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Joining a hotel loyalty program is a great way to increase your elite status tier with a specific chain as well as rack up enough rewards for a free stay. The program you ultimately pick is going to vary based on your travel patterns. Whether you go for Hilton Honors, IHG Rewards Club, Marriott Bonvoy or Radisson Rewards, we have to admit that there’s no perfect program.
If you’re considering joining Marriott’s loyalty program, examine its perks, such as a huge selection of properties all over the world and the ability to transfer points to airlines, but also make note of the weaknesses of Marriott Bonvoy.
What are some weaknesses of Marriott Bonvoy?
1. Marriott charges resort fees for all members
One of the bad Marriott Bonvoy policies is that the chain charges resort fees on both paid and award stays regardless of your elite status level. Marriott is failing at the basics by charging these fees in the first place, but passing them on to its elite members is one of the major complaints.
Even if you redeem points or free night certificates for a stay at a resort that charges these pesky fees, your stay isn’t going to be 100% free. Keep in mind that resort fees are charged nightly, which means that the longer your vacation is, the more cash you have to dole out at the end of your trip.
This Bonvoy policy isn’t on par with the industry standard, either. For example, World of Hyatt waives resort fees on all award stays for all program members (including non-elite members) and on paid stays for Globalist members. Hilton Honors also waives resort fees on award stays for all members.
2. Free night certificates are hard to use
Co-branded Marriott credit card holders receive a free night certificate at every membership renewal. You can redeem these certificates for free nights at Marriott hotels, but not just any hotel.
Members who hold the Marriott Bonvoy Boundless® Credit Card, the Marriott Bonvoy American Express® Card or the Marriott Bonvoy Business™ American Express® Card receive a free night award valued at up to 35,000 Bonvoy points — good for a Category 5 hotel during standard dates or lower. Terms apply.
Those who hold the premium Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express® Card receive a certificate valued at up to 50,000 Bonvoy points, which can get you a room at a property as high as Category 6 on standard dates. Terms apply.
Free night certificates expire after a year once they are issued, which is the first limitation of using them. The second problem Marriott Bonvoy members might encounter is peak pricing at the most desirable properties.
For example, here’s next July’s availability for Domes Miramare, a Luxury Collection Resort, Corfu in Greece, a Category 5 Marriott property.
With the exception of a few one-off dates, nearly every date on the calendar requires 40,000 Marriott Bonvoy points, which means that your certificates valued up to 35,000 points can’t be used at this hotel if you want to stay there next July. This policy makes it so you can redeem the certificates at a hotel during standard dates but not peak dates at the same property, and that’s problematic.
» Learn more: Trouble using your Marriott free night certificates?
3. Points pooling is limited
Another complaint about the Marriott Bonvoy program is the fact that although points pooling is allowed, it has limits. Bonvoy members can transfer up to 100,000 Marriott points to another member and receive up to 500,000 Marriott points per calendar year.
The ability to transfer Marriott points allows program members to combine their rewards for a longer stay, which sounds great on paper. However, when you look at the award chart, you might notice that 100,000 Bonvoy points doesn’t get you far.
It’s enough to book one night at a Category 8 hotel during peak season, two nights at a Category 6 hotel during standard season or 20 nights at a Category 1 hotel during off-peak season. A Category 8 award night fluctuates from 70,000 to 100,000 points. During the standard season, it requires 85,000 points per night, so let’s use that as our target redemption rate.
If you and your travel companion want to both pitch half of the 340,000 points required to book four nights plus a fifth night free, you’re going to run into problems. Half of the redemption is 170,000 points, but one of you can transfer no more than 100,000 points to the other, which means one of the travelers has to front a lion’s share to book a stay at a high-category hotel.
When it comes to other chains, Hilton allows point pooling among 11 members, and each member can transfer up to 500,000 Hilton Honors points into one pool.
Hyatt lets World of Hyatt members combine points as well. There’s no limit to how many points you can transfer, but transfers can occur no more than once per 30-day period.
» Learn more: The best ways to rack up Marriott Bonvoy points
4. Bonvoy points valuation isn’t high
With Marriott Bonvoy points being worth 0.7 cent per point as per NerdWallet’s valuation, you’re going to need a lot of them to book a stay at a high-category property. Focusing on earning rewards with a co-branded Marriott credit card or by crediting your Marriott stays to the loyalty program is your best bet.
Keep in mind that Chase Ultimate Rewards® and American Express Membership Rewards transfer to Marriott Bonvoy at a rate of 1:1 as well. However, with these flexible points being valued from 1 to 2 cents each, it’s not in your best interest to convert them to Marriott and lower their worth.
If you’re looking to use flexible bank points for hotel stays, World of Hyatt offers a better option. The program’s award chart provides a higher valuation to Hyatt points at 1.9 cents each.
The bottom line
The Marriott Bonvoy program isn’t a bad one for a frequent traveler. The hotel chain offers a large footprint of properties, making it easy to throw a rock and find a Marriott hotel in most corners of the world. However, some improvements to the program, such as higher limits on points pooling or waived resort fees for elite members, wouldn’t hurt.
All information about the Marriott Bonvoy American Express® Card has been collected independently by NerdWallet. The Marriott Bonvoy American Express® Card is no longer available through NerdWallet.
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