Rewards Points Battle: Marriott vs. Bonwi

Marriott Starwood hotel brands

Marriott Starwood hotel brands

After a merger between Starwood and Marriott, this behemoth of a company now has either 29 or 30 different brands (apparently even they can’t keep track of these different hotel names). You can now earn points at a staggering 6,700 hotels in 127 countries.

With Bonwi Rewards you can earn points at any hotel brand and redeem them for any hotel. But where can you get to a free night faster? Let’s take a look at which rewards program will reward you more quickly.

How the Marriott Program Works

As with most of these big brand programs, the earning part of the equation in this loyalty program is relatively straightforward. You’ll earn 10 points per US$1 spent on the hotel charge itself at most properties (minus taxes), plus the same for eligible hotel charges like your bar tabs or restaurant bills. You earn 5 points per dollar at lower-priced brands Element, Residence Inn and TownePlace Suites hotels.

With this system, if you pay $250 per night for your JW Marriott hotel for two nights and charge $200 of other services, you would earn 7,000 points total for that two-night stay. Or 3,500 points at what they consider a lesser brand in the portfolio.

JW Marriott Hotel Cusco
JW Marriott El Convento in Cusco, Peru

Earning Free Nights With Marriott Rewards

Where it gets tricky is on the redemption side.  There are currently 7 tiers of redemption at Marriott Rewards, which may go to 8 in 2019, but to be fair that’s fewer than there were before the merger. In theory these start at 7,500, though in my experience, spotting a hotel available at that level is like spotting a rare species of bird in the wild. The rest range from 12,500 to 60,000, roughly based on brand and price. So at the bottom level you’ll probably get a Residence Inn, at the top level you have a shot at a Luxury Collection or Ritz Carlton property.

There are also several tiers of elite status in this combined Starwood Marriott program and while the choices have expanded, the numbers have gone up. The top tiers now require a crazy 75 and 100 stays per year in Marriott branded properties. Anyone earning that many hotel stays is not seeing their family very much. That top level is nearly 1/3 of all available nights you can spend in a bed the entire year! Thankfully you only need 10 stays for Silver Elite and 25 for Gold. When you hit those levels you start earning an additional one or two points per dollar respectively and get a few perks like later checkout when available.

In that two-night JW Marriott Cusco example before, the 7,500 points you earned won’t get you very far. You probably need about 5 stays like that to get a free night at this JW Marriott or an equivalently priced ($237) property.

Marriott Rewards redemption level

The combined Marriott Rewards program is mostly an improvement, especially considering the wider breadth of properties available now, but how does being loyal there stack up to no loyalty at Bonwi?

How the Bonwi Program Works

With Bonwi.com, it’s less straightforward on the earnings side, but that’s because the points you earn are variable. You will often earn far more than 10 points per dollar. You could earn enough for a free stay after just two or three nights. See how it works here.

There’s also upside on the redemption part since you will often find redemption levels that are far more generous than with traditional branded loyalty programs. So it takes fewer stays to earn points, then fewer points for a free night. Let’s say you regularly have to go to Houston on business, but you’re thinking about going to Peru on vacation. How would that play out with Bonwi?

Earning Reward Points for Your City Hotel Stays

Pulling up a random week in Houston, Texas, we find that some of the highest-earning hotels are actually Marriott ones, so we can do an apples to apples comparison. In the screenshot example below, a two-night stay would earn you from 16,171 to 20,311 points.

earning more hotel reward points with Bonwi in Houston

Based on the price of those stays, if you booked them direct with Marriott, you would only earn 4,820 to 7,840 points in their rewards program (not counting food and drink charges that could bump it up).

What if our budget is lower? Other options are the Houston Marriott North, earning 8,371 points for a mere $135 rate (that would get you 2,700 points with Marriott) or a SpringHill Suites by Marriott at the airport. That would earn you 7,789 Bonwi points for a $131 rate (that would get you 2,620 at Marriott). Check your own business travel city here.

Redeeming Points With Bonwi

On the redemption side, you’re also far better off with the non-loyalty Bonwi Rewards points. When we head down to Cusco for our Peru vacation, here’s a sampling of what’s available to us.:

JW Marriott El Convento – 24,200 per night
Sonesta Hotel Cusco – 10,430 per night
Casa Andina San Blas – 7,875 per night
WakaPunku Boutique Hotel – 6,184 per night

So first of all, you need 11,000 fewer points to book that JW Marriott than you would with Marriott, even though we earned far more by booking our Marriott property through Bonwi in Houston. Next, with Marriott you only have two choices in Cusco, whereas with Bonwi you have more than 100 choices. Some of the smaller B&B type places go for 5,000 points or less.

vacation in Cusco Peru with reward points

In this example, just one two-night business trip to Houston would earn you enough points for a two-night stay at many hotels in Cusco. Earn from a few other business trips and you could upgrade to that JW Marriott easily. In this example, six domestic business travel trips in the USA could probably pay for six nights in Peru between Lima, Cusco, and the Sacred Valley. Do this a few more times or stay more than two nights on your biz trips and you’ve got enough points to pay for airline tickets too—at the simple redemption level of one point = US 1 cent.

Once again, it’s no contest. Bonwi Rewards is going to earn you freebies far faster than Marriott Rewards.

Book your next hotel stay here and start earning more.

Most Loyalty Rewards Programs Are Really Only for Road Warriors

Hyatt resort near Fort Myers

Hyatt resort near Fort Myers

A recent travel trade article on airline and hotel reward loyalty rewards programs pointed out a clear trend: for most of us, these programs are getting worse. While the road warriors at the top elite levels are getting showered with perks – those who stay 75 nights a year out of 365 with Marriott for instance – the rest of us are getting less and less for our flights or hotels stays.

As U.S. airlines moved from a distance-based to revenue-based model, the only loyal members with something to gain were those who bought expensive business class tickets. Those at the top of the elite pyramid. Everyone else started finding that their 6,000-mile flight was earning them 1,000 “miles” now because it was based on ticket price. At that rate it can take 25 flights to earn even the lowest domestic ticket.

That model has already spread to one major hotel chain. Hyatt gave its loyalty program a new name, World of Hyatt, and promptly made it more difficult for all but the most frequent biz traveler guests. The new system awards 5 points per dollar instead of a set amount per stay, though you’ll need to spend at least 10 nights at Hyatt properties in a year to get to the lowest of three elite levels. The head of the program, who is now gone, made it clear in interviews announcing the change that the program was aimed at one tier of guests: the most loyal ones, those spending the most money each year.

If You’re Not First, You’re Last

As we’ve seen in the airline industry, this kind of program quickly leads to a two-tiered system. The highest elite level members get most of the freebies, get the best rooms, and earn the most points for every stay. The rest of us get stuck with what’s left, whether it’s a cramped middle seat or the smallest room with no view.

Like a well-trained magician performing a sleight of hand, the bad changes for consumers are usually buried within news of big “improvements” the loyalty rewards program will bring. With the hotel programs, they’re usually touting your ability to combine points and dollars (a dubious win at best) or buy merchandise with your hard-earned points.

The dirty little secret of the latter is that your points value plummets if you do a merchandise buy instead of cashing in points on a hotel. Here’s what Skift noted in their article:

While these new tools are a boon for airlines and hotel mileage programs, their value to consumers is still somewhat mixed. When United launched its pay-with-miles Wi-Fi service, Maphappy took a look at the value of the purchase in cash or in miles. Its conclusion? ‘The premium on paying in mileage was about 117 percent higher than the cash price,’ Maphappy found.

If you purchase a pair of headphones or get a Best Buy gift card, it can be even worse. Often these transactions can degrade the point value to a small fraction of what it was in hotel or airline value. Here’s what you’ll have to pay for a $30 item via IHG’s program:

$180 of rewards for $30 item

Where You Can Earn More and Not Lose Value

With Bonwi Rewards points, you have a lot of advantages over these programs from the airlines and hotels:

1) You can use your rewards on any hotel, not just one company. When you cash them in for a hotel, you can get 20%, 25%, or 30% return on your spend. With the average direct loyalty program you’re lucky to rise above 10%. (In other words, you have to spend $10,000 to get $1,000 in value–even if you do everything right.)

2) You don’t have to be loyal to one company. You can choose any hotel in any location at any price and earn Bonwi Rewards, even picking which one has the highest payoff to maximize your return. When it’s time to cash them in, you have just as many choices.

Bonwi points payoff
3 nights at either earns you a plane ticket or a night’s hotel stay.

3) Points earned on hotel stays can be redeemed for flights. Forget about blackout dates, restrictions, or the lack of seats at lower tiers. With your Bonwi points you can book on any airline at any time, based on a simple 1-cent per dollar redemption figure. If you have 30,000 points, you have $300 for a flight, and no, you won’t have to still pay for the taxes if they’re included in the fare, as you would with the U.S. airlines.

4) You aren’t penalized for choosing a rental car or gift cards. That 1-cent per mile redemption figure that’s so easy to understand applies to rental cars and gift card purchases too. You won’t see your rewards value decrease just because you made one spending choice rather than another. Your Bonwi points have a clear intrinsic value.

So book your next hotel stay with Bonwi and see how easy it is to be on Easy Street, instead of feeling like your loyalty is only getting you kicked to the curb.

Article by Tim Leffel, editor of the Cheapest Destinations Blog and author of the book Make Your Travel Dollars Worth a Fortune.

Can We Really Keep Up With All These Hotel Brands?

30+ hotel brands to keep track of with Marriott

30+ hotel brands to keep track of with Marriott

Quick – if you have 30,000 Starwood or Marriott points, at which of their brands can you probably stay one night for free?

If you have 50,000 points with IHG, what does that really mean for which hotels you can stay in as a reward?

What do you get if you have points with Wyndham, Choice, Carlson, or Hilton?

Well, that picture at the top of this post will give you a clue about how hard this is to answer. As hotel chains have merged, spun off, been acquired, and split up, it’s hard to keep up with who’s who. It’s hard to know one big hotel company is owned by the Chinese, while another is owned by the French. One big conglomerate is Spanish and the Four Seasons is majority-owned by Arabs. Do you know which of the ever-expanding brands you can get into with your loyalty points?

The Head-Spinning Hotel Brands Game

The problem isn’t that you aren’t aware of who’s who. The problem is that only the most dedicated lodging geek could possibly keep up. Ritz-Carlton wasn’t always part of Marriott. Kimpton wasn’t always part of Intercontinental Hotel Group. Fairmont wasn’t always part of Accor – home to Sofitel and Mercure. Motel 6 was part of that chain, then it wasn’t.

Then just when you think you have a brand pegged, it shifts again. Orient-Express Hotels become Belmond. Andaz is launched as a hipper Hyatt. The roadside motel chain Best Western starts launching nice beach resorts right on the sand. Radisson hotels are usually dated and second-tier in the USA, but it Asia if you put “Blu” on the end it might be the nicest property in town. In Stockholm I stayed at a Clarion and it looked like this:

Clarion Amaranten in Central Stockholm restaurant

The problem comes in when you’re limited to a specific set of brands by your hotel loyalty program. Looking at that Marriott list at the top, do you have any idea what you’ll end up with if you cash in points for Delta, Tribute, Protea, AC, or Moxy? If you have Hilton Honors points saved up, do you feel comfortable trading them for a stay with Canopy, Tapestry, or Tru?

Sure, it’s nice to be able to trade Wyndham Rewards points in for a free stay, but there may not be a Wyndham Grand where you’re headed. Your only choice may be Super8, Days Inn, or Howard Johnson’s.

Points for Any Hotel, Anytime, Anywhere

If you book your stay with Bonwi, you won’t have to worry about any of this. Your points build up with any hotel brands, so there’s no need to compromise and pick an inferior choice. You can choose the hotel that earns the most reward points or just choose the hotel – from any brand – that is closest to your meetings or convention. You will usually earn more points than you would have with the corporate program, but your choices of what to do with them aren’t limited. You can book an independent hotel not part of any chain and still earn points that are worth real money.

You can earn points from a Hilton stay that you then apply to a Holiday Inn Express. Points from a stay at an Econolodge can top off your point balance to get you into a Four Seasons. You can rack up points with a Banyan Tree resort in Asia and take your family to any all-inclusive resort in the Caribbean you’d like.  No restrictions, no redemption tiers, no reward chart to memorize. Just earn points, cash them in, get free stays.

See how it all works here.