Marriott Travel Package Arbitrage

In a post written over a year ago about the Marriott SPG merger (Investing in change: Marriott / SPG / Ritz new program opportunities) I wrote the following about Marriott Travel Packages: “there’s a chance that having an active 5 or 7 Night Stay certificate in-hand will be a big win.”

My thinking was that the merger would open up the ability to use the Marriott stay certificates at Starwood properties. I also thought that there was an outside chance (far outside) that the hotel category system would go away and that the certificates would temporarily be available to book any hotel.

Now that we know more about how the programs are coming together in August, many readers have asked me what to do now.  Is it worth investing in Marriott Travel packages before the programs merge in August?  If you have a travel package stay certificate, should you upgrade it to a higher category, or downgrade it to a lower category before August?

Travel Package Background

First, a little background.  Marriott Travel packages offer a great way to convert hotel points to airline miles at a favorable rate.  Below you’ll see one of several current (pre-August) travel packages.  Focus on just the right-most column, since that’s where you’ll find the best deals.  There, you’ll see that you can purchase a Category 1-5 7 Night package for 270,000 Marriott points (90K SPG), and you’ll get 120,000 miles.  Incidentally, you also get a 7 night certificate good at any Category 1-5 property.  But, the key value for many of us is the ability to transfer SPG points to miles at a great rate: 90K Starpoints to 120K airline miles.  If you transfer to United, you get even more miles (132K).

You don’t need to have actual travel in mind when purchasing a travel package.  You immediately get the miles and you get a 7 night certificate loaded to your account.  The certificate is good for a year, but can be extended another year simply by calling and asking.  It can also be extended by a year by calling Marriott Rewards to upgrade or downgrade the package to another category (you pay the difference in the package price if upgrading, or you get back the difference if downgrading).

What happens to travel packages in August?

In August, anyone with active stay certificates will then be able to use them across the Marriott / SPG portfolio.  That is a potentially big win since, in my opinion, SPG has more desirable mid-tier properties.  We don’t yet know exactly how the current categories will map to new categories, but we have been told that the goal is to base the mapping on the number of points required for a stay.  For example, category 5 Marriott hotels in the current award chart cost 25,000 points per night.  In the new award chart, category 4 hotels cost 25,000 points per night.  So, it’s safe to assume that category 1-5 certificates will become category 1-4 certificates in August.  Since Marriott has said that more properties will go down in price than up, this means that the category 1-5 certificate should have the same or better value in August then it does today.  Not all categories map perfectly 1 to 1 though, so there are some risks and opportunities with keeping a certificate until August.  More on that below.

What about buying new Travel Packages?  Should we buy now or later?  In a conversation with VP of Marriott Rewards, Bob Behrens, I was told that Travel Packages will still be available in the combined program and they’ll offer similar value. He also told me that he hopes to reduce complexity.  Currently there are four different packages.  The package you choose depends upon which airline miles you want.  In the current system, the United package offers the most miles.  And packages 1 and 3, which cover most mainstream airlines, offer the standard number of miles (up to 120K).  Packages 2 (a collection of foreign airlines), and package 4 (JetBlue), though, offer relatively poor value.  Bob is hoping to chop this down to one or two packages.  On the plus side, this means that a number of foreign programs (JAL, Asiana, Korean Air, etc.) will then be a much better deal in August than they are today.  On the negative side, this may mean that United will no longer offer more miles than other programs.

A look at how the stay certificates may map from old to new

The following chart shows by best guess of how Marriott will map old stay certificates to new in August.  Most of the categories are predictable because they are one to one mappings, or close enough.  Current categories 6 and 8 are less certain, though, so the chart below shows two possible mappings for each.  For example, the chart shows what happens if old Category 6 maps to New Category 4 or to New Category 5.

Cells shaded red indicate that your Stay Certificate will lose value in the new system, and cells shaded green indicate that your certificate will gain value.

The only “sure win” in the chart above is in Old Category 9 which is very likely to map to New Category 6.  In this case, your certificate will go from being able to book 45K per night rooms to 50K per night rooms for a maximum added value of 30K points if you book a 7 night stay (5th night is always free, so this is calculated as 5K x 6 = 30K).  On the other hand, by the same reasoning, Marriott will probably place many current category 9 hotels into new category 6 and so they’ll all cost 50K per night in the new system.  In other words, despite the numbers above, you won’t really gain anything at all other than locking in today’s award prices.  Worse, it’s my opinion that the best current Marriott category 9 hotels are the most likely to be re-categorized upwards in the new system.  If you’re eying a great category 9 property right now, you’re better off booking it before August because it’s likely that it will jump to 60,000 points per night in the new program.  In other words, this “sure win” isn’t likely to be a win at all.

Category 6 certificates are interesting because their current value falls exactly in the middle between new categories 4 and 5.  If Marriott maps category 6 certificates to New Category 4, then we lose (unless most category 6 properties also map to New Category 4).  If they map them to Category 5, then we win… unless most category 6 properties also map to New Category 5.  My best guess is that holding onto a Category 6 certificate will be a small win.

Category 8 certificates have the most likely upside.  Marriott may generously map old Category 8 to new Category 6.  The downside is that they may instead map to New Category 5 (which is the same mapping that I predict for Category 7 certificates).  If that happens, you may have essentially lost 30K points (the difference in price between Category 7 and 8 certificates).  My bet, though, is that if they do map old Category 8 to New Category 5, they’ll make you whole by giving you 30,000 points.  Overall, in my opinion, Category 8 appears to be the only category worth investing in today in the hopes that it will be more valuable in August.

Ritz Tier 4-5 have the potential to offer a huge win, but only when category 8 is introduced in 2019.  Given that category 8 won’t exist when the mappings happen, it seems unlikely to me that the travel package will be mapped to this not-yet-existent category.  Personally, I wouldn’t risk it.

Recommendations

If you already have a stay certificate from buying a Travel Package in the past, then consider rolling the dice and upgrading or downgrading it to Category 8.  Of course, if you are upgrading, you’ll need to have enough points in your account to cover the difference in package prices.  You must talk to the Marriott Rewards department to upgrade or downgrade a package. General Marriott customer service agents won’t know how and may even tell you that it can’t be done.  I called on Wednesday and successfully upgraded my category 5 certificate to category 8, but the process did involve very long hold times.

If you are trying to decide whether to buy a package now or wait until August:

Buy now if:

  • You need the miles right away, or
  • You want United miles (the new packages might not offer as much value for United miles)

Wait until August if:

  • You want to get miles in any of the following programs: Aeroflot, Air China, Air France/KLM, Alitalia, ANA, Asia Miles, Asiana Airlines, Avianca-TACA LifeMiles, China Eastern, 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

Before you buy

In my opinion, the potential upside of category 8 packages is not enough to warrant buying now if you aren’t in the market for exchanging points for airline miles.  Also consider the fact that if you buy now, you’ll have fewer points available for the outstanding award night values that are likely to appear in August (see: The huge wins in Marriott’s announcement).  That said, if you already have a stay certificate and you have enough points to do so, I do think that upgrading to category 8 makes sense just in case it pays off.  Keep in mind, though, that there is some risk that you’ll lose the equivalent of 30K points if things don’t play out as we hope.

See Also

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.

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53 Comments on "Marriott Travel Package Arbitrage"

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Tim Smith
Guest

Nice. United usually runs a bonus in October/November when transferring hotel points which netted me 157K UA miles last year so I’m waiting on that possibility. Even if it’s equal to other airlines Now the extra 25K Miles is pretty good.

Josh
Guest

When would you recommend upgrading the package? Now or wait until later this summer (before August)?

Christine B
Guest

I called in January and had my 7-night package extended a year. Doubting I will actually use it before it expires early January. You mentioned that upgrading or downgrading categories extends the expiration date. Has anyone tried to extend by upgrade and package that had already had a courtesy 1-year extension?

I’m also wondering if redemption of the 7-night package counts toward elite stay nights for status and/or lifetime status?

Jeff
Guest

Great info Greg

Chris
Guest

Greg, thanks for the post. I have 7 night cert Cat 5 which I plan to upgrade to Cat 8 to use at Wailea Marriott Cat 8 in Feb 2019. Concerned about the new flex point system in 2019 as Feb is busy month in Hawaii. If I upgrade to Cat 8 now and book and apply cert to hotel reservation now, would this safeguard against future possible rise in points needed once new award charts come out. I am also thinking if points happen to be less, I could also downgrade my cert and get points back? Any thoughts if my plan makes sense? Thanks

J C
Guest

Hi Greg, do you think there’s a higher chance that a Cat 1-5 certificate will simply remain a Cat 1-5 certificate after August (as opposed to level-setting to a Cat 4 based on points as you’re calculating above)? The Points Guy FAQ suggests the former, and there’s some more evidence of that with the annual night certificates for the credit cards level-setting to 35K points (i.e., a new Cat 5).

Nick Reyes
Editor

In reference specifically to the annual night certificates from credit cards, Bob told us that the free night certificates from the existing Marriott Rewards Premier cards will map to a similar point value in the new system (i.e 25,000 points). The current SPG business and personal cards will come with the new benefit of a certificate for properties up to 35K starting in August and the Marriott Rewards Premier Plus card that launches later this week will also come with a 35K certificate. The new SPG Luxe card will come with a 50k certificate. Since they are already juggling multiple point values, I think the old Marriott cards will still come with a 25k certificate and thus it’ll be a category 1 to 4.

In terms of travel packages, as Greg notes, we understood the travel packages will likely work the same way and thus a current Cat 1 to 5 cert would become category 1 to 4. Marriott isn’t downgrading your certificate. Right now a category 5 costs 25,000 points per night. Starting in August, a category 4 will cost 25,000 points per night. It’s the same thing with a new category name. Obviously, some properties may change in category (as they do every year), but I wouldn’t expect wild changes from that specific category. Since a category 1 to 5 seven night certificate is valid at properties that charge up to 25,000 points now, I can’t see Marriott adding another 60,000 points in value by allowing you to use it for 7 nights at a 35000 point property next year. If I’m wrong, awesome for those with a certificate, but I don’t see any reason to think that’s likely.

Nun
Guest

I’m pretty sure Marriott or Starwood Lurker on FT already said that existing certificates will be assigned a point value for use.

Ken
Guest

Will it still be 7 nights or will they give you a bucket of points to use for any amount of nights?

Vxy
Guest

Sub

tina
Guest

Great discussion. I am sitting on a small pile of SPG points (~110,000). I was planning on transferring to American to use for international flights, as it seems that I do this more with American points than others. Right now I don’t think I’ll be staying in any one place for more than 4 days. Would you say the package is more compelling than the extra 25% bonus American is offering right now for transfers?

WR2
Guest

Transferring to AA is a total waste, AA are so easy to accumulate. Of course the travel packages are a better deal. The math is obvious. Basically a free 7 nights plus slightly more miles.

Jan
Guest

Any guess in which Spg categories currently will become the NEW Marriott category 4? I only have 270k points for the travel package .also you mentioned ANA and Asiana for the air transfer portion of 120k miles . What are the sweet spots for both ANA and Asiana? I thought they have high fuel charges. Thanks

Rene
Guest

I’m about to purchase a cat 5 pkg since I have just accumulated the amount needed in SPG points. This might be a dumb question, but am I right that it takes another 90K to upgrade to a cat. 8 cert?

Dave Shen
Guest

Would you recomend doing this with 5 night packages aswell?

Mark
Guest

Is it possible to ask Marriott whether all the details of the new system will be announced before August, so that we still have time to buy at the old rates or wait for the new rates ?

Nick Reyes
Editor

As I recall, Bob told us that they would put out the preview that came out this week first and that there would be a full list of the categories and hotels within about a month of the launch event if I remember correctly. We don’t know whether or not travel packages will be released in advance.

Blue
Guest

IMO the real risk is a change to the ability to modify these packages by adding or subtracting points.

Janice
Guest

I have about 25k SPG points now, how would you use it before August? Lots of information around, a little confused on what to do! It took me forever to accumulate that.

Nick Reyes
Editor

This is kind of like saying I have $500 in my pocket, how should I spend it? It really kind of depends on what you want. 🙂

Since you get the same effective transfer ratio to airlines in the new program, I wouldn’t be in any hurry to transfer. If you find a hotel booking that works for you, great. You probably don’t need to rush anything. Wait until the new charts come out and see if you have any opportunity to redeem for a location and property that makes more sense now or will make more sense later.

Janice
Guest

Thanks 🙂

Lisa W
Guest

Hi Greg,
Thanks for the write up. I want to redeem the current Cat 8 package and use the hotel portion on a Marriott hotel that is currently going for 40K pts per night. If they map it o Cat 6, I would have left 60K pts on the table by redeeming now, correct? If they map it to Cat 5, then I would have to top up 30K to get the same hotel. Does it mean I should redeem the hotel portion now? If they do map Cat 8 to the new Cat 6, do you think I will get credited 60K pts?

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[…] Greg of Frequent Miler […]

Aaron
Guest

Are the 7 night Marriott packages with United miles still available?…
As of an hour ago the package / transfer page is ‘in maintenance’ http://www.marriott.com/rewards/usepoints/morepack.mi

Is this anything to worry about?

Andy
Guest

Hi Greg / Nick. Thanks for the post! Do you know perhaps if I redeemed for a 7 night certificate for later use, do you get the elite night credits straight away i.e for this year requal, but I could use them next year? Thanks guys

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[…] Marriott Travel Package Arbitrage. – These travel packages that offer a week hotel stay and airline miles for a very affordable amount of Marriott points. Greg offers some pros and cons for buying a new package or upgrading an existing package. […]

Sayeed
Guest

I don’t see Alaska on the list, are they not going to be a part of this going forward?

Ali
Guest

Still a bit confused. Can I use a 7 night Marriott package with miles to book spg Westin Maui from July 30 to aug 5? Or do I have to wait until August?

Nick Reyes
Editor

You have to wait until August. Right now, the programs are still separate.

USB
Guest

Dumb question – if the 5th night is always free, wouldn’t we get anything back for that free night? We’d only need to use 6/7 nights

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[…] By now we have learned a lot of the coming changes to the Marriott Rewards program in August, and many have been planning ahead to make the best decisions based on the coming changes. Frequent Miler has written a useful post on Marriott’s popular redemption option – Flight and Hotel Travel Package. Due to the change in category definitions and the inclusions of SPG properties, which are currently not bookable using travel package, it may be a good idea to redeem for the 7-night certificate now. Check out their great analysis on this topic. […]

package debate
Guest

hey Greg- If I don’t have any specific redemption in mind but I do have a feeling that once Aug comes along the value of the packages will go down. what would you say is the best/ most valuable package to purchase now? the cat 8 (120K spg) or the cat 5 (90K spg) ?

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[…] the award chart in flux, I can’t make any good determinations at the moment. Here is some speculation about whether to book now or […]

david
Guest

Am hoping that cat 6 cert will be mapped to new cat 5 and can be used on some cat 8 properties which are mapped to new cat 5 🙂 Wishful thinking.

What SPG representative said on Flyertalk is quite different from you. Any update inside?

“Floater certificates, including outstanding Marriott Travel Packages, will be cancelled and converted to equivalent points, credited to the member’s account for future redemption.”

tom
Guest

In the wait till August tips…you do not include Alaska? Will Alaska still be a transfer partner for the Air + Hotel packages?