If there's one thing I've learned in the travel-hacking community, it's that people who love Marriott Rewards really love Marriott Rewards.
Personally, I don't find Marriott Rewards points very useful. Even though I have the Marriott Rewards Premier Visa, I signed up for that card because of the free night certificate, 50,000 bonus Marriott Rewards points, and $75 statement credit (plus the annual free night certificate). As a rule I only charge one small purchase to the card every 6 months or so, to keep the account from being closed due to inactivity.
There's no point in manufacturing spend on the Marriott Rewards Visa cards because they only earn 1 point per dollar spent on most purchases (the Premier Visa earns 2 points per dollar spent on restaurants, airline tickets, and rental cars, which are irrelevant here).
However, I do find Marriott's regular MegaBonus promotions (here's the latest one) amazingly effective at getting me to direct my paid stays to Marriott properties. If you understand hotel loyalty programs as rebates on hotel stays, then the MegaBonus promotions are a 50% – or more – rebate on up to 4 paid stays during each promotional period.
My Winter MegaBonus
The MegaBonus promotion ending tomorrow offered a free night certificate good at Category 1-5 properties after your second and fourth paid stays during the promotional period. I earned 1 certificate, on the following stays over New Years:
- 1 night at Courtyard Portland City Center: $115.64
- 1 night at Fairfield Inn Portland Airport: $81.30
If I'd charged those stays to my Marriott Rewards Premier Visa, I would have earned 984 bonus Marriott Rewards points, on top of the 2,064 points I earned as a Silver elite. Instead, I charged both stays to my Barclaycard Arrival World MasterCard, so I can redeem 19,694 Arrival miles against the two charges, at a total cost of a bit less than $79 (because of the 10% rebate on travel redemptions).
Having completed those 2 paid stays, I earned a Free Night Certificate good at a category 1-5 hotel. As you can see from my point density charts, there is no other hotel program that allows you to earn a free night at even the lowest tier properties after spending just $200 (with the exception of Concierge members with Club Carlson). Marriott allows you to stay at Category 4 or 5 properties for that much (or less) multiple times per year.
Plan Your Stays
To maximize the rebate from the MegaBonus promotions, you do need to plan your paid stays to make sure you have exactly 2 or 4 paid stays during each promotional period. Multiple nights in a row at the same hotel – even on separate reservations – are not supposed to count as separate stays. That's why for my 2-night stay at the Courtyard Portland City Center I booked the first night as a paid stay, then used a free night certificate from a previous MegaBonus promotion for the second night of the stay. By then changing hotels to the Fairfield Inn Portland Airport I was able to get a second stay credit (and be closer to the airport for my morning flight the next day).
If you're traveling with another person, you should be able to alternate nights at the same property and earn a stay credit for each night by crediting them to each person's account in turn. However, I have had problems in the past getting stays to properly credit to my Marriott Rewards account, so you may have to follow up with Marriott Rewards after your stays to make sure they credit properly.
Stackable New Member Promotion
Even better, Marriott is currently running a promotion for new members, whereby you can earn a free night certificate good at Category 1-5 properties after completing 2 paid stays within 120 days of the end of the month in which you join.
The best way to time this promotion with the next MegaBonus promotion is to sign up through this link on February 1: that way you'll have until the end of February, plus 120 days (roughly through the end of June), to complete your 2 paid stays, after which you'll have 1 free night certificate good at Category 1-5 properties (from the new member promotion) and 1 certificate good at Category 1-4 properties (from the Spring MegaBonus promotion).