The Marriott hotel chain’s loyalty program has long been a favourite with travellers, but its recent merger with Starwood Preferred Guest (SPG) and Ritz-Carlton Rewards raised questions for collectors about the program’s relative value and how to earn points. By mid-2018, the three brands successfully aligned their rewards programs to create Marriott Bonvoy, which officially launched earlier this year. Along with a massive rebranding effort came the launch of a Bonvoy-branded credit card for Canadians from American Express.
There are numerous ways to collect points in the Bonvoy program (more on that below), but the two main methods are to use the Marriott Bonvoy American Express card or to sign up for a free Bonvoy membership. This article will take a look at the Marriott Bonvoy loyalty program and explain the relative merits of the American Express card.
Skip ahead to the Marriott Bonvoy American Express Card
The Marriott Bonvoy loyalty program
Marketed to frequent travellers who like to stay in quality hotels, the Bonvoy program is structured to allow members to climb through five “Elite” status levels when they hit 10 stays. The more you stay at partner hotels—there are more than 7,000 of them worldwide—the higher you climb, and the better your rewards. Every stay earns you points (or Miles—members select which they prefer on sign-up) that you can redeem for even more rewards.
Members only earn points at Marriott Bonvoy properties, but membership is free and if you’re coming from any of the previous programs you enjoy seamless integration. If you use a Bonvoy American Express credit card, you’ll accumulate program points even faster, since you earn on every purchase you make with the card, not just stays at Marriott hotels.
The five levels of Elite status are titled Silver, Gold, Platinum, Titanium and Ambassador. By simply signing up online, you receive free wi-fi, mobile check-in and preferred member rates. When you stay for 10 qualifying nights, you achieve Silver Elite status and get access to more (and better) benefits, including accelerated points earnings. The more you stay, the higher you climb, right up to the Ambassador Elite level.
Snapshot of perks by status level
|Perks||Member (0-9 stays/year)||Silver Elite (10-24 stays/year)||Gold Elite (24-49 stays/year)||Platinum Elite (50-74 stays/year)||Titanium Elite (75-99 stays/year)||Ambassador Elite (100+ nights/year and $20K in annual qualifying spend)|
|Mobile check-in services||√||√||√||√||√||√|
|Late checkout||√||2 PM||2 PM||4 PM||4 PM||4 PM|
|In-hotel welcome gift (varies by brand)||Points||Points||Points, breakfast or amenity||Points, breakfast or amenity||Points, breakfast or amenity|
Points are extremely flexible, as long as you’re redeeming within the Bonvoy environment. You can use them to book rooms, flights and rental cars, or exchange them for gift cards, merchandise and event tickets. They’re also extraordinarily flexible in terms of how you use them: You can pool your points, split payment between cash and points, purchase extra points, gift points or even donate them to charities.
All this choice is attractive, but it does make for a rather overwhelming program. If you want to know how many points you need for a free night, for example, you have to consult a rewards chart, figure out what category your hotel is in (1 through 8) and determine the season. It works out to about 10 points per $1USD at most Marriott properties, and 5 points per $1 at Element, Residence Inn, or TownePlace Suites. Similarly, the rewards you receive, like lounge access or an in-hotel welcome gift, can depend on the brand you book with, so a room in the Ritz-Carlton chain may offer different perks than a room with St. Regis. That said, the program has loads on offer and even at the introductory member level there are valuable perks, especially when you redeem your points for hotel stays.
One of the first things that gets people’s attention with this card is the hefty 60,000-Point sign-up bonus, which will cover three nights in a category 2 hotel. Not a bad incentive, but it doesn’t end there. You’ll receive an annual free night’s stay—that’s one night free after every anniversary—that’s worth up to 35,000 points. When you sign up for this card, you’re automatically granted Silver Elite status. Once you spend $30,000, you attain Gold Elite status, which gets you a 25% points bonus on stays, room upgrades and a 2 pm late checkout where available. Within this points system, the higher your status, the more points you earn—allowing frequent travellers to move quickly to bigger and better rewards.
This card is designed to help you earn. Spend $1 at Marriott Bonvoy properties (on the room, meals and so forth) and earn 5 points. Spend $1 anywhere else and earn 2 points. Refer a friend and get up to 10,000 points. Transfer 60,000 points to a frequent flyer program, and get 15,000 bonus points as a reward. Plus, there are literally dozens of deals for earning on the Bonvoy loyalty site.
As a loyalty rewards card it’s hard to find fault with this product, but it’s also a terrifically serviceable travel card in its own right. The insurance benefits alone should catch your attention: travel emergency assistance, $500,000 in travel accident coverage, flight and baggage delay and lost or stolen baggage coverage, car rental theft and damage insurance and hotel or motel burglary protection. This suite addresses literally every aspect of your trip plans, from getting there to where you’ll stay to how you’ll get around at your destination. It’s worth pointing out, though, that this card does not include travel emergency medical coverage, so you’ll have to spring for that yourself.
This card is pretty close to perfect for its target audience: travellers. While the $120 annual fee isn’t nothing, the yearly free night’s stay alone makes it worthwhile.
- Annual fee: $120
- Welcome bonus: Earn 60,000 bonus points, after charging $3,000 in your first three months, plus get $120 credited when you charge $10,000 in in your first year
- Earn rate: 5 points per $1 spent at Marriott Bonvoy properties and 2 points per $1 spent anywhere else
- Additional perks: A suite of travel insurance, membership in American Express Invites, Buyer’s Assurance and Purchase Protection
All Point values are based on hotel redemptions
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