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Reconsidering Marriott – Why I’m Returning to the Chain I’ve Long Avoided

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Disclosure: Miles to Memories has partnered with CardRatings for our coverage of credit card products. Miles to Memories and CardRatings may receive a commission from card issuers. Opinions, reviews, analyses & recommendations are the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, endorsed or approved by any of these entities. Links in this post may provide us with a commission.

Marriott Bonvoy Program

Reconsidering the Marriott Bonvoy Program – Why I’m Probably Heading Back

Whether I knew it or not at the time, our last stay at a Marriott hotel was several years ago (until recently).  We stayed at a TownePlace Suites for a couple months after relocating.  It was the only time I ever redeemed Marriott points, but I used all of them!  We enjoyed the  Category 2 property – primarily because we were upgraded to a one bedroom suite with a separate den, in addition to the kitchen we planned on.  With that unsexy, but highly useful, points redemption, I felt we had peaked with the Marriott program.  For a few other reasons, some which I mention below, we gave up on Marriott after that stay.  But now, I’m considering the Marriott Bonvoy program again.  Here are the reasons why.

UPDATE:  Less than a day after this article’s release, we’ve heard that Marriott is moving to dynamic pricing in March 2022.  Below still applies for my situation, but I admit using the FNC’s will be a bit more challenging with the news.

Some of these offers may have changed since posting.

Marriott Bonvoy Program
Amex Marriott Bonvoy Business card.

An Offer I Can’t Refuse

It’s not backed by Vito Corleone, but I find the current Marriott Bonvoy Business Amex offer a no-brainer to pursue.  Amex is currently providing 125k Bonvoy points with $5k spend within the first three months of holding the card.  If that isn’t enough, new cardmembers also obtain two free night certificates redeemable at Marriott properties which normally charge up to 50k points per night.  And last, but certainly, not least – the excellent Amex referral bonuses!  By simply referring me to any Amex card, my wife will obtain 15k Membership Rewards plus an extra 4x points on up to $25k spent in the next three months.  The welcome offer is juiced, and the 50k FNC’s are much more feasible to use at a variety of properties.  This is probably the time for us to dive back in.

Marriott Bonvoy Program
Amex Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant card.

The Future Is Bright

As solid as the Bonvoy Business Amex card offer is, the Amex Brilliant card is pretty attractive, as well.  The offer on that card is currently at 150k points on $5k spend, plus a free night certificate good for up to an 85k point property.  Rumors have swirled about the hefty $450 annual fee increasing, but so has talk about increasing benefits which far outweigh the potential new fee.  And the key for me is I’m still eligible for this card after applying for the Business version.  Therefore, I can substantially plus up my paltry Bonvoy balance in a short period with these two cards.  These offers are the wake up call for the next item I’ll discuss.

My Hubris Has Obstructed Rewards

I largely gave up on Marriott around the time of the Starwood merger a few years back.  I had historically been a top-tier SPG member and enjoyed their program for years.  I’d become accustomed to the impressive value of SPG points, both on the earning and redemption sides.  I don’t recall the exact calculation, but I remember the obvious SPG point devaluation based on the evolving earning and redemption structure.  That’s where my withdrawal from SPG (and Marriott) started.  Looking back now, I realize I’ve been good-old-daysing it ever since that point.  I had gotten such great value out of SPG, I couldn’t get over that the next iteration was worse than the previous one.

I now realize that I’ve been passing up on solid rewards by holding onto the past and pouting about the current version of the program.  Sure, the rewards may not be as valuable as before, but they’re still worth earning and redeeming in my situation.

There’s More to Life Than Breakfast

If the effective SPG devaluation was the beginning of the end with my previous Marriott life, the breakfast mess was the final straw.  Marriott, lest we forget, created the most convoluted breakfast benefit upon the SPG merger, for elites and others.  I, admittedly, still don’t get it, but I’ve come to the conclusion it doesn’t matter enough to me!  It’s a freaking disaster, in my opinion, but I shouldn’t give up on Marriott’s rewards just because the breakfast benefit is confusing or less beneficial than other chains’.  I’m now at peace collecting a bunch more Marriott points and figuring out breakfast as I go along.

A Pleasant Experience Recently

I just burned some Amex Platinum Fine Hotels and Resorts credits at the Ritz Carlton Tysons Corner.  I had an excellent experience at the property.  Of course, the FHR benefits skewed the stay a bit, but it reminded me I should probably try again with Marriott.  Back in my previous Marriott life, I do recall receiving consistently exceptional customer service, particularly from their full service hotels.  Why turn that down?

The Royal Hawaiian.

Curiosity

I’m increasingly curious about Marriott properties – new, old, and upcoming.  The Swan Reserve is at the top of my list to check out.  I’m interested in legacy SPG properties to see how they’ve evolved (or not) since joining Marriott.  While many may consider the brand mundane, I’ve always loved Sheraton hotels and am interested in staying there more.  We’ve stayed in a variety of St. Regis hotels, and I’m excited to explore their newer properties and older, familiar ones again.  We absolutely loved The Royal Hawaiian before kids, and we look forward to experiencing it a second time, this time with them.

Strengthening Our Travel Freedom

Maximizing our travel freedom is a huge priority for us.  By acquiring more points with more chains, our loyalty is less dependent on any one program.  When any one hotel program devalues, it’s less of a hit when I have plenty of other programs to depend on.  I’ll keep adding more points and programs to mitigate.

I’m earning Bonvoy points on free spend, most notably via the Amex Platinum’s Fine Hotels and Resorts credit.

I Fell into Earning Bonvoy Points

Without any significant effort, I’ve ended up earning Bonvoy points.  All of these earnings are from free spend opportunities – primarily via Amex benefits.  Thanks to the Uber/Marriott partnership and Amex Uber credits on the American Express Gold and Amex Platinum cards, I’m earning 2x on Uber Eats orders without going out of pocket.  And I earned thousands of points from my recent Ritz-Carlton stay on FHR credits.  These earnings are relatively insignificant.  But only after earning these points did I initially decide to research the updated Marriott Bonvoy program more deeply.

Conclusion

What’s next?  I’ll apply for the Marriott Bonvoy Business Amex card.  Watch – after this much thought and writing, I’ve probably jinxed myself, and I won’t get approved.  Regardless, reflecting has reminded me to get over a lot of stuff now and then.  Devaluing programs, confusing benefits, myself, even the passage of time.  At this point, I have enough points for a stay at a Category 1 or 2 property, anyway, so I guess I’m invested at a very minor level.  I’m excited to see what happens next.  How do you currently feel about the Marriott Bonvoy program?  How has your opinion changed over time?

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Benjy Harmon
Benjy Harmon
Benjy focuses on the intersection of points, travel, and financial independence (FI). An experienced world traveler, husband, and father, he currently roams throughout the USA close to expense-free. Benjy enjoys helping others achieve their FI and travel goals.

Responses are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

31 COMMENTS

  1. Curious if you’ll revisit your stance given the announcement today. Signing up for the business card to get free nights doesn’t cost much but would you really start participating in the Bonvoy program or are you actually saying you’ll stay at a Marriott property if it makes sense.

    I see the Hilton “no award chart” comparison but except for a few Hilton properties, they do cap out at 89k. Marriott properties already cost 100k Cat 8 Peak and now they’ve said that there will be no cap which means we can reasonably assume certain redemptions will surpass 100k. It is also much much easier to earn Hilton points than it is Marriott. I can’t imagine anyone looking at the things they’ve done the last 2 years and saying, that’s a program I want to be part of.

    • Peter,
      Earlier, I added an update at the beginning of the article.

      In general, I won’t turn down points from significant welcome offers on low spend requirements, even if a program is devaluing. I can do this while also collecting other travel currencies, including Hilton points. My goals take priority over any devaluation, anyway.

  2. @Benjy

    As I mentioned yesterday how Marriott would issue 85k certs and start playing these stupid games. Didn’t take long. I truly don’t know how folks didn’t see this coming. After all, it’s Marriott!

    So yea, I don’t care about them tinkering with the idea of introducing an 85k cert on the Brilliant when they’ll just find a way to devalue them to what a 50k cert is worth today.

    • khatl,
      Gotta love the timing. I largely stick to what I’ve written, but those 50k/85k FNC’s definitely lost some of their shine with the dynamic pricing news.

    • came here to say this too…
      but I see BIG value in the cert top ups. very happy that’s going to be added. The question is, how dynamic will this end up being? will it be nearly perfectly tied to $ (like jetblue/southwest), or will it be more like fixed awards (still having peak/offpeak rates) and then switching to $ tied amounts as occupancy hits a certain threshold.

      • Mile,
        Great, nuanced questions here. I have a tremendously flexible schedule, so I’m interested to see how I can maximize the dynamic pricing structure. But Marriott may try to get ahead of people like me, as well.

  3. I have only stayed at Marriott once in the last three years or so (and not a lot before that). It was on July of this year at the Norfolk Waterside Marriott. I was using a 40K Chase annual certificate. They advised me I could check in early. I was in by 10 AM and they upgraded me to the Presidential suite and also gave access to the lounge. The suite included a dining room table table for eight, several sofas and other chairs, three TVs, full-size fridge, etc. Too bad I was solo and not putting on a party for a dozen or so people.

    Sometimes you get pleasantly surprised, rather than being Bonvoyed. You never know.

  4. I am a Globalist but realized sometime this year that it’s much more lucrative to be diversified. Hilton Diamond is hard to beat when traveling abroad.

    If you have both IHG cards, it’s hard to beat the value those points offer between fourth night free and 10% back on points.

    Marriott points are great and if you have the business and personal cards, you are more than half way to Platinum. Almost consistently, I have seen Marriott properties cheaper than Hyatt.

    Regarding Hyatt, they have great properties, but one can transfer UR to Hyatt and it’s relatively easy to earn 5x UR with category spending.

  5. Interesting. I’ve found free agency to be very rewarding. I used to be 150 nights/year with Marriott and now Marriott sees maybe 20-30 nights/year. These days, I align to product and convenience, finding hotels on TripAdvisor vs. Marriott.com. Sure, Marriott is everywhere, but there are often better options when you look across brands.
    If Marriott hadn’t devalued so substantially, I’d have more loyalty and continue with Marriott.com as my sole source for searches, but those days are long gone.

    I find that being off of the loyalty hamster wheel is quite liberating.
    -Lifetime Titanium

    • FF78,
      I definitely identify with your take. Being a free agent is a big reason I largely quit caring about elite status. I don’t think I’ll ever get to the version you’re alluding to – not dealing with loyalty programs at all. There are simply too many rewards there for me. While collecting their currencies, I balance out the pull from the loyalty programs by cashing out bank points for traveling the exact way I want and focusing on my goals.

  6. I’m going to hang on to my Ritz card as long as I can. Even more so if Amex increases the annual fee on the Brilliant. The $300 is super easy to use. A secure message and I can just about use the credit for whatever fee I want as long as it’s related to air travel despite them saying it’s just for incidentals only.

    It comes with a 50k free night cert and all of the travel benefits and protections of the CSR without the fee of the CSR.

  7. Both my wife and I are Hyatt Globalists. We love love love Hyatt but there just isn’t a big enough footprint with Hyatt. Many places there aren’t any Hyatt’s or they aren’t well located so we have to rely on Marriott as well as their footprint is so huge.

  8. My experience with Bonvoy has also been positive. I recently redeemed points for three nights in two different Residence Inns at ~1.2 cpp. Not glamorous, but the value was there. The other big factor is that there always seems to be 3 upscale and above Marriott properties for every Hilton, with Hyatts often nowhere to be found.

    • Brutus,
      Indeed, it’s hard to ignore the vast availability of Marriott, especially since I haven’t really experienced them since SPG joined.

  9. I concur with Jim. Though I don’t travel nearly as much as he does, my overall experiences with Marriott have largely been positive. I guess it helps that the bulk of my travel is leisure travel, so not having free breakfast and whatnot really doesn’t bug us. It’s a nice to have, but let’s be real, how often are we eating mediocre hotel food versus seeking out great, local options where we are?

    What’s more, Hyatt has been incredibly frustrating for me since many of the properties we enjoyed in the past now have ridiculous minimum stay requirements for award stays or simply don’t realize all that many “standard rooms” – even though there are tons of actual standard rooms. Sure, Globalists enjoy fantastic benefits, but I’m not one. For me, the ability to redeem at all is paramount.

    • Island Miler,
      Thanks for chiming in. As time passes, I’m feeling a bit more pragmatic about hotel breakfast, as well. As I’m a non-elite member of Hyatt’s program, I can identify with your take there.

  10. Subs aside, it’s really hard to get excited about these 85k certificates and the potential of something similar to some of the Bonvoy Brilliant.

    Marriott, like American Airlines can’t ever seem to get out of their own way and get it right. So while the 85k cert may be valuable at the moment, something tells me that is it becomes part of the Brilliant by way of higher annual fee, Marriott will create additional categories just to make the 85k cert about as valuable as the current 50k certificate.

    Stand by as Marriott will probably introduce a 9th and 10th category and will move the any hotel that can be achieved with an 85k cert into those higher categories, thus putting them back out of range.

    A stretch, maybe…but as we all know with Marriott, anything is possible…and it’s usually never good.

    • 2808 Heavy,
      I agree that beyond welcome offers, stuff with Marriott may get tricky. I’m not as gloom and doom about the future with Marriott, but the devaluations you suggest could eventually happen.

  11. Oh arnt you lucky. I’m all maxed out on bonvoy cards. Got all the SPG purples back in the day for 35k points and got a 100k brilliant upgrade and a 100k boundless card sub. So I’m basically lifetimed out except for churning the boundless and I’m 5/24. Dead in the water .

    • Mile,
      Yeah, I lucked out that I’m eligible for the Amex cards. It sounds like you did well with the cards previously. At the time, I doubt anyone could’ve predicted the wacky rules on the future Marriott cards.

    • rjb,
      I hear you. If I get Bonvoyed, I’ll at least have gotten the welcome offers. Regarding Hyatt, you may or may not see me there, due to their relatively limited footprint.

  12. I hope you do enjoy rejoining Marriott Bonvoy. Your reasons seem sound.

    I am currently Ambassador with Marriott for multiple years, Lifetime Titanium, was their old Platinum Premier (above Platinum Elite), made Lifetime Platinum under the original 1,000 night requirement. Under old Starwood SPG, before the merger, I was also Platinum, Lifetime Platinum, and some years was Ambassador. I am also Diamond with Hilton and off and on been Globalist/Old Diamond with Hyatt. Before Covid-19, I travel roughly 250 nights per year since the early 80’s. I have already travel about 150 nights this year and am in the middle of a 30 day trip right now between Marriott and Hyatt properties.

    I say all of this because, while I realize that even with all of my travels, it is still a narrow slice of pie experience and others may have totally different experience either the same same hotels or chains. My humble experience is that despite other people having problems with Marriott and apparently a much better experience with the old Starwood or with Hilton or Hyatt, I must say my overall experience with Marriott, old Starwood, Hilton and Hyatt, is that they are basically the same. Reasonably good overall, none of them perfect, but, none had a pattern of being bad. Therefore I continue to stay at all brands and earn top elite Ambassador with Marriott, Diamond with Hilton and even try to re-earn top Globalist with Hyatt.

    Thanks for your great article!

    • Jim,
      Thanks for reading and the kind words. As frustrating as any program can be, I agree there are things to like about most all of them. Count me in the “glass half full” camp with Marriott currently.

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