What are Marriott 35K certificates worth?

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The St. Anthony Luxury Collection Hotel in San Antonio is a Category 5 Marriott.  I found prices as high as $450 per night even when the hotel was available at standard (35K) rates.

With news of the latest Marriott devaluation, Nick and I wondered if Marriott credit cards were still worth keeping (see: Is Marriott dead to us? Should it be to you?).  Most Marriott credit cards come with annual free night certificates valid at any property charging 35,000 points or less.  And, starting March 4th, many of the hotels that previously charged 35K will then charge more.

In a recent Frequent Miler on the Air discussion, I asserted that even after March 4th, our 35K certificates will still be good for hotels costing around $200 per night.  Nick didn’t believe me.  You can find our conversation on the Feb 7 2020 Frequent Miler on the Air episode at around the 13 minute 50 second mark.  You can find Frequent Miler on the Air, in audio format, on your favorite Podcast platform, or subscribe to our YouTube channel.  The following embedded video is already setup to play at the point where Nick and I discuss this:

At the time of our discussion, I didn’t have data to go on, but now I do.  Let’s see who was right…

The value of Marriott 35K certificates

Even after March 4th, I found that 35K certificates are worth slightly more than $200…

Marriott 35K Free Night Certificate Value Recorded Feb 12 2020

Across a number of locations, I found that 35K certificates were worth an average (mean) of $224.  The median (central) value was $208.

Where did these numbers come from?

I picked a number of locations and dates to find the best hotels bookable with 35K certificates and recorded the cash prices of each…

Locations

I used Marriott’s “Browse by Destination” page to find which locations in the United States and Europe had the most category 5 hotels.  I did this because category 5 hotels cost 35K points standard.  So, theoretically, category 5 hotels most often offer the best value for your 35K certificates.

Even though the current list represents hotels that are category 5 prior to March 4th, I figured that this still gave me a good idea of where the most category 5 hotels will be even after March 4th.  If I’m wrong about that, it doesn’t really matter.  The purpose was just to pick a smattering of locations from which to gather data.

Here are the locations I selected:

State or Country Cat 5 Property Count
California 149
Florida 84
New York (NYC) 60
Texas 35
Massachusetts 29
Germany 25
United Kingdom 21

Note that I messed up a bit with collecting data for New York, and collected data for the New York City area instead.  The property count is for the state of New York, so please disregard that number.  Whoops.

Dates

I somewhat randomly picked the following dates for check-in and I looked only at one night stays:

  • Friday May 1st (shoulder season weekend)
  • Saturday July 4th (high season US holiday weekend)
  • Wednesday October 14th (ordinary business day in the US)

Procedure

For each location, I searched Marriott’s website for category 5 hotels and recorded the point price and cash price of the three best user-rated hotels bookable with a 35K certificate.  I didn’t include hotels that will increase a category on March 4th, but I did include hotels that will decrease a category.

Here are the steps I followed on Marriott’s booking page:

  • Enter location, date, and select “Use Points / Certificates.”
  • Sort results by Guest Rating
  • Find first three hotels that match this criteria:
    • Point price is 35K or less
    • Hotel is not increasing in category on March 4th

Random Notes

  • Most (but not all) of the valid New York City area hotels that I found were in New Jersey.
  • In Florida and California I frequently had to scroll way down the results since most of the highly rated hotels were peak priced (40K).  35K certificates won’t work on those 40K nights, so I skipped those.
  • In Germany, all of the category 5 hotels were peak price (40K) on October 14th.  This was the only location and date in which I was unable to find 3 data points.  I found zero.

Methodology Issues

There’s no perfect way to calculate things like this.  Here are some issues with the way I did it…

  • Limited locations and dates:  More data is always better.
  • Rough approximation of hotel cost:
    • I didn’t use any special rates (AAA, senior discount, etc.)
    • I didn’t factor in the extra cost of taxes and fees which aren’t shown in the initial search results
    • I didn’t factor in that you would earn Marriott points on paid stays (I like to think that this issue and the one above offset each other)
    • I didn’t factor in rebates from credit card rewards or shopping portals
  • Missing hotels that drop to category 5 from category 6 on March 4th:  On March 4th, 15 hotels will drop from category 6 to category 5.  Of these, four may have met my criteria if they hadn’t been filtered out based on current category assignments.  They are:
    • The Westin San Diego Gaslamp Quarter
    • The Westin San Diego
    • Hotel Republic San Diego, Autograph Collection
    • Roomers Munich, Autograph Collection

Despite the issues indicated above, I think that the results are good enough to base decisions on them.

Conclusion: Marriott cards offering 35K certs are still a good deal

As you can see in the chart above, both Chase and Amex have $95 annual fee consumer cards that offer annual 35K certificates.  Both also have business cards that cost either $99 (Chase) or $125 (Amex).  Based on the above results, I’d argue that all of these cards are worth keeping since it appears to be easy to get at least double the annual fee value from the free night certificates.

Note that not all of the Marriott cards are still available to apply for new.  Please see our Marriott Bonvoy Complete Guide for information about all of the Marriott credit cards and anything else you might want to know about Bonvoy.

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