Marriott Rewards is the rewards program of Marriott Hotels and is popular with frequent business travelers in the US. Marriott is the largest hotel company by the number of rooms – with more than 1 Million rooms worldwide. And with over 100 million members after the Starwood acquisition, it is the biggest hotel rewards program in the world (and the first I joined more than 20 years ago)! Find out if largest also means best below!
Who are they? Marriott has close to 5,000 hotels worldwide, and over 6,000 hotels in 110 countries if you count the acquired Starwood properties, giving you a lot of choices to earn and redeem points. With 30 brands Marriott covers a wide spectrum from midscale to luxury hotels, limited service to full-service hotels and from classic to stylish. Marriott has historically had a strong focus on the US, but the Starwood acquisition is more than doubling the number of hotels in Asia and Europe, making it more interesting for international travelers. They also have the highest number of luxury hotels, giving you more choices for aspirational dream vacations than any other hotel chain! For more details, check my Marriott Facts & Figures!
While Marriott and Starwood go through their integration, you earn & redeem points separately in both programs, but can transfer between the two programs to use your points at all of them! In this post, I focus on the Marriott Rewards program – for more detail on the Starwood program, read my Starwood Preferred Guest Program review!
Why should I care? Marriott is one of the largest hotel companies in the world, with more brands than any other, more rooms and more properties above the budget segment than any other. There should be something for every style, every budget and every type of stay on that list.
Marriott also has more stringent brand guidelines, so you are more likely to have a similar experience at different properties of the same brand than at Wyndham or Choice Hotels for example!
Earning Points: Marriott Rewards members earn 10 points per US Dollar on all charges at JW Marriott, Marriott Hotels & Vacation Clubs, Renaissance, Delta and Autograph properties. At Courtyard, Fairfield Inn and Springhill Suites, you earn 10 points per USD on room charges and at their long-stay brands Residence Inn and SpringHill Suites, it’s only 5 points per USD on room rates! Elite members earn a bonus of up to 50% on their base points. You can also earn points with the Marriott Rewards Visa Card, including a currently very high sign-up bonus of 100,000 points! Similar to other programs, they have a number of car rental, cruise or merchant partners to earn points with as well!
I value Marriott rewards points at 0.8ct/p, so the earn rate of 10p/$ reflects a value of 8% of your spend – that’s better than the big competitors IHG or Hilton, but not as good as Wyndham’s 10%!
Marriott runs regular promotions, like the frequent MegaBonus to earn additional points for your stays. Marriott Reward points expire after 24 months without activity, like paid stays, purchasing points or redeeming points or using the Marriott Rewards credit card!
Marriott offers the Marriott Rewards Visa card in partnership with Chase – you can earn up to 100,000 points for signing up (read more here) and get 15 nights status credit or instant silver. Because you also get a free night at a category 1-5 hotel each year, it’s a credit card worth to get and hold!
Redeeming Points: Marriott has an award chart with 9 categories and you need 7,500-45,000 points for a free night. Ritz Carlton hotels are handled separately and require 30,000-70,000 points per night! Marriott offers “Point Saver Awards” at select hotels that reduce the required points by up to 33%, depending on the category. And when you redeem points for 4 nights, the fifth night is free! Marriott also has cash & point rates, allowing you to redeem free nights for fewer points with a cash co-pay. The different rate options offer different value, so it pays to compare your options before making a booking!
Insider Tip: As you can see from the table, with the cash & point rate Marriott is essentially allowing you to “buy points”, similar to Choice Privileges or IHG Rewards Club, in some case below my value estimate of 0.8ct/pt, so this can be a very good option to consider!
Another potentially valuable redemption option are the vacation packages that include 7 nights plus United Airlines (or Avios) miles. For example, a 7 night stay at a category 6 hotel plus 132,000 UA miles for a flight would cost you 300,000 points. Because the 7-night stay alone would be 180,000 points (6*30,000 points + 1 free night), you basically “purchase” 132,000 UA miles for 120,000 points. Because I value UA miles at 1.5 cents/mile, this is a very good deal – you are “buying” them for only 0.73ct/pt or more than half off!
Since day 1 of the Starwood acquisition, you can transfer Marriott points to your linked Starwood account at a ratio of 3:1 and redeem your points for stays at any of the Starwood brands. It’s great to see Marriott move so quickly and this adds flexibility to the use of your points! This gives you access to another more than 1,300 hotels with a lot more upscale and luxury hotels, especially in Europe and Asia!
Elite Membership Levels & Benefits: Similar to other hotel rewards programs, Marriott Rewards has four levels. The basic membership enables you to earn and redeem points and you get free wifi during your stay. If you are not a member, it makes sense to sign up just for the free wifi! Silver status is achieved after 10 nights, Gold after 50 nights and Platinum after a wooping 75 nights, making elite status more difficult to earn than at Hilton Honors, IHG Rewards or Accor LeClub!
A sweet spot in the program is the Gold level that gives you free lounge access, including breakfast and happy hour, a treat usually reserved for higher the highest elite levels. They also offer a unique benefit with a published service guarantee: Gold & Platinum members will receive a guaranteed compensation, should they not receive the booked room category or worse, a room is not available and they are “walked” to another hotel! Another unique feature is the partnership with United with reciprocal recognition of elite levels. As a Million Miler (and lifetime Gold) at United, I receive Gold status at Marriott – a great benefit for me!
Since the acquisition of Starwood, Marriott has tried to adjust benefits like late check-out to align more closely with the very popular SPG Reward Program. The room upgrades promised to Gold & Platinum members are “based on availability” and my personal experience is very mixed – I’ve sometimes received nothing, like during my miserable stay at the Marriott Georgetown, sometimes “technical” upgrades to a higher room category with no noticeable differences, but rarely an upgrade to a Suite or significantly better room! You can see all the benefits below!
Who should sign up? With the large number of hotels, the broad range of brands and price categories as well as the highest number of luxury hotels, Marriott offers the most choices to earn and redeem points. Unique features like the United Airlines partnership and the service guarantees add benefits to the elite membership. If you have Gold or higher status with United, you should certainly sign up and link your accounts.
Because the “old” Marriott had the vast majority of their properties in the US, Marriott is most interesting for anybody mostly traveling in the US and only occasionally venturing abroad. With the acquisition of Starwood, you will get access to more stylish brands and a bigger footprint abroad, making Marriott Rewards more interesting to global travelers. Personally, I’ll look forward to the integration of the programs and expect to spend more time at Starwood and Marriott hotels because of it!