Points, Miles & Life

Travel adventures on this earthly pilgrimage

Category: Marriott

My First Best Rate Guarantee: Initial Experiences

Ever since Travel is Free wrote an awesome rundown on his experiences using best rate guarantees to save significant money on hotels (also see his complete guide), I have been itching to make a claim of my own. I have looked for opportunities many times, but nothing has ever presented itself in terms of timing and need.

Until now. While planning a crazy one-night trip (just to use a lounge pass I won and burn a United voucher), I was able to try a best-rate guarantee for the first time. Actually, I was able to try two.

But let’s pause for a moment so I can clarify what exactly is a  best rate guarantee. A “best rate guarantee” (BRG) is a policy outlined by a hotel chain that guarantees that the best publicly available rate that you can find for their hotel is on their website. Typically, the hotel chain offers to match any lower, publicly available rate, and then reduce the even more by a given percentage. In the case of IHG, they simply offer you the first night free, which is incredible for single night stays.

Finding Best Rate Guarantee Targets

I was headed to the Bay Area for work, and I noticed that the Hilton Garden Inn Emeryville was advertised at a lower rate on Expedia than on Hilton’s website. I quickly booked 2 refundable nights and submitted my first claim.

Then I started shopping for my one quick night near Denver airport. Almost immediately I had a target: the Marriott Airport Gateway. It as an Expedia daily special, and the refundable rate was less than $70. At Marriott’s website, the refundable member rate was about $80.

Both inquiries were responded to within 24 hours. Of course they couldn’t find either. The Marriott deal had about 8 hours left on it when I found it, so all they really had to do was wait it out. Somehow the room types didn’t match on the Hilton BRG. Meh. Technicalities. I can easily find other Bay Area options. I canceled the Expedia reservation and moved on.

Pursuing the Marriott Best Rate Guarantee

But I didn’t want to give up on the Marriott at Denver Airport. I quickly replied to the email, including a printout of my hotel confirmation. It was still just under 24 hours from when I had submitted my initial claim, and I had hung on to the original Expedia reservation since it was refundable.

I sent a message back to the customer service rep who had emailed, explaining that the rate was a timed Expedia special. I sent an image of my confirmation and hoped for the best.

Within just a few hours, I received an email back from the rep, stating that while they couldn’t find the rate that I had quoted, they had found a different one. It was even cheaper, and they were taking the liberty of matching it and then reducing the price by 25%. Sweet. The final price came out to about $60 after tax.

I was honestly surprised Marriott offered this. While I had expected that they would honor the rate I had booked, as I had submitted my claim within the time specified with an eligible rate, it was totally unexpected that they would match me to a wholly different rate.

Thus, I really chalk this up to both good luck and a sympathetic (or overly eager) customer service representative.

Due to a slight delay, I didn’t do much more than sleep and shower at the hotel when I finally arrived for my brief single night. I covered the cost with Arrival miles and raked in an extra 5,000 Marriott points for the stay from a Fall promotion. Not a terrible trade-off and an interesting first best rate guarantee experience.

Header image courtesy of Marriott. 

How To Transfer Marriott Points to United (and other airlines)

In the points and miles game diversity is usually a good thing. Having points with several airlines and hotel groups increases your options and flexibility. But sometimes you don’t quite have enough of the one currency you need.

Such was the case when I was looking at booking two business class tickets to Europe this winter on either Lufthansa or Turkish Airlines. The total outlay would be 140,000 United miles. Even after transferring all the UR points we have to United, my wife and I would still be 8,000 points short.

So I decided to transfer Marriott points to United miles. I don’t normally do this since transfer rates are not that great. But the alternative was purchasing 8,000 United miles for $301, or 15,000 for $376 (with a current +50% promotion). No thanks. We spent some cash already on our summer trip this year and just bought a new(er) van, and I wanted to keep the cost very minimal on this trip.

I have my eye on the Southwest Companion Pass (which TPG is currently giving away this week), so burning some Marriott points take me backward a bit. But I figured it would be worth it.

Here’s how you transfer Marriott points to United miles

transfer marriott points to united

To transfer the points, I logged into marriott.com, and then navigated to ‘Use Points’ via the ‘My Account’ menu in the top right corner. Then I scrolled down and found the ‘convert points to airline miles’ link. From here you can transfer Marriott points to United.

marriot_united-transfer_link

There is actually an extensive list of airlines for which you can convert Marriott points into miles. Personally, I only see any real value in transfers to United. American and Alaska may seem tempting, but you are nearly always better off transferring to SPG points first and then converting into miles. All the rest seem pretty worthless unless you are topping off an account for a specific award.

United is the special case because of the RewardsPlus program. Most of the perks are reciprocal benefits between United and Marriott elites, but any member can receive the 20% discount on the transfer rate when converting Marriott points into United miles. This turns out to be much better than a Starwood-United transfer. The rate is an undesirable 2:1.

I chose to transfer 24,000 Marriott points to United for a total of 10,000 miles. I peg Marriott points at 0.7 cents each and United miles at 1.6 cents each. Doing the math, I don’t see any real loss of value on the transfer. What I am losing, however, are Marriott points I can use toward a Southwest Companion Pass (more on this some other time).

transfer marriott points to united

 

 

Entering my United MileagePlus number and other info, I clicked through to the order confirmation page which informed me that an email confirmation would be sent as well. I am sure the process for transferring to other airlines is pretty much the same.

The terms stated that it may take 6-8 weeks to transfer the points. I figured that this would probably be more on the order of a week in practice, but I wasn’t counting on it. Not knowing what availability may be like, I wanted to get it rolling now so that the points would be available when I needed them.

After talking with my wife about the trip, however, we ended up deciding that we should probably not go after all. No worries. The email confirmation stated that I could call to modify or cancel the order before it was processed. It was Saturday, and I figured I would call in Monday morning and cancel.

marriott_united-transfer_terms

So I was completely caught off guard when the points showed up in my United account the very next day! Once the transfer is processed, the points cannot be transferred back! Now I am stuck with the extra United miles.

Lesson learned: Confirm your plans and/or availability before transferring points. If I had simply waited 2 days, I could have saved my 24,000 Marriott points toward the Southwest Companion pass. Unless I have a *really* good reason in the future, I don’t think I’ll transfer Marriott points to United miles again.

And It’s Official: Marriott’s Acquisition of Starwood Begins To Take Effect

The biggest travel news of 2015/2016 was likely Marriott’s purchase of Starwood hotels. The news brought dismay to many longtime SPG loyalists. Marriott’s loyalty program is decent, but Starwood’s is notably better. The consternation caused by the merger has prompted other chains, like Hyatt, to court top-tier Starwood elites by offering status matches. While some people have jumped ship, many have been holding out that Marriott won’t completely gut the Starwood program.

I was told on the phone last month not to expect a combined program until at least 2018. I took the info with a grain of salt since it was from a basic Amex customer service rep, but I later read that Marriott executives were saying the same thing. He was also trying to get me to keep my Starwood Preferred Guest credit card since I was calling to cancel it (for the record, he got me to keep it). I have gotten great mileage from the card, but with the merger looming and not too much on the travel forecast, I had been debating closing the account.

marriott_spg_link

Yesterday was the beginning of Phase I of merging the loyalty programs. The main highlights are:

  • Ability to link your SPG and Marriott Rewards accounts
  • Status match between programs (Platinum to Platinum, Gold to Gold, Preferred Plus to Silver, Preferred to Member)
  • Two-way points transfer rate of 3:1, Marriott to Starwood.
rtiz_marriott_spg-status_match

Status matches across all three programs now under Marriott International.

Much of the important information regarding the program mergers can be found here. You can see the new 3:1 points transfer ratio, the status match across all the programs, and the insane number of brands now under the a single banner.

marriott_spg-points_transfer

With your SPG and Marriott accounts linked, you can transfer points between programs at a 3:1 ratio.

For the most part, the programs will continue to operate independently in every other way. You have to log into spg.com to book SPG hotels, for example, and stays in each program will continue to earn points and nights only within their respective programs.

I linked my SPG and Marriott accounts. It is incredibly easy. You simply follow the link, enter the login credentials one after the other, confirm that you account number is correct, and then voila, accounts linked. The status match from the link appeared to be nearly instantaneous. I don’t have a Ritz account, so I don’t know if that differs in any way.

marriot_spg-link_success

The message after linking my accounts. It takes all of 60 seconds.

Overall, I think both Starwood and Marriott have managed customer relations well through the merger. They have maintained timely announcements and emails as the process has progressed, and this early crossover of programs is 100% benefit to program members, at least in the short term. We shall see how the long term program unfolds.

Here are a few things I am still hoping for in a combined program down the road, assuming the Marriott program prevails and all (Ritz, Marriott, and SPG) are eventually merged into one Rewards account:

  1. More lucrative promotions. Compared to IHG and Starwood, Marriott’s promotions haven’t been that impressive. During most quarters with IHG, I have the potential to pull in 40-60k bonus points off of only a few $100 in spending (which I usually accomplish through work stays). Starwood ran a couple good promos this past winter that netted us 6,000 points (roughly equivalent to 25,000 IHG points). I have yet to see anything of similar magnitude with Marriott, without requiring a substantial number of nights. The MegaBonus promotion offers 10,000 points after even 10 nights, a meager 1,000 points per night. Even Hyatt’s current promotion is notably better.
  2. Combination of program nights toward Marriott lifetime status. While I do think that Marriott will honor the lifetime status of current Starwood Lifetime Platinum and Gold members, the big question is: what will they do about members who are still working toward this? My best assumption is that Marriott will combine the Starwood lifetime points at the current 3:1 ratio, and transfer the nights over 1 to 1. This may not be a great deal, considering Marriott’s status is harder to achieve (at least at Gold level), but it would be at least a decent deal.
  3. Retention of mostly Starwood program benefits. This applies in a few areas. First, Starwood Gold members get a 50% points bonus on points earned from stays, while Marriott Gold members only get a 25% bonus. Things even out once you get to Platinum, except for any Starwood Platinum members who stay at least 75 nights. Additionally, Starwood offers a “Welcome Gift” at check-in, and bonus points are an option. Starwood also offers the great Make a Green Choice program. I hope Marriott will adopt some of these benefits over their current ones.

But this is all hopeful speculation. Currently, it is business as usual for all three programs. We’ll see where things are headed 18 months from now.