A Beginner’s Guide to the Marriott Rewards Program (2018 Update)



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1. Brief Introduction to Marriott Hotel Group

Established in 1957, Marriott Hotel’s headquarters lies in Washington D.C, with over 4,000 hotels and resorts across the world. After they acquired the Starwood Hotels Group in November 2015, this number increased to over 6,000 hotels in 122 countries all over the world. This is the hotel breakdown:

Marriott hotels (the top half) utilize the Marriott Rewards program, and the Starwood Hotels still follow the Starwood Preferred Guest (SPG) program. These two programs allow you to transfer points and match status in-between the two, and we’ll go into that later. But as of 2018, Starwood hotels only credit to SPG and Marriott hotels only credit to Marriott, and there is no way to credit elite nights or stays from one hotel into the other program. Ritz Carlton follows it’s own program called Ritz-Carlton Rewards, but you can still credit RC stays to Marriott Rewards and earn points from RC stays.

With that background, let’s dig into what Marriott Rewards is, how to qualify for status, and what the benefits are.

2. Marriott Rewards

Marriott Rewards  is a loyalty program which provides award points based on your hotel price. Generally speaking, you can earn 10 Marriott points for every dollar spent at a Marriott hotel. The two exceptions are Residence Inn and TownePlace Suites, where you only earn 5 points per dollar. Lastly, Marriott Executive Apartment and ExecuStay earn 2.5 reward points per dollar, but those aren’t normal hotel stays.

You can also elect to earn 2 air miles per dollar spent instead of earning Marriott points. That effectively makes the conversion rate at 5 points to 1 air mile, and Marriott has dozens of transfer partners.

There’s also a slight nuance in that some hotels credit all qualifying charges like food/beverage, while others will just give you points for room rates. This chart shows the difference:

Apart from points, another important status factor is Eligible/Qualifying Nights. You earn a qualifying night for every night spent in a Marriott hotel. There is no concept of “stays” in the Marriott Rewards program, so it doesn’t matter if you stay 10 nights in one stay or over 10 different stays. The program just cares about nights, and we’ll go into requirements for different tiers in section four.

Remember that you must reserve hotels from Marriott.com, which is a key for you to obtain eligible/qualifying nights and points. Of course, you can also reserve hotels from a credit card concierge like Aspire from Citi Prestige or from Amex Platinum‘s Fine Hotels & Resorts (FHR). If you reserve hotels from the third party, such as Priceline.com, Booking.com, Hotels.com, you cannot obtain eligible/qualifying nights and points through your reservation and accommodation.

3. Point Redemption

Here is the redemption chart for Marriott Rewards:

Cash+Points usually doesn’t make sense unless you’re point strapped, because most people value Marriott points at 0.7-0.8 cpp. Remember that you can transfer Marriott to SPG at a 3:1 ratio, so you can always move points between the programs depending on which property has good redemption rates. In general, the really great hotels like Edition and JW Marriott tend to be category 7-9, and Ritz Carlton is so pricey that it has it’s own tier 🙂 The category is tied more to price than quality, so you can sometimes get anomalies like the Phu Quoc Emerald Bay Resort in Thailand as a category five (now it’s a category six) even though it sells for $200-300/night. So the 7-night certificate provides $1500-2000 of value at the high end. You can also use 30K Marriott points to upgrade the certificate a level i.e. 30K points to make it a Cat 6 cert, 60K points to make it a Cat 7, etc. I used 30K SPG points to become 90K Marriott to upgrade my Cat5 cert to a Cat8 certificate and get a week in Maui, Hawaii 🙂

I mainly use my night redemptions for random airport hotels when I need a cheap overnight, or to transfer for travel packages (section 8 below). Marriott has solid hotels at the top tier with Ritz and Edition and in the upper-middle with Renaissance and JW Marriott. The rest of them, like Fairfield, Courtyard, and Springhill Suites, are all fine hotels, not aspirational properties, but nice places to stay.

4. Elite Member Status

In order to award frequent guests, Marriott Group provides three status tiers: Silver, Gold, and Platinum. It requires 10 nights to become Silver, 50 to become Gold, and 75 to become Platinum. 

You must meet these night requirements in a calendar year. Once you achieve a tier, you’ll have that status for the remainder of this year, next year, and two months into the year after. So if I become Marriott Gold in July 2018, I’ll have the status for 2018, 2019, and through February 2020. Award nights are included in the qualifying night figure.

The chart below makes a brief comparison of the benefits:

As you can see, the big benefits start at the Gold/Platinum tier. In general Platinum members get better upgrades than Gold, but both get access to lounges and free breakfast. One great perk of Platinum is that you can also get United Silver Status through RewardsPlus.

However, staying 75 nights in hotels is a long, long task. As someone who has done 70+ nights in a year, let me tell you that spending all that time away from home isn’t as fun as it sounds. Especially if it’s in random Courtyard Marriott’s throughout the country. So in the next section we’ll go into short-cuts to elite status.

One last thing, here are the requirements for Lifetime status, but they will likely change in 2019 with the merged Marriott/SPG program.

5. Short-cut for Elite Membership

Living in the hotels, of course, is the normal but expensive way to obtain status. So here are several shortcuts to obtain Membership Level quickly:

  • Status Challenge;
  • Co-branded Credit Card;
  • Membership of United Airlines
  • SPG Status Match

5.1. SPG Status Match

Since Marriott acquired SPG, you can connect your Marriott and SPG accounts and match statuses between them. So SPG Gold will become Marriott Gold, and vice versa. This is great because the Amex Platinum automatically gives you SPG Gold status, so you also become Marriott Gold through the card. Easy!

If you are earning nights by staying in hotels, then SPG is also an easier program to get top tier status in. Platinum just requires 50 nights, and you can get the  Personal SPG Amex and Business SPG Amex to get five elite qualifying nights from each card. So with 40 paid nights a year you can become SPG Platinum, and thus Marriott Platinum. SPG also often runs promos where you get “double elite nights” for stays in a three month period, so in as few as 20 actual nights you can get Platinum status in both programs (and UA Silver as a byproduct)! 

This may go away in 2019 as the programs merge and requirements align, so now is a great time to do this. In general, Marriott Gold is a great status for Marriott hotels due to upgrades/breakfast/lounge, but Platinum is the real “good” status for SPG for upgrades/breakfast/lounge. It shows too since Marriott Gold is 50 nights as is SPG Platinum.

5.2. Status Challenge

If you are a high-ranking member of a Frequent Traveler Programs in certain airlines or hotels, you can try to ask other programs to match you at the same level. This is called Status Match, a common method to obtain membership level in many Frequent Traveler Programs quickly.

However, Status Match seems not to be very useful in Marriott. Instead, Marriott often provides a Status Challenge, the common requirements of which are as following:

  • Silver: three stays in 90 days;
  • Gold: six stays in 90 days;
  • Platinum: nine stays in 90 days.

You can often match to Gold from other programs or statuses, but for Platinum they require a stay challenge. It’s strange because Marriott doesn’t use stays for their elite program, but do require nine stays for the status challenge. You can do nine 1-night stays to meet the requirement if you wish.

Remember that consecutive nights in the same hotel will count as one stay even if made under different bookings. So you have to rotate around hotels.  Remember that you can only do this once in a 12-month period.

It is easy for you to apply for such a challenge. You can send an email to [email protected] or phone 801-468-4000 (8:15am-9pm ET,Mon-Fri) to tell them you want to apply for a Taste of Silver/Gold/Platinum and then the corresponding challenge. It should be noted that customer service will decide whether or not you can receive your challenge offer with certain conditions. Many applicants have been refused without any stays if they decide not to run the promotion at the time. You can always redial later or try one of the methods below 🙂

If you can manage to complete your challenge, your membership period and requirements remains the same until the end of February in the next year.

A great alternative is the SPG Platinum Challenge, which requires 18 nights in 90 days. That may or may not be easier for you depending on where you are night/stay wise. See our SPG guide for info.

5.3. Credit Cards

Another easy way to earn Elite Status is through credit cards. Normally speaking, you can obtain your status immediately as you open your credit card, or you can also obtain your status after spending a certain amount of money.

Two kinds of credit cards are launched by Marriott and Chase together:

You get 15 eligible nights every year when you open the Chase Marriott or the Chase Business Marriott. As the requirement of Silver card amounts to 10nights, your card will become Silver card automatically every year. Beyond that, ever $3,000 in spend gets you one qualifying night.

In the first year of the Ritz Carlton card, you get gold status for free. After that, spending $10K/yr will keep Gold status and spending $75k/yr will get you Platinum status. When it comes to the annual fee of 395 dollars, few people may hold the latter for a long period. Remember that the Amex Platinum has a higher fee ($550) but really a $150 net fee after benefits, and this auto grants you Marriott Gold via SPG Gold status.

5.4. United Airlines

Some perks for Rewards Plus:

  • 20 percent bonus can be obtained through points transfer from Marriott to UA miles;
  • Transfer UA miles to Marriott points, with transfer ration being 1:1;
  • UA Gold, Platinum, and 1K members automatically become Marriott Gold. This is how I started staying in Marriott hotels initially 🙂
  • Marriott Platinum becomes UA silver.

Therefore, if you are a United Gold or above, you can directly become a Marriott and thus SPG Gold member.

6. Best Rate Guarantee (BRG)

Now major hotels are trying their best to make guest reserve on their official websites or Apps on the phone. Apart from eligible nights that you can obtain only through such reservation ways above, major hotels generally attract guests through Best Rate Guarantee.

Simply speaking, BRG means if you find out a lower open price on a third website, you can ask the hotel to match you that price even after you have reserved one room on the official website. Actually hotels provide you extra benefits after you successfully enjoy BRG in order to encourage you to make reservations on the official website. After enjoying BRG successfully, Marriott will provide a 25 percent for the price after Match or 5,000 Marriott points. For example, I reserved a one-night stay of 120 dollars, then I searched for a 100-dollar price provided by them on Priceline.com. I just need to pay 75 dollars before tax after enjoying BRG. You can get more detailed information by clicking Online BRG Claim Form.

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There is a key in BRG that you must have a lower open price of the third party. For example, non-public prices of Priceline Express Deal or Priceline Bid cannot be valid. Besides, membership price obtained through expense and offered by those third party websites cannot be matched, too. Marriott gives detailed regulations on the page of Terms & Condition below about what can’t be claimed. Besides, you must make reservations on the official website of Marriott before you apply for File BRG Claim. Certainly, the hotel, room type and date must be totally consistent as you make BRG.

You can click this page to know more about Best Rate Guarantee Terms & Condition on the official Marriott website. And you can also find more authoritative information about BRG on that page.

As of February 2018, you can also get 5,000 Marriott points instead of the 25% off. Valuing Marriott points at 0.7-0.8 cents a piece means that if your hotel rate is <$150/night, then you should go for the points instead of the cash back. Of course this depends on how many Marriott points you have and what you want to accumulate.

7. SPG Point Transfer

You can also transfer points from Marriott to SPG at a 3:1 ratio or vice versa. So 1,000 Starwood points become 3,000 Marriott points and the reverse is also true.

Many people, myself included, believe SPG is going to go away in 2019 and everything will become Marriott Rewards. Until then, it’s worth it to accrue SPG points and try to maximize SPG redemptions. Of course nobody knows what is going to happen next year, and it’s possible the programs will continue in isolation the way the Marriott and Ritz-Carlton Rewards programs are linked but separate.

8. Travel Packages

One of the best thing about Marriott Rewards is Marriott Travel Packages . According to the website, you can use 270,000 Marriott points redeemed for 132,000 UA miles plus 7 consecutive nights at any category 1-5 Marriott property! So you can transfer 90,000 SPG points into 270,000 Marriott points to redeem this package. You can also transfer to dozens of other airlines at varying rates, generally getting 120,000 miles out of the transactionThis is probably the best use of Marriott Points, especially when there are transfer bonuses. 

To give you an example, I did a 7-night package with Aeroplan was offering a 30% transfer bonus to get ~150K Aeroplan miles and a 7-night stay certificate. I turned the 150K Aeroplan miles into three one-way business class tickets from US-London for my family, which was a fantastic vacation on Swiss J for about $30 out of pocket 🙂


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