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!)
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.
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.
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.