶i̶g̶h̶t̶ ̶f̶r̶o̶m̶ ̶t̶h̶e̶ ̶s̶t̶a̶r̶t̶ OK in at the death £300 in my case! 🙂

      I’ll watch this particular punt with interest lol

      • BJ says:

        In plain English a collosal failure by your usual standards Harry…when was tge last time you paid 50% over the asking price for anything at all 🙂

        Don’t dither on this one, little chance to get the points if you don’t already have them.

        • the real harry1 says:

          yep but we have absolutely no need for the holiday package, so it could work out pretty badly, happy to watch others take the glory on this one

    • Lady London says:

      What he said.

  • 304degreesofbikefaff says:

    Are Amex MR to SPG transfers being blocked at the moment? It’s been a few days since I transferred the last little bit I need to get one of these and it’s still not come through. :S

    • Stu N says:

      I sent some on Monday and they arrived on Wednesday – my accounts previously linked.

    • Relaxo says:

      Sent on Sunday & had arrived by Wednesday.

    • Davef says:

      Banner on my account says no MR transfers until 8th August due to system upgrade

      • Craig says:

        I’ve seen the banner but no date. If it is the 8th Aug then that’s bonkers!

        • Rob says:

          I had a note saying system down 26-27 July …

        • LondonMike says:

          I called Amex about this today an they said the system would be back up in the afternoon.

        • DaveF says:

          It’s gone down again – IMPORTANT: Our rewards program is currently unavailable due to scheduled maintenance. Our Customer Services teams are also unable to complete rewards transactions / resolve queries during the outage. We apologise for any inconvenience this may cause.

          The banner definitely said no transfers between 26th July and 8th August yesterday.

        • meta says:

          After being down, the system is back up and I can see all transaction history. However, points transfers have been disabled and there is a banner saying unavailable until 8 Aug.

  • Adam says:

    I have a Cat 1-5 travel package booked at at Cat 5 hotel in South Africa for next March. This was always a booking that I may or may not take due to travelling with my young child and my wife and I planned to see if she “was ready” for a big trip like that. If not, we would look to cancel the hotel (and air miles flights). Is there any indication as to what would happen to a pre-booked hotel that is subsequently cancelled after 18th August?

    Thanks

    • Roger says:

      Rob may be able to answer better, but my understanding is; if a certificate is already attached then you are likely to have to use this or cancel and get 45K MR points only!

      However, if the certificate is not used yet on any of the bookings, you may be able to get a favorable outcome, if Marriott decides to cancel and refund points in some form.

      • Adam says:

        Thanks Roger.

        Interesting outcome, if indeed it happens that way. Can’t say I think it’s particularly fair and could leave to some very negative PR.

  • HAM76 says:

    Most people I know in the real world would happily stay seven nights in the same hotel to avoid the stress of traveling, packing, unpacking, checking in, checking out, settling, getting to know the place, and so on… even those that have no kids or dogs.

    • Alex W says:

      Indeed. Mrs W is firmly in that camp.

    • Wz says:

      Agree 100%. We have no kids, no pets, but live very busy lives. For us there is nothing more enjoyable for than getting to spend 7 nights in the same place.

    • Louie says:

      That’s really made me think; even asked hubby to rack his brains. I don’t think we’ve spent seven nights in a hotel since the mid-90s. Seven nights on boats a few times, but then the view changes!

    • John says:

      My wife and I would be going crazy after the 3rd night. We have never spent more than 3 nights in the same place except at home and when we aren’t paying (parents, grandparents, uncles)

    • Lady London says:

      Who do you know in the real world? not in this one…

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