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, Starwood merger brought more luxury hotels, good earning ability via credit cards, good Marriott Moments redemptions, lots of airline transfer partners, able to book rewards before you have the points, decent redemption availability
Weak points – moving to revenue-based redemptions, regular promotions unexciting, mid-market hotels often uninspiring, benefits vary brand-by-brand (and there are 30 now) and hard to track
The longer version:
Let’s start with a simple statement of fact. When Marriott acquired Starwood Hotels & Resorts in 2016, 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. We now have revenue-based redemption pricing which sees top hotels going for double that.
Redemption sweet spots
I came into Marriott Bonvoy with one 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 twice booked 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 The 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 I had two stays at The University Arms in Cambridge which is relatively cheap for points and is a lovely hotel. Using a Suite Night Award certificate I got excellent upgrades. You can argue that The Langley in Iver (and, before it left Marriott in December 2021, Turnberry in Scotland) is the best UK regional hotel from any chain which is bookable on points.
Will I continue to book The St Regis New York now it is 100,000+ points per night on peak dates? I might, actually, since as a Platinum 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. I have enjoyed a number of great concerts in the Marriott box at the O2 in Greenwich as well as various sporting events.
(If you’ve never been, we have an amazing Head for Points reader event coming up at the O2 – more details next month!)
There were also events such as a 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 IHG One Rewards – if you are Diamond Elite you get full breakfast at all hotels, full stop.
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 (6 per £1 at Marriott hotels) 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
Marriott 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 40 airline partners. The Marriott Bonvoy American Express is really 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 One 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 have historically valued Marriott Bonvoy points at 0.5p. Even with a move to revenue based redemptions, the 3 : 1.25 conversion rate into airline miles gives 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.