When Marriott Points Acquisition/Use Makes Sense
Updated: Dec 23, 2021
Marriott credit cards are solid to have. I have 2, my wife has 1, and my dad has 1. Marriott is one of the top 2 brands (& Wyndham is the other) for most hotels in the world. My dad and I both had a lot of spending on Marriott credit cards this year, in part to get effectively 3x Marriott points per dollar on general spending during a bonus promo on Amex varieties up to $75k in $7500 increments, and as an added bonus, my dad got Platinum status from that $75k in spend on his Bonvoy Brilliant.
My latest Marriott stay was with a category 5 free night certificate with Club lounge access via platinum status in an upgraded corner room (via status) at the Marriott Marquis Washington DC.
While the room itself wasn't fantastic, it was nice enough for us and the location was in the central part of the city, diagonally across from a Ritz. We got good value for the certificate because of the paid rates at the time drastically exceeding the cost of the annual fee I paid for the credit card I used to get the certificate.
I have a lot of different kinds of points. Among hotels, I have 9 different kinds of points/similar:
Kayak Open Table Points
In some cases, I stick with the TPG valuations of points whenever considering using them as a baseline goal or absolute baseline. Sometimes though, I allow myself to go below, but really not liking to do so. For instance, sometimes I use the Chase Sapphire Reserve pay with points 1.5 cents per point, instead of the 2 cents per point TPG valuation. I have some exceptions though, where I won't consider any points booking under a threshold even slightly above the TPG valuation, and Marriott (TPG valuation of $.008/pt) is one of them.
With Marriott, I typically won't consider anything under 1.25 cents per point in redemption value (while the TPG valuation is .8 cents per point), and really prefer 1.5 cents or more because of the difficulty to effectively acquire them on a regular basis & alternative points options (i.e. the Capital One Miles card I have that earns 2 Capital One Miles per dollar on general spending, with a TPG valuation of $.0185 per Capital One Mile). The best Marriott card for getting points by multipliers is the business card, which I have, which earns 4 points per dollar on most multipliers (except 6x on Marriott purchases) and 2 points per dollar on everything else.
With some Amex cards with Marriott, there's an option to get extra benefits based on spending, and in those cases, it's good to factor that into the equation if you're spending specifically to reach that threshold.
Below I'll go over:
The Acquisition Problem
The Good Old Days
Limited Solid Acquisition Options
Solving the Booking Problem On Select Bookings
The Acquisition Problem
Beyond some limited options, the best possibilities for acquiring Marriott points aren't going to be on typical general and bonus spending like it is with many other cards due to the current Marriott line up of cards.
With IHG cards that's kind of obvious if you know much about points, while with Marriott, it's not as obvious. You won't find good options with transfers either, and I don't do any 50% promo transfers from Chase UR to Marriott due to the inferior value proposition of 1 Chase UR ($.02/pt based on TPG valuations) vs 1.5 Marriott Reward ($.012/1.5 points based on TPG valuations).
I don't typically use the card on the 4x categories on my Marriott Business card because of better options for the same purchases with other cards. Their business version has the best regular earning rates of any Marriott card, even surpassing their higher annual fee incurring Brilliant's 3x categories. For instance, why spend on the business card to acquire 4x Marriott Rewards ($.032 w/ TPG valuations on 4) on restaurants when I could get 3x Chase Ultimate Rewards ($.06 on 3)? I wouldn't even trade them for 4.5x Marriott Rewards during a 50% promo. That's not to mention my even better 4x Amex MR, $.08, on my Amex gold. Why get 4x Marriott on gas purchases ($.032) when I could get 8x Wyndham Rewards ($.088) on it with my Business Earner? Why get 4x Marriott on "wireless telephone services purchased directly from U.S. service provider" when I could get 5x on the Chase Ink Business Cash (transferable 1:1 to UR as long as you have an annual fee incurring variety of Chase UR) on the same purchases up to $25k/yr?
The Good Old Days
For reference below, the TPG valuations of the points I'm mentioning are:
Amex Membership Rewards: $.02
Chase Ultimate Rewards: $.02
Wyndham Rewards: $.011
The good old days of the SPG card's effectively 3x Marriott points on general spending unlimited (that my dad/company used to take advantage of for years before I ever got involved in helping them) are no more. The fantastic options of the old Hotel+Air Travel Packages experienced a massive devaluation (2nd article), and I only acquired 2 while they were available. I used one of those for 7 nights on my Honeymoon for the Vail Marriott Mountain Resort (rebranded and shifted from category 7 to 8 following a renovation as the Hythe) right before Christmas while using Chase UR pay with points on the Chase Sapphire Reserve for the relatively cheap prior nights. With that first package, I acquired 132k United miles and 7 nights at the highest category Marriotts of the time (which didn't include Ritz Carltons) for only 390k marriott points (the 2nd time around I opted for 120k miles with Alaskan Air, a strategy I should have gone after the first time due to acquisition difficulties of acquiring points from [& the value of] Alaskan Air, Japan Air, Asiana, etc.). I added 5k points per night to ensure that we had a fireplace, and my gold status at the time got me upgraded to a mountain view room.
Images courtesy Marriott.com
The changes to the Marriott program when SPG and Ritz merged with them didn't all happen at once. They eased into things to reduce uproar over the changes. I took advantage of the Ritz Carlton Central Park before that and many other hotels transitioned from category 7 to category 8, since in the first year after the merger, there was no category 8. When we went, we got fantastic value out of the reduced rate $150/night club lounge access. While we didn't do all our meals there, we easily could have. If you're unfamiliar with Ritz lounges, even their Category 5 options, like the Ritz Carlton Tysons Corner that my wife & I have also stayed at, has sufficient lounge options for breakfast, lunch, and dinner very comfortably. Comparitively, Hyatt grand Tampa Bay, which we have also stayed at with lounge access, doesn't have the kind of food that could make a suitable lunch, and neither does something in the Marriott portfolio outside the Ritz like the Marriott Marquis Washington DC where we recently stayed. Personally, the idea of 3 fantastic meals for 2 for $150/day was quite a bargain. The first night at the Ritz Central Park, they even had caviar. I'm a foodie, so when I made a review about the hotel, almost all I could talk about was the food, primarily in the lounge.
Limited Solid Acquisition Options
While I often check Marriott points options, I don't often book them due to the difficulty of acquiring them outside of the following viable options:
1. sign-up bonuses are a fantastic option for points and certificates for Marriott stays during promo periods. (I relatively recently took advantage of a sign up bonus to nab an all time high 5 50k certificates on the Bonvoy Boundless)
Image courtesy Marriott.com
2. additional 1x on general spending on some Amex cards (I signed up my Bonvoy Business & my dad's Bonvoy Brilliant) on a recurring basis up to $75k/yr, though this year that spending was sadly limited to the primary cardholder, when most of my spending on the business card is typically via authorized users. That said, when on the Brilliant, that also gave him Platinum status for the first time in his life.
3. promo points purchases (i.e. this one for $.0781 cents per point, though if you're only redeeming for the TPG value of .08/pt, you're still losing money on time and taxes if booking for a non-deductible expense; keep in mind I am not a CPA & am not giving tax advice.)
4. If spending at a Marriott, especially on the Brilliant or Ritz cards if using their $ stay perks/credits. The spending gets 6x w/ annual fee incurring cards - though I wouldn't always recommend it if you have a promo elsewhere, i.e. using an Amex platinum to book a Fine Hotels + Resorts to snag benefits if you don't have Marriott Platinum+ status & aren't chasing status)
Solving the Booking Problem On Select Bookings
Booking Marriott properties with certificates and getting value vs. your annual fee is easy, while getting solid value out of points is much more difficult.
Here are a few tips for that:
Have a goal value in mind that you won't redeem under, and establish that goal mathematically compared to other points and cash alternatives that you already have and even some that are available even before you have them. Consider, for instance, options like the Alliant Visa Signature Credit card as a baseline whether you have it or not when considering general spending. With it, you can earn 2.5 cents per dollar spent without an annual fee on up to $10k/billing cycle while keeping $1k in a free Alliant High Rate checking account. If you're spending primarily on general spending on your Marriott card, and redeeming for anything less than 1.25 cents per point (since Marriott's annual fee incurring cards get 2 points per dollar on general spending, and $.025/2=$.0125), you would have probably been better off using $ on the same hotel and acquiring the $ via an Alliant Visa card. While I don't have one of these cards currently (though if possible I will likely convert my current Alliant card after setting up a $1k checking account), it's a solid baseline to consider for any cashback purchase. Keep in mind as well that a card like that can get you more than 3 Marriott points per dollar on general spending if you take the 2.5 cents per dollar and buy Marriott points when they are sold for <$.008/pt. If you are doing non-bonus general spending on the Bonvoy business just to get the 35k certificate after $60k, you would have been better off using a card like Alliant and then buying points when they are under $.008/pt.
Keep in mind the 5th night free on Marriott points.
If you have status with Marriott, consider that when determining whether or not you'll use Marriott points vs other points, as well as your status with those other points if applicable. Gaining status is easy with many Marriott branded credit cards, and holding both a personal version and business version can get you 30 nights per year (counting toward both annual status and lifetime status) by itself. Even holding non-Marriott branded Amex platinum or business platinum gives you Marriott gold status, but platinum is where the major difference in value comes due to many more hotels with free breakfast opened up, upgrades up to standard suites, lounge access at many (but not all, i.e. Ritz) properties with lounges, and more. Of course, when comparing with cash, there's no need to do any math here since you'll typically get the same status options whether using $ or points. An exception would be with the Ritz card at Ritz's while using the credit or lounge pass where cash is king, but I digress. Knowing the amenities available by brand within the Marriott brand can be complicated, but quite rewarding.
Pay attention to bonus promos on stays.
The more diversified your points are between programs, the more value you can get.
Don't rule out staycations & close options if you have a drivable viable redemption. My wife hates flying & trains due to motion sickness difficulties, but even if she didn't hate flying, the drivable category 5 Ritz Carlton Tysons Corner is fantastic, especially if you don't have gold status or higher (since Ritz doesn't do much for those with status) or have the Ritz credit card.
While all tiers of Marriott have viable points options, some of the best are in the top tier (think Maldives or Al Maha). That said, I've seen >4 cents per point in the 1st tier as well. I've seen over double that when looking at high value off peak category 1 $+ points options. That category is currently a flat 1500 points + $55, so if using it for a $140 stay that's ($140-$55)/1500 pts = $.057/pt
Booking during a major holiday, festival, or other event is one of the best strategies you can use with the current program to maximize value on or very close to the location of the event can be unusually valuable uses of points. With the program about to go more dynamic, that won't be as valuable, but still important. Think New Years Eve in Times Square, where some of the most valuable per point redemptions happen and where you need to book far in advance often, but not always, to snag something. Even today, 9 days prior, there's still an option for Times Square with Marriott.
If you've only ever considered Marriott 50k certificates for category 6-7 properties, it's important to note that there are cases where even category 5 properties can be a solid use of them.
For instance, The Miami Boat Show is essentially on location at the Miami Marriott Biscayne Bay. Using 80k points and 2 50k free night certificates, they're getting over $2600 in value.
The person I booked for has platinum status, so the property's club lounge (if open, and it's supposed to be starting next month) & the possibility of an upgrade up to a standard suite isn't even factored into the value proposition here screenshotted or mentioned above. They achieved status via spending on the Bonvoy Brilliant, not by getting 50 nights, otherwise now would be a decent (though not ideal) time to use 4 free night certificates to get an additional $800 in value.
1. As long as you have superior alternatives, whether now or in the near future, don't waste a large portion of your spending on Marriott credit cards except to have more points diversity, during promotions, etc. Spend where it counts best and get points via:
a. points purchases for less than $.008/pt during promo periods
b. promo spending
c. sign up bonuses
d. spending at Marriotts
2. Be sure to establish a threshold of value of Marriott Rewards that you won't go under vs. cash stays based on your current cards, the cost of points in cash, and if you're like me, even some cards you might not have yet like the one with Alliant for 2.5 cents per $ spent on general spending up to $10k/bank statement. The Bonvoy Business provides a 35k certificate after you spend $60k in a calendar year. If you don't want to do any math, I suggest 1.25 cents per point minimum for redemptions.
3. Be sure to be on the lookout for ways to maximize value again and again, whether taking advantage of 5th night free, status, or otherwise.
4. Maintain points diversity to maximize value across your accounts.