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.

  • Craig says:

    Amex still having problems with Rewards as far as I can see.

  • Simon says:

    Or they might say “you’ve had 120,000 airmiles, which we value at 340k MR. Net net, you owe us 70,000. Let’s call it quits and move on”. After all, this is a new scheme. you cant pick and choose which good bits of the dead scheme you want them to stick to.

    • Andrew says:

      It isn’t as though Marriott are disappearing. Provided the vouchers are in their validity period I’d expect them to be worth at least the same under the new scheme as the old. Marriott can do whatever they want with MR points still in people’s accounts but as soon as you buy a voucher you’re cristalising their value. It’s no longer X MR points (which has no meaning in the real world) but a certain number of airline miles and hotel nights which have a very definite value.

      • Simon says:

        Fair point. Most likely they map over to a new Cat 1-4 certificate, with any other higher packages getting a refund of points.

    • James says:

      I wonder that, they might not value 1 Avios as one Membership Reward point, but 2 or 3.

      • Simon says:

        Rob has said above “you would usually need 340,000 Marriott points (140k + 140k + 30k+ 30k) to redeem for 120,000 Avios”. So their exchange rate is close to 3:1. But he then says we can safely assume they wont take that route….. not sure why though. Presume he is ITK about the decision but cant publish.

        • Rob says:

          No I’m not. It is because you’d be stupid to leg over your best customers and Marriott has gone out if it’s way to avoid annoying anyone so far.

        • Simon says:

          These arent the best customers are they though? While some might put a lot of nights through, plenty are card churning chancers gaming the system. Maybe they will divvy it up depending on nights stayed or status in the programme.

  • Scallder says:

    I’ve taken the gamble as wanted to get another 120k Alaska miles (already had 120k from a previous travel package I’d already bought for a week In DC next year.

    When buying the package the guy I spoke to said they’d get mapped straight across (ie category 8 to new category 8). I do not think this will happen at all but took a category 8 just in case it did.

    But I’m expecting a 240k refund – as Rob says I think they’ll find it difficult to do anything other than refund 6x the points for one night. Someone pointed out yesterday that Marriott have been quite good about everything so far so reckon they will continue that rather than screw people over on this one thing.

  • Mark2 says:

    OT but Marriott
    .
    The SPG email this morning about the merger clearly states that the SPG Amex card will continue.
    I take this to mean that there will be an SPG Amex card with 3 Points per £ and a Creation Marriott card with Points per £. Of course this may not continue for very long, but this sort of split is quite common in US.

    • Polly says:

      Was hoping the SPG would remain. And was planning our first TP in Hawaii. So watching this space closely. And very happy to stay 7 nights on one island, and 7 on another. If we can get the nos crunched in time.

    • Rob says:

      Correct. But as the same interchange fee applies to both cards, it is silly to keep an Amex going. Better to have two (more widely accepted) Mastercard products like IHG does.

  • pauldb says:

    What value do you put on the potential 150k Marriott point refund, and what’s their expiry?
    My gamble is a bit reversed. We have 34k SPG and the wife has 82k Amex we need to transfer out asap. I have 30k Amex. By default these would all go to avios: 151k.
    Or they could all go to SPG and we’d have 90k SPG = 270k Marriott = 120k avios and whatever comes back.
    So is 31k avios foregone a good gamble for 7 Marriott nights or 150k Marriott points?

    • Rob says:

      150k points is 2-3 nights in a high quality hotel (London, New York five-star) – I’d value 150k Marriott at £750 at the moment, I might reassess that downwards in January when we see how peak pricing works.

      • James says:

        But we don’t know we will get 150K refund do we ? That is conjecture at this point….double checking incase there has been another announcement ?

        • pauldb says:

          No I appreciate it’s a risk. Just assessing the risk/reward. Thanks both.

    • Davef says:

      Surely in this case it’s a win-win. If they give you 7 x 15k points back, or even a measly flat 45k, you could transfer those to Avios and still be up on the deal.

  • jac says:

    If Marriott wont be able to convert Travel packages what about the one night certificates? I have one Marriott Cat 1-5 and 3 Sheraton Cat 1-5 at the moment some expiring already at the end of this year or early next year .I m hesitating on a Travel package as I need to spend these single nights. While converting the Marrriott 1-5 could be easy to a new 1-4, the Sheraton do not match straight (Are they worth 12K SPG so 36K MR (so cat 5) or 16K SPG peak = 48 K MR ? Any views or news on the one night certificates?

    • Relaxo says:

      Im interested in this too….I had received a Cat 1-5 certificate last month. Just logged into my account & it is now showing as ‘Cancelled’. Jac – Do the certificates display as clickable links or have some sort of redemption code when you sign into your account?

    • RTS says:

      How did you gain the 1 night certificates out of interest.

      • jac says:

        The SPG cert show up under Earned awards with their validity and that you have to call to book.The SPG certs I got as Plat benefit and one through the EmiratesNBD SPG credit card. The Marriott cert I got through the recent promo for being a new member (which worked for everybody ) The Marriott is an e cert which you can automaticaly apply when you make a reward booking within the category.

        • Relaxo says:

          Yeah i got it through the new member promo as well. I thought it was supposed to be an ecert but mine is just showing as cancelled. I cant click them or anything. Tried doing a dummy booking but no way to apply the cert through that way either. Dont know if they cancelled all the ‘not so new’ member one’s or its a one off

        • rts says:

          Whutttt – why didn’t i get an offer from my plat benefit.. 🙁

        • Relaxo says:

          rts- it was not meant to be an offer for ANY existing members. It was supposed to be an offer for new members joining Marriott, but becuase of some glitch even existing members could register for it.

        • jac says:

          My E cert is still showing up so they clearly have not cancelled all new but maybe not very members certificates.

  • Bee says:

    OT – I have tried transferring points from MR to Emirates so I can get the heathrow rewards vouchers, but transfer is still pending – no sign of it on my emirates account. Look like the rewards section for my gold card is now down.

    I also had to call customers services as apparently I had my emirates account linke dtoa cancelled gold card so it as not linking when I tried. I hope it all get sorted before the promotion is over.
    Or is there anything I can do about it?

    • James says:

      Call, call and call again !!
      That’s the only thing you can try really.
      See if you can find someone willing to manually make the change. Might have to go up levels to supervisors, call centre manager etc…..

      HUCA (Hang Up, Call Again)

      • bee says:

        Thanks – called. Said it is gone to Emirates so out of their hands.
        Spoke to emirates, the team that do it is in Dubai, so earliest time it can be updated is tomorrow. Fingers crossed.
        Thanks

  • jac says:

    The SPG cert show up under Earned awards with their validity and that you have to call to book.The SPG certs I got as Plat benefit and one through the EmiratesNBD SPG credit card. The Marriott cert I got through the recent promo for being a new member (which worked for everybody ) The Marriott is an e cert which you can automaticaly apply when you make a reward booking within the category.

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