Marriott Bonvoy


Marriott Bonvoy
is the loyalty program of Marriott International, the largest hotel chain in the world. It came about as a result of the Marriott–Starwood merger of 2016, which eventually witnessed the legacy programs of Marriott Rewards and Starwood Preferred Guest combining into a singular program in August 2018 and taking on the Marriott Bonvoy name in February 2019.

Marriott’s vast international footprint, composed of over 6,500 properties, means that there’s something in the Bonvoy program to cater to every type of traveller out there, whether you’re looking for luxury resorts or roadside inns.

And for Canadian travellers, it’s is one of the easiest and most accessible hotel loyalty programs for obtaining free hotel stays and taking advantage of elite perks and benefits. Let’s take a closer look at how you can get the most out of Marriott Bonvoy.


Earning Bonvoy Points

There’s a plethora of ways to accumulate Marriott Bonvoy points. Co-branded credit cards represent the easiest avenue for most travellers to rack up huge volumes of points, while those of you who frequently pay out-of-pocket for Marriott hotel stays (whether for business or pleasure) will earn points from those stays as well.


Credit Card Signup Bonuses

Let’s talk about the credit cards first. American Express has two Bonvoy-branded credit cards in Canada: a personal version and a business version. Both offer 50,000 Marriott Bonvoy points upon spending $1,500 in the first three months, as well as additional perks such as:

  • 15 elite qualifying nights per calendar year

  • An anniversary free night at a property costing up to 35,000 points

  • Gold Elite status when you spend $30,000 on the card in a calendar year

American Express Marriott Bonvoy Card
60,000 Bonvoy points for $70
Read the review

American Express Marriott Bonvoy Business Card
60,000 Bonvoy points for $90
Read the review


Credit Card Spending

The return on daily spending on these cards will also earn Bonvoy points. The Marriott Bonvoy American Express Card earns:

  • 5 Bonvoy points per dollar spent at Marriott hotels

  • 2 Bonvoy points per dollar spent on all other purchases 

Meanwhile, the Marriott Bonvoy Business American Express Card earns:

  • 5 Bonvoy points per dollar spent at Marriott hotels

  • 3 Bonvoy points per dollar spent on gas, dining, and travel purchases

  • 2 Bonvoy points per dollar spent on all other purchases


Transferring from AmeRICAN EXPRESS

Another way to earn points via Canadian credit cards is to transfer American Express Membership Rewards points over to Marriott Bonvoy at a 1:1.2 ratio. You can transfer regular MR points as well as the MR Select points you earn from the Cobalt Card.

Since the bonuses on the Amex MR credit cards are much larger than those on the Bonvoy credit cards, this represents a good way to supercharge your Bonvoy earnings. However, there are also more valuable potential uses of Amex MR points out there (such as transferring to frequent flyer programs), so that’s the tradeoff. 


US Credit Cards

By diversifying into US credit cards, you can gain access to an even wider pool of Bonvoy bonuses. The cards you can potentially apply for include:

The Amex US cards in particular are easy for Canadians to obtain by way of initiating an American Express Global Transfer, as long as you have a Canadian Amex card that’s been open and in good standing for at least three months.


Staying at Hotels

Outside of credit cards, the primary way to earn points is through spending at Marriott hotels (room rate, dining, on-property incidentals, etc.). The amount of points you’ll earn depends on your elite status with Marriott (we’ll cover this below).

Base-level members will earn 10 Bonvoy points per US$1 spent at Marriott properties, unless they’re staying at Element, Residence Inn, or TownePlace Suites, where the earning rate is only five Bonvoy points per US$1 spent. 

From that baseline, Silver Elite members will earn a 10% points bonus, Gold Elite members will earn a 25% points bonus, Platinum Elite members will earn a 50% points bonus, and Titanium Elite and Ambassador Elite members will earn a 75% points bonus. 

If you’re a high-tier elite member, then, you’re earning 17.5 Bonvoy points per US$1 spent with Marriott, which is a great return. If you manage to redeem those points later at an average rate of 1 cent per point (cpp), which is certainly doable, then you’re effectively getting a sweet 17.5% discount on your hotel stays. 


Promotions

Lastly, Marriott regularly runs promotions to incentivize member activity, and these are typically known as Megabonus. The rules for each Megabonus are different, but usually you’ll earn a solid chunk of promotional points (think 2,000 to 10,000 points here or there) based on your stay activity with Marriott. 

Megabonus promotions are rarely generous enough to go out of your way and plan stays just for the sake of them (a practice known as “mattress running”), but they’re usually worth keeping an eye on and seeing if you can plan some of your upcoming travel around them.


Redeeming Bonvoy Points for Hotel Stays

Naturally, as a hotel loyalty program, Marriott Bonvoy points are generally best used towards free nights at one of the program’s 6,500+ participating properties worldwide.

All Marriott hotels are divided into eight categories, which determine how many points are required for a free night. Each hotel’s category is listed on its page on the Marriott website, and you look that up using the redemption chart to determine how many points you’ll need.


“No Blackout Dates”

Marriott has a “No Blackout Dates” policy, which means that as long as a hotel has a standard room available on a certain date, then it can be booked using either cash or points. In other words, hotels can’t control points inventory separately from cash bookings – if a standard room is available, then either form currency must be accepted for it. 

This policy works decently well, and means that you generally won’t have too much trouble finding availability for points bookings on your travel dates.

However, keep in mind that each hotel is free to determine what they consider a “standard room”, so once all of its standard rooms are booked up, then any higher-tier room (such as a Deluxe Room, Executive Room, junior suite, and full suites) may be capacity-controlled when it comes to points bookings.


Fifth Night Free

When you redeem points for five consecutive nights at the same hotel, you can make use of the Fifth Night Free benefit and only pay for four nights. For example, five nights at a Category 5 property would cost you 35,000 × 4 = 140,000 Bonvoy points, while five nights at a Category 7 property would cost you 60,000 × 4 = 240,000 Bonvoy points. This is one of the best ways to squeeze even more value out of your points. 


Category 8

Category 8 has not been implemented yet, and will come into effect on March 5, 2019. Until then, you have a golden opportunity to book some of Marriott’s top-tier luxury properties at the Category 7 pricing of only 60,000 points per night. If you were to take advantage of Fifth Night Free, you’d even get five nights at these spectacular hotels (many of which retail for $1,000+/night) for only 240,000 Bonvoy points!

That’s an extremely lucrative deal which will be sorely missed when it’s gone, so you should definitely look to take advantage before March 5 if you can!


Peak/Off-Peak

Meanwhile, peak and off-peak pricing has not been implemented yet either, and will be arriving later in 2019. To my knowledge, hotels are required to have roughly the same number of dates designated as peak, off-peak, and standard, but are free to choose these dates themselves. 


PointSavers

Occasionally, certain hotels go “on sale” and you can book them on points for a slight discount under what’s known as the PointSavers rate.

However, the savings are marginal at best, and there’s no real way to predict which hotels will have PointSavers rates at a certain time. PointSavers is therefore something you can take advantage of when it happens to fit together with your travel plans, but otherwise don’t count on deriving too much value from it.


Cash + Points

There’s also a Cash + Points redemption chart, which allows you to pay for your stays using a combination of cash and points. Whether or not this type of redemption represents a good deal will depend on the exact hotel you’re looking at. 

Generally, Cash + Points makes sense in two circumstances: when you don’t have enough points to pay for the full points redemption, and when the cash rate is disproportionately high.

Say you’re looking to stay somewhere on New Year’s Eve, or when there’s a major conference or sporting event in town – in these circumstances, redeeming points for the room will be a great deal, but if you don’t have enough points to do so, then Cash + Points represents a way to capture some of that value and save yourself a chunk of change.

However, note that just because a room is available to be booked on points, doesn’t mean that it’s available at the Cash + Points rate. In fact, Cash + Points availability tends to be rather scarce, so the occasions on which you’ll be able to make use of it will be rather limited.


Transferring Bonvoy Points to Airlines

Besides redeeming Bonvoy points for hotel stays, the other valuable way to use points is to transfer them to one of 40+ airline frequent flyer programs, such as Aeroplan, Avios, Alaska Mileage Plan, and more. 

The full list of participating programs can be found here. Basically, if it’s a major frequent flyer program with potential sweet spots, then you’ll likely be able to transfer Marriott Bonvoy points over in order to earn miles with the program. 

The transfer ratio is 3:1 for most programs, and Marriott will also give you a bonus of 5,000 airline miles when you transfer in chunks of 60,000 Bonvoy points. This means that the optimal strategy is to transfer 60,000 Bonvoy points into 25,000 airline miles.

The exceptions to the 3:1 ratio are Air New Zealand AirPoints (200:1), JetBlue TrueBlue (6:1), and United MileagePlus (3:1.1, essentially a 10% bonus on all transfers).

Depending on the program, transfers typically take at least three business days to complete, so you’ll want to leave enough buffer time if you’re planning to book an award flight using your airline miles. Additionally, the name and address should match between your Bonvoy account and your airline account, in order to prevent delays in the process.

Transferring points from Marriott Bonvoy represents the easiest way that Canadians can earn miles in “hard-to-reach” programs like Korean Air SKYPASS, Japan Airlines Mileage Bank, and Virgin Atlantic Flying Club. They can also be a great way to top-up your earnings in programs like Alaska Mileage Plan or American Airlines AAdvantage if you’re chasing a big flight redemption. 


Marriott Bonvoy Elite Status

Elite status plays a significant role in the Marriott Bonvoy loyalty program, as the perks and benefits you receive as an elite member go a long way to making your stays at Marriott hotels more enjoyable. 

Qualifying for each tier of elite status is based on earning elite qualifying nights. Every night you stay at a Marriott hotel (whether paid with cash or points) will earn you one elite qualifying night. The status levels are as follows:

Status level Annual qualification requirement
Silver 10 nights
Gold 25 nights
Platinum 50 nights
Titanium 75 nights
Ambassador 100 nights + $20,000 spending

Status levels are granted based on how many nights you stay during a calendar year. Unlike other loyalty programs (in particular the legacy SPG program), there is no separate qualification criteria for “stays” vs. nights. 

Once you earn a certain status level, it will be valid until the February two years later. Essentially, the status begins when you earn the required number of nights during a calendar year, and is valid until 14 months after the end of that calendar year.

For example, let’s say you earn Platinum Elite status in 2019 by staying 50 nights during the year. Then you’d enjoy your Platinum status benefits until February 2021. Once January 2020 rolls around, a new qualification period has started, meaning that you’d need to achieve 50 nights in 2020 to renew your Platinum status for the subsequent year. Doing so would extend your status validity until February 2022, and so on.

A detailed listing of all the elite benefits can be found here. Essentially, Silver Elite status delivers minimal benefits, given how easy it is to earn simply by holding a co-branded credit card. Gold Elite benefits are also not too exciting, with the 2pm late checkout (based on availability, not guaranteed) being the most appealing one.

It’s really at Platinum Elite that the real benefits start to kick in: lounge access, free breakfast, suite upgrades, 4pm late checkout, etc. You achieve Platinum Elite status at 50 elite qualifying nights, although there are a few creative ways to help you reach that threshold. 

For example, you’ll already earn 15 qualifying nights from holding one of the Bonvoy credit cards, and you can earn 10 qualifying nights just by booking a meeting room with Marriott, so that already gets you to 25. Then, you just need to stay 25 more nights with Marriott in order to secure Platinum status. 

One of the additional perks of Platinum Elite status is an Annual Choice Benefit of one of the following:

  • Five Suite Night Awards

  • Five extra elite qualifying nights

  • Give the gift of Silver Elite status to another member

  • 40% off your favourite hotel mattress

  • US$100 charity donation

For me, the clear winner among these benefits is the Suite Night Awards, which allow you to guarantee a suite upgrade (availability permitting) up to five days prior to your arrival at a property, rather than seeing if a suite is available upon check-in. 

Titanium Elite is achieved at 75 qualifying nights, although at the moment doesn’t deliver too many benefits over and above Platinum Elite, with the exception of another Annual Choice Benefit (I’d choose another five Suite Night Awards).

And lastly, Ambassador Elite is achieved at 100 qualifying nights and US$20,000 of annual spend. At this level, you get assigned a personal Ambassador who can help you with all your Marriott booking needs. Needless to say, unless you’re a heavy spender with Marriott, this elite level will be pretty out of reach for most of us! 


Tricks of the Trade

Like most loyalty programs, there are plenty of little tricks you can keep up your sleeve once you dabble with the program a bit. Here are just a handful…

Points Advance: A unique feature among hotel loyalty programs, Marriott Bonvoy allows you to make future reservations on points without actually having the points in your account.

You simply need to “fulfill” the booking by earning the required amount of points at least 14 days prior to your stay. This opens the door to making pre-emptive speculative bookings if, say, you’re planning to book a hotel stay for a competitive period (say, New Year’s Eve in a major city) but haven’t decided on your exact dates yet, or one of your desired hotels is about to increase in Category and you’d like to secure the lower rate beforehand.

Maximize the Fifth Night Free: As mentioned above, the Fifth Night Free benefit allows you to book five nights on points for the price of four, and is one of the most valuable perks in the program.

However, even if you only need four nights, you can go ahead and book five nights since it’s the same cost anyway! This effectively gives you late checkout on your fourth day until however late you want, and also an extra elite qualifying night to help you achieve a higher status level.

Sharing Points: You can transfer up to 100,000 Marriott Bonvoy points between members’ accounts per calendar year. This is done by calling Marriott to initiate the transfer process.

It’s a great way to pool points earned by different members of a household into one account; however, the 100,000-point limit is rather strictly enforced, so you’ll want to plan accordingly if, say, you want all the bookings to be done under one household member’s account in order to achieve elite status faster. 

Upgrades & Suite Night Awards: A fancy upgrade can really make the difference between a good hotel stay and a fantastic and unforgettable one. As a Platinum Elite member and above, you’re entitled to the best available upgrade upon check-in, including standard suites.

If you’re a Platinum Elite member or above, you can also use your Suite Night Awards to “lock in” a suite upgrade up to five days in advance – again, depending on availability.

If you’re only a Gold Elite member, don’t count on receiving a complimentary suite upgrade, but you can still get lucky if you contact your hotel in advance and tell them you’d love to have a suite upgrade if there are any! 

RewardsPlus with United Airlines: Marriott and United have a partnership in which each program’s top-tier elite members get reciprocal benefits with the other program. If you earn Titanium Elite status with Marriott Bonvoy, you’ll automatically be given an upgrade to United MileagePlus Premier Silver status, which is also Star Alliance Silver status!


Conclusion

With two co-branded credit cards each offering 50,000 bonus points, the ability to transfer points from Amex MR at a 1:1.2 ratio, and its vast footprint of over 6,500 hotels around the world to redeem points, Marriott Bonvoy remains one of the best programs for Canadians to rack up free hotel nights and save money along their travels.

Any questions? Contact me.