I love being a free agent when it comes to our travels. Because I’m not working to keep status with any single program, I have no restrictions on where or how to make our plans. Could someone then please explain to me why I keep staying at Marriott Bonvoy portfolio properties???
While we spent more nights at Hiltons in 2019 because of my work trips, for our leisure travel, we stayed at six different Marriott hotels. That’s as many times as we did with all of the other hotel chains COMBINED!
So how did Marriott get me onto their hamster wheel, and how am I supposed to get off?
How’d we end up here?
What happened to have me look to Marriott first for all of our hotel stays?
The first thing was their purchase of Starwood Hotels. I’d been collecting SPG points for years, saving them for when I’d need to transfer them to an airline loyalty program. That day never arrived, so when Marriott finally merged the programs and valued SPG points at 3 Marriott (Rewards/Bonvoy) points each, that gave both Sharon and I rather healthy balances in our accounts.
Burning Points Using The Fifth-Night Free
I decided that instead of holding onto the points, I better start burning them before Marriott decided to devalue the program, which, in hindsight, was a smart idea. In 2018, we made three different 5-night stays at Marriott hotels on points, taking advantage of the “fifth night free” benefit.
Last Chance at Status
I’m not one to chase status, but if it’s staring me in the face, I’m going to take it. That’s what happened at the end of 2018 when the credits from our SPG and Marriott Credit cards stacked together. Between that and our hotel stays, we were in striking distance of getting Platinum status and being able to keep it through 2019. All it took was signing up for one more Marriott credit card and when the points posted to our account, we were Platinum (well, Sharon was [Note from Sharon: Whoop whoop!], but I was the one who planned it).
Being a Platinum member does have its benefits. The main ones are 5 suite night upgrades, lounge access, room upgrades, and a welcome gift.
Obviously, to use the 5 nights of upgrades, we’d have to be staying at a Marriott Bonvoy property. Somewhere nice where getting an upgrade would mean something. We did pretty well with that, I think.
None of our other stays were influenced by getting a free breakfast or lounge access. So what else drew us to Marriott hotels?
Marriott Co-Brand Credit Cards
With the Marriott Bonvoy co-brand credit card portfolio divided between American Express and Chase, Sharon and I have four cards between the two of us. Even worse, the free nights from those cards are a combination of ones limited to rooms costing 25,000 points or less, 35,000 points or less or 50,000 points or less.
To make things worse, we each have a 35,000 point certificate so if we want to use them for the same stay, we’d have to make two reservations, Not a deal breaker but with all the problems Marriott was having with customer service issues, we’d rather not go down that road unless we had to.
So unless I want to redeem a certificate at a hotel for lower than the max value, that means we’re staying at a minimum of three different hotels. In fact, this year I burned a 25,000 point and a 35,000 point free night at the same hotel, for reasons I explained in the post when I booked the room.
It’s Now A Habit
Marriott succeeded in changing my habits. Whereas before when I was looking for a hotel, I’d start my search looking in a particular area or specific price point, I’ll now often start my search at the Marriott website looking to see if there’s a hotel available for points or where I can use one of my free night certificates. If not, there could be somewhere with a reasonable cash rate where we’d get lounge access, which would save us some money on food.
Only if I don’t see any good options will I expand my search to other hotels. At first, I’ll stick with Hilton, IHG, or Hyatt because we have points with all of those programs we can use. If all else fails, I’ll start to look at independent hotels.
In other words, I’m hooked.
How to Break the Habit
One key to breaking the habit is getting rid of all of these hotel free night certificates I’m paying for each year with credit card annual fees. When you have one or two, it’s not hard to spend them every year, but when you have seven to spend at different price points, it starts to become more challenging.
I’ll keep the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant AMEX card because the 50,000 point certificate is the most flexible one available and for the benefits you get each year, the price is a decent value. For now, all of the other ones are on the table.
I’m Off to a Bad Start
Well, we have two hotel bookings in for the year and guess what? They’re both at Marriott Bonvoy hotels. I’m cutting myself some slack because one of them is for an event and it makes to stay at the hotel where everything is happening. I picked the second hotel because I could use my 50,000 points free night certificate.
What about the rest of the year?
We have our two stays at the Candlewood Suites in New Braunfels on the calendar already this summer as well as a cruise, our first one in a while. Besides that, I only need to plan our trip to Japan. I’m hopeful I can keep us out of Marriott hotels while we’re there.
I’m sure there will be the long weekend or overnight trip squeezed in here or there and I’m not going to head right to the Marriott website when booking our hotel. Promise!
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This post first appeared on Your Mileage May Vary