It's perfectly natural, when you're deeply involved in a hobby like travel hacking, to develop some intuitions that guide your decision making, shortcuts that let you quickly decide whether a given award redemption actually saves you money compared to other obvious alternatives.
One thing I love to do here on the blog is to dig into those intuitions and make sure the numbers behind them really do make sense.
Since this week I've been hammering on the Chase IHG Rewards Club and Hyatt Gold Passport co-branded credit cards, and the value of their annual free night certificates, I thought I'd finish out the week discussing a card I actually have (against my better judgment): the Chase Marriott Rewards Premier Visa card.
The card has an $85 annual fee, and each year cardholders receive one free night certificate, valid at Marriott properties in Category 5 and below. The certificate can be redeemed for any room that has standard award availability.
What I want to know isn't whether the free night certificate is worth $85, but rather whether it's worth anything at all. That is to say, based on the actual distribution of hotels within Marriott's reward categories, can I consistently expect to redeem my free night certificate at properties I actually want to stay at?
The release of Marriott's 2015 hotel category adjustments provides a good occasion to apply some data to this question.
I travel primarily for leisure, primarily to cities, and want to stay as close to those cities' downtowns as possible. Marriott has a huge footprint of downtown hotels in cities around the world, so the question is how many of those hotels will be in Category 5 or below for reservations made after March 19, 2015.
Marriott Rewards divides the globe into 11 regions. For each region, I picked the 5 largest cities by population, and simply noted whether there was a single downtown hotel in Category 5 or below.
This is the answer to a very specific question: how many of the top five cities by population in each Marriott region have a downtown Category 5 or lower property? In two cases, the definition of "downtown" is clearly disputable, which earned Seoul and Paris 0.5 points each.
- United States: 1/5 (Houston)
- Africa: 2/5 (Cairo and Alexandria)
- Asia: 3.5/5 (Shanghai, Karachi, and Beijing. Seoul is a megalopolis which earns the Courtyard Seoul Times Square half a point)
- Australia and Pacific Islands: 0/5
- Canada: 3/5 (Toronto, Montreal, Ottawa)
- Caribbean: 1/5 (Santo Domingo)
- Central America: 1/5 (Tegucigalpa)
- Europe: 1.5/5 (Madrid. Paris is a megalopolis which earns the easily accessible Category 4 and 5 properties half a point)
- Mexico: 2/5 (Mexico City and Puebla)
- Middle East: 2/5 (Riyadh and Ankara)
- South America: 1/5 (Bogota)
Of 11 regions, and 5 cities per region, only 18 have Category 1-5 Marriott Rewards properties, or roughly 33%.
On the one hand, that's preposterously low to speculatively pay $85 on the off chance that a free night certificate in such a city will prove valuable.
On the other hand, if one of those cities is one you regularly need to stay at, you're in luck: the Chase Marriott Rewards Premier card will give you a free night there.