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 Marriott Moments redemptions, lots of airline transfer partners
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. With Category 8 and peak pricing now live, you can pay as much as 100,000 points per night. Let’s be fair though – this is still less than Starwood Preferred Guest charged for its best properties, which was 35,000 SPG points (105,000 Marriott Bonvoy points equivalent).
Redemption sweet spots
I came into Marriott Bonvoy with 1 million points, once the Starwood balances from myself and my wife had been converted and merged. 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.
Last year we managed a short notice trip to The University Arms in Cambridge which is relatively cheap for points and is a lovely hotel. It isn’t difficult to argue that The Langley in Iver and Turnberry in Scotland are the two best UK regional hotels from any chain which are bookable on points.
Will I continue to book St Regis New York now it is 100,000 points per night on peak dates? I might, actually, since as a Titanium Elite with Suite Nights Awards to use, I should be guaranteed one of the many very spacious suites.
I will, I’m sure, continue redeeming for Marriott Moments ‘experiences’ redemptions. Whilst these have been dormant for the past year, I have enjoyed a number of great concerts in the Marriott box at the O2 in Greenwich.
There were also 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 Manchester United partnership has expanded the options even further.
The benefits of Marriott Bonvoy are more confusing than is necessary. I mean …. I managed to get a full article out of explaining how the elite member breakfast benefit works by hotel brand. You don’t need to do that with Hilton Honors. Or IHG – but only because IHG Rewards does not give free breakfast.
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 at most hotels. 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. Hilton Diamond doesn’t give guaranteed late check-out.
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.
A better approach is to get the Marriott Bonvoy American Express card. This comes with 15 elite night credits annually, which is a good return on your £75 card fee. This means you only need to do 35 nights per year to lock in Platinum Elite status.
As well as earning 2 Bonvoy points per £1 via the Marriott Bonvoy American Express, you can also convert American Express Membership Rewards points. You get the equivalent of 1.5 Bonvoy points per £1 spent.
Airline miles are a good alternative to free nights
Bonvoy is a good scheme even if you don’t want to redeem for hotel stays. 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 Marriott 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, although they have looked better in comparison since IHG Rewards started cutting back on bonuses. 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. What was a second-rate loyalty programme is now an attractive one, especially as Starwood 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. Covid makes calculations difficult, but Category 8 and the introduction of peak and off-peak pricing will have put this number under pressure. However, 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 about the programme on the Marriott Bonvoy website here.
How to earn Marriott Bonvoy points from UK credit cards (June 2021)
There are various ways of earning Marriott Bonvoy points from UK credit cards. Many cards also have generous sign-up bonuses.
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 Gold and MeliaRewards Gold status. We reviewed American Express Platinum in detail here and you can apply here.
You can also earn American Express Membership Rewards points with American Express Gold (20,000 bonus points), the American Express Rewards Credit Card (5,000 bonus points) and – for small business owners – American Express Business Gold (20,000 bonus points) and Business Platinum (40,000 bonus 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.)