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Middle Age Miles

Sizing Up the Marriott Gift Card Sale & Upcoming Bonvoy Points Sale

Introduction

Earlier this week, Marriott announced a sale on its gift cards, where GCs can be purchased in designated denominations at 20% off, plus a points sale starting next week, where Bonvoy points can be purchased with a 60% bonus, which represents an all-time best rate. We wanted to take a closer look at each of these promotions.

In preparing this article, we’ve referred to the articles previously published on this topic by Doctor of Credit and One Mile At A Time, and we’d like to give a hat tip to Doc, OMAAT, and their commenters.

[Also, on May 18-19, Marriott is having a 10% off sale at Homes and Villas by Marriott International. We haven’t used that platform, and the sale doesn’t sound earth-shattering, so we won’t analyze it further.]

Marriott Gift Card Sale

From now through Sunday, May 17 (or while supplies last), Marriott e-gift cards (eGC) are on sale at a 20% discount.

The denominations available and sale prices are:

  • $50 eGC for $40
  • $100 eGC for $80
  • $250 eGC for $200
  • $500 eGC for $400
  • $1,000 eGC for $800

You can purchase the discounted eGCs through the following link:

Official terms and limitations on the Marriott site are:

  • Marriott GC purchase limit is $5,000 per person per credit card per day
    • Frankly, this is confusing. Our best guess is that it’s a per-day limit for either one person or for one credit card “per person” OR “per credit card”
  • Marriott verifies each order, and eGCs are delivered within 1-7 business days (to allow time for the verification process)
  • The eGC delivery date should not exceed 3 months from the date of the order
    • You can order an eGC as a gift for someone else, but you can’t order it for delivery more than 3 months into the future
  • Cards are valid at all Marriott branded hotels except Bvlgari Hotels, Design Hotels, Homes & Villas by Marriott International, and THe Ritz-Carlton Destination Club

We have a few additional observations and data points about this sale and Marriott GCs in general:

  • Data points are consistent that these eGC purchases do qualify for the $300 Marriott credit on the Amex Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant card
  • Purchases are processed by Marriott, and Lucky of OMAAT has confirmed with Marriott that the purchases will earn 6x Bonvoy points if paid with a qualifying Marriott co-branded card (Amex or Chase)
    • For the same reason, we would also expect these purchases to qualify for 3x points-earning on the Chase Sapphire Reserve card, the Citi Prestige & Premier cards, and the US Bank Altitude Reserve card (although we don’t have confirming data points)
  • Marriott gift cards do not expire
  • These eGCs cannot be applied to prepaid rates
  • Generally, you use eGCs for payment at the time of check-out
    • The Marriott FAQs say that you can also use the eGCs at food & beverage outlets, spas, and other outlets managed by the hotel
    • The eGCs can be used for meetings and events
    • When using these eGCs, you’ll need to present the email or purchase receipt containing the eGC number. This may be a physical printout or an image on an electronic device.
  • Yes, you do earn regular Marriott Bonvoy points (including elite bonuses) on your folio charges when you use a Marriott GC/eGC to pay at check-out
  • Theoretically at least, these cards can be used outside the US, at a Marriott-desingated exchange rate
    • Reading the data points on use of Marriott GCs internationally reveals a mix of opinions as to how “fair” the exchange rate is. We suspect that the “fairness” varies depending on location and how the hotel processes the transaction.
    • Internationally, there also may be an issue with the check-out agent knowing how to process the transaction when trying to pay with a USD-denominated GC.
    • Personally, we think it’s risky to purchase Marriott GCs with a plan to use them for international stays. It might work, but there’s a good chance that you’ll run into problems.
  • Marriott says that the entire GC balances does not have to be used at once; that is, if you use only part of the balance of a GC to pay for a stay, the remainder of the balance will remain intact and available on the card. For example, if you have a $500 card and use it to pay for a $400 stay, you should have a $100 balance left to use for a future stay.
    • That said, we have one data point within the past 2-3 years where this did not work. We used about $125 of a $150 Marriott GC, which should have left us with a balance of about $25. However, the next time we attempted to use the card, it showed a balance of $0. We didn’t bother trying to recover the balance, because there were several months between our first use and the next attempted use, plus the GC had been purchased at a 20% discount in the first instance, so we were still “ahead” even though the entire balance drained.

You can see the full set of FAQs for the Marriott eGC sale here:

Our Analysis: In “normal” times, it would be a no-brainer for most regular travelers to purchase Marriott GCs at a 20% discount. These are decidedly not normal times, though. No one knows when travel will return to a more normal state, so for now a decision whether to purchase Marriott eGCs and in what amount comes down to (a) your own liquidity and ability to float the purchase; and (b) your own plans, and flexibility as to when you’d be able to use the GC funds.

We’d want to be sure that we have one or more planned or likely domestic Marriott stays in the future where we could use the eGCs. As we mentioned above, this is because we believe there is substantial uncertainty as to whether the eGCs can be successfully redeemed internationally on a consistent basis.

Personally, we’re planning to purchase a modest amount of these eGCs – probably a few hundred dollars but less than a thousand. We have a trip to Maui planned for this fall where we’re staying at a Marriott-family property. Our room is booked on Bonvoy points and free night certificates, but I’m sure we’ll incur some food & beverage charges. And even if we can’t take that trip, we’re highly likely to have other domestic stays at Marriott properties relatively soon after travel resumes.

We’ll probably use our Chase Sapphire Reserve to pay, expecting to earn 3x Ultimate Rewards (UR) points. We value 3x UR points (a 4.5% points rebate, at our baseline value of 1.5 cents per UR point) higher than 6x Marriott Bonvoy points (a 4.0% points rebate, at our baseline value of 0.67 cents per point).

Will a better opportunity to purchase Marriott GCs at an even greater discount come along later? We don’t know the answer to this at all. Some have speculated that we may see discounts of 25% or 30%. That would be an unprecedented discount. But these are unprecedented times … so, maybe.

Finally, in these times, there’s always a chance that a company fails to survive, leaving unsecured creditors like those with gift cards holding the bag with worthless cards. In these times, it’s a non-zero risk, although, this doesn’t seem like a significant risk with Marriott right now.

Upcoming Marriott Bonvoy Points Sale

From Monday, May 18 through Tuesday, June 30, 2020, Marriott will sell Bonvoy points with a 60% bonus.

Marriott’s standard price for points sales is 1.25 cents per point. The standard limit on purchases is 50,000 points per year for each Bonvoy member.

Lucky at OMAAT says that the best previous points sale by Marriott was a 50% bonus, so that the upcoming 60% bonus would reflect a best-ever deal. That also comports with our own recollections of Marriott points sales. (Although, that said, there’s also the pesky issue of Marriott’s wicked points devaluations over the past couple of years, but we won’t further digress on that topic here.)

In the past, we’ve seen Marriott increase its yearly cap on points purchases in connection with promotions. We’ll hope that they’ll do the same here, in order to give potential purchasers more flexibility. In any event, the cap should apply only to the base points, not the bonus points. Thus, even if the 50,000 cap remains in place, we’d expect each Bonvoy member to be able to receive up to 80,000 points (50,000 points + 30,000 bonus points) through this promotion.

A 60% bonus brings the purchase price for Bonvoy points down to about 0.78 cents per point. For example, if you purchased 50,000 points for $625, you’d also receive a 30,000 point bonus for a total of 80,000. $625 for 80,000 points comes to $0.78125 per point.

Marriott points purchases are processed by Points.com. This has 2 important ramifications. One, it means that the purchase won’t qualify as travel for credit card bonus categories, and thus, you’ll want to use either a card where you’re earning a sign-up/upgrade/big-spend bonus or your best-earning card for everyday spend. Two, it means that you can receive shopping portal benefits on your purchase. If you go through the Top Cashback portal to access Points.com, purchases of Marriott Bonvoy points currently earn 2.5% cash back.

Assuming that this rate is still in place next week when the promotion begins, this will reduce the net purchase cost to about 0.76 cents per Bonvoy point. Then, if we use the Citi Double Cash card as an example for a payment card, we could earn 2 ThankYou Points per dollar on the purchase, further reducing our “net cost” to a little over 0.74 cents per Bonvoy point.

Our Analysis: Our baseline value of Marriott Bonvoy points is 0.67 cents per point (cpp), so the net purchase cost is pretty close. And even with Marriott’s many recent devaluations, there remain plenty of opportunities to redeem Bonvoy points for more than 0.74 cpp of value, with it being not entirely unusual to get a redemption in the 1 cpp range.

In normal times, we’d tell you to not purchase Marriott Bonvoy points speculatively, even at this decent rate. (We’d also step onto our soapbox again momentarily to remind you that Marriott has not been trustworthy with devaluations lately.) But, we’d also say that if you had a specific redemption in mind where you could get outsized value for the points or need a few points to top off your account for a redemption, then go for it at this best-ever rate.

In today’s times, though, we’re more leery. We don’t see ourselves as being buyers in this promotion. And we find it hard to recommend to anyone to buy points unless it’s at a very significant discount compared to baseline values. There are simply no “certain” leisure travel plans at the moment where you could “lock in” a favorable points-rate reservation and know it will stick. We’re also guessing that paid rates will remain lower than their pre-virus levels for some time to come, as occupancy rates also remain below pre-virus levels. Finally, we’re also thinking that we’ll see some good paid-rate hotel promotions as we (hopefully) emerge from our virus quarantines and travel slowly ramps up.

Wrap-Up

We hope you’ve found our thoughts on the current Marriott eGC sale and upcoming Bonvoy points promotion to be helpful.

More importantly for now, we hope that Middle Age Miles readers remain healthy, and that we can all travel and see the world safely again soon!

What do you think of the Marriott sales? Are you a buyer in either the eGC or points sales? Do you have additional data points that would be helpful? Please let us know in the Comments!


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3 thoughts on “Sizing Up the Marriott Gift Card Sale & Upcoming Bonvoy Points Sale

    1. Craig at Middle Age Miles Post author

      Hi Lindy – Thanks for the comment. For sure, Marriott has given us plenty of reasons not to trust them on the points side of things. ~Craig

  1. Parts Unknown

    “these eGC purchases do qualify for the $300 Marriott credit on the Amex Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant card”

    For now, wait 8 months for the clawback.

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