Topping up accounts, or, throwing good points after bad

Marriott Rewards is the worst hotel loyalty program: it has all the low earning rates and high property costs of IHG Rewards, with none of the potential upside offered by IHG's PointsBreak list and occasional lucrative promotions.

Nonetheless, I have a small balance of Marriott Rewards points that I'd love to redeem if an opportunity ever presented itself. The problem is that the kind of downtown Marriott properties I wouldn't mind staying at are so expensive that I only have enough points for a single night. In that way, my balance is like a free night certificate: great if you only want to stay one night, but worthless if you're trying to plan an actual vacation.

When topping up an account can make sense

Of course, Marriott Rewards is a transfer partner of Chase Ultimate Rewards, which means I can top up my account at any time and suddenly have enough Marriott Rewards points for a longer stay.

Under most circumstances that would be crazy: Ultimate Rewards points are worth 1 cent each when redeemed for cash, which is virtually never true of Marriott Rewards point redemptions.

Here's where the worthlessness of unredeemed points is such a useful framework. Since I have no plan to redeem my existing Marriott Rewards points, they're worth nothing to me as long as they're just sitting in my account.

That means that even if it doesn't make any sense to transfer all 35,000 Ultimate Rewards points required to stay at a Category 7 Marriott like the Courtyard Portland City Center, it can make sense to transfer 5,000 points to top up your account from 30,000 to 35,000:

For an upcoming trip to Portland, I have 2 nights booked at the Hilton Portland & Executive Tower for 80,000 HHonors points, with an imputed redemption value of approximately $280 ($13,333 in bonused spend with an American Express Surpass co-branded card). Since I have a Marriott Rewards balance of just over 58,000 points, I'd have to transfer 12,000 Ultimate Rewards point to replace those two nights with two nights at the Courtyard Portland City Center.

Since my current, unredeemed 58,000 Marriott Rewards balance is worthless, that means I have the opportunity to pay $120 and recoup at least $280 in value from HHonors points. That's a no-brainer.


Remember, besides saving money, redeeming your existing points balances whenever possible has a unique upside: it gives you an instant snapshot of what your points are actually worth, which lets you decide critically whether to continue earning them, or to shift your earning to other, more valuable loyalty currencies.