Marriott Rewards: The holy grail?

I’ve been writing about loyalty programs pretty much as long as I’ve been blogging: MyPoints, Plink, and even credit card rewards. (An upcoming post will talk about whether all this stuff is worth it, but for now…) My latest foray began only a year ago, when after years of my father’s insisting, I joined Marriott Rewards.

I had largely not bothered because I wasn’t really traveling, and I didn’t expect that to change much, at least initially, when I took my current job. But when last year I discovered that the Imperial Court was holding their annual coronation at a Marriott (which they do every year), I figured why not?  Eventually I’d end up with a free room here or there, and it was free.

As expected, not much happened; I stayed one night at one for a wedding, but things were slow going.  I then signed up for the Marriott Rewards credit card, which Chase offers, to boost things a bit and hopefully get a bit more bang for my buck. The benefits seemed right to me: 50,000 free points upon signing up and having some card activity, a free room voucher annually, night credits that instantly boost my status so I can earn bonus points and get free rooms faster.  The card earns points, including 5x points for each dollar spent at Marriott.  There’s an annual fee starting in year two of $85, but you get the free room voucher, and most of the time the room would cost more than that anyway.

The card has changed the complexion of earning points; Marriott’s bonus programs (including their Megabonus, which awards a free night for every two stays) has only added to it.  Because of a busy couple of months at work that has led to a few overnight stays, I’ve suddenly found myself with a ton of points and bunch of free room vouchers.  The vouchers don’t work at every hotel (and not at any in New York, sadly), but it opens up vacation options that might have been less possible if I had to pay for the hotel rooms. It also drives the average cost of a night down, as the free night counts water down the average daily price I paid, a price already driven down by my eagerness to find cheaper rooms when I can, and I’ve succeeded pretty often.

So a program I didn’t initially see much value in now has the potential to have huge value, and I haven’t done all that much to make it happen.  The picture up top shows the other thing that happened… they upgraded my status for meeting certain criteria (it was sped up, probably so I’d get a “taste” and want more… not really!). I’ll get free Internet at times I’d otherwise have to pay. I get more bonus points (and, if used for rooms, more free nights).

I can use the points to buy items from catalogs powered by companies like SkyMall, but I kind of am enjoying the thought process of the travel I could possibly make happen thanks to the program… that’s almost worth more than the points itself.

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