When Marriott merged with SPG in August 2018, they massively increased the prices for travel packages. Travel packages offer a way to spend a big chunk of Marriott Bonvoy points in exchange for two things: a bunch of airline miles of your choice plus a 7 night stay certificate. The total cost in points depends upon the hotel category stay certificate you want and whether you want 50,000 or 100,000 airline miles.
When the post-merger travel package prices were first revealed, I immediately dismissed them as a bad deal (after gagging a bit). At the time, Marriott hadn’t yet implemented peak and off-peak award pricing. So, I compared the price of the travel packages to the cost to simply book 7 nights with points at the standard rate and to transfer points to airline miles at the standard rate. When comparing travel packages to standard award pricing, they’re usually a crappy deal (but more on this later in this post).
Yesterday we learned that Marriott will introduce peak and off-peak pricing as of September 14 2019. Once this goes into effect, it’s likely that the most desirable hotels and resorts will be peak priced when we want to go. That reminded me of the one redeeming feature of the new travel packages: they work equally well for peak priced properties. So, I figured that it is time to re-evaluate travel packages. In an all-peak world are they worth the price?
Before proceeding, let me explain the travel package price chart, above. Along the left side are the hotel categories. The category you choose will dictate the maximum value of your 7 night stay certificate. For example, if you pick a category 6 package, you can use your stay certificate for any hotels in categories 1 through 6. The top the chart shows two columns in gray: “7 Nights + 50,000 Miles” and “7 Nights + 100,000 Miles”. The values below these headings are the number of Marriott points you would need to redeem to get these packages. If you want a category 6 certificate and 100,000 airline miles then you would have to redeem 510,000 points.
One way to evaluate the value of travel packages is to look at what it would cost to get the same results without a travel package. For example, we know that it’s possible to redeem 240,000 Marriott points for 100,000 airline miles. And we can easily calculate the cost to book a 7 night award using the Marriott Bonvoy Award Chart. Add these together and you get the “do it yourself” price.
Don’t worry, you don’t have to do the math. I did it for you. Here’s the “do it yourself” price assuming peak award pricing:
Next, we can easily compare. How much do you save by booking this as a travel package rather than independently? The answer is pretty straightforward. It turns out that the savings are independent of the hotel category you book. You save 45,000 points when booking a 7 night + 50,000 mile package, and you save 90,000 points when booking a 7 night + 100,000 miles package:
Is it worth it?
The above analysis shows that you can save a significant number of points by buying a travel package rather than booking the exact same awards separately. But, is it worth it?
If you really need 100,000 airline miles, and you really need a 7 night stay booked at peak pricing levels, then travel packages appear to be a good deal. Not only is that a big “if” but there are other significant factors that make the deal weaker:
- Stay certificates expire after one year (but you might be able to get the certificate extended if you call)
- You cannot split the certificate across multiple separate stays or across multiple hotels. For example, if you wanted to spend 4 nights in one hotel and 3 nights in another, you can’t do so with one certificate.
- Nights booked with a stay certificate must be consecutive. For example, you can’t stay Sunday and Monday, skip Tuesday, then stay Wednesday through Monday.
- Free night awards must be available for every night of your stay in order to apply a stay certificate.
- You can stay less than 7 nights with a 7 night certificate, but then the certificate will be considered fully used. You can’t use the remaining days.
As you can read above, there are many reasons not to book a travel package. However, if you are planning to book a 7 night award anyway, and the 7 nights are available, and the 7 nights are all at peak pricing, and you can use the airline miles, then you can save either 45,000 or 90,000 Marriott points by booking a travel package.
What about standard pricing?
The above analysis prompted me to go back to standard award pricing to see if there are any good deals to be had. When we compare travel package pricing to booking the same awards separately at standard award pricing, are there any cases where it makes sense to buy a travel package? Surprisingly (to me), there are…
Here’s the “do it yourself” price assuming standard award pricing:
Next, we can compare the above chart to the travel package pricing chart. How much do you save by booking all this as a travel package rather than separately? In this case, there are times where booking the travel package actually costs more than booking separately at the standard night award price. These negative savings are shown as negative numbers below. There are opportunities, though, to save up to 60,000 points:
As you can see above, if you buy a travel package that offers 50,000 miles and you use it to book a 7 night stay during standard pricing, you’ll either save only a tiny bit (15,000 points) or you’ll end up paying more for the joy of using a very restrictive stay certificate.
On the other hand, if you want to redeem for 100,000 points, the category 1-4 and category 5 packages are not too bad. You’ll save 60,000 points with these. Is it worth dealing with all of the travel package restrictions in order to save only 60,000 points? In my opinion, the answer is yes, but only if you already know how you’ll use the stay certificate and you know that the award nights you need are available.
I don’t recommend ever buying a Marriott Travel Package unless you have a specific use in mind for the 7 night stay certificate. Even then, I only recommend the packages that result in 100,000 airline miles and only under certain conditions. If you do have a specific use in mind and you want the 100,000 airline miles, make sure that all of the following factors are also true before proceeding:
- You have enough Marriott points to book the package (duh)
- The seven night stay you want is currently available to book as an award stay
- If booking a low category package (category 1-4, or category 5), then make sure that the award stay isn’t available at off-peak prices (in other words, don’t bother with the package if you can book at the lowest prices directly).
- If booking a higher category package (6, 7, or 8) then proceed only if the majority of the 7 nights are at peak pricing. This is especially important for category 8 packages.