When Marriott announced their acquisition of Starwood Hotels, most SPG (Starwood Preferred Guest) loyalists were not happy. Where SPG is often regarded as one of (if not the) best loyalty programs, Marriott’s program is usually, at best, considered middle of the road. In the post, “Hey Marriott: Here’s how to keep SPG loyalists loyal,” I argued that Marriott would have to make significant changes and generally bend over backwards to keep SPG enthusiasts from jumping ship.
In general, my biggest problem with the Marriott Rewards program is it is very difficult to get outsized value for your points. Marriott regularly increases hotels’ category designations so as to make award nights more expensive at those properties. And, since Marriott doesn’t really enforce their “no blackout date” policy, Marriott hotels tend to be unavailable for awards during special events that drive up cash prices.
One area where Marriott does shine, though, is their Travel Packages. Travel Packages can provide outsized value from your points, indirectly, by providing valuable airline miles along with a 7 night stay. SPG offers a similar redemption option called “Nights and Flights”. In both cases, you can redeem hotel points for a combination of a free hotel stay plus airline miles. And, in both cases, the airline miles are for you to keep. You do not have to use those airline miles to get to the hotel that was booked as part of the package. Let’s look at each of these packages, in depth. Is this one area where Marriott shines brighter than SPG?
SPG Nights & Flights
SPG has a staggering number of point redemption options. One very good option is their Nights & Flights package. There are two versions of this package:
- Redeem 60,000 Starpoints for 5 nights at a category 3 property plus 50,000 air miles
- Redeem 70,000 Starpoints for 5 nights at a category 4 property plus 50,000 air miles
The usual point prices for 5 night stays, without the Nights & Flights package, are:
- Category 3: 28,000 (Note: SPG offers the 5th Night Free so this is calculated as 7,000 x 4)
- Category 4: 40,000 (Note: SPG offers the 5th Night Free so this is calculated as 10,000 x 4)
And, the usual point price for airline miles is:
- 25,000 airline miles: 20,000 points
- 50,000 airline miles: 40,000 points
So, we can calculate the savings that you get from the Nights & Flights package:
- 5 Nights + 50,000 miles redeemed separately: 28,000 + 40,000 = 68,000
- 5 Nights + 50,000 miles redeemed as a Nights & Flights package: 60,000
- Savings: 6,000 Starpoints
- 5 Nights + 50,000 miles redeemed separately: 40,000 + 40,000 = 80,000
- 5 Nights + 50,000 miles redeemed as a Nights & Flights package: 70,000
- Savings: 10,000 Starpoints
Marriott Travel Packages
Marriott Travel Packages are similar to SPG Nights & Flights. Just as with SPG, you pay points to get a fixed number of nights plus a fixed number of airline miles. Unlike SPG, Marriott Travel Packages are designed for 7 night stays and it’s possible to use points to purchase a Travel Package for any hotel category.
Where SPG Nights & Flights can be thought of as a way to get a discount on a 5 night stay for those planning to transfer SPG points to airline miles, Marriott’s Travel Packages are best thought of as a way to get miles cheaply for those planning to book a 7 night award stay. Let me give an example to be clear:
For 300,000 Marriott Rewards points, you can book a Category 6 Marriott for 7 nights plus you’ll get 120,000 miles (you can pick from quite a few airlines). If you booked the same hotel for 7 nights outside of this package, you would get the 5th night free as a standard benefit, and so you would pay 30K X 6 = 180,000 Marriott Rewards points for 7 nights. In other words, the Flight & Hotel package costs 120,000 points more, but you get 120,000 miles which are arguably much more valuable than 120,000 Marriott points. As a general rule, if you are flush with Marriott points and you are planning a 7 night award stay, you might as well book this package.
Shown above is just one of several redemption tables, all of which can be found here. If you want to redeem for United miles, you’ll earn even more miles (thanks to the United / Marriott partnership called RewardsPlus). Meanwhile, the chart for earning Southwest points is identical to the one shown above. On the other hand, if you want miles in a foreign airline’s program (e.g. Air France, ANA, LAN, Singapore, etc.), or JetBlue or Virgin America, you will earn far fewer miles.
Marriott Travel Package Tips:
- Options that span multiple hotel categories (e.g. Category 1-5, Tier 1-3, Tier 4-5) offer good value only if you book the top category within the range.
- The main benefit of the travel packages is to convert Marriott points to miles at a low rate. Therefore, the best options are those that offer the most miles. If possible, always opt for the package that offers 120,000 miles.
- If you don’t know which hotel you will book, redeem for the cheapest option (Category 1-5). You can always add points later to bump up to a higher category stay.
- Southwest points earned from the Travel Package do count towards the Southwest Companion Pass (which requires 110,000 points to be earned in one calendar year). If you’re flush with Marriott points, this is a great way to earn a companion pass that is good for an unlimited number of flights for the rest of the year in which it is earned and all of the next year.
- Airlines occasionally offer mileage bonuses for miles transferred in from hotel programs. When this happens, you can earn even more miles from the Travel Package (this is true of SPG’s Nights & Flights as well).
SPG Nights & Flights vs. Marriott Travel Packages, head to head
In the post “Convert SPG points to miles? How to play the Marriott merger,” I described SPG category 4 properties and Marriott’s categories 6-8 properties as “mid tier”. If we agree to that comparison, then we can compare the travel packages. We’ll compare the SPG category 4 Nights & Flights package to the Marriott category 7 Travel Package. And, to equate the nights component, we’ll price two SPG packages, and add 3 reward nights to the Marriott package:
- SPG 10 Nights + 100,000 miles costs 140,000 Starpoints
- Marriott 10 Nights + 100,000 miles costs 310,000 + 35,000 x 3 = 415,000 Marriott Rewards points
In other words, for a similar result (10 mid-tier nights + 100,000 airline miles) you would need to pay 3 times as many Marriott points as SPG points. In my Fair Trading Prices, I value SPG points at 2.26 cents each and Marriott points at .56 cents each. In other words, I value SPG points approximately 4 times higher than Marriott points. So, all else being equal (which it’s not, of course, but still…), the Marriott packages offer better value since it is only 3 times as expensive.
In reality, both packages offer good value. If you have the points and actually want to stay at a Marriott category 5 or higher property for 7 nights, or an SPG category 3 or 4 property for 5 nights, then go for it. Keep in mind, though, that standard room awards must be available for your entire stay. In my experience you’ll be much more likely to find that availability with SPG than with Marriott.
Alaska, United, Southwest, ANA…
An important difference between SPG and Marriott’s programs are the airline programs they support. Both directly support popular programs such as Air Canada, American Airlines, Alaska, and Delta. If you want United or Southwest miles, though, you should go with Marriott. If you want miles from Air France, ANA, or Singapore, to name a few, you should go with SPG since Marriott offers far fewer miles with those programs.
My family rarely spends more than 5 nights in one location, so the SPG packages have a significant advantage based on our travel style. If that’s not an issue for you, and you can find award night availability, then the Marriott Travel Packages may offer better value. This is especially true for those seeking Southwest points (which contribute to Companion Pass eligibility) or United miles. If Marriott folds SPG into Marriott Rewards and offers to convert SPG points 1 to 3, or better, to Marriott Rewards, then I’d argue that we’ve at least broken even. Unfortunately, my guess is that Marriott will offer much less than a 1 to 3 conversion (see: Convert SPG points to miles? How to play the Marriott merger). If we learn that the conversion rate is less than 1 to 3, then it would be a great idea to book SPG Nights & Flights packages before its too late (assuming you have the points and can use a 5 night category 3 or 4 stay, of course).