Thursday, October 11, 2012

For occasional travelers this fall and winter, just one word: Marriott

    For those of you with travel plans in the next few months, I have just one word of advice. It's not plastics; it's Marriott.
    For the casual or even not-so-casual traveler, Marriott has the best hotel deal going with their current MegaBonus offer, which runs through Jan. 15. Combined with a current gift card offer, this one can't be beat. You only have until Oct. 31 to sign up though, so hurry!
   So what is the MegaBonus offer? Well, it depends. Everyone gets their own, but most low-level Marriott Rewards members will be offered a free night certificate for each two stays, up to a maximum of three free nights. The free nights are good in any Category 1-4 Marriott Family hotel and expire after one year, which is an improvement over past promotions, where the certificates were only good for six months. This is the offer that both Jinny and I got.
    But each offer is personalized. Other MegaBonus offers which have been reported include:

Earn 2 Free Nights (Category 1-5 hotels)
1 free night certificate earned after every two stays.
Free night certificate valid for category 1 to category 5 hotels and expire one year from issuance. Maximum 2 free night certificates during promotion.

Earn 40,000 bonus points
25,000 bonus points after 15 paid nights
+15,000 bonus points after 20 paid nights.

Earn 50,000 bonus points
35,000 bonus points after 20 paid nights
+15,000 bonus points after 25 paid nights. 

Earn 50,000 bonus points:
Earn 5,000 points every second stay.

        It's important to note that the limitation to Category 1-4 hotels pretty much eliminates all of the top-end Marriotts. For New Orleans, that means the Canal Street Marriotts are out, but the Residence Inn and Springhill Suites a few blocks away in the Warehouse District are in. This is just fine for our family, as these rooms are great for families and our certificates save us about $150 per night. Last year we had a great New Year's Eve vacation at very low cost thanks to free Marriott certificates. Those lucky enough to get a Cat-5 certificate will find a few luxury properties available.
     You'll note I mentioned a Gift Card offer. To take full advantage of this offer, you really need to buy a Marriott Gift Card through the Southwest Airlines website to pay for your stays. You can earn up to 12,000 Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards points by buying a $1,000 gift card. A smaller purchase earns fewer points. These points are worth $200 when buying a Southwest Airlines ticket. These are actual usable points, so this is money in the bank if you plan to fly Southwest.
    Let's do the math on this offer. A $750 Marriott gift card will return $150 in Southwest Airlines points, so your total investment is $600. Assuming a mix of Fairfield Inns, Courtyards and perhaps one full Marriott, all with one-night stays, you should be able to average six stays at $125 per stay. But thanks to your Southwest rebate, your real cost will only be $100 per stay. In exchange you will likely get three Cat 1-4 free night certificates. When buying the gift card, remember that if you will be charging food and drinks to your room you will want to go ahead and get the full $1,000 card rather than just enough to pay for six nights.
    If you are traveling on business and being reimbursed for your travel, the value of this deal is at least $125 for the free certificates plus $150 for the Rapid Rewards points, for a total of $525 in fairly easy money. If you are traveling for leisure or on your own dime, it still is a way to spend nine nights in nice hotels for an average of $50-70 per night (depending on whether your paid nights are at Fairfields or Courtyards). So it's a way to get Courtyard luxury for EconoLodge prices.
    To sign up for the Megabonus, just go to the Marriott site. Make sure your earning style is set to points and not airlines miles before trying to sign up.They have a Megabonus for airline miles, but it is weak.

    If you aren't a member of the Marriott Rewards program, please allow Jinny or me to "refer" you to the program. We will both get bonus points for your next five stays! Just click here to send me an email and I will send you a referral! (Or Facebook message me for my friends, so I'll be sure to get your message).

    Here's the link to sign up for Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards program. (Note: this link was down when I wrote this but should be repaired soon).

    Here's the link to sign up for the Marriott Gift Card Offer.

    Now as a matter of hotel-point strategy, it's hard to earn a lot of points in the Marriott system, and it's hard to earn Elite Status beyond Silver. I think Marriott has these Megabonus offers three times a year, with a maximum of either two or three free nights. So for the heavy traveler, I suggest planning for enough stays to make your desired tier in the Hilton system, then just graze on the best offers that Marriott, Priority Club, Hyatt, and lately Club Carlson throw out. (And for the "own-dime" traveler, the Choice Hotels program actually has some great offers!).
    Between the various promotions that the various hotel loyalty programs put out there to lure customers, combined with the regular points that one offers just as a matter of course, a heavy traveler like Jinny will earn enough certificates and points for about 15 free hotel nights per year, if not more. Thanks to the Marriott MegaBonus plus some other offers, a lightweight such as myself can still earn five to seven free nights. For example, Jinny and I will soon have 10 of the Marriott free-night certificates between us; our challenge will be to start using them before the first one earned expires in July 2013 (I'm going to save my brother a phone call; these certificates are non-transferable, even to a family member).
    We recently went to New Orleans to watch the Rebels play. Between the Rebels, the Saints game and an AARP convention the city was booked solid, and hotel rooms were literally going for $300 and up per night. We had to do a split stay, but we stayed for free at two different hotels on points. Needless to say, we never would have made the trip if it had involved $800 in hotel costs. So it's nice to have free hotel rooms when you need them.

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