Note from Nick: We’re re-publishing this old post because the methodology is more relevant than ever given that we’ve been told that the Marriott double elite night credit promotion will be valid with award stays so long as you have at least one paid night. Some readers have asked how it is possible to mix paid and award nights in a single reservation. This post has that answer and more details about Marriott 5th night free.
Read on for Greg’s 2019 update and then the original post below that. Greg’s update below addresses what has changed cosmetically since the post was originally published, but mechanically this still works the same as it always has and is a good tool to have in your belt if you’ll be mattress running Marriott.
I recently stumbled upon this old post written by Julian, the Devil’s Advocate, in January 2015. For those who are math or calendar challenged, January 2015 happened more than four years ago. That’s an eternity in this space. And I was stunned to discover that the findings in this post are still completely valid today. The tricks shown here have not been Bonvoyed. It is still possible, within a single Marriott reservation, to mix nights booked with points with nights booked with cash, and still get the 5th award night free. And Marriott still offers hints to save you money on these reservations. No joke.
Yes, some details are different today. In Julian’s post, the award search results show points needed for the entire stay whereas Marriott now shows only the points needed for the first night. The new system makes it easier to understand the points requirement for the hotel, but the old system provided Julian with material for a math joke. You decide which is better.
Also, some of the terminology has changed. Julian says to click the “plus sign next to the words ‘Use Cash + Points.'” But, today, you should click the plus sign next to the words “Customize Payments“. Another change is that today’s system better displays the points and cash rates side by side so that you can easily pick the cheapest nights to pay cash. The downside of the new system is that even though there is still a hint telling you how to save money with a different combination of dates, it is now less obvious than before (except when it’s highlighted as I’ve done below). Here’s what the new “customize payments” screen looks like:
And now: Julian’s original post…
Not a day goes by when I don’t think to myself, “man, it would be really cool if…” followed by some sort of very basic and totally logical innovation. You know, something along the lines of “man, it would be really cool if Delta’s newly fixed online award redemption system was actually fixed and not just a little less broken than it used to be.”
This happens to me in all areas of my life, but never more so than when I’m planning a trip. So it’s a pleasant surprise when I wish for some sort of simple tool and then discover it actually exists. My recent post about automatically piecing together complex itineraries with Google Flights is a case in point (see “Bet You Didn’t Know: The magic of Google Flights“).
Today’s tip is another great example. If you’re like me and you have a decent collection of Marriott points (or so many Ultimate Rewards points that you don’t know what to do with them all and you’re actually willing to transfer some to Marriott), you likely already know about Marriott’s 5th Night Free deal. If you redeem points for 5 or more nights at a Marriott in a single reservation, the 5th night is free. This is a terrific way to maximize Marriott points by effectively cutting the cost of any 5 night redemption by 20%.
Because of this 5th night bonus, I personally like to try and use Marriott points for stays that are at least 5 nights and use cash or other hotel points for shorter stays. However, when you redeem at Marriott for stays longer than 5 nights, you’re essentially diluting that 20% points savings for each night beyond the first 5 (at least until you get to 10 nights, at which point you’re not only getting the 5th and 10th night free but you’re also so tired of spending so many nights at the same hotel that you’d pay a million extra points if you could just finally go home and sleep in your own bed).
But here’s the good news — if you’re willing to mix in some cash with your points, you can maximize that 5th Night Free benefit at the full 20% savings and still get a stay longer than 5 nights.
Here’s the even better news — when you combine cash and points in the same reservation, the nights you’re using points for do not have to be consecutive. So you can pick the nights with the lowest rates as your “cash” nights.
And here’s the best news — Marriott has a tool on their website that will figure all this out for you automatically.
Marriott wants to save you money. Really.
Let’s look at an example. My friend Omer is sitting on a stash of 140,000 Marriott points (wonder where he got those from) and is getting ready for a 7 night trip to London in May. Hotel rates in London can be super expensive, especially when you convert British pounds to U.S. dollars (though not as bad as when you convert chocolate ice cream pounds to my bulging waistline! Hey now! OK, folks, not every joke in these posts can be brilliant.)
This seems like a perfect opportunity for Omer to use his Marriott points. So we bring up the marriott.com reservation search system, punch in his dates, select “Use rewards points” as an option, and fire away…
Hmmmm. Those are some pretty expensive hotels and they want a lot of points for them. Even with one night free on a points redemption (which Marriott has already figured into these search results), it’s still going to be significantly more than 140,000 points at even the cheapest London area Marriott.
But all is not lost. We know we want to maximize our 5th Night Free benefit, so let’s pick a hotel that we know would be 140,000 points for 5 nights. That’s a simple matter of dividing our current points results by 6 (since one night out of the 7 is already free) and then re-multiplying the result by 4 (to account for a 5-night reservation with the 5th night free). OK, so maybe it’s not a simple matter. I suppose we could just look up the hotel categories on the Marriott chart instead, but trust me, this is the right calculation. I think. Dammit, where’s the quadratic equation when you finally need it?
Anyway, we’re looking for hotels listed at 210,000 points for 7 nights (which are category 7 hotels for those of you scoring at home), so let’s say we decide on the Marriott Kensington. We click on “View Rates” where we can book with 210,000 points as expected.
But there’s an option at the bottom of the screen to mix cash nights with points nights. It’s the plus sign next to the words “Use Cash + Points.”
By clicking on that option, we get a calendar of our stay where we can change any number of nights from “35,000 points” to “Cash Rate.”
Which nights do we choose?
We could manually check each of these nights to determine the cheapest, but instead let’s just try the last two nights after the Free 5th Night. That gives us the 140,000 point redemption we’re looking for plus a cash outlay of 438 British pounds for the extra two nights.
Notice the box that’s suddenly appeared next to the Cash + Points box that reads “Save”?
That’s marriott.com informing us that there are two nights in our stay with a lower cash rate than the ones we’ve chosen. Which means all we have to do is click on that “Save” box and let Marriott do the work…
It turns out the 4th and 5th nights of our stay are the cheapest nights, not the last two, so Marriott has altered our choices to give us the cheapest rate. Note that we are still getting our Free 5th Night even though we’re splitting our points nights in half. It’s just moved to the end of the reservation instead of being on the actual 5th night. Our points outlay is the same but now our cash portion has dropped to 320 British pounds. That’s a savings of about $180 at today’s rates.
From here we can click the big blue “Select” button and finish up our reservation, where we’ll see the final breakdown of the price…
Since this is a points reservation, it allows cancellation up until 4pm local time on the day of arrival, which gives us fantastic flexibility. If we had booked the Advance Purchase rate for the same nights, we would be stuck with an unchangeable reservation and would have paid this…
That means for our 140,000 points, we saved 882 British pounds, which is around $1,340. That’s nearly 1 cent per point in value. For Marriott hotel points, that’s pretty darn good.
So if you’re sitting on a slew of Marriott points, don’t fret if your stay doesn’t add up to exactly 5 days. Put a little cash towards the problem and let marriott.com maximize both your points and your money.
Find all the “Bet You Didn’t Know” posts here.