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

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

The 10-second summary:

Strong points – big global network, decent benefits for Platinum and Titanium members, able to book rewards before you have the points, Starwood merger brought more luxury hotels, good earning ability via credit cards, good Auction redemptions

Weak points – regular promotions unexciting, mid-market hotels often uninspiring, peak date reward pricing, benefits vary brand-by-brand (and there are 30 now!) 

Grosvenor House Marriott

The longer version:

Let’s start with a simple statement of fact.  When Marriott acquired Starwood Hotels & Resorts, everyone in the industry – including myself – assumed they would gut Starwood Preferred Guest and merge it into the ‘dull as ditchwater’ Marriott Rewards programme.  In fact, with Marriott growing by 30% via the deal, we thought it would lead to Marriott Rewards getting even worse – after all, when you have a hotel on every corner, who needs a good loyalty scheme?

We were wrong.  In general, Marriott Bonvoy has retained most of the best bits of Starwood Preferred Guest and ditched most of the bad bits of Marriott Rewards.  Not everything, of course, but most of it.  It has worked out better than most of us had hoped.

It’s a long term game of course.  At the point the programmes merged, the most luxurious hotels in the portfolio were just 60,000 points per night.  From 14th September, with Category 8 already here and peak pricing coming, you could pay as much as 100,000 points per night.  Even then, this is still less than Starwood Preferred Guest charged for its best properties.

Is Marriott Bonvoy the best hotel loyalty programme?

I came into Marriott Bonvoy with 1 million points, once the Starwood balances from myself and my wife had been converted.  Luckily I have been finding good uses for them.

As a man with two children, the ability to book larger rooms for a cash co-pay at many hotels is excellent.  At JW Marriott Venice, for example, we book a Junior Suite for €200 or so on top of the standard room points price.  This gives us a huge space where we can easily get two rollaway beds.  You can’t do this with Hilton or IHG – your only option is to book two rooms, which usually won’t be connecting.

We have also had some excellent value out of redemptions made when the maximum price was just 60,000 points per night.  This included two stays at St Regis New York (where even a standard room was over $1,000 and I was given suites worth $2,500+) and the two The Ritz Carlton resorts in Ras Al Khaimah.  Al Hamra Beach in Ras, reviewed here, remains an excellent option for an uber-quiet beach resort with amazing accommodation and you can combine it with a couple of nights at Al Wadi in the desert.

Will I continue to book St Regis New York when it is 100,000 points per night on peak dates, as it will be from 14th September?  Probably not.

I will, I’m sure, continue redeeming for Marriott Moments ‘experiences’ redemptions.  I have enjoyed a number of great concerts in the Marriott box at the O2 in Greenwich, as well as events such as private meal at Clare Smyth’s Notting Hill restaurant.  I even managed to squeeze in a private Jamie Cullum concert for about 200 guests once when on holiday in Dubai!  If you never want to see another hotel room again, you can redeem for some great stuff here.  The new Manchester United partnership has expanded the options even further.

Platinum Elite status with Marriott Bonvoy is the sweet spot, giving you executive lounge access, free breakfast at most brands and a guaranteed 4pm check out.  This requires 50 nights per year, so fewer than Hilton Diamond – albeit it is swings and roundabouts, because Hilton Diamond can be done with either 60 nights or 30 stays.

The benefits are also more confusing than is necessary.  I mean …. I managed to get a full article out of explaining how the elite member breafkast benefit works by hotel brand.  You don’t need to do that with Hilton Honors.  Or IHG – but only because IHG Rewards Club does not give free breakfast!

You can get Marriott Bonvoy Gold Elite status for free by applying for an American Express Platinum charge card.  Gold Elite is, unfortunately, not hugely useful now.  For a couple of years post merger Marriott was very generously giving free breakfast and lounge access to anyone who had Starwood Gold via Amex, but this was only a short term benefit.  Marriott Bonvoy Gold Elite is now no more useful than Starwood Preferred Guest Gold status was.

The ability to top up Marriott Bonvoy accounts via credit cards (the Starwood Amex credit card and conversions of American Express Membership Rewards points) makes point accumulation easier.  3 points per £1 via the Starwood Amex is a good deal, albeit there is a £75 fee which means that it only makes sense for high spenders.

What many people don’t realise is that Marriott Bonvoy is often the only non-flying way to earn airline miles in specific niche programmes if you live in the UK.  There are over 40 airline partners.  The Starwood Amex is really a Qatar Privilege Club Amex, an Aeroplan Amex, an Air New Zealand Amex etc etc if you send your points across.  You are getting the equivalent of 1.25 miles per £1 in most schemes if you convert in chunks of 60,000 Bonvoy points.

You can criticise the relatively weak Marriott Bonvoy bonus point promotions if you like.  On the other hand, Bonvoy has partnerships with both United Airlines and Emirates which effectively allows members to double dip if they have the right status level.  Titanium Elite members even get free Silver status in Unted MileagePlus, which covers all of Star Alliance.

Conclusion

Marriott Bonvoy kept more of Starwood Preferred Guest than we could realistically have hoped.  A second-rate loyalty programme is now an attractive one, especially as Starwood has brought with it a stream of luxury hotels which has massively increased Marriott’s presence in the sector.

I will end with one caveat though.  I have historically valued Marriott Bonvoy points (and SPG points before that) at 0.5p.  I may have to revise that number down if prime hotels adopt peak pricing for the bulk of the tourist season, although the 3 : 1.25 conversion rate into airline miles will always give Bonvoy points a floor value of 0.4p if you value airline miles at 1p.

You can find out more on the Marriott Bonvoy website here.

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Comments

  1. >>Marriott Bonvoy is often the only way to earn airline miles in specific niche programmes if you live in the UK

    Is this because some airlines don’t allow UK residents to join their programmes? I haven’t heard of many programmes like that. Surely if you live in the UK you can earn the points by flying on those “niche” airlines. I have a Turkish airlines star alliance gold card, not because I live in Turkey or even fly Turkish airlines very often. It’s just by far the easiest way to get star gold status.

    • Spaghetti Town says:

      Yes that’s correct – i think credit card spending is being referenced here

      • the focus on miles from credit card spending is often apparent in the articles, despite the heading of this site being for “business and leisure TRAVELLERS”.

        • Lady London says:

          Hi Riku, if you have any worries on that point then I’d suggest you start looking at the US sites that cover miles and points. As a comparison.

      • Yes sorry, will clarity that line.

    • guesswho2000 says:

      Mainly referring to card spend. However, what you’ve said is the case in some circumstances, one that comes to mind is Virgin Australia Velocity – not supposed to be allowed to joint unless you live in the South Pacific region (I say supposed, in the same way we’re not supposed to be allowed to be members of BAEC), and the carrier operates a long way from the UK. Yes, in the case of VA (and many airlines), there’s ways to join and ways to credit flights (SQ can be credited to VA, even VS can be credited to VA).

      However, a number of programmes offer sweet spot redemptions, therefore some people would have an interest in gaining points in that programme for said redemption in a big chunk – yeah, they could fly loads to gain those miles, but that’s a pretty cumbersome way of accumulating miles just for one specific redemption.

      Another which comes up now and then is ex-pats who a balance in XYZ programme from when they lived somewhere and want to keep it alive – Velocity is a prime example here, lots of Aussies collect these, but they’re near impossible to earn in the UK (ignoring flying for a minute), and expire after two years – only today I read on FB of someone who just had 200k expire. A quick Marriott transfer might have saved them (assuming they remembered, of course!).

  2. The travel packages still represent good value for us. I haven’t done the math but if we stay just a few nights and pick up 100,000 miles for the privilege then it’s ok. One niggle I have with the program is the lack of information available for some of their brands. I don’t think I’ve even seen a marketing email for Bvlgari.

    • Lady London says:

      That depends on the marketing mix. You will find very very few truly elite brands are marketed by email.

      On the few occasions where the elite (i’m thinking examples I’ve seen like Verdura, Cartier) use email it’s done differently and only to a very small highly curated list. You will however see large positioning ads for Bulgari in places like Vogue and special editions of thé Sunday Times travel magazine or an FT Weekend magazine focussing on travel.

    • This article runs the maths on travel packages and is well worth a read – https://frequentmiler.boardingarea.com/marriott-travel-packages-in-a-peak-world-good-value/

      • Matthew says:

        Yes travel packages are becoming better value once peak pricing is introduced.

      • Thanks Rob. Very useful piece.

      • Roger Scarlett says:

        Found this quite interesting. However as a MVC owner of 5 weeks (fees of approx. £1000/week) that I can exchange for Bonvoy points ~110,000/week (depending on the season) and being able to buy 5night travel pakages and a Titanium Elite member (as a result of being Chairman level in MVC) . I usual wait for the annual 35% bonus that BA offer before booking the package; book the lowest hote tier and value Avios at 1p/point. Seems to me that this is about as good as I can acheive; do you agree?

  3. Paul Pogba says:

    If you get United Silver via Marriott Titanium, do you need 50,000 PQM to reach Gold or 25,000 – does the system assume you’ve earnt the first half of the requirement or are you starting from scratch?

  4. I am currently staying in a Ritz Carlton Hotel. I requested a 1pm check in as gold member. They only gave me a room at 3:40pm.
    Do I complain? Do I have a chance?
    Thanks

    • Berneslai says:

      RCs are a law unto themselves. You should absolutely try but manage your expectations.

    • It’s not a guaranteed benefit, only a request. There’s no reason they have to give you it because you requested it.

  5. Berneslai says:

    Bonvoy “Suite Night Awards”. Is anyone else having as much trouble as me using this dung hill of a reward? I’m Titanium Elite and I’m up to 63 nights so far this year – I’m yet to have one SNA accepted and am still stuck with the same 5 I was given at the start of the year. I wish I had chosen an alternative reward.

    • I think I have been able to redeem them once in about 8 years of being platinum but i’m upgraded to suites so often without the suite night awards that I think the awards are almost irrelevant. The most bizarre time was having my suite night request declined a few days before arrival, but when I arrived they upgraded me to a suite .. so I ended up better off than had the awards worked.
      Very often my bookings say “suite night awards not available” anyway so I consider them a very minor benefit – since from experience there must be very few situations where you would get a suite ONLY if you used the suite night awards and not get it anyway due to being platinum.

      • Berneslai says:

        I’m in the same position of often being upgraded at the check-in desk but never automatically through an SNA. I can’t really see how this could be the case so feel that SNAs are probably worthless due to IT issues rather than the intention of the award.

  6. OT for the forex experts. We’ve got an offer to buy another week at our timeshare place in GCM. It’s a pretty good offer as it stands as a lot of US customers have offloaded weeks in recent recession years and the resort needs to attract more owners. However, the price is in US $ and the current exchange rate is making me shudder at the thought of making any significant $ purchases at the moment. Just out of interest, does anyone have any thoughts on where the exchange rate might be in another 12 months?

    • Optimus Prime says:

      Well, Boris and his mates are doing their best to sink the pound so…

    • If I knew what the exchange rate was likely to be in 12 months, I wouldn’t be spending time churning Amex cards.

      Sorry- couldn’t resist.

      🙂

      • Well Ken, that’s why I didn’t ask if anyone knew…! Interesting historical datapoint as well. Anecdotally I know I’m not the only one being put off visiting the States so it would also be interesting to know if it’s causing a perceptible shift in traveller behaviour.

        • Lady London says:

          Could also be the case that regardless of what the pound does – and like Shoestring I have some faith in it outperforming the Euro in future – the dollar could also appreciate. In that case you could find yourself with an asset on your hands that could get you a lot more £ or Eur than today.

          Personally I would not be increasing my exposure to holiday property right now in a dollar denominated location. The tax haven aspect of GCM is interesting though/ But that does not mean you would benefit from increasing your exposure and personally if you’ve got spare money I’d diversify. Property, or leases/timeshare, is often not a liquid investment if your cirumstances change and you needed to offload it quickly.

          • I take your point – we wouldn’t class it as an investment though, more an up front payment for future holidays which would save us a considerable amount of money over the coming years. Sadly it’s very unlikely that we’ll ever be in a position to take advantage of Cayman’s tax free status 😂.

    • More seriously, in my adult life Sterling has been as low as $1.06 and as high as 2.40.

      When my dad was young it was $4 to a pound and a crown (5 shillings) was known colloquially as a dollar (at least in Liverpool).
      Long term I suspect the exchange rate will continue in the same direction.
      The UK isn’t Italy, but then it’s far from Germany or Switzerland in fiscal prudence.

      • Shoestring says:

        Ken, the UK is going to leave the EU. I could see the UK as a weaker Switzerland, because it will become a European Singapore in some respects – to survive, it will have to bring in very low tax rates and almost become a whole country tax free port.

        So GBP will rise over the next 30 years,that’s my prediction.

        Australian Dollar rose over 30 years – 30 years of economy expanding – UK could follow same path.

        • Lady London says:

          Yes we will have to survive on that, intellectual property / services and, of course, the “defence” (=offence, really) sector. And a bit of tourism if we’re lucky.

          #summerholidays

        • Shoestring,

          Is there a major currency weaker than sterling over the last 30 years ?

          Aus $ is weaker now against US $ than it was 30 years ago. This despite an enormous boom in mining & exports to China, LPG gas production & a younger population.

          Not sure the UK biggest export market the EU is going to welcome a low tax, low regulation jurisdiction on its doorstep.

          • Shoestring says:

            The EU won’t get any choice in the matter, it’s going to be UK = Singapore.

            Don’t get me wrong in this matter, UK should preferably have fought for many years to change the excesses of the EU, but stayed in the EU

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