How To Use Marriott Bonvoy Points To Maximize Their Value

Earning Marriott Bonvoy Points is relatively easy, but knowing how to use them well and maximize their value is a little harder (and it’s the most important part). Here’s an overview of how you can get as many free hotel nights as possible.

With the current 60,000 Points Welcome Bonus offered by the Marriott Bonvoy American Express Card, now is the best time to get into Travel Hacking, and more specifically into hotel points.

(Mistake #1: If you order this card, just be sure not to cancel your current credit card. That’s a very common mistake beginners make when starting Travel Hacking so we want to make sure you avoid it).

Hotel points like Marriott Bonvoy Points are variable-value points (like most hotel and airline points), which means the value you get from using them depends entirely and solely on how you use them.

With those 60,000 Points, you could get 15 free nights… or you could get only 1 free night. You could get $1,500 worth of free travel… or you could get only $150 worth of free travel. It really is that huge of a difference.

In all cases, getting this card is still a no-brainer: no matter how you use them, you are guaranteed to get more than $120 in value since it’s humanly impossible to spend 60,000 Points at Marriott Hotels and not save at least $120.

And you’ll most likely save a whole lot more if you’re strategic about it and follow these tips.

Here is what you need to know to maximize your Marriott Bonvoy Points.

The Basics Of Using Marriott Bonvoy Points

Like with everything else in the world of travel, there are two main options: more convenience or more value. Convenience has a price. That’s how flight prices work with cash, that’s how hotel prices work with points. That’s how everything works.

So it is by being as flexible as possible that you will be able to get 15 completely free hotel nights out of your Welcome Bonus. We are the type of travelers who want the most free nights instead of just a few free nights for the same amount of points, but we’ll help you whether or not you share our philosophy.

The 3 main elements to maximize your free nights are:

  • location: hotels in more affordable destinations
  • period: traveling on off-peak dates or at least standard dates
  • 5th night free: staying for 5 consecutive nights in a hotel

So your 15 free nights are in Category 1 hotels, on off-peak dates and with 3 stays of 5 consecutive nights to absolutely maximize your 60,000 Points. 

Otherwise, you still get many free nights and it’s just as interesting so we’ll give you an introduction on how to maximize the Marriott Bonvoy program. 

How Marriott Points Work

Marriott Hotels are grouped by category, from 1 to 8. The price of a night depends on the category, but also starting later in 2019, Marriott will launch Off-Peak and Peak dates. That means the amount of points required nightly for a given hotel category will be one of 3 options: standard, peak or off-peak.

The key to getting the most value from your Marriott Points is to stick to Category 1 or Category 2 hotels… and to travel during off-peak dates.
 
Here is Marriott’s award chart:
CATEGORYSTANDARDOFF-PEAK
(coming in 2019)
PEAK
(coming in 2019)
17,5005,00010,000
212,50010,00015,000
317,50015,00020,000
425,00020,00030,000
535,00030,00040,000
650,00040,00060,000
760,00050,00070,000
885,00070,000100,000

 

How it works: a free night (completely free, no taxes to pay unlike with airline miles) in a Category 1 Hotel will cost you only 7,500 Points, and starting in 2019 it can go down to 5,000 Points for off-peak dates… or up to 10,000 Points for peak dates.

Remember that you always get the 5th night free when redeeming Points (a 20% rebate), so staying 5 nights at a Category 1 hotel during Off-Peak dates will set you back only 20,000 Points total (4 x 5,000). That is incredible value: only 4,000 Points per night (20,000 / 5). Otherwise, even during standard dates, you still get 10 free nights with that 60,000 Points Welcome Bonus.

Marriott still hasn’t revealed the logistics of what will be considered Peak/Off-Peak. We’ll be following this closely for you… and hoping for many many off-peak periods. Subscribe to our new free Travel Hacking newsletter to be the first to know and get our many other Marriott tips (and know when we’ll launch our new revamped Travel Hacking section).

Also, since all hotels now price at the standard rate until the Off-Peak/Peak launch, you should book any already planned points redemptions right away (you can even book without having the required points yet with Marriott’s Points Advance feature). That way if your dates become Peak dates, you’ll have locked in the lower price.

Points bookings are almost always cancellable without a penalty if you change your mind or if your dates actually become Off-Peak and goes down in price. Just be sure to confirm what that specific hotel’s policy is, it will tell you your deadline as it varies by hotel. It’s usally up to 2 days before the stay, but many hotels require 7 days before the stay.

By the way, obviously not all hotels within a given category are equal. Some are more luxurious, and there is a wide variety of factors to take into account when choosing your hotels.

For example, many category 2 hotels are full-service premium hotels while most are limited-service entry-level brands. Using your points on the most beautiful ones is another way to maximize them. We’ll have a breakdown of all 30 Marriott brands when we re-launch our Travel Hacking section.

Where To Go To Maximize Points

Since Category 1 and 2 hotels are the key to getting more nights for the same amount of points, it’s good to know where they are located. 
 
We’ve prepared a list of the 35 Best Marriott Category 1 Hotels (and we’ll have a similar one for Category 2 soon).
 
Category 1 hotels are the rarest, given that they give you the best value.
 
There are about 200 and there are specific regions that really stand out to get 15 free nights and stretch your points: Spain, Mexico, Indonesia, Malaysia, India, China, Southern Africa, etc.
 
 
Overall, it’s quite simple: hotels that require the least amount of points are generally in the most affordable countries. The main exception is Spain, which makes it the best destination for those who want many free hotel nights. Spain has many Category 1 and 2 hotels even though it is not a developing country!
 
Of course, Spain itself is amazing, but this is another great reason to go. It’s by far the best spot overall to travel to for those who do not want to go in the developing world but want to get as many free hotel nights as possible. 

How To See Your Hotel Options

First of all, you can see the entire list of Marriott Category 1 hotels to sort them by country or even by brand.

Or even better: you can use our map of all Marriott Hotels to see exactly where all hotels are located on a map.

You will be able to sort it by category.

I would include Category 1 of course, but if you want a bit more options even if that means getting less nights, you can add Category 2 as those hotels still offer a good value for your points. 

You can add Category 3, but I personally won’t select Category 3 hotels unless it is Off-Peak pricing (that’s when they’re the same number of Points as regular Category 2). To maximize my points.

Red is Category 1, Blue is Category 2.

When you zoom in on any specific region, say Spain where I might be headed in May to take advantage of the many beautiful Category 1 hotels myself, you’ll see exactly where every hotel is located.

When you click on the hotel icon, you’ll be able to see the details: hotel name and address.

As mentioned, very soon you will also be able to read our guide to all 30 Marriott brands so you can learn to recognize the best value based on the brand. Although it depends on what you prefer, because if course sometimes newer hotels from entry-level brands are nicer than older hotels from premium brands.

A Very Common Mistake (Mistake #2)

One of the most common mistakes that Travel Hacking beginners make is to use their points badly. More specifically: not understanding that sometimes it is better to pay cash and keep your points for a good redemption. Really, that one is so hard to comprehend for many!

Say your hotel is priced at only $125 for the night but requires 25,000 Points (it happens often). Please DO NOT pay with your points! It’s a terrible use, just terrible.

As mentioned, pay cash and keep your points for a hotel that will also cost 25,000 Points but will retail for twice that price, or even three times that price very often! Or for 6 nights in a Category 1 hotel off-peak, or 3 nights in a Category 1 on standard dates or at the very least 2 nights at a Category 2 hotel on standard dates… instead of just one night! Those three options will obviously give you way more than $125 in value right? 

You can always earn more cash. Earning more points isn’t as easy.
 
But more importantly, $1 is always worth $1. A point can be worth 0.6 ¢ or 1.2 ¢ if you use it well (DOUBLED your value). Can’t create value like that with cash.
 
That’s also why variable-value points are more rewarding than “cashback” and fixed-value points… as long as you use them right. Which is harder (again, it all comes down to what I said earlier: value vs. convenience).
 
So finally, we estimate the value of a Marriott Bonvoy Point at 0.9 ¢ per point, so if you don’t get that much value out of it (or at least close to that), don’t use them.
 
Keep them for a better use, at least if you travel somewhat often enough to be able to. If your ambition level is to travel just once a year, well then you can probably disregard this section depending on your plans.
 
In short, some places / dates are great times to use your points. Others not. It’s really that simple.
 
We’ll share a detailed article about calculating the value of points and your returns very shortly. We also have way more beginner tips and basic tips to get you started off the best way, so again subscribe to our Travel Hacking Newsletter if you haven’t already.

Another Way To Maximize

Every year, you get a certificate for a completely free Category 5 hotel thanks to the Marriott Bonvoy American Express Card. It’s the perfect way to splurge and treat yourself to a very luxurious stay to maximize the card’s benefits.

Again: please don’t use your certificate on a basic hotel that retails for $125!!! Keep it for a very luxurious premium hotel. Unlike Category 1 hotels, it really isn’t hard to find beautiful Category 5 hotels. Some are even 5-star hotels.

Be strategic and do your research, you’ll have a full year to use your certificate. You can see great examples of where you can stay for free by checking out the 35 Best Marriott Category 5 Hotels

Bottom Line

There’s a good overview of how to maximize your Marriott Bonvoy Points. We hope this has inspired you to plan a few trips where you can get plenty of free hotel nights! You can also read our Ultimate Guide to The Marriott Bonvoy Program if you want to learn more, coming very soon. Subscribe to our new free Travel Hacking newsletter to be the first to know.

Do you have any questions about the Marriott Bonvoy Card or the Marriott Bonvoy program? Ask us in the comments below!

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Andrew D'Amours

Andrew is the co-founder of Flytrippers. He is passionate about travelling the world but also, as a former management consultant, about the travel industry itself, he aims to help you save money on travel. As a very cost-conscious traveller, he loves finding deals and getting free travel thanks to Travel Hacking... to help him visit every country in the world (current count: 45/193 Countries, 46/50 US States & 9/10 Canadian Provinces).

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