A case for gambling on top tier travel packages


In the past couple of months I’ve presented quite a few theories regarding Marriott Travel Packages and the transition from the current program to the new merged Marriott / SPG program.  The issue is that stay certificates are based on hotel categories (higher categories cost more points) and there is no clear mapping from current categories to new categories.  Theories I’ve presented include: all certificates will be refunded for points back; certificates will be converted from category based to points-based; certificates will all be downgraded to category 1-4 (with the difference in price refunded); and multiple versions of mapping old categories to new.

The truth is, we simply have no idea what will really happen.

This begs the question… If you want to buy a travel package today, is there a best strategy?  In a recent post, I wrote: “If you have a fortune in points and you believe that Marriott will continue to allow certificate category downgrades in the new program, then consider buying Ritz Tier 4-5 packages.  I’ll explain my thinking in a follow-up post.”  This is that post.

Safe options

Before I explain the “buy Ritz Tier 4-5” strategy, I should cover the only strategies that are truly safe…

Book now: find a Marriott property that you really want to stay at, make sure it has award availability for when you want to go, and buy a travel package specifically for that stay.  This is the only way you can be 100% sure that you’ll get what you want.

Book category 1-5 for the miles: If you primarily want to convert hotel points to airline miles, then the best strategy is to buy as many of the cheapest category packages as you can that will result in 120K miles (or 132K United miles) each.

Book category 1-5 for the miles and for a new category 1-4 stay: If you want a 7 night stay at a future category 1-4 property, I’m confident that a category 1-5 certificate will get you there.  If it’s not bookable now, though, you’ll have to wait until September 18th to book the property.

Gambling on top tier

Consider this postulate:

  • It will be possible to upgrade and downgrade certificates (as of September 18th) and you will pay or get back the difference in price between categories based on new pricing.

Here’s the new pricing (beginning August 18th) for travel packages:

This chart shows the new travel package pricing that will be in effect as of Saturday August 18th. These prices are way above current package prices and are no longer recommended for most situations. That’s why you should buy now if you highly value the airline miles that are part of each package.

If the above postulate is true, then upgrading from new category 1-4 to new category 5 will cost 60,000 points (that’s the difference in price between the two categories.  Similarly, downgrading from category 8 to category 7 will result in refund of 750,000 – 570,000 = 180,000 points.

Now consider this: if Marriott truly converts old category certificates to new based on preserving similar value (which they explicitly told us they would do), then it seems extremely likely that current top tier certificates (Ritz 4-5) will convert to new top tier certificates (category 8).

This chart shows my best guess of how Marriott will map old categories to new. The theory in this post is that even if I’m wrong about the stuff in the middle, it is likely that the top and bottom mappings will happen as shown. And, if so, the Ritz Tier 4-5 package offers tremendous potential value.

The Ritz Tier 4-5 7 night package with 120,000 airline miles currently costs a whopping 540,000 Marriott Rewards points (180K Starpoints).  If you were to purchase this package, and if it is converted to new category 8, then we can look at the points you’ll get back by downgrading:

Points returned if you downgrade new category 8 to a lower category:

  • Downgrade to cat 1-4: 420,000
  • Downgrade to cat 5: 360,000
  • Downgrade to cat 6: 240,000
  • Downgrade to cat 7: 180,000

Now let’s look at your final point price to get the category you want by starting at the top.

Pay 540K now for the Ritz Tier 4-5 package, and get a category 8 certificate in the new program, then downgrade to a lower category:

  • Downgrade to cat 1-4: 540K – 420K = 120K final price
  • Downgrade to cat 5: 540K – 360K = 180K final price
  • Downgrade to cat 6: 540K – 240K = 300K final price
  • Downgrade to cat 7: 540K – 180K = 360K final price

How good are these final prices?  They’re awesome.  Consider that the cheapest option under current pricing is 270K points (as long as you pick one offering the most miles).  With the above plan (if it works out as hoped), that same bottom tier package can be bought for less than half price!  Even better, if you’re hoping to book a top tier hotel, category 7 will be top tier until early 2019.  So, if you can book before the introduction of category 8, you can get 7 nights at the best of the best Marriott/SPG/Ritz property in the world plus 120,000 airline miles for only 360,000 net Marriott rewards points (120K Starpoints).

What if I’m wrong?

Let’s look at several alternate scenarios:

What Can Go Wrong #1: Marriott doesn’t allow upgrading/downgrading certificates

This would be a big bummer.  If you would use the certificate for a top tier property, it’s still an OK deal.  If not, then not so much.

What Can Go Wrong #2: Certificates are all downgraded to Category 1-4

I presented this theory in the post “Yet another new Marriott travel package conversion theory.”  In the comments of that post, our own Nick Reyes makes the case that this theory is unlikely.  Still, if it happens, you’ll come out even.  That is, your net cost will be the same whether you buy a category 1-5 package now or a Ritz 4-5 package.  The main downside of going big is that your extra points would be tied up until the point difference was rebated to you.

What Can Go Wrong #3: Marriott’s category mapping is more generous than expected

One reader was recently told by a call agent that all travel package certificates would simply drop down one category.  If that happens, then the mapping would look like this:

  • Category 1-5 –> New category 1-4
  • Category 6 –> New category 5
  • Category 7 –> New category 6
  • Category 8 –> New category 7
  • Category 9, Tier 1-3, Tier 4-5 –> New category 8

This would be awesome for almost everyone, most of all those who buy category 9 certificates.  The losers would be those who buy Ritz certificates but end up with the same value as those who paid much less for category 9.

In this case, you still end up with an excellent deal, but not nearly the unbelievable deal that those with category 9 certificates would have.

What Can Go Wrong #4: Top tier Ritz 4-5 package results in a new category 7 certificate

If Marriott maps old to new based on new peak pricing (and there’s a good argument that they might), they might map Ritz 4-5 to new category 7.  I don’t think that’s likely, but it is possible and it throws the rest of my argument out the window.  This chart shows how they might map old to new based on new peak pricing:

If this happens, then your final cost for each category (if you started with Ritz 4-5) would be as follows:

  • Downgrade to cat 1-4: 540K – 240K = 300K final price (30K more than if you had bought category 1-5)
  • Downgrade to cat 5: 540K – 180K = 360K final price (30K more than if you had bought category 7)
  • Downgrade to cat 6: 540K – 60K = 480K final price (60K more than if you had bought Ritz Tier 1-3)
  • Keep category 7: 540K

With this scenario you can lose by as many as 60,000 points.

Wrap Up

If you’re in the enviable position of having a near limitless supply of Marriott Rewards points (or SPG Starpoints), then it is worth considering purchasing Ritz Tier 4-5 Travel Packages.  The potential upside if you later downgrade to lower category packages is quite high.  There are ways to lose with this approach, though, so please review the above “what can go wrong” sections to decide for yourself how likely those outcomes are and how bad they would be.

Another serious consideration is whether it is worth locking up so many points.  Ritz Tier 4-5 packages cost twice as much as category 1-5 packages, so you can alternatively buy twice as many of the latter.

If you want to gamble, but not so much, another sweet spot may be category 8 certificates if they do indeed convert to new category 6 as I’ve previously hypothesized.  This won’t get you into the top properties in the world, but it would perhaps let you downgrade to category 1-4 for a final net price of 180,000 points.  That would be an outstanding value too, but it’s far less certain than the Ritz 4-5 approach.

What will I do?

I have two category 9 certificates already booked at the Domes of Elounda (which will go up to category 8 in the new program).  Plus I have one unattached category 6 certificate that I’m hoping to apply to a future category 5 resort if things map the way I hope they do.

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I have a category 1-5 cert and want to upgrade to a cat 8, which requires 90K points. I have 89K. Marriott has said there might be “intermittent blackouts” from 8/15-8/18, so I want to do this upgrade today. I transferred 1K Chase UR to Marriott on Sunday thinking the points would post by now, but no. About an hour ago, I bought 1K from Marriott’s website ($12.50), other people have said it usually takes 2-3 minutes; but still no points. If they don’t post by end of day, will Marriott “extend” me the 1K for this upgrade? I know they’ll let you do this for bookings, but I don’t know about Travel packages. I’m a Gold member from SPG.


Anyway, I suspect if Marriott does the automatic downgrade, they’ll only refund you the number of points you paid more than the current category 1-5. In this case, 540k-270k, so it’ll be zero gain. But I don’t think they’ll drop everybody to category 1-4 based on their releases.


Rumors on FT that MR has shut down upgrade/downgrades.

Nick Reyes

I haven’t looked, but I’d guess this is probably a HUCA situation….


I was looking at the NEW travel package pricing, and just noticed the crazy jump from Cat 5 to Cat 6 pricing:

Cat 1-4 –> Cat 5 upcharge: 60K points
Cat 5 –> Cat 6 upcharge: 120K points
Cat 6 –> Cat 7 upcharge: 60K points

On the single-night chart, each one of these steps is worth 10K points per night… so why is the Cat 5 –> Cat 6 travel package so much more expensive?


Your costs per night are based on a simple per night cost
There are 2 devaluations going on
Devaluation of airline miles from 1:1 for most american airlines to 3:2
e.g., I get 120k AA now with a package for 120k MR – that becomes 100k AA for 150k MR – a 33% devaluation
UA one gets 132 now becomes 110k – about 20% loss in airline points with a 25% increase in MR cost = also 33%loss
For LH ANA etc, I get 85k for 120k MR today – that remains about the same only a 10% devaluation
– 100k for 150k
The devaluation in room cost
The new package costs 150k for the miles and the rest is for the package
Cat 1 package is now 180k instead of 150k (keeping the 1 night free, it goes to 30k a night instead of 25k

My own theory is that
For packages without booked rooms, they all get converted to the 1-4 package and REFUNDED AT OLD RATE

SO BOOK YOUR ROOMS NOW IF YOU PLAN A PACKAGE ABOVE 1-5 then your loss or gain is on new rates

Your new room costs are wrong in your comparison table
Cat 1-5
270k package = 120k for miles ; 150k for room (1 night free) = 25k per night
Tomorrow Cat 1-4
330k package 150k for miles; 180k for room for 6 paid nights (1 night free) = 30k per night

Cat 6 today
300k package = 120k for miles ; 180k for room (1 night free) = 30k per night
Cat 7 today
330k package = 120k for miles ; 210k for room (1 night free) = 35k per night
Tomorrow Cat 5
390k package 150k for miles; 240k for room for 6 paid nights (1 night free = 40k per night)

Cat 8 today
360k package = 120k for miles ; 240k for room (1 night free) = 40k per night
Cat 9 today
390k package = 120k for miles ; 270k for room (1 night free) = 45k per night
Tomorrow Cat 6
510k package 150k for miles; 360k for room for 6 paid nights (1 night free = 60k per night)

Ritz 1-3 today
420k package = 120k for miles ; 300k for room (1 night free) = 50k per night
Tomorrow Cat 7
570k package 150k for miles; 420k for room for 6 paid nights (1 night free) = 70k per night

Ritz 4-5 today
540k package = 120k for miles ; 420k for room (1 night free) = 70k per night
Tomorrow Cat 8
750k package 150k for miles; 600k for room for 6 paid nights (1 night free) = 100k per night



First time I called this morning, I was told that they aren’t doing the upgrade thing until after 8/18. So I HUCA’d. I told the rep that I want to upgrade my cat 1-5 certificate to a category 8. This requires 90K; I only have 89K. The agent put me on hold and then came back to say the system was down, but she said she would start the process. She said she wrote a note to finish the job tonight when system is back up and would gift me the 1K I’m missing (I was prepared to buy 1K over the phone). When I look at my account now, the cat 1-5 cert actually got cancelled and I got 45K points back. An email confirms the cancellation. From an older post, I see this is how upgrades work; 45K refund and then get charged 75K/105K/135K/etc. But since the rep wasn’t able complete the upgrade part, if she doesn’t complete the job tonight and I have to call another agent, will they be able to give me the cat 8 package (minus airline miles) when I only have 135K in my account?


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JB from San Diego
JB from San Diego

What is going to happens where points are getting posted, from say the SPG Card? Will the points actually get posted to the Marriott account or SPG account or posted at during this black out period? My SPG points are about to get posted from my Amx Buz within a week

Nick Reyes

They have said there will be a delay in those points posting until after 8/18. Spend before 8/1 will convert at 3x, spending 8/1 on will come in at 2x.


Greg, when I got into the points and miles game 2 years ago, your blog was one of the first I ran across. In that time, my wife and I have been to multiple domestic destinations and a dream trip to the Maldives on Etihad first class. Amazingly, I am now absolutely confident that it won’t be a “once in a lifetime event”. To this day, your blog is the only one who reliably does this kind of in depth analysis that I appreciate. You make it easy to understand and if I were running a blog, the information you provide is the exact type of logic-based perspective I would want to provide. It’s nice to read a post that is not always about selling the next credit card, which is why I continuously seek our your links when I can. Thank you for continuing to cover this Marriott/Starwood merger as it has been endlessly entertaining (and important to me).

I’m currently sitting on ~600K Marriott points and as much as I would love to have 240K Alaska miles (from two cat 1-5 packages), I think my wife and I would rather take a relatively sure thing and keep the miles to book rooms at the St. Regis Bora Bora or the St. Regis Maldives. I’m pretty sure that some of the “gamblers” are going to come out ahead, but I don’t know which ones and I don’t earn miles fast enough to be willing to take the gamble, although it seems that a Tier 4-5 package would be hard to lose on. Who knows, maybe I will change my mind in the next 24 hours….

Ivan Y
Ivan Y

Ended up attaching Cat 8 TP to a reservation at a Cat 8 hotel (will be new Cat 6, i.e. 10000 points more) for dates with which I’m reasonably happy about so if these certificates are going to be restricted (no changes or no extensions), at least, I have a good use for it (not spectacular but a bird in the hand…).

I get a feeling there’s going to be a lot of disappointment/anger about TPs whenever final terms are announced. Marriott really dropped the ball by not being forthright and clear on what’s going to happen.


One of the SPG Lurkers just posted on FT that downgrades/upgrades of these converted certs won’t be allowed.


Yup and all the people who thought they were going to get a windfall based on bloggers guesses better have plans for all the top tier TPs they bought.


Ok, I took the bait. I booked a Ritz Tier 4-5 package for 7 nights at 540K and got 120K Alaska miles.
Now the betting is that attaching a cert is the way to go…any recommendations on hotels this can attach to?
We loved the Ritz in Kyoto but don’t know if I want to got there again.

I also was able to get a *5* night Marriott Cat. 1-5 package for 235K points with 132K United miles. Suggestions for this one too? Though I think these will arbitrage to the lowest (4?) tiers of the unified program so I am not sue if this is that critical.

Air Force Rod
Air Force Rod

Greg, I’d like to echo Matt’s comments and praise – brilliant analysis.

One suggestion/question: if you had “a near limitless supply of Marriott Rewards points” would you not advocate ‘hedging’ your position rather than putting all your eggs in one basket (in this case your basket is a Ritz T4-5)?

I currently have a Cat 9 and T1-3 certificate, and 360K MR points. Rather than use the points to upgrade/gamble the T1-3 to a T4-5, I’m going to buy a new Cat 8 with 120K airline miles. This way the positions I have ‘covered’ are a Cat 8, Cat 9, and T1-3. Hopefully I’ll win on at least one of those positions and with a bit of luck, all three!

I also think ffi’s strategy of attaching any unused certificates to hotel stays is a prudent move. As far as I can tell you don’t lose out by attaching the certificate to a hotel stay (except not being able to do anything with it until after 9/18), but you do open up the (small) chance of being able to downgrade on the new rates.

Any reason you – or anyone else – can see I should not buy the Cat 8 + 120K airline miles given my hedging strategy and do something else (e.g. downgrade all the certificates and buy more Cat 1-5 certificates)?

Thanks again!


[…] becomes extremely complex and potentially creates incredibly outsized value for downgraders (See: A case for gambling on top tier travel packages). According to the Lurker’s info, members will still be able to cancel unused 7-night […]


[…] A case for gambling on top tier travel packages […]