You’ve mastered the basics of the Marriott Bonvoy program. You’ve booked award nights using points. You’re still not totally sure what “Bonvoy” means.
Welcome to the advanced level of Marriott rewards booking. Thankfully, although the Bonvoy program is an enormous amalgamation of its acquisitions, the process for booking award nights is relatively straightforward. That said, there are still some advanced tips and tricks for squeezing more value from each precious Bonvoy … err … point.
» Learn more: Marriott Bonvoy program: The complete guide
Use 'customize payments' to find the best rates
The Marriott award search tool is missing one crucial thing: a calendar view. That makes it difficult to compare cash versus point booking rates across several dates to find the “sweet spots” when cash rates are at their highest and award rates are at their lowest.
Thankfully, there is one workaround: The “customize payments” option during the checkout flow. This option lets you choose which nights in a multi-night booking you want to pay for with cash and which with points, which is handy enough in its own way — but it also lets you quickly compare the relative value of booking with points over a long period.
First, use the Marriott search tool to find the hotel or region you’re interested in. Then search for a reservation that spans an entire week in the time frame you’re considering. That is, even if you’re only looking to book a room for two nights, start with a seven-day reservation search.
Keep in mind: You might have to shorten this reservation range to find availability during peak times, since Marriott will not show availability if even one night is unbookable.
Now select the hotel you’re interested in and look for the “customize payments” option under the room selector.
That will open a table like this:
The left column shows the price in points, while the right column shows the price in cash. This lets you easily determine which night(s) offer the best “value” for your points, and which might be worth booking with cash instead.
Note that the “free night” will appear for any search of five or more nights (as part of Marriott’s fifth night free benefit). If you’re curious about the point cost for that night, you can make a separate search or assume it is the same as the other lowest rates — 25,000 points, in this case.
You can use this calculator to help determine which nights in this view offer good value from Bonvoy points and which don’t:
For example, is the 30,000 Bonvoy points needed to book the room on Friday, Aug. 7, a better deal than paying $250 cash (bottom row)? What about 25,000 points for that Thursday, compared with a $160 rate (second-to-last row)?
This view also helps reveal the nights that have “peak” award pricing (see below), which is hard to determine otherwise.
Remember: It’s enticing to use points for dates when the cash rates are high, thinking this equates to “better value” for your Bonvoy points. On paper this is true, but the room will be the same no matter what. In the end, you should book the dates that both work best for your schedule and require the fewest points.
» Learn more: The 5 best ways to rack up Marriott Bonvoy points
Focus on Marriott’s fifth night free
This one is simple: Marriott offers a fifth night free on all award bookings, which translates to an effective 20% bonus on the value of Bonvoy points. Of the many ways to squeeze more value from reward points, this is one of the simplest and most straightforward. Couple this benefit with an otherwise high-value award booking and you should be able to get well more than the 0.7 cent-per-point value we give to Bonvoy points.
Of course, you either need to have a trove of Bonvoy points to cover the cost of a five-night reservation at a high-end hotel, or be willing to book a lower-category property. Marriott’s hotel search tool is especially helpful for finding properties that fall within your point budget, as it allows filtering by award category.
The Marriott award chart, although somewhat dynamic, provides a ballpark sense of the points needed to book each category and, by extension, which category to target for a five-night reservation.
Snoop into 'peak' pricing
As mentioned, the new Bonvoy award chart includes “off-peak” and “peak” rates for each hotel category.
Somewhat confusingly, these rates do not apply to certain seasons or times of year, but rather fluctuate from property to property based on actual demand. So you might find an “off-peak” rate on a summer weekday, a “peak” rate the following day and a “standard” rate over the weekend.
The only way to determine which dates carry which rates is to roll up your sleeves and get searching. Use the “customize payments” trick above to cover more ground and root out those elusive “off-peak” rates.
» Learn more: Why I love Marriott Bonvoy
Don’t sweat the timing
If you’re a veteran of airline rewards bookings, you might think that timing is everything. And indeed, snagging award seats on planes usually requires either planning far in advance or booking last-minute.
However, hotel prices and award rates generally don’t work the same way, and Marriott Bonvoy is no exception. Indeed, cash prices often drop in the short term (unlike airfare, which skyrockets), while award prices usually remain fairly consistent and widely available.
What does that all mean? Don’t sweat the timing of Bonvoy award bookings too much. If booking in advance gives you peace of mind, go for it. If your plans are fluid and you’d rather book last-minute, you’ll be just fine.
The bottom line
You still may not know what "Bonvoy" means, but if you embrace its "customize payments" option, take advantage of Marriott’s fifth night free benefit and gain an understanding of their dynamic award pricing chart, you’ll be on your way to advanced techniques for booking Marriott award nights.
Honestly, the most advanced technique is simply putting in the time to find an award booking that offers good value for your points. Yet with nearly 8,000 hotels worldwide, and over 5,000 in the U.S. alone, you’re bound to find something that fits your budget and itinerary.
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