Reader Chris asked the following question in the Ask Lucky forum:
With all the changes made to the Marriott/SPG program and the credit card, Has anyone done any meaningful number crunching on whether its better to earn 3 Chase UR points or 6 Marriott Rewards points when deciding which card to use to pay for a Marriott/SPG stay? Ultimately I would have always thought the flexibility of Chase, but factoring in you get a decent conversion to more airlines at Marriott after the integration makes me question that logic…
There are still a lot of things that people are getting used to with the merger between Marriott and Starwood, and one of those is figuring out the best credit card strategy. Major changes have been made to the Marriott & Starwood co-branded credit cards, which are now issued by both American Express and Chase.
Back in the day the Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express and Marriott Bonvoy Business™ American Express® Card were some of the best cards for everyday, non-bonused spend, but with changes to the earnings structure, that’s no longer the case.
But that brings me to Chris’ question — which credit cards should you be using for your spend at Marriott and Starwood hotels?
The way I view it, there are two strategies that potentially make sense:
Option #1: Chase Sapphire Reserve or Citi Premier
The first choice is to use the Chase Sapphire Reserve® Card, which offers 3x points on all travel purchases (including hotels) with no foreign transaction fees.
I value Ultimate Rewards points at 1.7 cents each, so to me that’s the equivalent of a 5.1% return on spend at Marriott and Starwood properties. That’s solid.
For what it’s worth, that’s one of only three transferable points cards offering bonuses on hotel spend. The other option is the Citi Premier℠ Card, which also offers 3x points on all travel purchases, and I value those points roughly comparably. Then there’s the Citi Prestige Card, which offers 3x points on hotel spend.
Option #2: Marriott or SPG co-branded credit cards
Marriott and Starwood have quite a few credit cards issued across their American Express and Chase portfolio. All of these cards offer exactly the same number of bonus points for Marriott and Starwood stays.
I find this odd because for other hotel groups, premium cards have a better return on hotel spend than less premium cards.
The following credit cards offer 6x points for Marriott and Starwood hotel stays:
- Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express
- Marriott Bonvoy Business™ American Express® Card
- Starwood Preferred Guest® American Express Luxury Card
- Marriott Bonvoy Boundless Card from Chase
Obviously earning 6x points sounds better than earning 3x points, though not all points currencies are created equal.
When it comes to valuing Marriott points, the tricky thing is that I value them differently now compared to what I’ll value them at in 2019, given how hotel award pricing is changing. For the remainder of 2018 I value Marriott points at 0.9 cents each, while starting in 2019 I’ll value them at 0.7 cents each.
To crunch the numbers there, this year you’d be getting a return of 5.4% on any of those cards for Marriott and Starwood spend, while next year you’d be looking at a return of 4.2%. Or if you wanted to average it out at 0.8 cents each, you could say that the card offers a return of 4.8%.
Other people will no doubt disagree with my valuations, and that’s fine. If we’re going to try to do an apples-to-apples comparison, Marriott points can be converted into airline miles at a 60,000:25,000 ratio.
This means six Marriott points converts into 2.5 airline miles, so you’re earning 2.4 airline miles per dollar spent (when transferring in the right increments), rather than three miles per dollar spent with the Chase Sapphire Reserve® Card or Citi Premier℠ Card.
Even using my valuation of points, there’s not a black-and-white answer as to which credit card you should use for your Marriott and Starwood stays. I guess based on my valuation this year you’re coming out slightly ahead by using a Marriott or Starwood Card, while next year the Sapphire Reserve or Citi Premier would be better. This is based on when you redeem and not when you earn, though, so perhaps we should already be looking at my valuation for next year.
However, all of these valuations are so subjective, so I think you can’t really go wrong either way, as I do think the values are roughly comparable.
It also comes down to which points currency you’d get the most value out of at a particular time — Ultimate Rewards points, ThankYou points, or Marriott points.
I’m curious, which credit card do you guys use for your Marriott and Starwood hotel spend?