Your Guide to Marriott Award Stays
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Marriott Bonvoy fans: springtime is here. And so are those previously announced changes that affect redemptions using Marriott Bonvoy points. Gone is the convenient award chart that helped members understand just how many points they would need for an award stay. The way forward is a more confusing one since award redemptions will use dynamic pricing, similar to Hilton Honors’ less transparent system.
Dubbed “flexible point redemptions,” you’ll start to notice that the number of points you need will be aligned with the cash cost of a hotel night depending on the time of year and hotel occupancy. In some cases, you may pay less than you did previously, but in others, you’ll be paying more. That will be most likely at popular resort destinations where the nightly rate was already high, but points redemptions provided somewhat of a buffer from the splurge.
While it may be more challenging to plan ahead, don’t be discouraged. Marriott Bonvoy is still a solid program that can help you earn points and elite status to enjoy and redeem at more than 7,000 hotels and over 30 brands around the world.
How many points will I need for a stay under the new program?
Flexible point redemptions eliminate the once-helpful category system that gave members a guideline for how many points they needed for a redemption night. The old system was divided into Category 1-8 hotels, each of which had off-peak and peak pricing. Those charts are gone.
Under the new method, you will need to know your exact dates of travel to determine the number of points you’ll need to redeem. This can only be found by searching your preferred dates and location on the Marriott website or app.
In short: You’ll need to be more organized if you want to save up a specific number of points for a redemption.
Some good news
Luckily, Marriott Bonvoy isn’t ushering in this mega change all at once. Between now and the end of 2022, most properties will retain their off-peak and peak pricing range that they had previously in the category system.
While hotels are no longer categorized in the same way, the program is taking it slow, allowing members to still book the majority of its hotels within the former points range.
Let’s say you want to book the W Bogota, which, under the old system, was classified as a Category 5 hotel. Between now and the end of the year, you can still book the hotel under its old off-peak to peak pricing range of 30,000 to 40,000 points. You won’t find wild price swings above or below that points rate this year, according to Marriott.
Not a bad consolation prize as members digest these changes.
Not all hotels are as lucky. Marriott Bonvoy published a list of around 200 hotels where the redemption rate may be higher than what its previous category window charged. Some of these hotels will see redemption rates go up by as many as 30,000 points. Unfortunately for Marriott loyalists, the biggest price hikes include many popular hotels.
You’ll pay a lot more points going forward at hotels like these:
Paris Marriott Champs Elysees Hotel.
The Bodrum EDITION.
JW Marriott Essex House New York.
The Ritz-Carlton Laguna Niguel.
The Westin Maui Resort & Spa, Ka'anapali.
How drastic are the changes?
A closer look indicates that some of the changes aren’t that bad (at least, this year).
The Ritz-Carlton Maldives, Fari Islands
A one-night redemption on the dates we checked in September at The Ritz-Carlton Maldives, Fari Islands, showed a range of between 95,500 and 103,000 points.
It opened as a Category 8 property, charging between 70,000 and 100,000 points for a standard room redemption. While not a huge change, there is some inflation.
JW Marriott Orlando, Grande Lakes
A one-night redemption on the dates we checked in July for the JW Marriott Orlando, Grande Lakes, showed a range of between 41,000 and 56,000 points. Previously a Category 6 hotel, the property charged between 40,000 and 60,000 points for a standard redemption.
This hotel shows little change to the previous award chart range, so that’s good news.
Courtyard Chicago Deerfield
Previously a Category 2 Marriott Bonvoy hotel, Courtyard Chicago Deerfield was charging between 10,000 and 15,000 points for a standard redemption. A flexible date search for July showed the range remained similar between 10,500 and 15,000 points.
This example is yet another notch in the more-or-less-the-same category.
Is the 35K certificate impossible to use now?
If you earn a Free Night Certificate valid up to 35,000 points through a Marriott co-branded credit card, don’t give up hope. You can still use them, but you’ll need to know your dates of travel to check how much a redemption will cost. Since you cannot rely on the Category 1-5 system as before, it requires just a bit more effort on your part.
Still, you can secure a lot of value from them.
Coming soon is the addition of “Free Night Award Top Offs.” This program allows FNC holders to top off their award with as many as 15,000 points, effectively bumping its value to 50,000 points (the former Category 7 level).
With the option to use points in addition to the FNC, Bonvoy members may be able to get even more value from them than before.
» Learn more: The best uses of a 35,000-point Marriott certificate
How you can save points on a redemption
Since the new pricing system is based on seasonality and availability, the ability to adjust your dates will be key. That’s easier said than done for those wanting to travel for non-flexible dates, like holidays or school vacations.
But, if you’re flexible, can consider multiple hotels, can adjust your travel dates by a night or two, or are able to keep checking the Marriott website throughout the year (as redemption rates can fluctuate daily), you might be able to save some points.
Use the flexible date function on Marriott’s website, which just got a lot more valuable.
Get your fifth night free
Marriott still offers the extremely valuable fifth night free perk on award reservations, and staying five nights for the price of four nights can help you save a good number of points.
The discount is automatically deducted from the total cost in points for reservations of at least five nights. Since this perk is only for Marriott Bonvoy members, be sure you are logged into your account when searching.
» Learn more: Which hotels offer an extra free night on award stays?
Pay fewer points with Cash + Points
Another feature that is still in place is the ability to pay with a mix of Cash + Points. While there is no longer an award chart to follow, Marriott’s website will indicate how much of each you would need for a redemption night.
Standard redemption rates start at as little as $55 and 3,500 points. While the number of points needed may vary by night due to dynamic pricing, the cash portion will remain a flat amount at each hotel, no matter what the date.
» Learn more: Here's how much your points and miles are worth
For example, the W Bogota was charging 33,000 points on a night we checked in April, but also had the option to pay $100 and 16,500 points. That can be helpful if you are short on points or want to save points for another redemption later.
Earn elite status
Marriott Bonvoy awards its most loyal members elite status, which in turn earns more points. The bonus grows depending on your tier level, and sticking with one hotel loyalty program for your travels can expedite your points earning. With so many hotels around the world, Marriott Bonvoy makes it easier to find a property in your destination.
Elite status members earn upgrades and bonus points:
Silver Elites earn 10% bonus points.
Gold Elites earn 25% bonus points.
Platinum Elites earn 50% bonus points.
Titanium and Ambassador Elites earn 75% bonus points.
Book with Marriott credit cards
Marriott’s series of co-branded credit cards can lead to expedited points and elite status as well.
The Marriott Bonvoy Boundless® Credit Card (annual fee: $95) comes with instant Silver Elite status once approved for the card. Every card anniversary, you will earn a Free Night Certificate valid up to 35,000 points. Cardholders earn up to 6 points per $1 spent at participating Marriott hotels, 3 points per $1 on the first $6,000 spent in combined purchases annually at grocery stores, gas stations and dining, and 2 points per $1 on everything else.
The Marriott Bonvoy Business® American Express® Card also comes with instant Silver Elite status and a free anniversary night up to 35,000 points in exchange for a $125 annual fee once approved for the card. This card offers 6 points per $1 spent at Marriott properties, plus 4 points per $1 at U.S. restaurants, U.S. gas stations and on wireless telephone services. All other purchases earn 2 points per $1 spent. Terms apply.
Other Marriott credit cards to consider include:
The Marriott Bonvoy Bold® Credit Card ($0 annual fee).
Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant® American Express® Card ($650 annual fee).
Other ways to redeem Marriott Bonvoy points
If hotel stays are no longer your priority given the recent changes, Marriott Bonvoy offers plenty of other options to secure some value from those points. These include:
Flights. You can redeem them for flights directly through Marriott’s travel portal. Or you can transfer them to more than three dozen airline partners if you spot a redemption that might give you more value. You’ll receive 5,000 bonus miles for every 60,000 points transferred. Note that this transfer bonus does not apply to American, Delta, Avianca or Korean Air. The transfer ratio is 3:1 for most programs.
Marriott Bonvoy Moments. Cash in your points for experiences like concerts, award shows and sporting events. Many of these offer perks that you cannot easily buy like cooking lessons with a celebrity chef or VIP experiences at sporting events.
Gift cards. This redemption is hardly the best value for your points, but if you have few travel plans in your future, you can buy gift cards at dozens of retailers: $10 gift cards start at 5,000 points, up to $100 cards for 30,000 points. These include big names like adidas, Applebee’s, Barnes & Noble, Lowe’s and Sephora.
Shop. Redeem 10,000 points or less for numerous items through its Rewards Within Reach program. This includes everything from fashion to household items. It’s not the best use of points, but if there’s something you need, it can make sense to save some cash.
Donate points. You can redeem 2,500 points as the equivalent of $5 in donations, with 140,000 points equating to $500. Eligible organizations such as the Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals or the American Red Cross are available as options.
The new Marriott award system
Change can be hard for many people, and the loss of benchmarks needed for a redemption via award chart categories makes planning Marriott award stays admittedly more difficult.
But, for this year at least, the inflation cost of redemption nights doesn’t seem to be too drastic. Of course, every hotel will have its own set of circumstances due to demand, but most members won’t be out too many more points than before. Fingers crossed it stays that way.
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 2023, 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