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A couple months ago I booked a trip to Maui for our family of 5 using our stash of 125,000 Avios that I have carefully saved for this exact purpose. We live on the West Coast, and the 12,500 miles one-way to Hawaii is one of the most well-known Avios sweet spots. My hotel plans? I’m dropping a bunch of Marriott/SPG points for a week-long stay in Hawaii using a Marriott Hotel + Air package.

I had been saving all of our SPG and Marriott points for quite a while to make this award happen. While it would have been cool to drop some points for a Southwest Companion Pass before that option died last year, I didn’t have enough at the time. Plus, I knew that I we would be adopting three kids, and a 5-for-4 deal doesn’t seem all that enticing. Due to 5/24, my wife and I don’t have another route to a pass anytime in the near future. But that doesn’t bug me [SEE: This is why the Southwest Companion Pass is worthless (for me)].

So, I decided to punt on the Marriott Flight + Hotel package deal and save some more points. And I’m glad I did, since we are now about to have a ridiculously cheap Hawaii vacation. Here’s how to book a Marriott Hotel + Air Package:

How to book a Marriott Hotel + Air package – call

You can’t book a Marriott Hotel + Air package online. I wish there was an easy way to request one and have it quickly process, but you do need to pick up the phone and call Marriott at: 1 (800) 321-7396. My experience with Marriott phone reps has been good in all previous cases, but I’ve only had to call in once or twice (once was to transfer my wife’s points to my account, which was pretty painless).

An agent named Veronica answered the phone after a very brief hold time. I am Marriott Gold through the status match from SPG Gold, and Marriott elites are supposed to get priority, but I really don’t know if that helped at all. I explained that I wanted to book a Marriott Hotel + Air package, and Veronica seemed well aware of the program. I told her I would like to order a 7-night Category 8 certificate plus 120,000 Alaska Airlines miles. I cited a price of 360,000 Marriott points, which she confirmed.

When you call to book, make sure you specify what package you’d like (check the tables here). The airlines are at the bottom of their respective charts. Each column then shows the number of miles you’ll receive and the prices are sorted from lowest to highest based on hotel Category.

Know that you can (currently) upgrade a certificate later, if you need. I believe upgrading a certificate changes its issuance date as well. The certificate is good for a year, but Marriott has usually been good about extending certificates when asked from all reports I’ve read.

I had to provide my Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan number to the agent, and that was about it. Maybe a minute later Veronica asked if she could help me book the hotel right then, which we did. I received the confirmation email, and I was off the phone in under 10 minutes. Easy peasy. The Alaska miles took about a week to post to my Mileage Plan account.

marriott-hotel-+-air-package

Note that ordering a Marriott Hotel + Air package does not lock you into a specific hotel or dates! We had to change our plans and bump the trip back a few months. Changing the booking was easy over the phone. You may even be able to do this online, once the certificate is ordered, but I am not sure. We rebooked at the same hotel, but we could have just as easily rebooked at any other Category 8 hotel.

Sweet spots when booking a Marriott Hotel + Air package

Not all Marriott Hotel + Air packages provide the same value. For starters, the packages vary by tier of hotel you want to book. The first package is for category 1-5 hotels, and then each subsequent tier has its own price. Ritz Carlton hotels have their own pricing tiers as well.

Then you have to decide on the number of airline miles you want. In my opinion, it is best to shoot for the most airline miles possible, as this will almost certainly maximize the value. Last, the number of miles you can order depends on the airline mileage currency you want, and the actual value of the miles depends on the exact award you want to book. I was going to discuss the relative value per category, but with the award chart in flux, I can’t make any good determinations at the moment. Here is some speculation about whether to book now or later.

As far as miles go, consistently good choices are any 120,000-mile Alaska package or any 132,000 mile United package. The American, Air Canada, and Virgin Atlantic packages not far behind. It all depends on your use. The 120,000-mile Southwest package used to be a favorite before they axed the ability to earn the companion pass via this route.

Beyond this, I’d be a bit more selective. You can get great value out of ANA Mileage Club, Asia Miles, JAL, Asiana, or Korean Skypass, but there are generally other avenues to earn these miles. As you only get 85,000 miles at the top tier versus 120,000 miles (or 132,000 with United) with the other carriers, I’d only order these packages if you have a very specific use in mind (i.e. business class or anther award chart sweet spot). While the amount of miles may be unattractive, there are definitely cases where 85,000 ANA miles will go further than 132,000 United miles.

Will the Marriott Hotel + Air package be here in the future?

Right now it looks like yes, but the Marriott and Starwood programs are in flux. We finally found out what the new program would look like, and while the packages may stay, it is unclear how any certificates ordered before August 1 will be affected. There is also talk of the packages changing sometime in the future. Personally, I don’t expect this to be for the better.

If you’re holding a good number of Marriott points and are considering ordering a Marriott Hotel + Air package, there are two main variables to consider at the moment. First, if you have definite plans for the package, I’d consider booking sooner rather than later. You never know when Marriott is going to make tweaks to pricing. Sure, it could be in your favor. But it could just as easily mess up your plans. Your certificate may shift in what hotels it is applicable to in the future. But if you can lock in a trip now, I’d do so.

The other side of the coin is that holding out may present new, unknown options. We do know that top-tier properties within the Starwood and Marriott programs should be available for cheaper prices than we’ve ever seen. Especially Starwood. I’m a bit skeptical this will materialize (see link to Frequent Miler post above), but you never know. It may turn out that holding onto your points to simply book top-tier hotels cheaply may be a fantastic choice.

Or you could split the difference, order a Category 9 package now, and then book the top properties, knowing they should be rolled into the category. Still, it’s hard to plan when the programs are in flux.

Conclusion

Marriott Hotel + Air packages are one of the absolute best uses of Marriott/SPG points. Always shoot for the largest mileage package, as you get the most bang for your points this way. Marriott Hotel + Air packages also currently beat even straight SPG points transfers. With the 360,000 Marriott points that we used for our 7-night certificate, you could get 150,000 miles with any of the SPG partners. Maybe some people could justify 30,000 more miles over a 7-night hotel stay, but I definitely can’t. Especially when it is one of the best options for a family of 5 in Maui (SEE: 5 best hotel chains for families of 5 or more)!

We’ll have to wait and see how the packages change in the future. But for now they remain one of the best deals out there.

What are your experiences booking a Marriott Hotel + Air package? Where have your points taken you?

Images courtesy of Marriott. 

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