As travellers around the world begin to chart out their future trips, travel brands are starting to think about the best ways to drive future business while recognizing that this is a time when consumers value flexibility more than anything else.
To that end, Marriott is launching a series of new travel offers aimed at those who would like to travel this summer and beyond, the most compelling of which is 20% off Marriott gift cards from today until May 17.
20% Off Marriott Gift Cards
During the promotion period, you can buy Marriott gift cards, denominated in US dollars, at a 20% discount directly from the Marriott website. The gift cards are available in the following denominations:
US$50 gift card for US$40
US$100 gift card for US$80
US$250 gift card for US$200
US$500 gift card for US$400
US$1,000 gift card for US$800
These gift cards do not expire, so they’re potentially useful for as much future travel as you’d anticipate, subject to a maximum limit of US$5,000 worth of gift cards per person per credit card per day. As the promotion runs for seven days, that means that each individual can buy up to US$35,000 worth of gift cards under the promotion, which should give you plenty of latitude for purchasing however much you’d need.
Note that the promotion is only valid on online purchases of electronic gift cards, rather than in-person purchases from any Marriott hotel that sells physical gift cards.
Moreover, they can only be used to settle bills for room rates and incidental charges at the end of a stay, so cannot be applied towards prepaid hotel rates; furthermore, Bulgari, Design Hotels, Homes & Villas by Marriott International, and The Ritz-Carlton Destination Club are four Marriott brands that do not accept gift cards as a payment method.
Should You Buy Marriott Gift Cards at 20% Off?
Marriott is the world’s largest hotel chain with a notable presence in the vast majority of destinations around the world, and I’m sure that many Canadian travellers are bound to frequent their properties at some point. Indeed, in Miles & Points circles, Marriott has been far and away the most popular choice for Canadians because of their popular Amex Bonvoy co-branded credit cards.
If you can see yourself staying with Marriott in the near future once it’s safe to travel again, then this is a fantastic opportunity to score a 20% discount on your stay, so I imagine many of us will be interested in making a sizeable purchase.
In many cases, getting a 20% discount on the cash rate can be a better deal than redeeming Marriott Bonvoy points, which helps you save your points for more valuable redemptions in the future.
Indeed, these days I aim for a target valuation of 0.9cpp (CAD) or 0.6cpp (USD) against the cash rate when I redeem points. With a 20% discount on the cash rate in play, I’d instead be aiming for a value that’s higher by 20% – thus, 1.08cpp (CAD) or 0.72cpp (USD) – when considering a points redemption.
Even though it’s clearly in the best interest of anyone who might stay with Marriott to make a gift card purchase, the question remains as to what amount of gift cards would make for a wise purchase.
Consider that cashflow is relatively tight for all individuals and businesses at this juncture. Marriott’s promotion is clearly designed to bring in some much-needed cash in the short term, so how much of your own cash are you willing to put up to cover your future accommodation expenses at a 20% discount, keeping in mind that there may still a great deal of uncertainty about the nature and timing of your future trips?
That’s something that only every traveller can decide for themselves, but I’ll share some of my reasoning in deciding how much in gift cards I’ll be buying.
My average annual spending figures with Marriott over the past few years have fallen in the range of US$3,000 to US$5,000 (leaving me hopelessly off-course from the top-tier Ambassador Elite status, unfortunately). I also generally shy away from prepaid rates, opting for the flexible rate on most of my trips even if it’s slightly more expensive.
While I’d love to buy enough gift cards to cover a whole year’s worth of hotel stays at 20% off, I think it’s also important to heavily discount that amount thanks to the overall uncertainty surrounding many of my trips. After all, there’s always a fair chance that even as someone who’s itching to hit the road as soon as it’s safe to do so, I may not end up being able to take some of the trips that I’ve planned at the moment.
Therefore, I’ll probably end up purchasing roughly US$1,000 to US$1,500 worth of gift cards, for an out-of-pocket spending of US800 to US$1,200. I’d be pretty happy with the savings there (especially when considering the favourable return when buying with the right credit card, as we’ll discuss below), while also avoiding putting up too much upfront cash at this time of uncertainty.
Which Credit Card Should You Use to Buy Points?
One Mile at a Time confirms that Marriott gift cards purchased at 20% off will count as a direct Marriott purchase, which codes under the travel category. This opens up some opportunities for additional savings by making your purchase with the right credit card.
Since the purchase is denominated in USD, a US-issued Marriott co-branded card like the Amex US Bonvoy Brilliant or the Amex US Bonvoy Business would maximize your return while also avoiding any foreign transaction fees. Both of these cards would earn you 6 Bonvoy points per USD spent on the purchase; if we value those points at 0.6cpp (USD) each, then that translates into an additional 3.6% savings.
By using the Bonvoy Brilliant, the purchase would count towards the card’s US$300 annual Marriott credit as well. Even if a Bonvoy Brilliant cardholder didn’t intend to purchase any gift cards for future stays, they’d do well to buy US$400 worth of gift cards for US$320, thus scoring them an extra US$80’s worth of Marriott credit compared to if they had simply redeemed the card’s US$300 annual credit directly at a future date.
You’d earn 5 Bonvoy points per CAD spent, which translates into around 7 Bonvoy points per USD spent at the current exchange rates. This would then be offset by the 2.5% foreign transaction fee, as well as the fact that the FX rates could always fluctuate by the time you redeem the gift card in the future.
However, with the gift cards coding as a Marriott purchase, there’s one clear winner in terms of the best Canadian credit card to use for this promotion: the Amex Platinum Card with its Double Rewards promotion. As a travel purchase, your Marriott gift cards will earn 4 MR points per CAD spent under Double Rewards (which equates to about 5.6 MR points per US dollar spent)!
Under Double Rewards, you could then redeem those MR points against statement purchases (potentially against the gift card purchase itself) at a rate of 1,000 MR points = $20. That means that you could score a further 8% return on your purchase; factor in the 2.5% foreign transaction fee, and we arrive at a total discount of 25.5% on your future Marriott hotel stays.
The above assumes, of course, that the gift cards code under the travel category. Since it’s been confirmed that the gift cards will be a direct Marriott purchase, I don’t see how they could code as anything else, but we’ll probably need to see a few actual data points in order to say for sure.
Later: Buy Marriott Bonvoy Points with a 60% Bonus
After the gift card promotion ends on May 18, Marriott will begin selling Bonvoy points with a 60% bonus until June 30.
That’s equivalent to a value of 0.78cpp (USD) when buying Bonvoy points, which I don’t personally find worthwhile given that my valuation of Bonvoy points is lower at 0.6cpp (USD).
Moreover, these purchases would be customarily processed through Points.com rather than through Marriott directly, which means that the above-mentioned credit card optimizations aren’t available ether. Nevertheless, there’s still value to be extracted here if you have a plan to redeem the Bonvoy points for exceptionally high value, such as a stay at a high-end property like the St. Regis Bali or the Al Maha Desert Resort Dubai.
Marriott is offering a 20% sale on gift cards until May 17, which is a great opportunity of those of us who are planning some upcoming trips in the future to get a blanket discount on our upcoming hotel stays.
If you stay frequently with Marriott, generally book flexible hotel rates, and don’t mind dropping a bit of cash right now in exchange for cheaper hotels in the future, then this is certainly a tempting opportunity, especially when combined with the bonus multipliers on the Amex Platinum Card under Double Rewards.