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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. I seem unable to convert my points to gift cards, which they advertise as an option, as they are not egift cards, but physical, which require delivery to a USA zip code, which excludes the UK.

    So much for an international up to date brand.

  2. Gtellez says:

    Platinum members don’t get sliver status with United, is only for titanium and embassador, or at least that is what I think

  3. Starwood SPG Gold guaranteed a 4pm check out. I found that benefit especially useful as after a days work in New York I could return to the hotel to shower and change clothes before heading off to JFK.

    Bonvoy Gold late check-out has shortened the benefit from 4pm to 2pm which was a huge disappointment as it renders the benefit unusable for my circumstances.

    As such, for my last four US trips I’ve switched away to different hotels not part of the Marriott Group.

  4. Joachim says:

    I think with Marriott, it depends if you are a self-payer or a business traveller on company dime.

    I think the program is poor for self-payers. Room rates tend to be on the high side relative to the competition. And points earning is comparatively weak as well (i.e., other brands have excellent points promos more often).
    And Platinum is the lowest status level worth having. Do you get there as a self-payer despite the comparatively unattractive prices?

    As a business traveller, the room rate matters less. (Because the money doesn’t come out of your pocket. Also, corporate rates can be more attractive.)

    And Marriott recognition from Platinum level upwards is excellent. So as a business traveller, the trade-offs are markedly different.

    • Agree, while I got Hilton Diamond from credit card the first time, it’s relatively simple to renew the hard way as a self-payer. Marriott seems impossible particularly if starting from scratch.

      Perhaps I missed out on the good old days with Starwood but there is no way I would be able to maintain Hilton and another brand at the same time. Hilton is pretty solid even if not super amazing and the value works for me so until something changes I stick with them.

  5. Diydegsy says:

    Hi Rob just wanted to say a big thank you for this site and to all the people who have helped answer my questions. We have just returned from a 3 week trip to Hong Kong, Vietnam and Thailand all thanks to this web sites helpful features. 4 of us flew club world return to Hong Kong and back via Bangkok on 2 241’s Some helpful info for others –
    Intercontinental Hong Kong well worth the money and despite hearing the contrary we were upgraded to a full harbour view for 1 room and partial for the 2nd. We had booked the basic rooms and I am platinum ambassador. We were also offered a generous discount on the day for club lounge which we took. Thankfully when we were there there were no problems!! Service was excellent.
    Intercontinental Da nang was just the best. Upgraded from the basic to a King Son Tra room just 1 but all the rooms are excellent. We used Ambassador weekend voucher plus 2 free nights and 4 nights on points.
    W Koh Samui both rooms upgraded to tropical oasis rooms by the beach and everyone loved the ‘sweet spots’ I am gold elite with Marriott so no breakfast unfortunately.
    Already booked next year to go to Los Cabos via a few days in Mexico City with BA on 241 so anyone else done this I would appreciate any feedback. Thanks again for all your help.

    • Thanks for the feedback, did the IC Danang offer an upgrade for club access? We have 4 nights there next year (wish it was longer), one free night, one points and the weekend voucher, I have booked a club room for the last two nights.

      • Diydegsy says:

        Hi Craig, you will love this hotel, excellent in every way. The club lounge access was approx £200 per room per day so we didn’t participate as we wanted to eat out as well. £400 per family in our case isn’t worth it as the two girls don’t eat a lot but it may work for you. We did do the champagne Spirit of Vietnam dinner on the Friday night which is again expensive but you can drink as much champagne as you like and the food is very good. Our youngest only had the one which includes free soft drinks. The buffet included was excellent and we were able to sit in the pods. At breakfast time we were told that people go down as early as 6.30 just so they can sit in the pods which is no use to me on holiday way too early. As you have booked 2 nights on club rooms then they may offer you a discount but I wouldn’t guarantee it. Enjoy your time there!!!

        • Thanks, showing a standby upgrade of $200 plus tax, so will probably go for that on the second night, the first we will probably arrive too late to make it worthwhile. Good shout on the pod buffet, it does look good. I’m hoping for a bit of reward availability back from Singapore so I can extend the trip by a couple of days.

    • Hi, literally left W Koh samui a couple of days ago (to go to the Conrad) all on points. Treated really well as Gold at W. we got room upgrade and, free breakfast and late checkout until 4pm.

      Really impressed

  6. I find the 3 main programs not great. My issue is two fold. One, I holiday a lot in the USA where so many credit card status people mean status is meh. Since I achieve my status that way I shouldn’t sneer, but it does make it fairly useless. Thank you for being this or that and two bottles of water are not winning me over. Secondly I care little for luxury aspirational hotels, and care only about location and cleanliness, so Hampton, HGI, HIE type places all fine with me, but I find these disproportionately expensive on points. I don’t run the numbers on every booking, but when I do I usually find that a shopping portal to hotel com is going to win for me.
    Sometimes get a result with points on an airport hotel or big city centre, but mostly a generic program is better.

  7. I wish I could be as positive. Marriott Gold is pretty useless, certainly compared to other mid-tier status. My experience redeeming a travel package in Melbourne was tortuous to say the least and the actual stay was mediocre. They also still don’t have anything like the footprint of IHG or Hilton outside the USA, so I’m afraid for me they’re very much my 3rd tier programme!

    • Joachim says:

      Exactly! The benefits of Gold are negligible.

      Marriott is not a points-driven program. The recent enhancements make it even less attractive in that regard. Instead, the program is about recognition. But the fact is recognition starts at the Platinum level.

  8. Spaghetti Town says:

    OT: Will Marriot Gold or Hilton Gold match to anything in IHG?

  9. My points are 95% from credit card spend rather than actual stays. I tend to opt for Marriott simply due to the % return on my spend.

    SPG card provides 1.5 per £, IHG premium card is 0.80p whilst using a American express rewards card for Hilton, only provides 0.66p per £.

    On that basis I’m struggling to see why a credit card spender would opt for Hilton.

    • You should work out your personal redemption values before jumping to conclusions.

      • Those figures are mentioned in Robs articles and I’m using them as minimum base figures.

        Even if we double the Hilton or IHG redemption value we are getting to the base figure of SPG.

      • RedEyeDonkey says:

        Yeah definitely run your own numbers and don’t just run with any site’s valuations as they’re highly personal to the redemptions you make – eg for redemptions at peak weekends IHG points can often be worth 0.7p/point – I’m looking at several weekends in Vegas, for example where even terrible hotels are way overpriced (even with Caesars Diamond and no resort fees at their less expensive options) so picking up a stay at 20,000 IHG points/night is great value even though it’s one of their more basic brands.

        I don’t overdo it but with the flexibility of having one more pool of points I find IHG card spend worth it – 1.4% back if I just hold them for redemptions when I’m stuck for good cash deals but need to be there those dates plus at 10k the free night which I expect is worth about 2% more for 3.4% total.

        I know the SPG card has a free night too but with it being at 15k, and the BA and Virgin vouchers to nab as well it was the one I had to ‘drop’ this year for going for the target spend as I had uses for the other 3 vouchers.

        • Very helpful thank you. My SPG redemptions have been London based 3-4% return. Useful to know about IHG redemptions, something to mull over

        • Genghis says:

          A good example here of not valuing points more than you can buy them for and redemption “values” not equaling “value”.

          You’re arguing that the IHG black card has a return of 1.4% based on the ability to use the points at 0.7p / point.

          But why not get the free Amex cash back card at 1% return and use the return to buy the IHG points (often available at 0.4p ea) and then pocket the difference 0.2%?

  10. Another great & helpful article, thank you.
    Sadly, we do not travel as much as you guys so have less “points/avios” etc to play with. However, we both have BA Premium Amex cards and are able to spend and accrue a very decent amount incl 2xVouchers per year as you regularly report. Totally agree, a very worthwhile scheme.
    Our area of concern is optimising our non Amex spend which is centred now around 2 linked Marriott reward Mastercards, hence the interest in this article. Since the merger with SPG we would completely identify with your comments and analysis, and after similar consideration and with our lower spend, agree that (for us at least) this is the most optimum way of generating benefits.
    Thanks again for your great work.

    • Lady London says:

      Why are you not looking at the SPG Amex? Do you need both of you to have your existing same MasterCard?

  11. OT: A bit of a straw poll here..

    Background:
    I’ve been working in International Education in Sales/Marketing roles over the past 9 years or so and have been lurking on this site for around 4 years. I’m looking to potentially move into something a little different, but would love to keep up with the travel.

    Question: What kind of industry/job role do most people here work in? I’m curious to see what other options there are available!

    • DANIEL MACDONALD says:

      Locum Medical Consultant NHS

    • Airline pilot with no staff travel perks!

    • Human Factors Engineer, consultant civil aviation.

    • Patent Attorney

    • Lady London says:

      procurement systems

    • Genghis says:

      Strange question. Surely you go for the job first and travel naturally follows rather than want to travel and find a job that involves travel?

      When I tell people about some of the travel I do they think it’s really exotic. The reality is that early starts, late finishes and being tired just isn’t all it’s cracked up to be…

      • Yes, definitely agree. But to each their own as well….Personally, I would rather have time on hand, so I can spend more time on my hobbies.

    • Journalism & media

    • Harry T says:

      Medical doctor – specialising in radiology.

    • the_real_a says:

      IT / Process /Management consultant. The travel shine wears off VERY quickly. The “fun” is more tagging on annual leave to the beginning or end of trip. Generally on business days there is virtually no free time.

    • RussellH says:

      Now retired, with one 0930 –> whenever the job gets finished day per week for a well known charity.
      Before that: Tour Operator
      Before that: Secondary School Teacher: Chemistry / Computing
      Before that: Postdoctoral Research – Organic Chemist

      But three generations of my family have all been employed in travel / transport…

    • ankomonkey says:

      Stripper

    • Jill (Kinkell) says:

      Physiotherapist….worked in Denmark for 2 years ( free movement in Europe!!) Did a lot of travelling around Scandinavia.

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