Marriott Travel Package Arbitrage


In a post written over a year ago about the Marriott SPG merger (Investing in change: Marriott / SPG / Ritz new program opportunities) I wrote the following about Marriott Travel Packages: “there’s a chance that having an active 5 or 7 Night Stay certificate in-hand will be a big win.”

My thinking was that the merger would open up the ability to use the Marriott stay certificates at Starwood properties. I also thought that there was an outside chance (far outside) that the hotel category system would go away and that the certificates would temporarily be available to book any hotel.

Now that we know more about how the programs are coming together in August, many readers have asked me what to do now.  Is it worth investing in Marriott Travel packages before the programs merge in August?  If you have a travel package stay certificate, should you upgrade it to a higher category, or downgrade it to a lower category before August?

Travel Package Background

First, a little background.  Marriott Travel packages offer a great way to convert hotel points to airline miles at a favorable rate.  Below you’ll see one of several current (pre-August) travel packages.  Focus on just the right-most column, since that’s where you’ll find the best deals.  There, you’ll see that you can purchase a Category 1-5 7 Night package for 270,000 Marriott points (90K SPG), and you’ll get 120,000 miles.  Incidentally, you also get a 7 night certificate good at any Category 1-5 property.  But, the key value for many of us is the ability to transfer SPG points to miles at a great rate: 90K Starpoints to 120K airline miles.  If you transfer to United, you get even more miles (132K).

a table with numbers and a list of flights

You don’t need to have actual travel in mind when purchasing a travel package.  You immediately get the miles and you get a 7 night certificate loaded to your account.  The certificate is good for a year, but can be extended another year simply by calling and asking.  It can also be extended by a year by calling Marriott Rewards to upgrade or downgrade the package to another category (you pay the difference in the package price if upgrading, or you get back the difference if downgrading).

What happens to travel packages in August?

In August, anyone with active stay certificates will then be able to use them across the Marriott / SPG portfolio.  That is a potentially big win since, in my opinion, SPG has more desirable mid-tier properties.  We don’t yet know exactly how the current categories will map to new categories, but we have been told that the goal is to base the mapping on the number of points required for a stay.  For example, category 5 Marriott hotels in the current award chart cost 25,000 points per night.  In the new award chart, category 4 hotels cost 25,000 points per night.  So, it’s safe to assume that category 1-5 certificates will become category 1-4 certificates in August.  Since Marriott has said that more properties will go down in price than up, this means that the category 1-5 certificate should have the same or better value in August then it does today.  Not all categories map perfectly 1 to 1 though, so there are some risks and opportunities with keeping a certificate until August.  More on that below.

What about buying new Travel Packages?  Should we buy now or later?  In a conversation with VP of Marriott Rewards, Bob Behrens, I was told that Travel Packages will still be available in the combined program and they’ll offer similar value. He also told me that he hopes to reduce complexity.  Currently there are four different packages.  The package you choose depends upon which airline miles you want.  In the current system, the United package offers the most miles.  And packages 1 and 3, which cover most mainstream airlines, offer the standard number of miles (up to 120K).  Packages 2 (a collection of foreign airlines), and package 4 (JetBlue), though, offer relatively poor value.  Bob is hoping to chop this down to one or two packages.  On the plus side, this means that a number of foreign programs (JAL, Asiana, Korean Air, etc.) will then be a much better deal in August than they are today.  On the negative side, this may mean that United will no longer offer more miles than other programs.

A look at how the stay certificates may map from old to new

The following chart shows by best guess of how Marriott will map old stay certificates to new in August.  Most of the categories are predictable because they are one to one mappings, or close enough.  Current categories 6 and 8 are less certain, though, so the chart below shows two possible mappings for each.  For example, the chart shows what happens if old Category 6 maps to New Category 4 or to New Category 5.

Cells shaded red indicate that your Stay Certificate will lose value in the new system, and cells shaded green indicate that your certificate will gain value.

a table with numbers and a number of different colored numbersThe only “sure win” in the chart above is in Old Category 9 which is very likely to map to New Category 6.  In this case, your certificate will go from being able to book 45K per night rooms to 50K per night rooms for a maximum added value of 30K points if you book a 7 night stay (5th night is always free, so this is calculated as 5K x 6 = 30K).  On the other hand, by the same reasoning, Marriott will probably place many current category 9 hotels into new category 6 and so they’ll all cost 50K per night in the new system.  In other words, despite the numbers above, you won’t really gain anything at all other than locking in today’s award prices.  Worse, it’s my opinion that the best current Marriott category 9 hotels are the most likely to be re-categorized upwards in the new system.  If you’re eying a great category 9 property right now, you’re better off booking it before August because it’s likely that it will jump to 60,000 points per night in the new program.  In other words, this “sure win” isn’t likely to be a win at all.

Category 6 certificates are interesting because their current value falls exactly in the middle between new categories 4 and 5.  If Marriott maps category 6 certificates to New Category 4, then we lose (unless most category 6 properties also map to New Category 4).  If they map them to Category 5, then we win… unless most category 6 properties also map to New Category 5.  My best guess is that holding onto a Category 6 certificate will be a small win.

Category 8 certificates have the most likely upside.  Marriott may generously map old Category 8 to new Category 6.  The downside is that they may instead map to New Category 5 (which is the same mapping that I predict for Category 7 certificates).  If that happens, you may have essentially lost 30K points (the difference in price between Category 7 and 8 certificates).  My bet, though, is that if they do map old Category 8 to New Category 5, they’ll make you whole by giving you 30,000 points.  Overall, in my opinion, Category 8 appears to be the only category worth investing in today in the hopes that it will be more valuable in August.

Ritz Tier 4-5 have the potential to offer a huge win, but only when category 8 is introduced in 2019.  Given that category 8 won’t exist when the mappings happen, it seems unlikely to me that the travel package will be mapped to this not-yet-existent category.  Personally, I wouldn’t risk it.


If you already have a stay certificate from buying a Travel Package in the past, then consider rolling the dice and upgrading or downgrading it to Category 8.  Of course, if you are upgrading, you’ll need to have enough points in your account to cover the difference in package prices.  You must talk to the Marriott Rewards department to upgrade or downgrade a package. General Marriott customer service agents won’t know how and may even tell you that it can’t be done.  I called on Wednesday and successfully upgraded my category 5 certificate to category 8, but the process did involve very long hold times.

If you are trying to decide whether to buy a package now or wait until August:

Buy now if:

  • You need the miles right away, or
  • You want United miles (the new packages might not offer as much value for United miles)

Wait until August if:

  • You want to get miles in any of the following programs: Aeroflot, Air China, Air France/KLM, Alitalia, ANA, Asia Miles, Asiana Airlines, Avianca-TACA LifeMiles, China Eastern, Emirates, Etihad Airways, Japan Airlines, Jet Airways, Korean Air SKYPASS, LAN, Lufthansa Miles & More, Multiplus, Qantas, Qatar Airways, Saudia Airlines, Singapore Airlines, South African Airways Voyager, TAP Air Portugal, Turkish Airlines

Before you buy

In my opinion, the potential upside of category 8 packages is not enough to warrant buying now if you aren’t in the market for exchanging points for airline miles.  Also consider the fact that if you buy now, you’ll have fewer points available for the outstanding award night values that are likely to appear in August (see: The huge wins in Marriott’s announcement).  That said, if you already have a stay certificate and you have enough points to do so, I do think that upgrading to category 8 makes sense just in case it pays off.  Keep in mind, though, that there is some risk that you’ll lose the equivalent of 30K points if things don’t play out as we hope.

See Also

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Justin J

You nailed it. Thanks, this is the reason I booked a cat 9. I wanted the closest thing to a “sure win”.

[…] FrequentMiler 分析新舊表格後(參考他做的比較圖)認為最有可能提升價值是舊制的 Category 6 提升到新制的 Category 5,還有舊制的 Category 8 提升到新制的 Category 6。 […]

[…] Marriott Travel Package Arbitrage […]


I want a catagory 6 (old levels) for JW Marriott Phu Quoc so I don’t really know what I should get with all these changes 🙁
Have 70k SPG (into 210k Marriott) so will need to transfer 60k AMEX MR points (half my stash) to get the 300k travel package.


Was rather annoyed when it went from Cat5 to Cat 6 🙁


Should I be getting the cat 6 TP to ensure I can still get JW Marriott Phu Quoc ????

[…] costly. I often end up staying at condos to save money. However, last month after reading the Marriott Travel Package Arbitrage article written by Greg the FrequentMiler, I decided to redeem 360,000 Marriott points for a […]


Hey Greg, I need to upgrade my category 6 certificate to category 7 since the hotel I want to redeem is category 7. I found availability at the hotel for 7 nights and was able to place the reservation on hold. In order to upgrade the certificate I need additional 30K points which I currently don’t have in my account but will be posted to account by end of the month once my credit card statement closes. If I don’t upgrade the certificate before to August 1st and tag it to my reservation will I potentially need more than 30K points? Trying to figure out if I should just transfer 30K from ultimate rewards or wait till my credit card statement closes. Thanks

Roderick Martim

Since the new award chart has been announced, can you please update this information as I’d still like to know if there are advantages to buying a travel package before August 1st. Thanks

Nick Reyes

Unfortunately, we still don’t know how these certs will be converted with regard to the new chart. The new 7-night packages aren’t as good of a deal. See:

Also, see Greg’s Travel Package Advice:

The short story is that buying a travel package before August is loaded with advantages. You’ll surely get tons more value out of airline miles than you could ever get out of Marriott points, so it definitely makes sense to do one unless you already have more miles than you need and you intend to try to use all of your points to book the Cat 8 properties at Cat 7 pricing in 2018.

ED Liu

The new travel packages just announced at the end of June are significantly more expensive than current ones. Do you know if I hold a 7 night cat 6 hotel, will I be able to use it after August for the new chart of Cat 6 hotel?

Nick Reyes

Current Cat 6 = 30K per night
New Cat 6 = 50K per night

Highly doubtful that will be considered equal.

As Greg showed in the chart here, the most likely outcomes are that your current Cat 6 will, which today works at properties that charge 30K per night (that’s the current Cat 6 price), will either be valid at:

New Cat 4 (25K per night)
New Cat 5 (35K per night)

We don’t know which or if it’s possible that the certificates will just get converted to points instead. (See:

But, again, I’d put the likelihood at almost zero that your certificate will gain 20K per night in value.

Berkeley Mom

If I want to book a travel certificate for a 7night stay at the St. Regis in NYC for Sept, What travel package should I purchase before August? Since the most points they will charge before 2019 will be 60K points/night can I get away with purchasing a cat 7 (based on new chart)?, or will I need a travel certificate that is equivalent to Tier 4-5?

Nick Reyes

Unfortunately, we don’t yet know. I suspect we’ll just have to gamble.

You may also see this:

Cindy J

I have enough Marriott points to buy the Category 8 package to convert to UA and 7 nights at a hotel. Do you think I would be able to book the St, Regis Bora Bora (now a Cat 7 SPG hotel) with a Category 8 certificate after August? Would you do it this way or just use SPG points to book in August?


Greg- So, based on all the info out there, what would you do if you had tons and tons of Starpoints? Would you buy the Travel packages now and if so, which ones? Thank you!

Nick Reyes

Yes, you should buy a Travel Package or two now. Which one depends on which miles you want. We don’t know how the certs will be treated, so it’s hard to say which level to get apart from studying this post.

You might want to check this out in terms of airlines:

[…] This article from US site Frequent Miler runs through the various ‘should I book now?’ s….  I couldn’t write a better analysis of the situation if I tried, so I recommend you read this article if you are unsure about what to do.  It is difficult to disagree with the thesis that the current Category 1-5 package will only be bookable at Category 1-4 hotels from August. […]

[…] Greg of Frequent Miler […]

Ben O.

There’s two important considerations missing here, I think:

1. Most obvious, what if the cost of these equivalent packages go up? It’s very possible they may charge, let’s say 300,000 points for a cat 1-4 certificate in the new program, right? Did Marriott/SPG address this and I just missed it?

2. I know this info came out after you wrote this post, but the SPG rep on FT said that any existing certificates would be converted to an equivalent amount of points. That’s less important to me since I assume they’ll be generous in their conversions if they do pull this bait and switch (which is exactly what it would be for most people, who don’t live and breathe this stuff like readers here), but still worth considering.

For my own uses, I just bought 30,000 SPG points last night to top up for a cat 8 cert. Now I just need to decide what airline to use. LifeMiles is tempting, but seems like a loss not to get at least 120,000 points. May get more than 85,000 in August, but they also could raise the price of the cat 8 cert and put it out of my reach.


Thanks, Greg! Super helpful. Maybe you are the one to help me pull the trigger on a package. 🙂

I’m looking at booking a package for JW Parq Vancouver (current CAT 8) for late July 2019- so just outside the 50 week window. Do you think it would be wise to buy the package and book the stay in June and then call to change it to July? That way if they do ramp up that hotel’s redemption value, I’ll still lock in what I paid for?

Nick Taj

Would appreciate your thoughts…
I have the Ritz 1-3 7-night certificate. If I upgrade to the Ritz 4-5 certificate, what are the chances i’ll be able to use it at the St. Regis properties? I understand that those may be category 8 and not implemented until 2/2019…but assuming timing isn’t an issue, would the highest certificate allow redemption at the category 8 properties or will there eventually be a higher tier certificate?