When Marriott Rewards merges with Starwood Preferred Guest on Aug. 18, many travelers may have questions about their award certificates. Whether it’s certificates from credit cards or how points options will change, many loyal Marriott Rewards guests may not understand how to optimize rewards after the merge date. With the new rewards chart, is it still possible to get great value?
For family travelers and those not seeking luxury hotels, or those who are confused on what to do with current reward night certificates, there are still a lot of great stays available.
The new Marriott Rewards categories
The new Marriott Rewards award chart will ultimately expand to eight categories in early 2019, but that’s not necessarily bad for travelers. Breaking down each of the new categories, Marriott Rewards members have plenty of options for their price range:
- Category 1 – 7,500 points per night: 392 hotels
- Category 2 – 12,500 points per night: 1,278 hotels
- Category 3 – 17,500 points per night: 1,958 hotels
- Category 4 – 25,000 points per night: 1,584 hotels
- Category 5 – 35,000 points per night: 1,132 hotels
- Category 6 – 50,000 points per night: 312 hotels
- Category 7 – 60,000 points per night: 149 hotels
- Category 8 (early 2019) – 85,000 points per night: 61 hotels
All of the Marriott hotels in categories 1-5 are available for 35,000 points per night or less. In addition, not all the properties in those categories are mid-range hotels. The luxury brand locations include:
- JW Marriott
- Ritz-Carlton Hotels
- St. Regis
- Westin Hotels and Resorts
Considering most Marriott Rewards credit cards come with a $95 annual fee, the annual free-night certificate presents a significant value. Even if the certificate is good for hotels 35,000 points per night and under, there are still plenty of opportunities to use it for a high-quality hotel stay.
Those already planning their next vacation should take a close look at the award chart before Category 8 goes into full effect. In some situations, it pays to book awards early, while in others, booking awards after the merged program becomes one could result in bigger rewards.
» MORE: Check out our Marriott/SPG merger transition checklist
Using award certificates from credit cards
For those familiar with using free-night certificates from credit cards, very little will change. When booking a Marriott hotel using an award certificate, you will attach it the same way you would in the past. When you arrive at the hotel, your free night should be visible in the system — but it’s never a bad idea to print out your confirmation just to be sure everything carries over correctly.
Of course, different travel credit cards may offer different anniversary award night certificate levels. If you hold multiple Marriott Rewards or Starwood Preferred Guest credit cards, be sure you are attaching the right certificate to the right program. Using a certificate valid for a hotel valued at 50,000 points or less on a 35,000-point hotel takes just a little value off the table.
» Learn more: Find the best hotel credit card for you
Using award certificates from vacation packages
Until the dust settles on the merger, travelers may not know where their outstanding Marriott Travel Package certificates will be applicable. As of Aug. 18, travelers will not be able to attach unused certificates to future stays until Sept. 18. During the 30-day period, those certificates will be converted from a category value to a maximum points value.
The good news is that if you hold a low-end category certificate, you may not lose much value, if any. Because the majority of Marriott hotels are available for less than 35,000 points after Aug. 18, you could have even more options for redemptions. But if you are holding a high-tier certificate, prepare to lose some value for your purchase.
The fine print about award certificates
Even though the award certificates are converting to a maximum points value instead of a category value, they can’t be used like points. That is: You can’t use a 35,000-point certificate to get two nights at a Category 3 hotel at 17,500 nights. Certificates are good for the number of nights they state.
In addition, certificates from Marriott Travel Packages may not be broken up between stays. In order to get the full value of the certificate, it must be used on seven consecutive hotel nights. It can’t be divided between a block of four nights, followed by a block of three nights at a different hotel.
How to maximize your rewardsYou want a travel credit card that prioritizes what’s important to you. Here are our picks for the best travel credit cards of 2020, including those best for:
- Airline miles and a large bonus: The Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
- No annual fee: The Wells Fargo Propel American Express® card
- Flat-rate rewards with no annual fee: The Bank of America® Travel Rewards credit card
- Premium travel rewards: The Chase Sapphire Reserve®
- Luxury perks: The Platinum Card® from American Express
- Business travelers: The Ink Business Preferred® Credit Card