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Many Starwood Preferred Guest members feared the completion of the merger of Starwood with Marriott. Would we lose our elite status benefits? Would we be forced to transfer our precious Starpoints to Marriott Rewards at a poor exchange rate?
In an age of “enhancements” that are usually bad for the loyalty programme member, the initial implications of the merger have actually been quite positive. SPG and Marriott Rewards members can match their status across both programmes, with SPG Gold members doing particularly well to get Marriott Gold status. Most importantly, members can freely convert their points back-and-forth on a 3 Starpoint = 1 Marriott Rewards point basis. At some point during 2017 we should hear about Marriott’s intentions for a combined loyalty programme but, for now, the feedback in the miles & point community has been broadly positive.
British residents have never found it easy to accumulate substantial balances of Marriott points. Marriott Rewards is unique in that it never discounts points when selling them. One MR point always costs 1 U.S. cent. Marriott Rewards does not have a credit card available to British residents, nor could you transfer Amex Membership Rewards points directly to Marriott. This situation left hotel stays as the only way to accumulate Marriott points but, let’s be honest, who really wants to be loyal to Marriott when they could stay at similar-standard Sheratons or Hiltons and earn points and status for reward stays at luxury “W”, “St. Regis” or “Conrad” hotels.
The ability to convert Starpoints into Marriott Rewards points has completely changed the state of play, however. Joe wrote in October how to turn Amex Membership Rewards points into Marriott Rewards points. And I recently wrote about how you can easily earn 2,000-2,500 Starpoints for a single night stay.
Finally I get to my point… Marriott Rewards offers a reward that is quite possibly the best reward available to hotel loyalty point collectors. It requires a large number of MR points, however, which is why the SPG merger has suddenly made it available to many more people. Marriott calls it a “Hotel + Air Travel Package”.
As you might imagine, the Travel Package combines a hotel stay with airline miles. There are five different kinds of Travel Package, but the only real difference is the number of miles on offer, which varies based on the frequent flyer programme. The package you are most likely to be interested in is this one:
Joe, myself and others here at InsideFlyer UK would recommend that you consider Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan. But let’s face it, you’re probably going to choose Avios or Virgin Atlantic miles. And this deal is so good that there’s nothing wrong with that choice, especially if you do it during one of British Airways Executive Club’s hotel point conversion bonuses, the last of which we saw in June 2016…
Hopefully your eyes will jump straight to the top right hand corner of the chart. For 270,000 MR points (or 90,000 Starpoints moved over to Marriott), you will receive seven nights at a Category 1-5 hotel and 120,000 miles or Avios. 120K is a nice bunch of miles that can get you to a lot of places in Business Class. (or just commute to London from France or Spain using Avios Reward Flight Saver!) It should be obvious, but you want to aim for the maximum number of miles because, as you go from left to right on the chart, you are essentially trading one MR point for one mile. (a good deal!)
Back to Starwood Preferred Guest for a Second…
Hang on while I digress briefly and jump back to Starwood Preferred Guest. SPG is fairly unique in that it allows Starpoints to be converted to airline miles on an attractive basis. 20,000 Starpoints will normally get you 25,000 airline miles. This is a good deal! But it also has interesting consequences. Why spend 40,000 Starpoints on a 2-night stay at a SPG Category 6 hotel in central London, when you can convert those 40K Starpoints into 50,000 airline miles. Even better, those miles don’t need to be Avios, but can be sent to dozens of different airline programmes, many of which have much cheaper reward charts and/or your account there is in desperate need of a top-up in order to book a free flight reward. Since you don’t always need miles in random programmes such as ANA Mileage Club or Miles & More (for the monthly promos) however, you sometimes end up accumulating lots of Starpoints while you wait.
I jumped back to SPG because those 90,000 Starpoints would get you 110,000 miles. (although more likely than not you would just convert 80,000 (4 chunks of 20K) to obtain 100,000 miles). And we already are conditioned to think of this as a pretty good deal, which it is.
But by moving those 90,000 Starpoints to Marriott Rewards and booking a Hotel + Air Travel Package, you get MORE MILES and a seven-night stay in a hotel!
The Basics of the Travel Package
Here are the basics you need to know about Marriott Rewards Hotel + Air Travel Packages. If you want to read about them on the Marriott Rewards website, this link will take you straight there.
- They cannot be booked online – you have to call Marriott Rewards. You can find the UK phone number on their website or Skype the US.
- You don’t have to actually book the hotel at the same time – you are provided with a certificate valid for seven nights at a Category 1-5 hotel. This certificate is valid for 12 months but can usually be extended by another 12 months by contacting Marriott Rewards customer service.
- You don’t need to book flights in combination with your hotel stay. You simply get miles in your airline account to use as you please. The miles should arrive to your account within a few working days however the transfer is rarely immediate. I believe you can pay a premium to have the miles transfer expedited.
- If you want to spend less than seven nights at any given hotel, you cannot split the nights across different stays. Any excess is therefore lost. The only exception is when an entire week is not available as a free night award – you are allowed paid nights in between your seven free nights. (i.e. three free nights, two paid nights, then another four free nights – all consecutive…)
- There is no advantage to booking anything other than a Category 1-5 Travel Package, unless you know your hotel and are 100% sure that your plans are firm. This is because you are allowed to call later and pay the extra points necessary to upgrade your certificate to a higher category of hotel. The reverse (downgrading your certificate and receiving a point refund) doesn’t apply.
What About the Hotel Stay?
Since we’re already excited about converting 90,000 Starpoints (as 270,000 MR points) into 120,000 miles, what about the hotel stay? For some people it doesn’t really matter and they end up calling Marriott Rewards to beg for another year’s extension to their reward certificate, or they waste it on a weekend getaway. But in order to turn a good deal into a great one, we need to take full advantage of the free seven-night stay.
I’m not going to lie to you. Hotels allocated to Categories 1-5 with Marriott Rewards aren’t usually great or aspirational. Marriott has nine award categories, as well as separate Tiers for Ritz-Carlton hotels. But there are gems to be found, such as the pictured Renaissance in Curacao in the Caribbean. I recommend that you take a look at the list of properties on the Marriott Rewards website; here is a direct link for you. Not only shouldn’t you trust a blogger who’s never actually been to some of the hotels, but you know your personal circumstances and interests much better than I do. That said, some of the low category hotels that jump out at me as candidates for a seven-night stay are:
- Protea hotels across South Africa, including Cape Town
- Many family-friendly hotels in Orlando and California for trips with the family to visit Mickey
- A handful of marginally off-Strip hotels in Las Vegas
- A Marriott near Petra in Jordan (perhaps not worth an entire week, but you can easily rent a car for day trips to the Red Sea or Dead Sea)
- Several luxury hotels in Asia in cheaper markets such as Thailand and China
Of course, if you can’t find a Category 5 hotel you want to spend a week at, you can simply add some more points and upgrade your certificate to a higher category with more attractive hotels. But as I mentioned, only do this when you have 100% decided on your hotel and the dates of your holiday.
Booking a Marriott Rewards Travel Package was one of the first things I did when the ability to convert Starpoints was announced. I added a few extra points and booked a Category 6 hotel in Italy that would have cost nearly 200 euros per night over the Christmas break. And I am drooling over the possibilities of spending my 120,000 Alaska miles on a Business or even First Class trip to Asia on Cathay Pacific. All for 90,000 Starpoints.
If you have a sizable balance of Starpoints, make sure to consider whether a Marriott Rewards travel package might be the best use of them.