I was chatting yesterday with someone who has had a lot of success with Marriott recently, taking advantage of a number of opportunities that currently intersect due to the merger of the Marriott and Starwood hotel chains. While I don't generally think of Marriott Rewards as being a program that offers travel hackers much value, that may be less true today than it has been even in the recent past.
Here are a few ways you might be able to get above-average value from Marriott Rewards.
Transfer Starpoints to Marriott Rewards
While I mentioned this back in September in the context of Marriott Flight and Hotel packages, it's also true that you can simply transfer Starpoints to Marriott in order to book award stays.
Marriott award stays top out at 45,000 Marriott Rewards points (15,000 Starpoints) and Ritz-Carlton stays cost up to 70,000 Marriott Rewards points (23,333 Starpoints). The 5th award night is free for reservations with both Marriott Rewards and Ritz-Carlton.
That means the most expensive Ritz-Carlton property in the world requires just $23,333 in unbonused spend on the Starwood Preferred Guest American Express, or $18,667 in spend for stays of exactly 5 nights.
At the Tier 5 Ritz-Carlton, St. Thomas, you'd pay 280,000 Marriott Rewards points for a stay that would otherwise cost $2,729 in cash (dates June 30 to July 5, 2017). At roughly 1 cent per point, that would give you a roughly 3% return on your unbonused Starwood Preferred Guest American Express purchases.
Note that Marriott is terrible about making award rates available, so this isn't as low-hanging a fruit as you might otherwise hope.
Match Starwood Preferred Guest Gold to Marriott Rewards Gold
Since the merger you've been able to link your Starwood Preferred Guest and Marriott Rewards accounts and take advantage of your highest status in either program. You can find the details here, but the most important takeaway is that Starwood Preferred Guest Gold status matches to Marriott Rewards Gold status.
You can get Starwood Preferred Guest Gold status by spending $30,000 on a Starwood Preferred Guest American Express, or simply by holding an American Express Platinum or Platinum Business card, both of which offer complimentary Starwood Preferred Guest Gold status.
Marriott Rewards Gold status, on the other hand, is somewhat harder to earn and somewhat more valuable, coming as it does with free continental breakfast at Marriott properties.
Maximize the Chase Ritz-Carlton Visa
I don't carry the Chase Ritz-Carlton Visa since I don't pay $450 annual fees, but it has a number of features that may offer genuine value: a $100 hotel credit every time you book a paid Ritz-Carlton stay of 2 or more nights and three lounge upgrades on paid stays annually.
Those can be combined, and if you're aggressive about maximizing both benefits then three paid 2-night stays, each with a $100 hotel credit and lounge upgrade, during lower-cost or off-peak periods could handily offset a big part of that $450 annual fee, especially if you're traveling with a large family.
It really does seem like, for now, the merger of Marriott and Starwood has given those with Starwood Preferred Guest American Express cards access to similar values as they're used to at Starwood properties in Marriott's much larger portfolio of hotels.
Personally, my Hilton Honors Diamond status and cheap and plentiful access to Hilton Honors points, as well as Hyatt Gold Passport Diamond status and cheap and plentiful access to Hyatt points through Ultimate Rewards, together mean that I have no interest in spinning up another hotel loyalty relationship. But if you're still deciding on an approach to hotel stays, it seems you could do worse than looking into the Marriott/Starwood relationship.