Bonvoy Case-Study: slashing the cost of a luxury vacation
By Neil McPherson
14 December 2019 original article
3 January 2020 updated to provide more detail in each step and to discussion showing how to use tables to select points vs cash vs both.
This Marriott Bonvoy case study is based upon Marriott Bonvoy Terms & Conditions dated November, 2019.
Marriott Bonvoy is a quite flexible loyalty program, with a host of features. There have been many changes made to it in the short time of its existence and the complexity has created a lot of uncertainty over using the program.
Imagine if you had a roadmap that cut through the clutter and complexity and showed you how to best get the stay you want, in a way that makes use of Marriott Bonvoy features..
This case study does just that. It shows a practical step-by-step process for a specific scenario, illustrating how you can apply it to your own situation for maximum benefit at least cost.
It is detailed, so grab a cuppa and settle into your favourite chair for the read.
Bonvoy Case Study Scenario
This study is based heavily on what I did myself recently, so I know it works. The only change is that I reduced the current balance of points, so that I could illustrate more points in the discussion.
Planning a week holiday (6 night stay) for 2 people at the Sheraton Mirage Gold Coast resort (that's it pictured above) in late January (summer time with great weather and it's our final re-charge before getting into back into full swing with our work activities). Being near the end of school holidays, this is also peak period for rooms at this Category 5 property.
I have a current Bonvoy balance of 22,000 points.
The obvious options are to make my booking are to either:
- spend cash
- buy more points
- transfer points from a credit card.
Latest Points Promotion
As noted in News & Views recently, Marriott held a promotion (ended 22 December 2019 ) selling points at a 30% discount to their usual price of USD 12.50 per thousand. This cuts the price to USD 8.75 per thousand (approx AUD 12.90 or GBP 6.85).
Does this make buying more points over spending cash more attractive for bookings?
Is there a better way?
Key Features to Use
As well as being able to purchase points, the program also offers the following key features for Bonvoy members:
- AMEX AU member rewards can be converted in Bonvoy points at a rate of 3 MR points = 2 Bonvoy points. Other cards (and AMEX cards in other regions) may have different conversion rates.
- Points Advance - this feature allows a member to book a room with a partial payment of points and the remainder of points to be redeemed at least 14 days prior to the booking. The room is booked, but the final amount of points to be paid may vary until the amount is paid in full. All members can use this feature.
- Cash+Points - offers the ability pay for a night with a combination of points and cash. The cash portion is fixed for each property category and the number of points required varies depending on whether a particular room is priced at time of booking as standard, peak or off-peak rates. Once booked, the cash price and number of points required are fixed, All members can use this feature.
- PointSaver - special promotions where a limited number of properties offer award nights at a substantial discount. The promotions are quite regular and the properties change each time. Australian properties do not participate very often.
- Stay for 5, Pay for 4 - All members are eligible to use the Stay for 5, pay for 4 benefit. The member books a rewards stay for 5 consecutive nights, but need only redeem points for (the most expensive) 4 of them,
Step 1 - check property category and both cash and points prices
Login to your Bonvoy account and search for the Marriott destination(s) you like. You will see the category of the property as part of its description. Note that our desired property is classed as category 5.
Once you have determined the category, the table below shows the amount of points and Cash+Points properties in each category require per
night, which are fixed. The one we like is category 5, in peak it costs 40,000 points or AUD 200+21,000 points per night.
After selecting the property on the Bonvoy destinations page, we see that prices for Bonvoy members range from AUD 389 to AUD 503 per night for flexible bookings and AUD 350 to AUD 452 if prepaid (in both cases the most points are for Saturday). The table below summarises the pricing for each night of our planned stay.
Table - summary of pricing per night for a standard room in late January 2020.
Step 2 - check PointSaver promotions
Unfortunately our desired property isn't one participating in the current PointSaver promotion.
Step 3 - check points promotions
There is a current Bonvoy promotion selling points at USD 8.75 per thousand, with a temporarily increased cap of 100,000 points during the promotion period. I haven't bought any points earlier this year, so I could buy up to 100,000 points for USD 875, giving me a total of 122,000 points. Well short of the 240,000 points needed for 6 nights (or even the 200,000 points required by using the Stay 5, pay for 4 awards feature).
Step 4 - identify which is best - cash or points or both
After checking our guide, we see from Table 1 - cost converted to cash for Marriott award nights (reproduced below, adjusting for the promotional pricing) that for a Category 5 property during peak period, the best pricing is from using Stay 5 Pay for 4. Best times to use this feature are in green, but values in red are times of lowest value. So the good Cash+Points strategy can be improved on even more.
Without sufficient points to use in full, with the current discount for points purchases, I could "Buy Stay5, Pay4" by
purchasing points, effectively paying USD 280 (AUD 400) per night.
Table - USD cash equivalent of various payment strategies points available at USD 8.75 / thousand
Note from the table that during a peak pricing period:
- If staying 5 consecutive nights or longer, the Stay for 5, Pay for 4 awards benefit is consistently among the best options. If you have sufficient existing points it is consistently best. If you need to buy points to redeem, it is generally about the same or slightly better when the promotional price is 30% off points.
- If there is no discount on points, the PointSaver is second (when available).
- The numbers in red are the lowest value for money. If you are staying less than 5 consecutive nights, even when points are being sold with a 30% discount, there is almost always a better strategy to use than these ones..
- When points purchases are cheap, using existing points is best, followed by purchasing more points to top up.
Without the promotional pricing, the table would instead look like this:
Table - USD cash equivalent of various payment strategies points available at USD 12.50 / thousand
Note from the table with no discount on points pricing that:
- If staying 5 consecutive nights or longer, the Stay for 5, Pay for 4 awards benefit is consistently among the best options. If you have sufficient existing points it is consistently best. If you need to buy points to redeem, it is generally about the same or slightly better when the promotional price is 30% off points. If there is no discount on points, the PointSaver is second (when available and not if you need to purchase additional points).
- The numbers in red are the worst options and are to be avoided.
- If you are staying less than 5 consecutive and PointSaver is not available, Using Points (for either individual nights or the Stay 5, Pay 4) is the best option. Unsurprisingly, buying points for any strategy generally is not effective
- Cash+Points is always going to be better than purchasing points.
- Cash+Points provides exceptional value at times when you are getting more value than USD 12.50 per thousand (eg category 3 at standard times or category 7 at off-peak times).
Additional tables for standard and off-peak pricing are included in our Marriott
Step 5 - work upwards, selecting the cheapest option night-by-night
The table below summarises what we are working with. The cash price is cheaper than buying points to redeem on every night except Saturday (when we plan to return in any case). Our stay is for the 6 nights from Sunday to Friday inclusive.
|Points Required (peak)||Buy points
(@ USD8.75 / thousand)
|Buy points (AUD)|
|Total Sun-Fri nights||2,485||2,236||240,000||3,000|
- Use Cash + Points (pay USD 7.37 per thousand points - pay less than our valuation of USD 8)
I only have 22,000 points, so I use 21,000 of them + USD 140 (AUD 200) and book for the most expensive night (Friday),
The cash portion provides no new rewards points, but the stay receives full credit for elite status calculations..
- Stay for 5, pay for 4 awards (pay USD 8.75 per thousand points - pay a little more than our valuation of USD 8)
If I had enough points (60,000 to supplement the 100,000 maximum to buy), I could use this feature to book for almost the entire stay and
earn one free night. The free night is the cheapest (Sunday). The table above shows that buying
at the discounted price will make this strategy still work.
The points required for 4 paid nights cost USD 1,400/AUD 2,000 (for 160,000 points or USD 8.75/ AUD 12.50 per thousand points) .
The stay uses all points for the purchase, so does not earn points. However, it receives full credit for elite status calculations.
- Stay and Save (pay USD per thousand points)
Not having enough points for the Stay 5, Pay 4 option, I use this feature to book for the Sunday through Thursday. For paid stays of 5 nights or longer, there is a 20% discount off the best available room rate (currently peak pricing for a standard room on all nights).
This worked out to be about 10% below the daily prepaid rate.
Note that the stay is prepaid (and non cancellable) but qualifies for both reward points (approx 15,650 ) and tier
- prepaid deals from OTC's such as Expedia etc do not qualify for either.
|Total Sun-Fri nights||1,608||21,000|
|Total Value paid for 6 nights||AUD 1,849|
By following these steps, we paid a total value of AUD 1,849 (value of points is USD 8 or AUD 11.43/thousand) compared to AUD 2,485 (member flexible rate) or AUD 2,236 (member pre-paid) - a saving of over AUD 380 or more than 17% of the daily pre-paid rate.
Use our table/calculator to work out the sequence in which to use points or cash. Then work through, filling each night step by step using the cheapest option at each step. You too could save hundreds!
Now all that's left to do is the fun part - making your Bonvoy booking! Hopefully somewhere you like as much as we like this...
Rules of Thumb for booking Bonvoy Stays
If your stay is for 5 or more nights, Stay for 5, Pay for 4 awards option is always cheapest for all categories, regardless of whether:
- the room is priced as standard, peak or off-peak
- points are at their usual price or discounted by 30% (and anything in between).
When there is no discount on points purchases, PointSavers are always the next best option for all categories, during off-peak, standard or peak pricing.
So always check for PointsSaver promotions.
Sadly, Australian properties rarely participate.
When there is a 30% discount on points purchases, buying points to use the Stay for 5, Pay for 4 awards option is cheaper than PointSavers
Given the cap on points purchases, you will need to have some points already, before using this
There is almost always a better strategy than buying points at full price.
This table provides the key to deciding which strategy is best for you when booking a stay of less than 5 nights, assuming you already have sufficient points.
If there is no PointsSaver promotion for the property you want and your stay is for less than 5 nights:
- When points have a 30% discount, do not use Cash + Points for either Category 1 or category 8 properties (shaded red).
- If booking for a peak period, using Cash + Points is cheapest for categories 3 through 6 (shaded green).
- For standard pricing, Cash + Points is cheapest for categories 5 and 6.
- The unshaded areas are the trickiest. You need to compare the cash price online to the number of points required multiplied by the best price at which you can buy them. To do this:
- Go online and check the cash price and the number of Bonvoy points required for your preferred dates
- Divide the cash price by the number of points required. If more than 0.0125 then buying points is best.
- If between 0.0125 and 0.00875, then if you plan ahead you may be able to buy points as low as USD 8.75 per thousand in a promotion. But you will need to make sure that you don't miss out. If you don't want to take this risk, then book paying cash.