Bonvoyology: Mastering Marriott’s Mysteries

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Marriott Bonvoy is a maddeningly complex program which promises the world, but often delivers disappointment.  Want to sign up for a second Bonvoy card?  Good luck figuring out if you’re eligible.  Think your elite status guarantees free breakfast?  Think again.  Looking forward to a suite upgrade with your Suite Night Awards?  LOL.  This post is the “cheat sheet” that will may help you get past the obstacles that make Bonvoy so hard to love…

It rhymes with chariot

Most people pronounce Marriott with the first part sounding like “marry” and the second part rhyming with “got” or “lot”.  But the correct pronunciation for “Marriott” rhymes with “chariot.”  Sort of like “marry-et.”  Huh.

Dating Tip: I don’t recommend finding a way to slip this nerdy “fun fact” into a first date conversation unless you’re hoping to avoid a second date.

The best Bonvoy card starts with R

Since Marriott adopted “Bonvoy” as their bodacious rewards program name, they’ve gone all-in and named all but one of their cards with the first letter “B”: Bevy, Bold, Boundless, Bountiful, Brilliant…

The one exception is also the very best Bonvoy card: The Ritz-Carlton Credit Card.  You can’t get the card new, but you can get another Bonvoy consumer card from Chase (Bold, Boundless, or Bountiful) and, after a year, product change to the Ritz card.  For details, see: Yes, the Ritz card is now the best value Marriott card.

Get it, but don’t spend it

Bonvoy cards (even those that start with B) can make sense to have for their perks and free night awards, but after earning the card’s welcome bonus, it rarely makes sense to use the card for spend outside of Marriott properties.  Most Bonvoy cards earn 6 points per dollar at Marriott properties and 2 points per dollar everywhere else (with a few exceptions).  Since Marriott Bonvoy points are usually worth less than 1 cent each, you’ll do better putting your spend on cards that earn 2% back in rewards, or more.  For examples, see: Best cards for everyday spend.  However, most Bonvoy cards also come with annual free nights (and sometimes other perks) which can be worth significantly more than the card’s annual fee.  So, keep a Bonvoy card, but use other cards for your everyday spend.  See also: Which Marriott Bonvoy card is best?

Bevy?  Bountiful?  Fuggetaboutit

Unlike every other current Bonvoy card that has an annual fee, neither the new Bonvoy Bevy Card nor the new Bonvoy Bountiful Card offers an automatic free night each year upon renewal.  Instead, to earn the 50K free night with either card, you need to spend $15K per year.  And since Bonvoy cards are usually a poor choice for your spend, I don’t recommend either card.

A second card requires a second degree

With both Amex and Chase issuing Marriott cards, someone at the helm decided that it would be wise to make the signup rules completely incomprehensible.  Can you get the Chase Boundless card?  Sure, as long as you haven’t had the Bonvoy Amex card in the past 30 days, and as long as you weren’t approved in the past 90 days or earned a welcome or upgrade bonus in the past 24 months on a bevy of Amex Bonvoy cards (not counting the card named only “Bonvoy” by Amex, which, as I already wrote, will prevent you from getting the Chase card if you’ve had it in the past 30 days).  Learning and understanding these rules is way beyond this Marriott masterclass.  We’ll develop a Phd program in the near future.  In the meantime, suffice to say that the easiest path to two cards is to get both the Amex Bonvoy Business and Amex Bonvoy Brilliant.  Boom.

What if you really want one of your cards to be a Chase card so that you can later upgrade to the Ritz card?  Enjoy studying the treasure map here: Are you eligible for a new Marriott card?

Pick your perfect free night certificate

Many forms of Marriott free night certificates exist: 25K (from an old no-longer-available card), 35K, 40K (available as a Titanium Elite Choice Benefit), 50K, and 85K.  Each can be used to book a night worth up to the face value of the certificate and you can top-off the certificate with up to 15,000 additional points.  For example, if an award night costs 45,000 points, you could pay for it with a 35K certificate + 10K points, or a 40K certificate + 5K points, or a 50K certificate (and the extra 5K value of the cert will be lost), or a 85K certificate (and the extra 40K value of the cert will be lost).

When you go to use a certificate, Marriott.com will pick one out for you.  I believe it chooses the cert that is closest to expiration.  That’s a great choice when all of your certs are the same value, but it often makes sense to use a lower value cert instead.  For example, it would be a waste to use a 85K cert for a 35K night.  Luckily, Marriott has made it “easy” to pick the cert you want:

  1. Before booking the stay you want, book an additional stay to use up the certs that you don’t want Marriott to assign to your desired stay.  We’ll call this the “dummy” stay.
  2. Book your real stay with the cert you want.
  3. Cancel your dummy stay.
  4. Check your account to make sure that the cert(s) applied to your dummy stay have come back
  5. Call Marriott to ask them to find the certs that failed to get put back into your account.

Enjoy your Platinum Elite Bonvoy breakfast (or not)

If you have Platinum Elite status or higher with Marriott, you are eligible for free breakfast except when you’re not.  Platinum Elite status offers free breakfast in the lounge (when available) or in the hotel restaurant except under the following conditions… (roll out giant scroll…)

  • No breakfast for you if you booked your stay at a Design Hotel, EDITION, Gaylord, Vacation Club, Marriott Executive Apartment, or Ritz-Carlton.
  • No breakfast for you if you visit one of these properties when their lounge is closed (which is typical on weekends or during or after pandemics): The Algonquin Hotel Times Square, Autograph Collection; Boston Marriott Copley Place; Boston Marriott Long Wharf; Chicago Marriott Downtown Magnificent Mile; JW Marriott Essex House New York City; JW Marriott New Orleans; JW Marriott San Francisco Union Square; JW Marriott Washington, DC; The Lexington Hotel, Autograph Collection; Monterey Marriott; New York Marriott Marquis®; Philadelphia Marriott Downtown; Renaissance Boston Waterfront Hotel; Renaissance Chicago Downtown Hotel; Renaissance Los Angeles Airport Hotel; Renaissance New York Midtown Hotel; Renaissance New York Times Square Hotel; Renaissance Washington, DC Downtown Hotel; Marriott Marquis San Diego Marina
  • Partial breakfast for you (i.e. you’ll get $10 towards breakfast) at AC Hotels; Courtyard (except those with a lounge); and Moxy Hotels.

Ah the joys of elite status!  For more, see: Marriott Platinum Elite Free Breakfast Simplified.

Semi-sweet Suite Night Awards

Nick scored this amazing suite at the St Pancras hotel in London by using a Suite Night Award.  See?  Sometimes they’re valuable!

When you earn 50 elite qualifying nights in a calendar year, and again at 75 nights, you get to pick a Choice Benefit.  One of those choices is to select “5 Suite Night Awards.”  The idea is that you can book a standard room and apply these Suite Night Awards to upgrade to a suite.  That sounds great, but the reality is worse than Marriott’s Platinum breakfast benefit.  Like the breakfast benefit, many brands simply don’t participate.  Staying at the Ritz?  Yeah, you’ll be staying in a base room because you can’t apply a Suite Night Award.  Worse, many (or maybe most) individual hotels simply opt out.  Worse than worse, there’s no way to know whether a hotel participates until you’ve booked a room.  Worse than worse than worse, the system may tell you that the hotel doesn’t participate even when it does (see: Marriott Suite Night Awards Shenanigans).  And, finally, even if you succeed in applying your Suite Night Awards to a stay, that doesn’t come close to guaranteeing your upgrade.  They won’t even check for upgrade availability until 5 days before your stay and then there seems to be a mysterious lottery system where you have a chance of an upgrade each day until your stay.  Still, despite all of that, these things sometimes work.  Do you like your chances?

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Dave M

As a Titanium Elite Lifetime member, I’ve had far more suite night awards expire than I’ve been able to use, and not for the lack of trying. My current strategy is to primarily book hotels that have a significant number of suites, to increase the chance of success. But since I’m also a Hyatt Globalist member, I now prefer to book with Hyatt, and get a guaranteed suite upgrade when I book, using their more valuable upgrade certificate.

Olin

As a Titanium member I’ve been upgraded probably roughly 66% of the time including to a very nice suite in a Ritz Carlton. In addition, I booked this hotel with a 35k hotel certificate. Every single one of my suite nights cleared. Yes, it’s all a game, but I have enjoyed playing and gotten enough benefits I’m happy to keep playing. However, I probably won’t make Titanium this year. If Platinum doesn’t prove to be sufficiently rewarding I may go elsewhere, but it’s hard to compete with the foot print of Marriott.

Last edited 11 days ago by Olin
dave

I successfully used two SNA’s at Royal Orchard in Bangkok this week. Good thing they cleared for a real suite or I would have cancelled and stayed at the Hilton Millennium.

Jimmy

I enjoyed this quite a lot. Now explain navigating Hyatt IT systems.

David

New to the game and don’t understand why anyone would stay loyal to Marriott… Hyatt obviously lacks quantity (but great value and elite status perks)… how would vets rate Hilton Status?

Kathy

This whole post was hilarious and thoroughly entertaining and I really hope it makes the rounds among marry-et corporate types

drod

Hey Greg – nice post but you need to caveat the Moxy part and the $10/night/person credit part. I was at a Moxy in NYC last week and they didn’t offer that as an option (which apparently is part of the T&C), so I was denied the credit and the Bonvoy “Champion” affirmed that decision. Check out the breakfast thread on flyertalk for more info.

Mantis

Why bother.

drod

Exactly. “marry-et” is my 4th choice when booking a hotel

Last edited 11 days ago by drod
Harry

@Lee: Oh, it’ll change eventually. Always does. No firm is immune. The best advice is given by all the blogs. Put your spend in transferable points. I am not loyal to any brand of airline, hotel, car rental, etc. I’ve been at this a very long time too. All of them are about what can you do for me now. The past (loyalty) amounts for nothing.

Darin

What @Lee said.

Marriott and Delta have the most despised customer loyalty programs among people who know anything about these programs and mete out deval after deval after deval with no consequences. Until consumers notice that they’re losing out by blindly collecting low value miles/points and shift their credit card spend, the beatings will continue.

Lee

In spite of their practices, they have record revenues. If there are no consequences . . . and there clearly aren’t . . . why would they change? Until there are consequences, why would they not cut something else? Such discussions are fruitless.

Mark Mulman, it will never change. Think about it: Given the arrest situation, why does anyone still rent a car from Hertz? The same answer applies to Marriott.

Last edited 12 days ago by Lee
Robert

Clearly theta is part of the equation

Mark Mulman

I’ve been a lifetime, titanium elite ever since I can remember. I have fired Marriott as a preferred Stay location now for the fourth time because of only some of the reasons you’ve listed above Gregg.

They continue to increase tier levels, point required, and dilute Our hard earned stays value. the only way we as frequent stayers is moving on from Marriott, in finding another hotel chain, that values my time, and hard-earned money. I’ve personally chosen Hyatt and IHG as my preferred hotel vendor, especially since they value my time, money, and most importantly, loyalty!

Time to wake up, everybody, Marriott is only interested in increasing shareholder value and cares nothing about their loyal and frequent travelers .

In all honesty I personally miss the SPG program!

Will

Any advice on extending free night and/or expiring suite upgrades? Thanks!

Vince

You can for the certs but not the SNAs Here’s a post:
https://frequentmiler.com/marriott-rules-for-extending-free-nights/

Buzz

Perfect timing for this article. My wife and I are staying at the Austin Proper Design hotel. The app told me I couldn’t apply a suite upgrade and you just told me “No breakfast for you!”

Oh well,

José

I have had some luck getting free breakfast at some Design Hotels as a Bonvoy platinum elite. If you have status, I would call the hotel directly and ask.

Buzz

I’m currently Titanium so I suppose it can’t hurt to ask.