Had a weird Marriott Rewards booking experience last week, but first — just transferred my blog to a new webhosting platform. So far, it seems to load faster than with the old host. If you notice any changes, please let me know.
In June, my cousin Timmy and I are going to Cartagena, then I’m flying solo to Bogota. Timmy has a limited time for his vacation, and I’ve always wanted to visit the underground cathedral near Bogota. Booked a round trip with Avianca on United miles with the (insert the giggle) Excursionist Perk.
- JFK to Cartagena
- Cartagena to Bogota
- Bogota to JFK
This is a short 5 hours + flight, but I’ve never tried Avianca Business Class, so splurged on the way home. It’s supposed to be a modern lie-flat seat on A330. The JFK – CTG leg wasn’t worth it, as it’s an old A319 recliner. The total cost is 55,000 miles.
Already booked a 2-bedroom ocean-view apartment in Cartagena and JW Marriott in Bogota.
Due to the upcoming August devaluation of the Gold Elite status (for those who, like me, haven’t earned it the hard way), I’ve just booked a 5-night rewards stay at JW Marriott in Bogota, Colombia in June to bid farewell to the most important Marriott Gold Elite benefits: free food and booze. And boy, was that an adventure! I’ll tell you why in a minute, but first, a little history.
I’m a “fake” Marriott Gold. Last year, I was Gold due to my Chase Ritz Carlton card, which is not with me any longer. This year, I’m Gold due to the match to my Gold SPG status. Which itself is a fake status obtained due to my AMEX Platinum card, which is not with me anymore, either.
I have never told that to anyone before, but I’ve had SPG Gold without interruption since I received my first AMEX Platinum card. Even though I would close these Platinum cards, then open again, then close again – for whatever weird, unexplained reason, I would never lose my SPG Gold status.
I can’t explain that strange phenomenon, but I’m not complaining. 🙂 For some reason the SPG gods just gave me Gold and forgot I’d ever existed.
How Marriott Gold is changing and why I’m sad
The Marriott Gold status is currently on a par with Hilton and it’s way better than SPG Gold. You get breakfast in most properties and, in many markets, access to the lounge, although the latter is not guaranteed. And some hotel breakfasts, especially in Asia, will blow you away. If you stay at a plush enough Marriott hotel, you can (between the breakfast, afternoon snacks, and evening hors d’oeuvres) live off the land, without spending a penny on food during your vacation. You can literally have a free stay if you don’t pay for excursions.
Although that’s an extreme that even a hardcore cheapskate like yours truly wouldn’t recommend.
In addition, a Marriott Gold Elite member can get a nice upgrade, although it’s not guaranteed either. Sometimes, a ridiculously nice upgrade, like the upgrade I got at JW Marriott Hanoi. I don’t know if they confused me with a head of state, but the suite they gave me was out of this world! Which has just reminded me that I still haven’t reviewed JW Marriott Hanoi. Grrr!
Unfortunately, after the August changes, fake Gold Elites like me will remain Gold, while real road warriors who, in the words of Cosmo Cramer, suffer for their soup become Platinum. And the sweetest Marriott perks like free breakfast and lounge will migrate to Platinum (click).
Tricking myself into spending more points than necessary wasn’t easy
When I contemplate my accommodation options I perform a $100 test.
It doesn’t have to be $100. It can be $99 or $92 or $102 for all I care, but $100 is round and easy.
I try to see if I can get a good 5- or at least 4-star hotel room or an apartment in a good location for under $100 a night. If one of these conditions is met, I pay cash.
Or I look for an outsized rewards value even in the current devaluation spree environment. What can I say – I’m an incorrigible dreamer. If I find it, I pay points. However, I’ve said before that I treat points as I would treat money in that I don’t throw them around like candy.
Bogota has blown my resolve out of the water. Not only does it have a plethora of cheap and nice sub-$100 hotel rooms; not only does it have some appealing spacious apartments in the same price range, but there is also Four Points by Sheraton, a perfectly fine Category 1 SPG hotel in a perfectly fine location with free breakfast, that would cost me 2,600 points vs. a $103 rate (including taxes) for my dates. That’s a 4x value, which is great in my book.
There are other cheap point hotels in Bogota, but none of them beats the location. If you’re looking for a very cheap points stay in Bogota, it seems to me the Four Points hits all the right notes.
And if it weren’t for the upcoming Elite structure changes in August, I wouldn’t pay 120,000 points (with 5th night free) for JW Marriott while there are so many cheaper alternatives. But this time around I just couldn’t resist. Like an alcoholic, I’ve just got to have that last free sip of decadent and totally undeserved Gold benefits.
Having decided on JW Marriott Bogota was just the beginning. Then the fun began.
The thing is, I didn’t have 120,000 Marriott points in my account. I had about 20,000 points. My wife, however, had over 160,000 points, and she’s Silver. So to complete my Marriott Rewards booking I had 3 options.
1. I could book a room in my wife’s name and add myself as a guest, but then I would be at the hotel’s mercy in terms of honoring my status.
2. I could transfer her Marriott points to SPG, then transfer her SPG points to my account, then transfer my SPG points to my Marriott account.
3. Or I could make a reservation and transfer any number of my wife’s points to complete a reservation, which is allowed under the Marriott rules. That would be easier, or so I thought.
Marriott Rewards booking hiccup #1
I decided that using method number 3 would be quick and painless. I was wrong. I had to call 4 times, talk to 5 different agents and 2 supervisors, and spend at least 2 hours on the phone all told. I have no idea why it was so hard, especially since I’d combined Marriott points at least twice before, and it’s always been quick and easy.
Getting what I wanted took more than just HUCA (hang up and call again). It’s like all Marriott agents have suffered a massive memory loss. They had no idea what I was talking about and tried to convince me that I couldn’t transfer more than 50,000 points per year.
That’s simply not true. The free point transfer allowance for up to 50,000 points a year is a new Marriott Elite perk. But it has nothing to do with transferring points to make a specific reservation. That benefit has existed for years and years, and it hasn’t gone away (AFAIK).
In case you run into a similar problem, go to the Marriott Rewards T&C and read them this quote.
Transferring Points from One Account to Another
This Member benefit is available between any two accounts in good standing whether sending or receiving points. A Member may authorize the transfer a maximum of 50,000 Points per calendar year into the Rewards Program account of friends or family provided the recipient account is also in good standing. Once per calendar year and only at time of Reward Redemption a Member may exceed the 50,000 Point maximum into the Rewards Program account of a friend or family member in order to qualify for a specific Reward in accordance with this section
Immediately prior to Reward Redemption and only once per calendar year, a Member may authorize the transfer of the necessary number of Points into the Rewards Program account of a friend or family member, in order to qualify for a specific Reward. This transfer may exceed the 50,000 Point maximum per calendar year.
Marriott Rewards booking hiccup # 2
When the dust finally settled and they gave me my reservation number, I got to my online account and saw this (click):
Remember that my 5-night reward was supposed to cost 120,000 points (a Category 6 hotel at 30,000 points with the fifth night free). Instead, they booked me 2 nights plus 3 nights at the total cost of 135,000 points. Turned out, the 3 nights part had a pointsaver discount.
I called again, and after the mandatory hold, the agent told me they couldn’t “convert” a pointsaver award into a “fifth-night-free” award, and so my best bet would be wait until the pointsaver discount for the hotel was no longer available.
There was a major problem with that statement. The Marriott website still showed the 120,000 points for a 5-night reward on my days. It obviously was available.
So I asked him to cancel the booking and return the points into my account. And after that I would just book the hotel on my own. In the meantime, I asked him to stay on the phone with me in case something went wrong again.
It was a good call because something surely did go wrong. Even though the agent claimed he refunded all my points into my account, my points weren’t there when I logged on again.
When I informed the agent, he said,“Wait a moment, I think I can book it for you on my end.” And he did. Woohoo!
I still don’t see all the remaining points in my account…. UPDATE: 24 hours later I can see the points in my account
Chase Marriott Anniversary Free Night – extended!
Booking my stay was one weird experience. Hopefully, some of you will be able to benefit from it in the future. And if not, it was fun writing about it.
Weird or not, Marriott Rewards can sometimes go above and beyond. And does!
My wife’s Chase free annual night was supposed to expire today, as we just couldn’t find a way to use it this year. The agent agreed to extend it for another year, and she also agreed to transfer all my wife’s points to my account, even though the T&C states that “only the necessary number of Points needed to redeem the specified Reward, rounded to the nearest 1,000 Points, may be transferred — no more, no less.”
When a company helps you out even though it has every right in the world to say “no,” it’s easier to take the bad with the good, especially when it’s not an isolated incident. I can rant all I want about the points or status devaluations (and boy, I do!), but I also remember how Marriott reinstated my wife’s expired points a few years back. Some of these reinstated points have made this reward booking possible.
So let’s give credit where credit is due, I say.