Earning Points for Free Hotel Stays

UPDATED 12/30/2018: Marriott’s previously announced plans to combine their three loyalty programs (Marriott Rewards, The Ritz-Carlton Rewards and Starwood Preferred Guest) into one (name to be announced)  have now been implemented.

In the early 1990’s, I signed up for Sheraton’s loyalty program. At the time, I paid $20 per year to upgrade my membership to their Gold level. As a result, I often received free upgrades and access to the Sheraton Club lounges for free food and drinks. Sheraton was one of the first hotel chains acquired by Starwood. In addition to Sheraton, Starwood brands included Westin, The Luxury Collection, Four Points, W Hotels, St. Regis, Le Méridien, Aloft and more. Since 2016, Starwood merged into Marriott International. Starwood’s loyalty program was called Starwood Preferred Guest, or SPG as it is commonly known. As an SPG member, you earned Starpoints on hotels stays and related spending. While many hotel chains offer similar loyalty programs, most of my personal experience has been with Starwood so that’s the primary basis of this post. I updated this post recently to include updates to the newly combined Marriott Rewards loyalty program but check the Marriott site for up to date information.

Earning points WITH HOTEL STAYS

To begin earning Marriott points, sign up for Marriott loyalty program membership. As a basic member, you earn ten points per dollar spent at Marriott’s 29-brand hotels and resorts worldwide. It’s worth noting that not all dollars spent at the hotels will earn you points – some exclusions includes taxes and fees, including resort fees, but there are others. You earn more points as an elite member, Silver (+10%), Gold (+50%), or Platinum (+75%) (see my post on Earning Marriott Elite status for details). Whenever you book a room, and at check-in, give your Marriott loyalty membership number to make sure you earn points for your stay. You also earn points for most restaurant, bar and activities charged to your room (some hotels have exclusions so be sure to ask). When you charge your hotel stay to a Chase Marriott or American Express SPG card, you also earn six additional points per dollar. As you can see, if you are a high elite member of Marriott’s loyalty program and you use one of their partner credit cards to pay for your stay, you can earn over 20 points per dollar. I value one Marriott point at just under one cent so that’s around 20% return on your spending.

Tip #1: I prefer to book my Marriott hotel rooms using the Marriott website (www.marriott.com) or one of there phone apps. I check available hotels, room rates and award pricing quickly as I plan for trips. I give more information to the hotel via notes in the reservation to improve the chance of upgrades to a room with a better view or bigger size, or to specify a request for early check-in or late check-out. Be aware that, although you may find lower prices at third party online travel agents (OTA),  you may not earn points or elite benefits. One exception I use several times a year is the Citi Prestige “4th Night Free” benefit by contacting their “concierge” to book four or more nights. I give my Marriott number to the concierge and they contact the hotel to add it to the reservation. In this way, I earn points for my stay and also get the elite benefits provided by the hotel.

Tip #2: I often choose Marriott’s Your Choice program to skip housekeeping services during short stays. You earn up to 500 points for each day you opt out of housekeeping services. The hotels typically offer door hangers to show you are opting out of housekeeping services the following day. You can also “opt out” for your entire stay by setting a preference in online reservation, or ask at the hotel during check-in.

Earning POINTS WITH Credit Cards

American Express
Starwood Preferred Guest American Express Luxury Card

Charge your restaurant, bar and spa bills to your room and pay with a Marriott or SPG branded credit card to earn six points per dollar. American Express offers three versions of their co-branded card, two personal cards and one business card:

American Express currently offers 75,000 bonus points for spending $3,000 in the first three months. I value the bonus at around $700. American Express waives the $95 annual fee in the first year for their basic personal and business cards. While the Luxury card comes with a hefty $450 annual fee it has several travel benefits that help to reduce the impact:

  • $300 statement credit for spending at Marriott hotels each cardmember year
  • $100 Global Entry or $85 TSA PreCheck fee credit
  • Priority Pass Select membership for airport lounge access (for cardmember plus two guests)
  • Annual free night award up to 50,000 points
  • Marriott Gold elite status
  • Ability to earn Platinum elite status after spending $75,000 in a calendar year
  • 15 elite night credits towards earning higher elite status during a calendar year

For details of each card, I suggest reading the terms of each offer at the American Express site.

TIP #3: You earn an annual credit of 15 nights towards Marriott elite status with an open American Express SPG or Chase Marriott credit card. The credits appear in your Marriott account at the beginning of each year. Therefore, to achieve Marriott Gold you need to earn 10 more nights for a total of 25 in a calendar year, or 35 more nights for Platinum (50 nights total). You cannot earn more than 15 nights from owning more than one American Express or Chase credit cards.

Amex Membership Rewards Logo

In addition to their SPG credit cards, American Express offers its own Membership Rewards cards. Membership Rewards points transfer to many airline and hotel loyalty programs, including Marriott. Membership Rewards points transfer to Marriott at a 1:1 ratio.

American Express offers several credit and charge cards that earn Membership Rewards points. Charge card balances are paid off every month, but otherwise are similar to credit cards. Some examples are:

  • American Express Platinum Card – 60,000 Membership Rewards points after spending $5,000 in the first three months. If you transfer the Membership Rewards bonus points to Marriott, you have enough points for a couple of free nights at category 4 hotels (25,000 points per night). The annual fee is $550 but the card comes with many benefits to reduce the real cost, including annual $200 airline fee credits, monthly Uber credits, airport lounge access and more.
  • American Express Gold Card – a recently relaunched version of this classic card. New cardmembers earn 50,000 Membership Rewards points after spending $2,000 in the first three months. By transferring bonus Membership Rewards points to Marriott you have enough points to book one free night at a category 5 hotel (50,000 points per night). Annual fee is $250 but the card includes a $100 annual airline fee statement credit that is available on a calendar year basis.
Chase

Chase offers two Marriott co-branded credit cards

Chase Marriott Rewards Premier Plus Card

Chase Marriott Rewards Premier Plus – 75,000 bonus Marriott points with $3,000 spending in the first three months. You earn six points per dollar spent at Marriott hotels, and two points per dollar on other spending. The annual fee is $95.

Chase Marriott Premier Business Card

Chase Marriott Rewards Premier Plus Business – 75,000 bonus Marriott points with $3,000 spending in the first three months. You earn six points per dollar spent at Marriott hotels, four points per dollar spent on gas station, restaurant, shipping, internet, cable and phone service purchases, and two points per dollar on everything else. The annual fee is $99.

Both cards come with a Free Night Award certificate worth up to 35,000 points (category 1-4 hotel) after each account anniversary.

Chase Ultimate Rewards

You earn Chase Ultimate Rewards points using the following cards:

  • Chase Sapphire Preferred – 50,000 bonus points with $4,000 spending in first three months, $0 introductory annual fee, after that $95. This is a great starter credit card for anyone wishing to earn points for free travel with a variety of airlines and hotels. You earn two Ultimate Rewards points per dollar spent on travel and dining at restaurants, and one point for everything else.
  • Chase Sapphire Reserve – 50,000 bonus points with $4,000 spending in first three months. This is the premium Chase Sapphire card and comes with an annual fee of $450. However, there are many ways to cut the real annual cost of this card, including the annual $300 annual travel credit, Priority Pass Select airport lounge access and more. You earn three Ultimate Rewards points per dollar spent on travel and dining worldwide and one point for everything else.
  • Chase Ink Business Preferred Card – 80,000 bonus points with $5,000 spending in first three months, $95 annual fee. Earn three Ultimate Rewards points per dollar spent on travel and select business categories, and one point for everything else. You can apply for Chase business cards even if you are a sole proprietor, operating from your home, with no IRS EIN.

Ultimate Rewards points transfer to Marriott points at a 1:1 ratio.

Earning points with Airline Flights

United Airlines

You earn bonus Marriott points when you register with Marriott’s airline partners and buy flights. However, you must have Marriott elite status to receive these bonuses.

  • China Eastern – earn three Marriott points for every four China Eastern Miles on China Eastern flights. Marriott Platinum elite members enjoy priority check-in, boarding and luggage handling; and access to China Eastern business-class lounges and an excess-luggage allowance. This partnership is not currently open for new registrations. If you linked account prior to July 15, 2018, you’ll continue to earn points and receive priority benefits.
  • Emirates – earn three Marriott points per dollar spent on all eligible Emirates flights in addition to Emirates Skywards Miles. Marriott Platinum elite meambers enjoy priority check-in and priority boarding. This partnership is not currently open for new registrations. If you linked account prior to July 15, 2018, you’ll continue to earn points and receive priority benefits.
  • United – United and Marriott offer reciprocal benefits to their members via the RewardsPlus program. United’s MileagePlus elite members (Premier Gold and above) receive complimentary Marriott Gold status. Marriott Platinum elite members receive United Premier Silver status. The partnership also enables transfers up to 50,000 MileagePlus miles per calendar year to a linked Marriott Rewards account at a 1:1 ratio. Marriott members get 10% more miles, in addition to the bonus of 5,000 miles for every 60,000 points when transferring points to MileagePlus miles. Thus, 60,000 points convert to 27,000 miles.

Earning starpoints with Car Rentals

Hertz

Hertz – earn 2,000 Marriott points on rentals of two to four days, and 3,000 points on rentals of five days or more. In addition, Marriott Platinum Premier and Platinum Premier with Ambassador status can register with Hertz for complimentary Hertz Gold Plus Rewards Five Star or President’s Circle respectively.

Hertz Marriott-SPG Partnership

Hertz Gold Plus Rewards Five Star and President’s Circle status offers upgrades and bonus points.

Hertz Gold Plus Rewards Benefits

Sixt Logo

Sixt – earn 750 Marriott points for every rental with Sixt worldwide. Members also earn 1,000 points for Sixt Limousine Service and three points per dollar spent with Sixt mydriver.

Earning points by Hosting MeetingS

Meeting Modern Conference Room

When you host a business meeting or other event, including a wedding, at a Marriott hotel, you earn up to 60,000 points per event on eligible room, food, beverages and A/V charges at a rate of two points per dollar. Platinum members earn up to 105,000 points per event. In addition, you earn 10 elite nights credit for your first meeting and one elite night credit for each additional 20 room nights you book, up to 20 credits per contract.

MARRIOTT Promotions

Marriott MegaBonus Promotion 2018
Marriott MegaBonus Promotion 2018

Marriott occasionally offers promotions to earn bonus points via challenges throughout the year. Check for the most up-to-date offers on their website. The current promotion is called MegaBonus. You earn 2,000 bonus points on all stays of two or more nights and 1,000 points per brand, starting with your second brand. Stay at all 29 Marriott brands to earn an additional 29,000 points, stay at 10 brands to earn 10,000 points. Register for the promotion by January 7, 2019. The promotion runs until January 31, 2019.

Buying MARRIOTT points

Buy Marriott Points
Buy Marriott Points

Members may buy up to 50,000 Marriott points per calendar year. The price is $12.50 per 1,000 points, so 50,000 points costs $625. This may be useful to top up your Marriott account for specific hotel award redemptions, but otherwise is an expensive way to accumulate points.

Summary

There are many ways to earn Marriott points. I recommend registering for Marriott Rewards and apply for one of the American Express or Chase co-branded SPG or Marriott credit cards to earn points from your hotel stays and regular spending. If needed, top up your account using airline mile transfers and earn bonus points from Marriott car rental partners. You’ll be amazed how quickly you can earn tens of thousands of Marriott points to book free hotel rooms at Marriott’s 6,700+ hotels. Next: Check out my post on how to book free hotel rooms.

Amazing Deal: Free Disney Tickets

Updated 12/30/18. Based on recent testing on Chase’s travel portal, the offer for Disneyland tickets appears to have been removed. Hopefully, they will return at some point in the future. However, the general topic of using Chase Ultimate Rewards points for free Thing To Do is still valid so please read on…

One of the most fun vacations with your kids, or grandkids, is to visit a Disney theme park. In California, we have the original, and only, park Walt Disney designed and oversaw development to completion himself – Disneyland Park (or DL to its fans). Disneyland was opened over 60 years ago, in 1955, and is one of the world’s most popular tourist attractions with over 18 million visitors last year. The most popular amusement park in the world is The Magic Kingdom, at the Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, Florida, which opened in 1971.

Disneyland
Disneyland Park, Anaheim, California

Similar to many other privately owned attractions that are very popular, tickets for Disney theme parks are expensive, even for children (aged three and over). Buying tickets for a multi-day family vacation to a Disney resort is a major expense. Fortunately, there are many good, reasonably priced hotels, vacation rental and AirBnB properties near the parks. Trip expenses are controlled further with free hotel rooms and flights booked through points and miles.

Chase Sapphire Reserve
Chase Sapphire Reserve

One of the great benefits of earning points and miles through credit cards, is redeeming them for vacations. Spending points and miles for airline tickets, hotel rooms and car rentals brings down the cost to pay for a family trip. Some travel rewards credit cards offer their own flexible form of points that can be used as a form of currency to pay for many types of travel expenses. One of my favorite credit cards is the Chase Sapphire Reserve (CSR) card. Chase Sapphire cards earn Ultimate Reward (UR) points, a flexible points currency with high redemption value and transfer options to Chase’s airline and hotel partners. I earn three points per dollar spent on travel, including dining, and one point for other spend. I also earn bonus points from online shopping via the Chase Shopping Portal. Chase currently offers a signup bonus of 50,000 points for spending $4,000 in the first 90 days from account opening.

Chase Sapphire Reserve Benefits
Chase Sapphire Reserve Benefits

The CSR card comes with many benefits that outweigh its $450 annual fee, including an annual $300 travel credit, Priority Pass Select membership for free airport lounge access and Global Entry / TSA Pre fee credit. Chase provides great travel insurance benefits, such as primary car rental collision damage, baggage delay and loss, trip delay and interruption, medical and emergency evacuation coverage and more.

United BusinessFirst Seat
United BusinessFirst Seat

Cardholders redeem points for travel, gift cards, activities, and more. Airline tickets are booked within the Chase UR Travel portal or by transferring points to Chase’s airline partners. Using transferred points to book premium class tickets, such as Business or First class, provide an upgraded travel experience at a great value. Chase’s partners include many popular airlines, including United, Southwest, British Airways, Air France/KLM, Singapore and Virgin Atlantic. You redeem transferred points with these airlines using their respective loyalty programs (for example, United MileagePlus or British Airways Executive Club) for their own flights or their alliance and partner flights. For example, transferring points to British Airways enables you to book award flights to Hawaii on American and Alaska flights. UR points can also be transferred to Chase’s hotel partners (Hyatt, IHG, and Marriott) for free hotel rooms.

CSR cardholders can use Chase’s portal to redeem points for many forms of travel and activities at a value of 1.5 cents per point. Chase offers the Chase Sapphire Preferred (CSP) card for an annual fee of $95 (waived in the first year) and points earn at two points per dollar for travel and redeem at 1.25 cents for travel via the Chase portal.

Sometimes, it may be cheaper to purchase airline tickets or make a hotel room reservation via the Chase portal, rather than transferring UR points to redeem directly with a Chase airline or hotel partner. For example, if United offers a round-trip Economy award ticket between San Francisco and New York for 60,000 miles, just could transfer 60,000 points to United to make the reservation. However, if United’s cash price for the trip is only $350, you can also purchase the ticket via the Chase portal for around 23,000 points with CSR, or 28,000 points with CSP. Also, you earn United MileagePlus miles and elite qualifying miles and dollars (EQM/EQD) towards elite status. If you don’t have enough points to pay the full cost of the ticket you pay the balance with your Chase card.

Another way to use points is to book activities, or Things to Do, via the Chase portal. Let’s look at how to get free Disney tickets as our example…

First, login to your Chase account:

Chase Account Login
Chase Account Login

Next, select the Ultimate Rewards point summary at the bottom of your account list:

Chase Account Summary
Chase Account Summary

You should now see your Chase Ultimate Rewards Dashboard. Select the link Redeem for Travel or the Travel (airplane) option in the top menu:

Ultimate Rewards Dashboard
Ultimate Rewards Dashboard

Here, you see a form offering you a way to book Flights, Hotels, Cars, and more. Another option is Things to Do. Select it to display the form for searching for activities at your destination:

Ultimate Rewards Travel
Ultimate Rewards Travel

Enter the Destination you want to visit. In this example, I have entered Anaheim, California since this is the city where Disneyland is located. If you were looking for DisneyWorld tickets, you would enter Orlando, Florida. I have also entered the dates for my planned visit to Anaheim (you can change these later if you need). Select Search:

Things to Do
Things to Do

The portal displays some favorite attractions in the Anaheim area. Surprisingly, Disneyland is not the top listed attraction but LEGOLAND!

LEGOLAND
LEGOLAND

If you want to redeem points for LEGOLAND tickets, you would do it here. But, scrolling down the screen, you come across a section with the title “People who looked at “LEGOLAND California…” also viewed. Well, look here…surprise! Let’s see how we can get some free Disney tickets:

People who looked at LEGOLAND also viewed
People who looked at “LEGOLAND California…also viewed

UPDATE (12/30/18): Based on recent tests, this offer appears to have been removed from the Chase site. Hopefully, it will return at some points in the future.

Click on Disneyland Resort Tickets for pricing:

Disneyland Resort Tickets
Disneyland Resort Tickets

Select the ticket type, start date and the number of Adults and Children (3-9 years). In the pulldown menu under Adult and Child you will see the current price of each ticket in US Dollars and points. If you have a CSR card your points cost is calculated by multiplying the US Dollar price by 100 (to convert to cents) and dividing the result by 1.5 for CSR, or 1.25. Next, click on the Select box and complete your purchase. You have a choice to pay for the entire cost using points, or making all or some of the payment with your card. After you complete your purchase Chase sends a confirmation email that contains a link to download or print your ticket vouchers.

Chase Ultimate Rewards Confirmation
Chase Ultimate Rewards Confirmation

Selecting See your itinerary takes you back to the Chase portal to view your ticket vouchers and instructions to use them for entry to the Disneyland Park. If you need to cancel your reservation you can do so here. 

Chase Voucher Redemption
Chase Voucher Redemption

Select Print Vouchers to print them or save them to your computer for backup. These are your free Disney tickets. Vouchers are redeemed by scanning them at one of the Disneyland Park entrances. This is a great way to save time since you don’t need to wait in the Will Call or Ticket Purchase lines.

Yorkshire Traveler with Mickey
Yorkshire Traveler with Mickey

I hope you enjoy your free Disney tickets. Have fun at Disneyland Park or Disney World!! Looking forward to seeing your photos posted on Facebook or Instagram.

NOTE: I do not earn affiliate or other referral bonuses from any credit card application you may make as a result of reading these posts or clicking on any link to a credit card company. However, I do appreciate your reference to your friends and family so they may also enjoy the benefits of free and upgraded travel by earning and redeeming points and miles.