Secured Southwest Companion Pass and 7 Night Stay. Now where should we go?

Yesterday, I called Marriott’s Platinum Elite phone line (800-399-4229) in order to book a Travel Package.  Marriott travel packages are awards in which you exchange Marriott Rewards points for airline miles plus a certificate for a 7 night stay.  You do not need to use the airline miles as part of the trip in which you book your stay.  The number of Marriott Rewards points required depends on which package you select (e.g. which type of airline miles you want), how many miles you want (50,000; 70,000; 100,000; or 120,000), and which category of hotel you plan to visit.  Complete details can be found here: 12 things you need to know about Marriott Travel Packages.

Marriott 7 Night Travel Packages

Given that we have until March 31st to convert hotel points into Companion Pass qualifying Southwest points, I decided that it was time for me to make the plunge.  By redeeming Marriott Rewards points for a Hotel + Air Travel Package including 120,000 Southwest points, I will earn a Southwest Companion Pass that is valid throughout the rest of 2017 and all of 2018.  Regardless of whether I book paid or award flights on Southwest, I’ll be able to add a companion for free (after TSA fees) for the next 23 months.

My Southwest companion will undoubtedly be my wife, but Southwest allows 3 companion changes per calendar year.  So I can make up to 6 changes over the nearly two years that I’ll hold the pass.

If we use the Companion Pass a decent number of times while it is active, the travel package will have been worth the point price even if we don’t use the hotel certificate at all.  And if we end up getting good use from the hotel certificate as well, it will be a fantastic deal…

A half-hearted attempt at a 5 Night package…

Over a year ago, a reader had told me about 5 Night packages that are intended only for Marriott Vacation Club (timeshare) owners.  I then called Marriott to ask about it and was told that they would allow me to get a 5 Night package because of my elite status.  I wasn’t ready to book the package at that time, so I asked for assurance that I could book it later.  The agent I spoke with put me on hold to speak to his supervisor and then returned to the line to say yes, I would be able to book the package at any time.  I then broke the news about these packages through a blog post: Marriott 5 Night Travel Packages exist, but they’re secret.

Shorty after that post, many readers reported success in booking 5 Night packages.  But as time went on, I heard fewer and fewer success stories, and more and more failures.  I added a caution to the top of that post, as follows: “Since this post was originally written, it has become increasingly difficult for those who are not Marriott Vacation Club owners to book 5 night packages. People still report success every now and then, but most report the inability to book these.”

Based on many readers’ reported experience, I assumed that I too would be told no if I asked for a 5 Night package, but I figured that it was worth a try.  The first agent I spoke with was very clear: “No, 5 night packages are only for Vacation Club owners.”  I told her about my call from a year ago, but she wasn’t persuaded.  I asked to speak to a supervisor.  His answer was the same: No Way Jose.

I considered calling Marriott Rewards over and over, and to different call centers around the world, in the hopes of finding someone willing to let me book a 5 Night package.  But, I didn’t think that spending the day getting rejected by Marriott reps was worth my time.  The difference in price between the two packages is only 35,000 Marriott points (or, given the 1 to 3 transfer ratio from Starwood, less than 12,000 SPG points).

My real issue wasn’t the extra points, but rather a worry I had about the ability to book a 7 night stay.  Based upon previous conversations with Marriott Rewards agents, I was under the impression that you had to book all 7 nights of your 7 night certificate, even if you weren’t planning to stay all 7 nights.  This can be problematic because standard room award nights have to be available and its rare to see them available for 7 nights in a row at desirable properties.  I discussed this with the Marriott Rewards supervisor, but he assured me that I didn’t have to book all 7 nights. I could use the certificate to book 5 or 6 nights, for example.  If I did so, the certificate would not retain any residual value, but that would be far better than not using it at all.

I pointed out that the difference in price between the 5 NIght and 7 Night packages is 35,000 points and I asked the supervisor if he could extend courtesy points to me given the fact that I had been given wrong information a year ago by another agent.  He offered only 10,000 points, but I figured that was much better than nothing.  I took the deal.  I redeemed 270,000 points for the 7 night Category 1-5 package which includes 120,000 Southwest points.  The agent told me that it would take 3 days to get the points, but some people have reported a much faster turnaround.  Either way, it’s fine.

Update: the agent was right.  It took exactly 3 days for the points and the Companion Pass to appear in my Southwest account.  Here is what I found when I logged in 3 days later:

Southwest Congrats Companion Pass

Where will we go?

An easy way to find all direct flights out of any given airport is to lookup that airport on Wikipedia and then jump to the “Airlines and destinations” section.  Since the Detroit airport (DTW) is my local airport, I found the relevant Wikipedia section (here) which reports the following non-stop Southwest flights:

Atlanta, Baltimore, Chicago–Midway, Dallas–Love, Denver, Las Vegas, Nashville, Phoenix–Sky Harbor, St. Louis
Seasonal: Orlando

With one stop, we can get to almost any airport within the continental US.  Some one-stop options for going beyond the continental US include:

I don’t know where we’ll go with our points and the Companion Pass, but I’d be happy to go to pretty much any of those destinations.  It’s especially tempting to return to Costa Rica where we recently stayed at the Andaz Peninsula Papagayo resort.

Where will we stay?

We can use the 7 night certificate to stay at any Marriott or Ritz Carlton property in the world, as long as standard room awards are available.  If we stay at a property that is higher than Marriott Category 5 (which is extremely likely), we will just have to pay the difference in package price at the time of booking.

Marriott_hotelplusAir_SouthwestRapidRewards.png

We paid 270,000 points for the Category 1-5 package offering 120,000 Rapid Rewards points.  If we decide to use our 7 Night certificate at a Category 9 property, we’ll have to pay the difference in points: 390,000 – 270,000 = 120,000 Marriott Rewards points (which equals 40,000 SPG points).  Or, if we want to stay at a top tier Ritz property, it will cost us 540,000 – 270,000 = 270,000 Marriott Rewards points (which equals 90,000 SPG points).

We’ve stayed many times in the past at the Inn at Bay Harbor in northern Michigan and we’ve always enjoyed it.  It’s currently a category 7 hotel, so we would have to fork over another 60,000 Marriott points (or 20,000 SPG points) to book it.  I have no doubt we’d enjoy the stay yet again.  So, that’s a good option, but I’d also like to try something new…

The Inn at Bay Harbor:

https://youtu.be/00QfidVYCk0

Reader suggestions

Do you have suggestions for great Marriott / Ritz properties worth visiting?  Please comment below!

Here are a few that look nice, but I haven’t visited…

JW Marriott Phuket:
395,000 points

Kauai Marriott Resort:
Kauai-Marriott-Resort.jpg

Wailea Beach Marriott Resort and Spa:
wailea-beach-marriott-resort-and-spa-outside-photo

Ritz Carlton Kapalua:

ritz-carlton-kapalua

 

About Greg The Frequent Miler

Greg is the owner, founder, and primary author of the Frequent Miler. He earns millions of points and miles each year, mostly without flying, and dedicates this blog to teaching others how to do the same.

More articles by Greg The Frequent Miler »

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  1. We are using our certificate in March. Will let you know if there are any hiccups on check in/check out. We are also booked 7 nights but will be leaving on day 6 (work!). In looking at Resort levels it seems 7 is the sweet spot and provides some outsized value. But your destinations may differ.

    As far as direct flights on Southwest, they have a great map and you can filter by Non-Stop. Its really user friendly. Also great for eyeing up a possible repsotiion flight on another airline to get you where you need to go. i.e. SW does not fly to NYC for me. However, JetBlue does. So although its a two stop, I can get to Puerto Rico quickly. But if I tried to book from home, it would be a two stop or even three stop to get me there.

    Now, to find that 75,000 Amex Platinum sign up before my trip so I have gold status. Although I’m staying at a resort, so no lounge/breakfast for me anyway. 🙁

  2. I gave my 7 nights last year to my son and daughter in law for their anniversary, and they used it for the category 5 Marriott in Barbados, and loved it!

  3. I would love to hear an opinion about whether or not it’s worth transferring Chase ultimate rewards to Marriott in order to snag a companion pass.

    Obviously depends on how much the pass will get used to, but …. I’d love to hear some perspective!

    • If it were me, I’d look at the opportunity cost of using that many Chase pts since sign-up bonuses are more difficult to get as a result of 5/24. Are you below 5/24 and can get more bonuses easily? Do you have a method of generating a lot of Chase points, e.g. MS or GC reselling? Is there another experience you’re giving up using the points for a companion pass?

      The really hot deal is being able to convert 1 SPG into 3 Marriott pts.

    • Dee has good suggestions. Plus, keep in mind that Chase Ultimate Rewards to Hyatt to Southwest is another option.

      If starting from scratch with no Marriott or Hyatt points, the Marriott approach would require 270,000 Ultimate Rewards points and would result in a 7 night certificate and 120,000 Southwest miles. Meanwhile, the Hyatt approach would be to transfer 50,000 points at a time to Southwest (they give you bonus miles when you do so) in order to get 30,000 Southwest points. It would cost 200,000 Ultimate Rewards to get 120,000 Southwest points this way.

      So, the difference between the two approaches is that the Marriott route costs 70,000 additional Ultimate Rewards points, but nets the addition of a 7 night stay. Personally, I’d value 70K Ultimate Rewards higher than a 7 night Category 1-5 Marriott certificate, so I’d go the Hyatt route if anything.

      The next question is whether it is worthwhile to convert 200K Ultimate Rewards into 120K Southwest points + a companion pass. If you think you would use all 120,000 southwest points for trips with a companion, then that’s a good trade, but not an amazingly good trade. With that unlikely scenario, the value you get for your UR points is 20% higher than if you had just transferred the points directly to Southwest. And it locks you into using your Southwest points in that way.

      In summary, if you’re starting from scratch, then no, I don’t recommend using Ultimate Rewards points to get the Companion Pass. However, if you just need a top-off of Marriott points in order to get the travel package, then yes, do it. Or if you’re short lets say 30,000 Southwest points for the Companion Pass, then it’s worth doing the 50K UR to 50K Hyatt to 30K Southwest conversion.

  4. Hey Greg. I am trying to find my best way to a companion pass. I have the Amex spg card and have 57000 points I can transfer from there. I have 21000 Marriott points but am short about 80000. What would your recommendation be to secure the companion pass before March 31. Thanks for your help!!

  5. Fire up that companion pass and head back to Cost Rica. VRBO is definitely the best option in CR, but if you really want to use your Marriott, package check out the Cat. 7 JW Marriott Guanacaste.

  6. Hm. I got this deal 2 years ago. I just let my marriott nights expire without using! They seemed like a by-product to me. I have had a companion pass continually since 2003 when you could still buy american express membership rewards and transfer to Southwest. I would just buy it every year for around $3500, then I think I would have like 6 tickets+companion, so about $300 each for a anytime anywhere ticket plus free flights for the companion for the year. I used to do a 4 day domestic trip every other weekend. Now that they fly international, I flew to Jamaica twice and it seemed like the taxes on the companion were like $49 each way. Ugh. Seemed not really worth it. I have heard Costa Rica is nice, but I don’t really want to bother with any of their international destinations.

  7. thanks for posting – I have no use for the category 5 hotels – so I was planning on giving it away. Now that I know you can book cat 6 or 7 and pay the difference I might be able to use 4-5 of the nights.

  8. My husband and I have each had companion passes (with two of our 3 kids as companions) for the last 4 years (expiring in Dec 2017). I am so bummed that it will be hard to get this for us in 2018 with the changes to no hotel transfers and 5/24. We have gotten insane value out of this, making lots of long weekends and several big trips per year, including Jamaica, Cancun and Costa Rica. We live near Baltimore so lots of direct flight options on SW. Also, my kids play travel sports and lots of flights with just one parent/one kid, and the nice part with Southwest is the sports equipment flies free and you can cancel and get your points back. We never know when the tournaments will be over because it depends on how their teams do during the weekend, so I just book alternate flights home and then cancel as we see how things are going. Love Southwest.

  9. For those who don’t plan to use the certificate at all, keep in mind the following:
    1. At the end of the first year, you can call and ask to have the certificate extended for another year (might as well, just in case!)
    2. If you end up really not using it, then call Marriott Rewards before it expires and let them know that you couldn’t find any use for it. You should be able to get 45,000 points returned to you (if you got the Cat 1-5 package). It’s not much, but it’s something!

    • Greg, I heard that when you upgrade your package they issue you a new certificate with a new 1 year expiration. Can you confirm???

      • I hadn’t heard that, but that would be great. I wonder if you could string it out for 3 years if that’s true:
        First year is given, 2nd year is from a courtesy extension (just call and ask), and 3rd year from package upgrade.
        I’ll definitely test it out.

  10. I’m staying in June in Bath, Maine at a newer Residence Inn. We earned two companion passes so we’ll be able to take additional family members with us.

  11. If you don’t worry about 35K Marriott points, then you don’t need to worry about staying 7 nights. You can stay 5 nights even though you book 7 night stay.

  12. We stayed at the Ritz Kapalua, Andaz Maui, and Westin Ka’napali this past fall. We weren’t impressed with the Ritz. The location isn’t great – no real beach, windy spot, far away from most of what you’d want to see and do in Maui. We booked 3 rooms through Amex Fine Hotels & Resorts one night and on UR points the next. As a Gold member, I wrote ahead and asked for only one to be upgraded to an ocean view (an upgrade should theoretically be automatic with FHR on availability or with Gold status). Got no ocean view, only got early check in on two rooms (despite that being another FHR benefit). Finally, I inquired about a cooking class as I’d read a mention on TripAdvisor about it and thought it might be a nice surprise for my wife & family. They wanted over $1800 for six of us to do a 3hr class to learn how to make a Hawaiian pastry

    • Whoops. Rest of my comment got cut off. I politely declined :-).

      If the RC had great service OR a great location OR was a great value on points, I’d give it more consideration. I didn’t really find it to be a win in any of the above departments. At least, I wouldn’t go back over the other options on Maui. I’d rather have a Wailea location or I like your Kauai picks!

      Looking forward to hearing about which one you pick and to seeing if I made a good pick with my certificate (only planning to stay 3 or 4 of the 7 nights, but still decided it was well worth the trade for 2 more years of the companion pass!).

  13. I got the companion pass and have booked the Courtyard Isla Verde Beach Resort over Christmas using the Marriott rewards (Category 7 – used extra points I had). Reviews and pictures seemed very good!

  14. We are using ours in June at St. Petersburg at the Marriott, had to add an extra 30000, but the hotel is retailing for about $2800 during those dates. I don’t think 7 nights is too long to full appreciate the city. Plus they actually allow 3 people in the room, a huge issue for us with our teenager.

  15. I have not had a problem booking Option 3 Hotel & Air Package for Category 5. Reservations never mentioned time share requirement. Maybe its because I’m Lifetime Platinum. Last time we did the Category 5 at the JW in Quito which was excellent (especially if you can use the Concierge Room with food from 7am to 10 pm). This year we will stay at one of the Marriott properties in Lisbon (Marriott is Category 5). Love the SW Companion pass. We use it about 8x a year. I use points; my wife uses the Companion

  16. Two CP Questions:

    1. Can you add a companion to a flight booked through UR/Chase (e.g. CSR 1.5 cpp), or does the CP only work on flights book direct with WN?
    2. If I have the CP and my wife is the companion, can she use her RR points to book a flight for me only, then I add her as the companion?

  17. I’ve stayed as a paid guest at all 3 of the Hawaii properties you posted. The RC would probably be the best “value” especially if you have elite status (I did/do NOT).

    * Kapalua is about as far north(west) as you can get on Maui so a car is a necessity and expect to drive to everything. I love the area and the golfing and surfing is awesome if you like that.

    * Wailea is a nice property but, for me, on the “wrong” side of Maui. Much fewer dining/shopping options than the Lahaina side. Good golf and much much quieter beach scene.

    * Kauai is my favorite of the three. Disclosure – in college I interned for Chris Hemmeter who did the redevelopment that became the Kauai Marriott so… I like the fact the property is in the “middle” of the island – close to dining/shopping and about equidistant to the north/south shores.

    Holler if you need/want more info…

  18. I am working to get enough MR points to get a 7 night cat 8 package for a trip to Phuket next January which is high season there. If I was just going to use regular MR points I can pre-book at the hotel and have several months to build enough points to get the certificate to take there. Can I do the same thing if it’s the “package” or do you have to wait until you get it then book?

    • I don’t know, but I think it would be safe to do the following:
      1. pre-book the resort as a regular award stay in order to hold the award space
      2. Once you get the package, tell the Marriott Rewards rep that you have the award on hold and you want to book it with the certificate rather than points.

      To be clear, I haven’t tried this, but I expect it would work.

    • If you don’t have cheaper options (such as signing up for Marriott or SPG credit cards), then yes using Ultimate Rewards points in that scenario is a good deal. You can think of it as using your 170K MR points to get a 7 night certificate and your 100K UR points to get 120K Southwest points and a companion pass.

  19. We’re using out 7 nights at the Renaissance St Croix in April. Been there two times on this method. Last time we did Bwi-SJU and puddle jumpers. Going Delta this time. We’ll get use of the southwest pts and CPass plenty within the next two years.

  20. What do you think about this route to get the SW companion pass and Marriot 7 night package?
    – Transfer American Express MR pts to SPG pts: 1K MR pts = 333 SPG points
    – Transfer SPG points to Marriott pts: 333 SPG pts = 1K Marriott pts.

    • I’m sure Greg has a thoughtful analysis on this, but here are my thoughts:

      120,000 SW points = ~$1800 in airfare
      7-night Marriott Cat 5 = hard to value definitively

      270k Amex MRs, if you have the Business Platinum card, could realistically buy you around $4500 in economy class airfare on your airline of choice (perhaps a bit less in business class because the rebate necessitates having double the final net cost). My math on this is:
      270k = $2700 in airfare, get a 135k rebate
      135k = $1350 in airfare, get a 67.5k rebate
      67.5k = $675 in airfare, get a 33.75k rebate
      33.75k = $337.50 in airfare, get a 16.875k rebate
      16.875k = $168.75 in airfare, get an 8,437.5 rebate

      Of course, you can also take advantage of transfer partners and potentially get even more value/flexibility. That said, if you don’t have a Business Platinum and/or you’ll kill it with the companion pass and/or make amazing use of the Marriott cert, it might work out. In my personal opinion, the Companion Pass is the best deal in domestic travel — but I wouldn’t personally trade 270k Amex MRs for it.

  21. Hey Greg,

    Great article. I did the deal myself points posted within 3 days cp posted about a week after I called Marriot. What I am a little bit unclear about is how do I pay the difference in Points to upgrade my category stay? For example I would love to use The 7 night cert for Kauai but I got the 1-5 category cert. If you can please walk me through the process a little bit. Tia!

  22. Greg,

    I have CP through the end of 2017.
    69K SPG points plus 63K UR points will get me to 270K Marriott.
    Would you do it, given I only extend CP for one more year?

    • That’s a tough one! You would be trading in 132,000 valuable transferable points for 120,000 Southwest points and one extra year of a companion pass. Whether or not to do so, depends on:
      1. How much will you use the companion pass in 2018?
      2. Will you use all 120,000 points on 2 person flights where you bring your companion?
      3. How much do you value SPG points? UR points?

      To make the math really easy, let’s say that your answers to 1 and 2 are “lots!” and “yes”, and that you value SPG at 2.5 cents per point and UR at 2 cents per point, and that the usual value of SW points is 1.5 cents per point.

      Then, we can say that you’ll get double value from those 120K points = $1800 x 2 = $3600

      But you would pay 69K SPG ($1725) + 63K UR ($1260) = $2985

      So, you’re gaining 20% value from the transfer plus you’re getting a 7 night stay.

      That said, most people don’t max out the companion pass in exactly that way. If you pay with points for some SW trips by yourself or with 3 people, you’ll average less than double value from those 120K points. On the other hand, you might fly Southwest so much that you will use up the points and then some (cash or points you get somewhere else) in order to get even more value from the companion pass.

      Personally, I wouldn’t do it, but if you fly SW a huge amount, then it may be well worth it.

  23. Skip the Kauai Marriott “Resort”. It’s a tired dump. Honestly why it hasnt been torn down is a mystery. Smells. Physical condition is poor. Old fashioned design. Poor location – one of the first large hotels built on Kauai and it is an eyesore.

  24. My 1k UR topoff to my Marriott account (269k) just came through this morning (it took three days for the transfer). When I called to book Pkg #3, I was told that the Rewards Plus system was down and I’d need to try again Monday. Hope they’re not changing the numbers on us!

  25. “difference in price between the 5 NIght and 7 Night packages is 35,000 points and I asked the supervisor if he could extend courtesy points to me given the fact that I had been given wrong information a year ago by another agent. He offered only 10,000 points, but I figured that was much better than nothing. I took the deal.”

    Does this mean you got 10,000 Marriott points added to your Marriott account after the 270k were deducted?

  26. Thanks for the great write-up. Was successful in getting a 5 night category 7 package. Haven’t decided where i will be using it yet but most definitely on a beach property.

  27. I ordered a Category 1-5 package with the 120,000 Southwest miles a few days ago. I can see the certificate in my Marriott account and the Southwest Miles and companion pass are in my Southwest account. Can somebody explain the process for using the Marriott ecertificate? Can I do it online or do I have to call the hotel that I am interested in using it at? Thanks for any help you can give.

    • 1) Online, find a property that has up to 7 consecutive nights in which standard room awards are available.
      2) Call Marriott Rewards and ask to use your certificate to book the room. If the room is a higher category than your certificate allows, they’ll offer to let you pay points to upgrade the certificate to the right category.

      • Hi Greg. Thanks for the reply. I was confused because I thought that the certificate could be used online. It sounds like the one night certificate that you receive from paying the annual fee on the Marriott credit card can be used online.

  28. FYI: If you want to extend the expiration date of your 7 night award certificate with marriott you can upgrade, with miles, to a higher category hotel This will result in cancellation of the initial reward certificate and issuance of a new one, with a new expiration date one year from date of last transaction. Of course, calling and asking for an extension of the exp date is also an option, but if you were going to upgrade from the 1-5 category to something higher anyway then this is an option as well.

    • No, but you can buy Marriott points and then use them to upgrade. The cheapest way is to to buy SPG points (especially right now since they have up to a 30% discount) and then transfer them to Marriott 1 to 3.

  29. Was thinking about the Lisbon Marriott for the 7 night award, cat. 1-5. I was told it wasn’t in the best area for tourism. Not that it’s a bad area, just that it’s not convenient to most tourist attractions. And it isn’t the best bang for the award buck

    I was also thinking about Cabo San Lucas but it’s just a category 2 Fairfield. Not the best use of the award. There is a really nice category 8 JW Marriott Los Cabos Beach Resort & Spa which might be worth the upgrade.

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