The Hidden Value in Marriott Rewards: Strengths of the Program
Instead of writing one long post including both my defense of Marriott, and where I see their strengths as a program, I decided to break it down for the sake of readability. Again, while am attempting to keep this forthright and objective, this is all based on my own experience with the program, and thus may be slightly subjective.
I think their biggest strength is how widely available their portfolio of properties are. I have no doubt that for example Hyatt and Starwood and others are good programs, but they just don’t have the “coverage” I would like.
Case in point, when I went to visit a friend last year in Rapid City, South Dakota (which is actually more interesting than it sounds—but that’s another story) other than local, unproven hotels, the only major chain available to was Marriott (Fairfield Inn). And it actually, as I have found with most Fairfield Inns, was a pretty good property, where I was given elite recognition and given a nice suite upgrade.
This brings me to my next point. Contrary to common dissenting belief, Marriott consistently delivers suite upgrades for elite members. In fact the consistency with which my family was able to stay in suites growing made it unbelievable that it wasn’t a stated benefit of Marriott Rewards.
As I mentioned a while back, this was technically excluded from the program but has since changed. And sure I may have to ask at times, for these benefits, but I firmly believe one of the 10 Commandments of travel hacking is “it never hurts to ask.”
Another point I mentioned in my defense of typical buffs folks have with Marriott is that they are good at “not allowing the rules to over-rule common sense.”
Nowhere is this more evident than in their fantastic customer dispute resolution. For better or worse a computer software glitch had me up against the wall, and while I was informed it was a “one-time exception,” the situation was handled very well.
Another time this really came into play was last year when my plans suddenly changed and I didn’t end up checking into a hotel for the first night of a 2-night stay. Technically the letter of the law is that I should have been charged a no-show fee for the first night, but when I checked out I was billed for only one night.
One final example was when I stayed at the Tampa Renaissance International Plaza. As the lounge was closed on the weekend, I was given a $12 voucher for breakfast in either of the hotel’s two restaurants. Needless to say, I went a little bit above the given allotment (about 50%), yet my only charges were for the tip I left.
Furthermore, this attitude of not letting the terms and conditions dictate policies has helped makes Marriott even more “Reward-ing” for me. Not only in suite upgrades in the past, but with the little things like providing free internet and lounge access as a Silver Elite.
And to those who dismiss this as a red flag, I think the basic premise of a loyalty program is to reward loyal members, therefore I think it comes with the territory.
One place Marriott gets hit hard by critics, which I actually think is strength of the program, is their reward chart. Just like there were some negative parts of the program I didn’t recognize until now, there are some positive aspects I only recently discovered. Like the fact that at most properties (with the exception of Execustay, Residence Inn, and TownePlace Suites) you earn 10 Marriott Rewards base points per every dollar spent on your room rate. In contrast, while with Hilton and Priority Club (Holiday Inn, Crowne Plaza, etc.) have the same ratio, you only earn 5 points per dollar with Hyatt, and a mere 2 per dollar with Starwood.
Thus, while Marriott may require “more inflated” points for awards, when you actually consider the rate at which you are earning Marriott Rewards points, you are getting just as good—if not better value.
For example, for a top-tier stay with Marriott, a “standard” award would require 40,000 Marriott Rewards points. At a rate of $100 per night, earning a base rate of 1,000 points per night, 40 nights would be required to earn a Category 7 free night.
In contrast, a Category 7 (also the top award category) free night within the Starwood program would require 30,000 to 35,000 Starwood points. But since you are only earning 200 base points per night on the same $100 of spend, SPG would require at least 150 nights to reach the same sort of award threshold.
Anyway, the earn and burn levels of Marriott, when compared to some of its major competition, are quite comparable:
|Hilton||10/$||(Except Home 2 Suites)||7.5-50k|
|Marriott||10/$||(Except Res. Inn, TownePlace Suites)||7.5-40k/30-60k|
|Priority Club||10/$||(Except Staybridge, Candlewood)||10-50k|
As you may have realized, I haven’t touched on Ritz Carlton, because they are really in their own special class. For the sake of Marriott Rewards purposes, they are on a “Tier” system. Standard awards Ritz Carlton properties range from 30,000 at a Tier 1 all the way to 60,000 and 70,000 points per night at Tier 4 and Tier 5 properties, respectively. Granted there are only a handful of such properties that have been grouped into these two highest tiers (a total of 8), so most any Ritz Carlton award can be had for 50,000 points per night.
Of course these are just a for a one-night basis. This brings up an additional point on the subject of Marriott’s Award chart. Most programs give require the same amount of points per night, regardless of the number of nights stayed. But what separates Marriott from nearly every other program, (although SPG also has this) is that every 5th night of an award is free, thus reducing the total cost an extended award.
Finally, I think one of the unique strengths about the Marriott Rewards program is the fact that they allow for elite rollover.
As an example, let’s say theoretically as a Gold Elite I stay with Marriott 65 nights this year, but only 35 the next. Because I would have 15 extra or “rollover” nights from year 1, this would compensate for being 15 nights short of elite status, and I would maintain status with them.
Not only do I think this makes up for the “large” requirements to have meaningful elite status (Gold or Platinum) with Marriott, but it offers something unique by being the only hotel program I know of to do this.
Anyway, as someone who loves exploring America, as well as the world, I value a program with a wide breadth of available properties. Yet, I also value one with elite recognition including free wifi, lounge access, and/or breakfast. Thus, based on my experience with the program, Marriott Rewards is a greatly undervalued program.