Introduction:

Late last year Marriott finalized the takeover of Starwood Hotels and Resorts, and with that, became really relevant for Canadian travellers, as well as the largest hotel company in the world. As an individual program, I never found it all that enticing, as I don’t find the Marriott brand ‘aspirational’ (with the exception of some Ritz Carlton properties), earning opportunities were limited in Canada to paid hotel stays or The Chase Canada Marriott Reward Visa Card, with underwhelming earn rates, and a relatively small footprint in Canada. In my opinion, Marriott Rewards wasn’t competitive to other chains like Fairmont, and the fantastic Fairmont President’s Club Program. Furthermore, a lot of Fairmont properties in Canada participate in American Express Fine Hotels and Resorts, creating the potential for some extreme value – which is why most of my loyalty stays within that brand.

Benefits:

Marriott is an industry leader with elite benefits, specifically mid-tier recognition. A lot of programs, such as The Fairmont President’s Club and Starwood Preferred Guest, reserve the best benefits for top-tier loyalty, which can be hard to achieve. Marriott, however, has some great perks for Gold Elites, which include lounge access including daily breakfast at participating properties, room upgrade based on availability and guaranteed late checkout. A full list of benefits can be seen in the chart below.

Marriott Rewards Elite Benefits Chart

Marriott Reward Elite Benefits Chart

Qualification for each level depends on calendar night stays, although there are several Canadian credit cards that grant immediate gold status, such as The American Express Platinum Card and The American Express Platinum Business Card. For those wishing to do it the long way, the number of nights required can be seen in the picture below:

Elite Qualification Stay Requirements

Elite Qualification Stay Requirements

Having Gold status made a world of difference on my recent 11-day trip around the world. Elite recognition at the JW Marriott Hotel Aerocity New Delhi and The Marriott SkyCity Hong Kong Hotel were fantastic, and the lounge access saved me a bunch of money!

Earning Marriott Reward Points:

Although the merger of Marriott and Starwood is now complete, the Starwood Preferred Guest program and Marriott Rewards program continue to operate independently with some great reciprocal benefits (potentially changing in 2018). The most obvious way to earn points is by staying at Marriott and Starwood properties and booking direct through the hotel (a lot of third party and online travel agency rates are not eligible for points).

For the time being, you can sign up for both accounts and link them easily online, allowing for instant transfers between the two at the following conversion rate:

Marriott to Starwood: 3:1

Starwood to Marriott: 1:3

Previously the only way to earn Marriott Reward points through credit card spend in Canada was by using The Chase Marriott Rewards Visa Card, with a very lame 1 Marriott Reward (MR) per dollar spent on everyday purchases. Marriott Reward points are valued at 0.8cents per point, so this is a really bad return compared to other Canadian travel reward cards.

However, with simple online transfers between SPG and Marriott, Canadians can now use their American Express Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card or The American Express Business Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card to earn 1 Starpoint (SPG) per dollar spent on everyday purchases. While the earning rate is technically the same, at 1 point/$1, SPG points are significantly more valuable. If you were to transfer directly to Marriott online, you would get 3MR points for every 1 SPG, which is 3X better than using the Chase Marriott Visa card.

Flight + Hotel Packages

But hang on… Marriott Rewards program is kind of lame though right? You just said their hotels aren’t aspirational….

That’s true, however, the Marriott Rewards program has one secret weapon that blows all other programs away: The Marriott Flight and Hotel Packages!

Like SPG, Marriott Rewards can be transferred to airline partners, although the transfer rate is much less desirable than Starwood and doesn’t represent very good value, except when taking advantage of Marriott Flight and Hotel Packages.

Essentially, Marriott is allowing you to redeem your hotel points for airline miles, and also including a 7-night hotel stay at any of their properties around the world. Redemption rates vary by different airline programs, and category of hotel. You can see the conversion rates below.

The following chart applies to United Airlines only, and has the best transfer rate (although United doesn’t often have the best redemption rates):

RewardsPlus Hotel + Air Package

RewardsPlus Hotel + Air Package

This chart applies to: Aeromexico, Air Canada, Alaska Airlines, American Airlines, British Airways, Copa Airlines, Delta Air Lines, Frontier Airlines, GOL/Varig, Hawaiian Airlines, Iberia Airlines, Virgin Atlantic, and is likely the best option for most Canadian travellers:

Hotel + Air Package 1

Hotel + Air Package 1

The next chart applies to: Aeroflot, airberlin, Air China, Air France/KLM, Alitalia, ANA, Asia Miles, Asiana Airlines, Avianca-TACA LifeMiles, China Eastern, China Southern, Emirates, Etihad Airways, Japan Airlines, Jet Airways, Korean Air SKYPASS, LAN, Lufthansa Miles & More, Multiplus, Qantas, Qatar Airways, Saudia Airlines, Singapore Airlines, South African Airways Voyager, TAP Air Portugal, Turkish Airlines. As you can see the transfer rates are not ideal, although could be useful for specific redemptions:

Flight + Air Package 2

Flight + Air Package 2

The following chart is applicable to Southwest Airlines only, and will not be of much use to Canadian travellers:

Hotel + Air Package 3

Hotel + Air Package 3

The last chart is for JetBlue and Virgin America, which will also be of little use for Canadians:

Hotel + Air Package 4

Hotel + Air Package 4

As I Canadian, I would most likely be looking at Flight + Hotel Package 1, but could also find a lot of use with the RewardsPlus Package, for specific redemptions. Also keep in mind that airlines periodically offer bonuses on transfers from hotel programs, and the flight + hotel packages aren’t excluded, meaning you could earn thousands of additional airline miles at no additional cost.

A few things to consider with the Marriott Flight + Hotel Packages:

  • 7-night hotel stays must be used consecutively, which can be a challenge for some, though great if you’re planning a week in one destination (us points bloggers like to jump around so much).
  • Hotel stay does not need to be redeemed at same time as airline miles. This is a huge bonus! Marriott simply credits your account with a 7-night stay certificate and airline miles get deposited separately.
  • 7-night stay certificate is valid for one year only, though I’ve read many accounts where Marriott has extended that by an additional year.
  • Transfers are not instant, and vary from airline to airline. Marriott states in the fine print it could take 4-6 weeks for the transfer to complete (ouch), but in reality usually takes a week. This can be tricky as reward space can come and go quickly, so you’ll need to plan ahead and be patient.

Like any program, there are sweet spots, and sucker spots. Ultimately, if you choose either of the first 2 packages, you’re getting a reasonable transfer rate for Marriott points to miles, and will get the real added value in the hotel stay. If you choose to stay at a category 1 hotel after redeeming 200,000 Marriott points for 50,000 Alaska miles and a 7-night category 1-5 hotel stay, you’re gonna break even on the points transfer. Staying at a category 5 hotel for the same number of points will yield a much better return on your redemption.

Flight + Hotel Redemption Example

I wanted to fly Cathay Pacific first class from North America to Hong Kong. I knew that the best option was to redeem 70,000 Alaska Miles for the flight, but I didn’t have any. I did, however, have a large amount of SPG points.

SPG points transfer to Alaska 1:1, with a 5,000 mile bonus for every 20,000 SPG points transferred. So in this case I would transfer 60,000 SPG points for a total of 75,000 Alaska miles.

I also needed to get some Alaska miles to book Brad a return ticket from China this spring, and his preference was to fly Cathay Pacific business class. That would run me another 40,000 SPG points which would transfer to 50,000 Alaska miles.

In a moment of clarity, I decided to look at Marriott Flight + Hotel Packages. There I saw you could redeem 270,000 Marriott points for 120,000 Alaska miles (exactly how many I needed – sweet!) and a 7-night stay in a category 1-5 hotel.

While category 1-5 hotels aren’t really my thing (think 3-4 star), I did have Hawaii on my mind, specifically the Mauna Kea Beach Resort on the Big Island, which happens to be a Marriott category 8 hotel. Perfect.

Unfortunately, category 8 hotels required more points, to the tune of 360,000 Marriott reward points (90,000 more), but considering this hotel regularly sells for $800 per night, it seemed like good value.

I logged into my Starwood preferred guest account and quickly transferred 120,000 SPG points to Marriott (the transfer is instantaneous). I then had to call Marriott to book the package, and was told the points will likely take 2 weeks to appear in my Alaska Mileage Plan account. The 7-night category 8 voucher posted to my account immediately and will remain valid for a year.

As a summary, I needed 120,000 Alaska miles for a couple of Cathay flights, and considered transferring 100,000 SPG points to make it happen. Instead, I was able to transfer those points to Marriott and picked up the same number of miles plus a luxury hotel stay that would have easily retailed for well over $5,000 for 20,000 additional points. Had I been content with a 3 or 4 star hotel anywhere but Hawaii, I could have grabbed the 7-night hotel stay at a category 1-5 hotel for no additional points! Phenomenal Value!

Mauna Kea Beach Resort

Mauna Kea Beach Resort

Earn Points Fast With Welcome Bonuses

But who has 120,000 SPG points?! Yup, that’s a lot of points, and for the average consumer it would likely take years of credit card spending to accrue. However, for Canadians, there is an easy way to earn enough points for a dream vacation with just a couple of credit card applications.

The American Express Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card is currently offering 20,000 SPG points as a welcome bonus after spending $1,500 in the first 3 months of membership.

The American Express Starwood Preferred Guest Business Credit Card is currently offering 20,000 SPG points as a welcome bonus after spending $1,500 in the first 3 months of membership.

The American Express Gold Rewards Card is currently offering 30,000 Membership Reward points as a welcome bonus after spending $1,500 in the first 3 months of membership and adding an authorized user to the account during the application. Membership Reward points can be transferred to SPG at a 2:1 rate, making this welcome bonus equal to 15,000 SPG points

The American Express Business Platinum Card is currently offering 75,000 Membership Reward points as a welcome bonus after spending $5,000 in the first 3 months of membership, which is equal to 37,500 SPG points.

Hypothetical Scenario:

Let’s say you’re a couple planning to get married and know a year from now you would like to vacation in Hawaii for your honeymoon. Here’s an example to earn enough points for roundtrip tickets for 2 to Hawaii from the west coast and 7 nights in a 5-star luxury beachfront resort. The total number of points required is 290,000 Marriott Rewards, or 97,000 SPG points.

Person A applies for The American Express Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card and receives 21,500 SPG points as the welcome bonus for meeting the spend requirement ($1,500). The annual fee of $120 is not waived.

Person A refers Person B for The American Express Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card and receives a 10,000 SPG point referral bonus, and Person B earns the same 21,500 points for meeting the minimum spend requirement within 3 months. The annual fee is not waived.

Person A applies for The American Express Gold Rewards Card and earns a 31,500 point welcome bonus for meeting the minimum spend requirement, which are then converted to SPG for a total of 15,750 points. The $150 annual fee is waived.

Person A refers Person B for The American Express Gold Rewards Card and earns a 5,000 point referral bonus, or 2,500 SPG points. Person B earns the same 31,500 reward point bonus after meeting the minimum spend, for a total of 15,750 SPG points.

Person A or Person B applies for the Chase Canada Marriott Rewards Visa Card and earns 50,000 Marriott Reward points (16,667 SPG) after the first purchase. The first year annual fee is waived.

Combined, you would now have a total of 103,667 SPG points, 311,000 Marriott points, which would be enough for a dream vacation in Hawaii.

The total cost is:

Person A: $120CAD and 3 credit card applications (spread out over 3 months to a year)

Person B: $120CAD and 2 credit card applications (spread out over 3-6 months)

Bottom Line:

Marriott Rewards are often overlooked in Canada as the earning opportunities and reward options are rather limited compared to other programs. With the recent merger of Marriott and Starwood, Canadian traveller have a unique opportunity to take advantage of generous exchange rates between the two programs while they continue to operate independently. The American Express Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card is the easiest way to earn mass amounts of SPG points, which can then be transferred to Marriott for great flight + hotel redemptions! This sweet spot is sure to be changed when Marriott and Starwood make changes to their reward programs as early as next year, so start earning today and get the most out of your reward points!