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
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:
- Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card from American Express
- Starwood Preferred Guest American Express Luxury Card
- Starwood Preferred Guest Business Credit Card from American Express
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.
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 offers two Marriott co-branded credit cards
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 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.
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
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 – 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 Gold Plus Rewards Five Star and President’s Circle status offers upgrades and bonus points.
Earning points by Hosting MeetingS
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 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
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.
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.