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Marriott Bonvoy - stay, join or go?

by Neil McPherson

Originally published 26 August 2019

Updated 14 November 2019 to incorporate cash-and-points analysis
Updated 3 January 2020 to include tables showing best strategies for points vs cash vs Cash+Points.
Updated 13 February 2020 for February 2020 Marriott Award changes and removal of "no black-out" policy of legacy SPG properties.
Updated 26 August 2020 for new properties' locations.

This guide is based upon Marriott Bonvoy Terms & Conditions dated February 2020

Introduction

Since its creation in 2019 from the merger of Marriott Rewards, Starwood Preferred Guest (SPG) and Ritz-Carlton Rewards, there have been many changes to the Marriott Bonvoy program.  In this review, we look at:

Contents

What is Bonvoy meaning?
How does th Bonvoy program work?
Summary of Marriott brands & locations
Bonvoy elite membership tiers & benefits
Earning Bonvoy points
Retaining your Bonvoy points
Using your Bonvoy points
Observations & Conclusions about Marriott Bonvoy
Bonvoy FAQ

What is Bonvoy?

Marriott Bonvoy is the loyalty/rewards program of Marriott. With over 7,800 properties and 30 brands following the takeover of Starwood, it is now the largest hotel chain in the world.

The programs of Marriott Rewards, Ritz-Carlton Rewards and SPG were combined late in 2018 and despite some initial scepticism of members and teething problems, at launch the resultant Bonvoy program mostly combined the best features of the earlier programs..

If you had a Marriott Rewards login or an SPG login (Starwood login or Starwood Preferred Guest login), they are now Bonvoy accounts (with new membership numbers, so now you have a Marriott Bonvoy Login. If you had accounts in more than one program, you are encouraged to merge what were Marriott, Ritz-Carlton and SPG accounts into a single account.

Under Bonvoy's T&C's each member is allowed to hold only one account.

How does the Marriott rewards program work ?

Marriott Bonvoy is free to join. Members earn points from their stays which can be exchanged for free stays (or other benefits). There are also “elite” membership tiers that have additional benefits for members who have a lot of stays at Marriott properties.

Properties are assigned to “categories” which have different amounts of points required in exchange for a “reward night”.  

In late 2019, peak and off-peak pricing was introduced and applied to rooms of all properties regardless of category.

Most properties participate in the program, however there are a number of exceptions (T&C 1.2 a) including, but not only, the following:

  1. Earn Points or Miles 

  2. Redeem Points 

  3. Members receive benefits except for the following:
  1. Complimentary Enhanced Room Upgrades,
  2. Late Checkout,
  3. Suite Night Awards, and
  4. Your24TM.


○      Hotel Ritz-London - London, UK
○      Bulgari Hotels and Resorts - all locations

Marriott Hotels Brands and Properties

Marriott’s brands cover the spectrum of types of stays, from long-term stays, basic hotels through to uber luxurious properties. The table below provides an idea of where each of their brands sits within the marketplace. Properties are located in major cities or resort locations.

With such a large portfolio of properties (more than 7,800 !), there is something to suit almost everyone.


Table 1 - Best Marriott's brands and approximate alignment with some competitor brands  (SPG hotels shown in bold)

Company Luxury Upper upscale Upscale Upper midscale
AccorHotels Sofitel, Fairmont, Raffles Swissôtel, Grand Mercure
Pullman, MGallery, The Sebel, Adagio Premium
Suite Novotel, Adagio, 
Mama Shelter
Best Western Hotels
WorldHotels Best Western Premier, Vīb, BW Premier Collection
Best Western Plus, Executive Residency by Best Western
Hilton Worldwide Waldorf Astoria, Conrad Hotels
Hilton, DoubleTree, 
Canopy by Hilton, 
Curio Collection
Embassy Suites by Hilton
Hilton Garden Inn, Homewood Suites by Hilton, 
Home2 Suites
Hyatt Hotels Corporation Park Hyatt, Grand Hyatt Hyatt Regency, Hyatt Hotels, Andaz Hyatt Place, Hyatt House Hotels, Hyatt Centric   
InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG) Six Senses, InterContinental, Regent  Crowne Plaza, Kimpton Hotels & Restaurants
Hotel Indigo, EVEN Hotels, Staybridge Suites, Holiday Inn Select, HUALUXE Hotels & Resorts

Holiday Inn
Meliá Hotels International Gran Meliá, ME by Meliá, Paradisus
Meliá, Innside
Marriott International Ritz-Carlton, Bulgari Hotels, Edition Hotels, JW Marriott Hotels, 
St. Regis, Luxury Collection

Renaissance Hotels, Marriott, Autograph Collection, Delta,Marriott Executive Apartment, 
Gaylord Hotels, W Hotels, Design Hotels, 
Westin Hotels & Resorts, Le Méridien, Sheraton,
 Tribute Portfolio
AC Hotels, Fairfield Inn by Marriott, Courtyard by Marriott, SpringHill Suites, Residence Inn by Marriott, 
Four Points by Sheraton, Aloft Hotels, Element Hotels
MOXY Hotels, Protea Hotels, 
TownePlace Suites
Millennium & Copthorne Hotels

Grand Millennium Hotels
Millennium Hotels, 
Grand Copthrone Hotels
Copthorne Hotels, M Hotels

Source: extract from wikipedia.org


The majority of properties are in North America (72%), followed by Asia (11%) and Europe (9%).

Chart 1 – August 2020 geographic spread of Marriott properties

August 2020 Geographic spread of Marriott properties

Source: Marriott Bonvoy hotel locations (summarised) where you can find more specific details prior to booking.


Table 2 – locations by Bonvoy hotel categories and points required per free night stay - Bonvoy redemption chart

Bonvoy redemption chart by category and  region


The differences between standard and peak/off-peak pricing varies by property category. Best value are categories 3 and 5 where the differential is +/-14%. Less value is found in category 1 (+/- 33%) and categories 2, 4 and 6 (+/- 20%) followed by categories 7 and 8 (+/- 17% and +/- 18% respectively).

The sweet spot under the peak/off-peak pricing schedule looks be category 5 (peak), which has loads of choices across Asia, APAC, Caribbean/Latin America, Europe and North America. In off-peak, category 6 has potential for very good value for North America, Europe and Asia.

Given that the definition of peak can be changed monthly, once you have identified where you wish to stay, you can check the points required by searching for the property on Marriott.com or the Marriott Bonvoy App and select the use points option. Then select "view rates" to view available redemption options.

points N places logo for travel tips TIP: If your desired stay is shown as standard or off-peak, book immediately. Then you aren't exposed to a redemption increase should the time of your stay be re-classified as peak. If you book at say the standard rate and it happens to later be re-classified as off-peak pricing for your stay, you could cancel and re-book at the lower points requirement (subject to room availability).


Bonvoy Elite Membership Tiers & Benefits

As well as general membership, there are 5 tiers of Elite Membership (and 2 more if you include lifetime versions of status). Assessment is based on stays made during a calendar year. Free night award stays count towards tier status (not only paid stays).

Table 3 – membership tier and qualifying criteria

Bonvoy tiers and qualifying criteria

Once tier status is earned, you are upgraded immediately. The new tier status lasts from the date of upgrade to the end of the following calendar year. You must requalify in that following calendar year, or your tier status will be downgraded one level (eg Gold to Silver).  

This is a  significant benefit, as one quiet year will not lead to you losing status entirely.

Table 4 – benefits by membership tier

A more complete list of benefits is shown on Marriott's internal Bonvoy tier benefits cheat-sheet.

The “sweet spot” tier of the program is Platinum. At this level, complimentary breakfast and room upgrades are available. Levels below this (the mid-tiers) are less compelling than other chains (eg Hilton Honors has complimentary breakfast for its Gold members – Marriott Bonvoy does not).

Earning Marriott Bonvoy points

The main way to earn points is through Qualifying Stays at Marriott properties. Points can also be gained through in-house spending (T&C 2.1.b) during a stay (some programs only reward you for the room rate), Bonvoy tours, selected flight partners, car hire, cruises and credit cards.
Points from credit cards can be earned directly (via a co-branded card) or may be transferred from a card at a set transfer rate that may vary across different countries of issue (eg Amex).

To earn points (and tier status) from a stay, you must book though Marriott reservations. If you use an online travel agency (Expedia etc), bookings will not be recognised.  Reservations can also be made by dedicated Bonvoy telephone numbers - handy if you have queries about particular properties.

Table 5 – points earning rates - Bonvoy points per dollar spent

Bonvoy points earning rates by activityNotes:

  1. For Element, Residence Inn, and TownePlace Suites - 5 points per USD
  2. For Marriott Executive Apartments and ExecuStay - 2.5 points per USD
  3. Tier bonus only applies if part of a member stay
  4. United Airlines Rewards Plus (Titanium & Ambassador only) earn both miles & Bonvoy points
  5. Emirates World Rewards members earn 1 Skywards mile per USD spent + Bonvoy points


A significant benefit of the Bonvoy program is the ability to “double dip” with two airline programs (where you meet their qualification criteria). Bonvoy offers a crossover benefit where from a stay you earn points for Bonvoy AND miles with either Emirates or United Airlines. You can also earn miles on the respective airline program AND Bonvoy from flights. If either of the airline programs suit you (and you have the minimum tier status required), this can be a great way to accelerate your points building.

Retaining Marriott Bonvoy points

Bonvoy points expire after 2 years if there has been no activity in the member's account (T&C 1.6.d). The account may be closed and all points forfeited after 5 years of inactivity. Fortunately, the program allows for a wide view of "activity":

Redeeming Marriott Bonvoy points

Using points for free nights is made easier by the “no black-out nights policy” for members, which means that participating properties have standard rooms available every day for Award Redemptions (T&C 3.2.n), subject to:

  1. Bulgari properties do not participate I Marriott Bonvoy at all
  2. Marriott Executive Apartments® and ExecuStay®.do not offer points redemptions (only earning)
  3. All  brands may limit the number of standard rooms available for redemption on a limited number of days.  Prior to February 2020, this limitation did not apply to legacy SPG brands. 
  4. The following properties still do not participate in the “policy” and so may have black-out periods:
    • Boscolo Exedra Nice, Autograph Collection
    • Carlo IV, The Dedica Anthology, Autograph Collection
    • JW Marriott Scottsdale Camelback Inn® Resort & Spa, Scottsdale, AZ
    • Marriott Vacation Club and Marriott Grand Residence Club – all properties
    • Rome Marriott Grand Hotel Flora, Rome, Italy
    • Waikoloa Beach Marriott Resort & Spa, Hawaii
    • Wailea Beach Resort – Marriott - Maui, Hawaii
    • Hotel Cala di Volpe, a Luxury Collection Hotel, Costa Smeralda, Italy
    • Hotel Pitrizza, a Luxury Collection Hotel, Costa Smeralda, Italy
    • Hotel Romazzino, a Luxury Collection Hotel, Costa Smeralda, Italy
    • Homes & Villas by Marriott International
    • North Island, a Luxury Collection Resort, Seychelles



Effective from mid-September 2019, Marriott has introduced a 3-tier redemption scale – standard (the January-2019 values) and peak and off-peak periods. The peak and off-peak periods will vary by property.

Marriott can also re-define these periods on as frequently as on a monthly basis.

Rooms at higher category properties can cost a lot of points.

Table 6 – cash equivalent of points required per free night stay. Use cash not points if less than the amount shown.

points N places logo for travel tips Bonvoy - points vs cash - redemption guidre
You should only use points to make your booking where the cost is less than the cash price required. For redemptions, our estimated Marriott Bonvoy points value is USD 8 per thousand (US 0.8 cents each). If you are getting less than this, you are better to pay the cash price.

TIP: Generally, for the same number of points, you could stay off-peak at a category 4 property or peak at a category 3 property. The same pattern holds true for other categories, except categories 6 and 7. Category 7 off-peak (50,000 points) offers better value than category 6 (60,000 points) at peak periods.


Cash-and-Points

An alternative to paying with fully with either points or cash uses Bonvoy's cash-and-points feature. This allows you to pay a fixed cash amount with a variable points component only. Based on the same caluation of Bonvoy points as above (approx. US 0.80 cents each):

To decide the cheapest way to book the room you desire, you need to know the cash price and how many points are required for your chosen room (determined by its category). Then you can compare the cash-only, points-only and cash-and-points options.

Note that cash + points redemptions:

How to use Marriott Free Night certificates

Various credit cards provide a Marriott annual free night certificate upon each anniversary of the account being opened. These certificates made Marriott category 4 hotels very popular.

Now that rooms have a 3 tier pricing model, the "value" of these certificates varies with the hotel category, depending upon whether a room is priced as peak, off-peak or standard.

The table below should help clarify this. Once you have an idea of which categories you can target for your redemption, you can find where you would like to stay and redeem your certificate. The best value Marriott card free night comes from any of the three cards with a 50,000 points Marriott certificate limit, when used for an off-peak stay at a category 7 property!

Table 7 – maximum points redemption of free night certificates and hotel categories

Maximum points redemption from Credit Card Bonvoy certificates

Stay for 5, pay for 4

A very attractive feature of the program is the “stay for 5, pay for 4” benefit. This was previously the Bonvoy 5th night free benefit (effectively a 20% discount on a 5 night award stay) but with the introduction of peak/off-peak pricing, it is the cheapest night, rather than the fifth night that is now free. So while the benefit may be a discount of less than 20% now, in practice this will only affect stays that straddle different peak/off-peak periods.

Points Transfers to other Members

Marriott Bonvoy now allows you to share points with other members.  .You can transfer a minimum of 10,000 points in a single transaction, up to a total of 100,000 points per calendar year.

This "pooling" of points is an attractive new feature, providing flexibility and the ability to reach your desired award night stays sooner.

This isn't very explicit in the T&C's, but at the bottom of the How to redeem points page on their website, you are told to "just contact Member Support to start sharing".

Points Transfers to Airline Miles (& vice versa)

Should you need additional airline miles, you can exchange Bonvoy points for airline miles with over 40 airline loyalty programs. The exchange rate for most airlines is 3,000 points to 1,000 miles. Exceptions are Jetblue (6,000 points to 1,000 miles), Air New Zealand (200 points to 1 mile) and United whose RewardsPlus bonus means you'll get 3,000 points to 1,100 miles.

Other uses for points

Other than hotel stays, Bonvoy points can also be used for:


Additionally, Marriott offers a variety of experiences (“Marriott Moments”) that members can use points to purchase, from tickets to sporting events to backstage concert passes. These experiences are very difficult to access normally, so this feature (now starting to be copied by competitors) can be a very good use of your points.

 To use points to book a room online, ensure that you select the box for “use points”. But what if you don’t have quite enough points to make the booking you desire?

How to top up your points for a dream redemption

  1. You can buy Marriott points (or another member may buy and gift them) through their points-buying service managed by points.com. Points.com is one of our advertisers and at no additional cost to you, we may receive small compensation should you use this link to make a purchase. You don't have to use our link, but we are thankful when you do - every little bit helps us to keep this site going. 
    1. The usual rate is USD 12.50 per thousand, with a minimum transaction of 1,000 points;
    2. You may purchase up to a maximum of 50,000 points in any calendar year (although this limit may temporarily increase during promotions).
  2. Points Advance (T&C 3.6) is a feature whereby members who seek to make an Award Redemption with an insufficient point balance may make the Award Redemption and either (1) purchase points or (2) gain sufficient points to use for full payment of the Award Redemption no less than fourteen (14) days prior to the member’s arrival date. Failure to redeem the points in time results in forfeiture of the points and the booking paid for in cash at the prevailing price (ouch). Points advance can only be used for stay-related redemptions (Free Night Awards, Upgrade Awards, Cash + Points Awards) not for other redemption options (flights, moments etc). Importantly, Points Advance locks in the booking, but not the points payable. If Marriott changes the property’s booking period from standard to peak, you will be required to pay the additional points.
  3. Cash + points (T&C 3.4) is a similar feature where the redemption has a fixed cash component (based on the property’s category) and the remainder is made up of points, the amount of which varies depending on whether the booking is standard, peak or off-peak. An important difference from Points Advance is that as you pay the Cash + Points upfront, you lock in both the booking and its cost.

Note that cash + points redemptions:

How to best redeem points or cash for stays

Our recent case study illustrates how good use of the bonvoy features can save you hundreds, without even needing to rely on purchasing points during promotional periods.

To decide which is the best strategy to use to book your desired property at the lowest price, first find the cheapest price you and (noting that this booking may be non-cancellable/non-refundable). 

Then compare this price against the cash equivalent of the best points strategy to use.  These are shown (in USD) in the detailed tables in Appendix 1.

Rules of thumb for the best points strategies are that:

  1. Stay for 5, pay for 4 is always the cheapest, if your stay is for a multiple of 5 nights
  2. Points Saver when available for your preferred property is generally the second best strategy.  Followed by
  3. For Categories 1, 2, 7, 8: using existing points.

Observations and Comments

Overall the Marriott Bonvoy program has tried to keep the best of its parent programs – Marriott Rewards and Starwood Preferred Guest or SPG.

  1. Some of the very aspirational properties that are quite pricey in points terms, but some simple activity strategies can prevent points from expiring while you save them for that (very) special trip. For the properties at which I have stayed, the Sheraton brands have been nicer than the Marriott ones in the same category, so I would tend to favour the SPG hotels where there is a choice.
  2. The stay for 5, pay for 4 benefit remains a good feature of the program, as does the cash + points feature. The no black-out days policy   appears  attractive on paper, but in practice the number of nights made available can be limited by each property (across all brands).. Some properties have  been known to deliberately restrict what they regard as a "standard" room so that they can limit supply that way too .
  3. Marriott Moments is also a great feature and one that Hilton (and reputedly soon also Hyatt) are copying. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.
  4. The introduction of the peak/off-peak pricing has reduced the benefit of the (still unique) Points Advance feature due to the lack of certainty on price payable.
  5. The program's range of properties and (either city or resort) locations is unsurpassed.

Overall, Marriott Bonvoy is a solid program with a great range of options. But in our What is the Best Hotel Loyalty program study, we found some competitors could be a better fit, depending upon a traveller’s particular patterns. Less so at the upper tiers of Titianium and Ambassador, but certainly at the lower tiers.

For the greatest flexibility (especially if you want the option to stay anywhere in the world) Marriott Bonvoy is a solid choice, but is likely to be more expensive than other choices for specific traveller types. It's special features means it retains some attraction, but the "enhancements" of the peak/off-peak pricing in 2019 and the savage devaluation of points effective from March 2020 have significantly reduced its attraction relative to other programs.

How to join Marriott Bonvoy

You can complete this form to join Marriott Bonvoy.

Or….you can be introduced via the refer-a-friend scheme & both receive 2,000 bonus points on your first 5 stays made within the first 365 days after you join.  Email me to request more details.

If you already have earned elite tier status with another program, you could request a Bonvoy status match. This is explained, together with a table showing what you can reasonably expect from a status-match from your current program, in the What is the Best Hotel Loyalty program study. To proceed to request the status-match, you can use the information (and hints) provided there.

If you are an owner of a  business, you will gain even more benefits by utilising Marriott Bonvoy Events.  There is no need to register separately for this program.


FAQ


Appendices

Appendix 1 - Best redemption strategy by category and pricing period

These tables help you to see what is the best strategy by property category and pricing (peak vs off-peak).

The tables compare the USD equivalents per night when

  1. using existing points,
  2. buying points or
  3. using cash.

Green highlights the best value, red the lowest value.

Periods when no discount on purchasing points:

Best redemption strategy - off-peak with no discount on points


Best redemption strategy - STD with no discount on points

Best redemption strategy - peak periods with no discount on points



Periods when 30% discount on purchasing points:

Off-peak

Best redemption strategy - off-peak with 30% discount on points


Standard

Best redemption strategy - STD with 30% discount on points


Peak
Best redemption strategy - off-peak with 30% discount on points