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Is Marriott Bonvoy the best hotel loyalty scheme? (Part 2)

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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, 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 

Is Marriott Bonvoy the best hotel loyalty scheme?

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.

Marriott Moments

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.

Status benefits

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.

Marriott Bonvoy review

A better approach is to get the Marriott Bonvoy American Express cardThis 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.

Conclusion

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.

Comments (19)

  • Stu_N says:

    It feels like Bonvoy is increasingly challenging to get value from. Points are becoming harder to earn – it feels like there are fewer and less generous promotions on stays and recent ones have had a second stay qualifier. Also cutting the rate on the Amex card a couple of years ago has hurt earning potential.

    On the other side, redemptions are also becoming dearer – used to be 240k for 5 nights at a top end hotel, which we used to manage every 18 months to 2 years. Now it’s often 350-400k which is unattainable in a reasonable timeframe and carries too much devaluation risk. There don’t seem to be many mid range bargains either as redemptions are more closely linked to cash rates.

    It’s still my main program of the big 3 – Hilton don’t have the high end coverage and I just don’t have any interest in IHG – stayed in too many crap hotels over the years.

    • Harry T says:

      I have actually found that some redemptions have become better value post dynamic pricing, especially as the number of points required seems to frequently come down nearer the dates of the stay.

      The increases in points prices for the higher end properties also need to be seen in the context of massively inflated cash prices due to widespread inflation and post covid surges in demand.

      Bottom line is that there is still a lot of value to be found.

      I personally appreciate the status benefits more than the ability to redeem points, and this is something Bonvoy still does a lot better than the competition. Hilton is steadily degrading the breakfast benefit and has no late checkout guarantee. Hyatt has a poor but expanding footprint; their points are hard to earn in the UK and the only really useful status of Globalist, which is a hard slog for most given the footprint and the 60 nights. IHG has improved a lot recently and is my secondary programme, although I find that suite upgrades are very rare, even as Diamond Ambassador – conversely, Bonvoy properties are frequently very generous to Titanium and Ambassador.

      • NorthernLass says:

        Yes and not always that much nearer the time. When the RC Doha opened up for December this year, 5 nights in a club room was 250k points, checked back a couple of weeks later and it was 222k.

      • Stu_N says:

        All good points @HarryT – I guess it’s hit my pattern particularly hard, earning is via mid-range work stays where bonus points make a big difference, plus Marriott card and popup with MR transfers.

        Burn pattern has usually been 2 or 5 nights in top end properties and we tended to use points rather than cash for those, 4×60 to 4x75k is a huge gap. Might need to look more middle market and moderate my target 0.75p value.

  • George K says:

    Rob, are you actively pursuing lifetime status by any chance? As I did a couple of status challenges under both SPG and Marriott, I now find myself close to the Platinum 10-year elite mark but fairly short of the 600 nights requirement. While I feel the program is being degraded, I may try and sprint towards achieving it.

    I am however concerned about how Platinum has become ubiquitous as there’s even an American credit card that gets you this status just by opening an account. And, it goes without saying, that chasing lifetime status can be a mirage, with things getting worse in the future.

    • Harry T says:

      The programme will devalue over time, as all programmes do. I personally wouldn’t chase lifetime status; if it happens as a result of your normal travel then that’s a nice bonus. I have well over half the nights for lifetime platinum but only three years of plat. I will see how the programme treats me over the next few years. I’m being treated well by the Bonvoy hotels at the moment but this could change. Best to not let the tail wag the dog.

      Tangentially, I do wish they would bring back lifetime titanium.

    • Rob says:

      Not chasing it but I will Lifetime Gold this year. Given the credit card free nights I may hit lifetime Plat by 60 but clearly limited value by then 🙂

    • will says:

      I’m not sure aiming for lifetime platinum is worth it for the reasons above but between the credit card nights and the double stay offers they have run in previous years, if you find yourself in a place with a cheap hotel (or homes and villas) then it’s pretty much a no brainer to trigger a platinum/titanium renewal simply for the SNA’s.

  • BJ says:

    No, bronze medal at best.

  • VALittleRed says:

    Just a slight caveat when you say “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” except at Intercontinental Alliance Resorts, primarily being the IC Las Vegas (Venetian) where you don’t whatsoever. And reports suggest the IC NY Barclay don’t include hot food as part of the diamond breakfast. These exceptions are frustrating as it sets a slippery slope for other hotels, and should be dealt with by IHG imho.

    • Dace says:

      This is why I cannot go to that States anymore. Customer service is just shocking and they try to ‘nickle and dime’ you at every turn.

      • VALittleRed says:

        Yes not a fan of their whole structure as a whole with fees and tipping culture subsiding minimum wages, tips should be supplementary to min wage imho. Got a trip to the states later this year so should be interesting to see how it all goes service wise as not been in a long time. These things have to be factored too when considering trips there vs elsewhere.

      • NorthernLass says:

        I am very fond of the USA for many reasons but after being nickel and dimed for 3 weeks over Xmas and NY I have cancelled the 3 trips we had planned for this year and rebooked elsewhere! The IC Willard was fabulous but the service at both Marriott properties we stayed at was dire. Hilton was ok but not having a resort fee on a points booking made us feel less fleeced.

      • JDB says:

        When I first went to the US in the 1980’s service in the US in hotels, shops and restaurants was just so good compared to England or most places in Europe that it was a real eye opener. Now it all seems so fake and totally tip driven, plus everything is already so expensive and bad value even before tax and tip that it’s of no interest for now.

        • Will says:

          I tend to agree with that, you can usually feel the difference as a customer between fantastic service that you’d gladly tip for and an attempt to chase those tips from your wallet.

          USA is off the cards for me at the moment purely on cost grounds, which is a shame as I have a lot of love for it.

          Just did a ski trip to Verbier and one of the group who’d recently been skiing in the USA commented how cheap it made Switzerland feel by comparison.

    • Andrew (@andrewseftel) says:

      I think that the Intercontinental Residences in Dubai and Doha are also excluded for the breakfast benefit.

  • MisterE says:

    I’m a Lifetime Titanium, having earned it mostly through international business travel back in the day; these days its mostly leisure travel with more in the UK than previously.

    Although its not perfect and benefits gradually seem to be diluted (but this is true of all frequent travel schemes, isn’t it?) this is still a terrific scheme for me. Several reasons to add to what Rob wrote above:

    1. Its easy to be sniffy about Lifetime status at the peak of a business career, but its really nice to have as the years roll on by. I still get treated pretty well, even if I don’t always make the normal annual targets. I’m also Lifetime Platinum on American Airlines, so this => OneWorld Sapphire => Avios Silver, with free seat selection and lounge access if not otherwise available.
    2. From our various Amex cards across the family we have had significant cash back offers (spend £250, save £100; spend £200 save £50; spend £400 save £100). Last year this was over £750. Slightly concerned that we haven’t so far seen these offers back in 2023.
    3. Amex Bonvoy gives 6 points /per £ for Marriott Hotel stays instead of the normal 2. On international trips these extra points pretty much offset the currency surcharge
    4. If eligible, the Senior Discount offers a nominal 15% saving. But in practice this is normally about the same as a pre-pay rate. But Senior Discounts rates are flexible and can be cancelled.
    5. On redemptions, we almost always go for ‘five nights for the price of four’ which is another decent saving, plus redemptions are flexible in terms of cancellation. And you can typically use cash to upgrade a points booking. So this year, we have five night reward stays in Sydney, Singapore and Dubai

    On the other hand, I find SNAs slightly disappointing. I’m never clear how they actually work and what extra I get from an SNA that I wouldn’t have received as a normal Titanium upgrade. But my main gripe is when a SNA doesn’t clear late in the year, and you run out of time on 31 Dec. This year we have 5 SNAs booked for a Nov stay and 2 for a Dec stay. If they don’t clear, we’ll almost certainly loose them.

    Finally, the UK hotels outside London offer limited coverage, and have very few above average choices. Its looks as this has got worse in recent years. Quite a few swimming pools have closed, which is a further blow for what were generally fairly ordinary hotels to begin with.
    Anyway, just my 2 cents, and YMMV

  • Travel Strong says:

    Re: “IHG One Rewards – if you are Diamond Elite you get full breakfast at all hotels, full stop.”

    Unfortunately not even this is true! IHG also have unfathomable small print that means no breakfast at Diamonds at certain properties. IHG ‘alliance’ properties IIRC, like The Venetian Las Vegas.

    • Rob says:

      I think a couple of hotels out of 7,000 is near enough 100% (we’re literally at 99.9% here).

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