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 full series of articles can be found here:
- Review: Is Accor Live Limitless the best hotel loyalty scheme?
- Review: Is Hilton Honors the best hotel loyalty scheme?
- Review: Is IHG One Rewards the best hotel loyalty scheme?
- Review: Is Radisson Rewards the best hotel loyalty scheme?
- Review: Is World of Hyatt the best hotel loyalty scheme?
The 10-second summary:
Strong points – big global network, decent benefits for Platinum and Titanium members, excellent luxury options, good earning ability via credit cards, good Marriott Moments redemptions, lots of airline transfer partners, 4pm guaranteed check-out as Platinum, decent redemption availability, ability to book premium rooms as redemptions
Weak points – partially revenue-based redemptions, regular promotions unexciting, mid-market hotels often uninspiring, benefits vary brand-by-brand (and there are over 30 now)
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 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 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 have (four times now) 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 unless you negotiate directly with the hotel – your only option is to book two rooms, albeit Hilton does now let you book guaranteed connecting rooms.
We have also had some excellent value out of redemptions using Suite Night Awards (now Nightly Upgrade Awards) which are available to Platinum and Titanium members. 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 University Arms in Cambridge which is relatively cheap for points and is a lovely hotel. These upgrades can’t be confirmed at the time of booking but will clear three days before arrival, which isn’t idea but better than turning up not knowing what will happen.
We’ve also enjoyed some unique Bonvoy properties in the Middle East, such as the two The Ritz Carlton resorts in Ras Al Khaimah. Al Hamra Beach which is 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. I finally made it to Al Maha in the Dubai desert too.
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. Last year we took over the box for one of the Elton John concerts to treat HfP readers.
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 £95 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 United Airlines, Singapore Airlines and Emirates which allow 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.
You can also redeem Marriott Bonvoy points directly for cash flights on any airline, which is not as bad a deal as you may expect.
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 the 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.
How to earn Marriott Bonvoy points and status from UK credit cards (February 2024)
There are various ways of earning Marriott Bonvoy points from UK credit cards. Many cards also have generous sign-up bonuses.
The official Marriott Bonvoy American Express card comes with 20,000 points for signing up, 2 points for every £1 you spend and 15 elite night credits per year.
You can apply here.
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 Premium and MeliaRewards Gold status. We reviewed American Express Platinum in detail here and you can apply here.
You can also earn Marriott Bonvoy points indirectly:
- American Express Gold (20,000 bonus Amex points)
- American Express Rewards Credit Card (10,000 bonus Amex points)
and for small business owners:
- American Express Business Gold (20,000 bonus Amex points)
- American Express Business Platinum (40,000 bonus Amex points)
The conversion rate from American Express to Marriott Bonvoy points is 2:3.
(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.)