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Mega-mergers are often bad for consumers, with newly supersized companies using their market dominance to drive up prices. But for Marriott Bonvoy members looking to redeem points, the 2019 merger of the Marriott and Starwood loyalty programs turns that logic on its head. A massive Bonvoy rewards program means lots of places to redeem points for free nights, including not just the Marriott family of properties but pretty much every Sheraton, Westin and St. Regis under the sun, plus more than two dozen other brands totaling over 7,700 properties across the globe.
What does that mean for you, the traveler sitting on a pile of Bonvoy points? Choice. And lots of it. For example, just one Hawaiian Island, Oahu, offers 10 Bonvoy family properties to choose from, ranging from the modest but well-located Sheraton Princess Kaiulani to the historic, heavenly Royal Hawaiian. Here’s your guide to how to book award nights with those Bonvoy points you’ve been stockpiling.
» Learn more: Why I love Marriott Bonvoy
Get to know the redemption categories
All the hotels and resorts that participate in the Marriott Bonvoy program are grouped into categories, which you can see next to the hotel name when you search by destination on the Marriott.com website. Click on the category to pull up a chart to see how many points you’ll need for a standard room during off-peak, regular and peak times.
The word "standard" is key here. When you’re searching the Marriott website for your destination, you may see a number of properties that cost more points than the chart indicates. That’s because they’re not standard rooms. And if those pricey rooms are the only ones that turn up in your search, it means all the standard rooms are unavailable for award redemptions.
» Learn more: Your guide to the Marriott Bonvoy award chart
Compare points prices to cash prices
The categories are supposed to mirror the quality, luxury and demand for each hotel — and for the most part, they do. But categorizing hotels isn’t an exact science. That means you might find some just-OK hotels charging the same number of points as some much nicer ones.
A good way to measure the value of each is to compare them with cash prices. For example, a recent search for Manhattan hotels showed the swanky Algonquin Hotel Times Square and the more modest Fairfield Inn and Suites New York Manhattan/Fifth Avenue both cost 60,000 points per night. But the cash price at the Algonquin is $391 per night, while the Fairfield is $272. That means you’re getting a better value for your points at the Algonquin.
Note resort fees and parking rates
It’s tempting to think of hotel award redemptions as "free" hotel nights. But often, these seemingly "free" stays cost you real money. Resort fees and potentially exorbitant parking fees can add up fast — and they can complicate your math. For example, the above-mentioned Algonquin charges a $30-per-night resort fee, regardless of whether you pay for your room with Bonvoy points. In exchange, you get a $30 food credit, a bus tour and some other perks that may or may not seem worth it to you. Parking, should you be unlucky enough to need it in Manhattan, costs $61 per night for valet only (and because it’s hard to imagine standing there while the valet digs for a five and four ones, you could be looking at $70 per night).
Check out redemptions that let you combine points and cash
If you don’t have enough points for your full stay, remember that you may have the option to combine points and cash. But have a calculator handy. The cash-plus-points combo rates may not be a great deal.
For example, that 60,000-point-per-night room at the Algonquin might be available for 30,000 points plus $250 per night. But if each point is worth about $.0065, as it is when we divide the $391 cash rate mentioned above by the 60,000 point alternative, that means the 30,000 points you’re chipping in for this room plus the $250 bring your real costs close to $450 — not a great value compared with the cash rate of $391.
The bottom line
The perfect way to spend your Bonvoy points will depend on a lot more than just cost. Property location, travel dates, online reviews and hotel amenities are all variables to factor into your decision. So pick the stay that’s right for you. And if you have a Marriott-branded credit card, remember that even though you won’t be earning points for your stay, you can still earn Bonvoy points on other charges you make at the property, including dining and spa visits — provided you use that card at check-in.
How to Maximize Your Rewards
You want a travel credit card that prioritizes what’s important to you. Here are our picks for the best travel credit cards of 2021, including those best for:
Flexibility, point transfers and a large bonus: Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
No annual fee: Bank of America® Travel Rewards credit card
Flat-rate travel rewards: Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card
Bonus travel rewards and high-end perks: Chase Sapphire Reserve®
Luxury perks: The Platinum Card® from American Express
Business travelers: Ink Business Preferred® Credit Card