What Credit Card To Use For Marriott/SPG Stays?

Filed Under: Marriott, Starwood Preferred Guest
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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 Marriott Bonvoy American Express Card 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:

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.

Bottom line

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?

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  1. Lucky, seems like conflicting information on the Citi Prestige as it relates to hotels. TPG has it that the 3x on hotels is staying as it is. Are you hearing it’s going away?

  2. I think CSR is the way to go for all hotel stays (maybe w/ the exception of Hilton Aspire for Hilton stays). If you want Marriott points, transfer from amex now that it’s gotten significantly easier to rack up amex points thanks to 4x with Gold and 5x with Plat.

  3. Hi Lucky,

    I have Marriott Gold elite status through Amex Platinum card. To get Marriott Platinum elite status, do I need earn 25 elite nights or I still have to earn 50 elite nights? Thank you.

    (I have SPG card but let’s not counting the bonus elite night for now)

  4. I agree it’s a toss up, so one has to look for additional incentives in deciding which way to go. I have both cards and am now (until next year) MR Plat thru RewardsPlus. My approach would be to use the CSR to earn points in a transferable currency that would give me options: I’d be able to transfer UR points back to MR points 1:1 if my immediate need is to book an award stay, or I can transfer the UR points to miles if that is where my immediate need lies. Tough to go wrong with UR points in a case like this where the difference in earned points between the two point currencies is not substantive.

  5. The difference may be ‘substantive’ to some emotionally or for another reason, so I should say that the difference is not numerically ‘substantial’.

  6. Am I the only gal that routinely gets $.02+ per Marriott point? I am killing it on peak season redemptions – 240k points (previously 180k before the devaluation) for 5 nights at $800-900/ night before taxes. Year after year. Spg biz card for 4x on dining and gas is an 8% kickback with that valuation. And any spg card for marriot stays is 12%. I’m always amazed at the $.07-$.09 valuations when you can do so much better.

  7. Just finishing up a lousy stay at the The Fairfield (by Marriott) Moana Surfrider on Waikiki beach. Without any notice we have to put up with plastic glasses & utensils. Paper plates in an overcrowded club due to no other food options. Nasty brown streaks on the chair – nobaody likes that. Self serve linens although we did have maid service yesterday.

    My last stay at any and all Marriott hotels and soon to cancel my SPG AmEx Cards

  8. A Marriott guy here. All stays/incidentals go on ritz card. All other hotels/meals CSR. All flying/bills go on united club card. Seems to work for me

  9. Personally, I go with my Amex or Marriott co-brand. That’s due to the fact I have many more UR points than Marriott.

    Combine that with the fact that redeeming UR points for hotels is really only worth it with at Hyatt, which has a smaller footprint. Since portal bookings are ineligible rates, I value them at less than 1.5cpp for hotel stays.

  10. Let’s not forget that many Marriott properties have regular Amex Offers associated with them.

    Just last week I split a $500 AC Hotels (aka, the Hipster Hampton) spend between Amex Blue Biz (600 MR points and $60 on $300 spend) and the balance on SPG biz for diversification.

    Hard to beat that return, especially if expensing the stay for work.

  11. I usually end up putting it on the Marriott or SPG card. It’s not the greatest return but I rack up UR pretty quickly so i’ll take the opportunity to really double down on a currency that gives me access to airlines that I otherwise don’t have access to with my current cards. (Alaska for example)

    I *kind* of look at Marriott points as a transferrable currency in that regard and I’ll take the opportunity to diversify a little even if the return is less than with a CSR.

  12. Lucky, I think your fuzzy math might be off. 0.9 cents x 6 pts is 5.4% return, not 5.6%. Also, since 60,000 Marriott points = 25,000 miles, doesn’t it mean 6 Marriott points = 2.5 miles?

  13. I think diversification is key given the unique airline partners that Marriott can still transfer to vs UR partners. This is reinforced in my mind after UR lost Korean as a transfer partner. I personally want to keep a stash of both currencies to give me the most flexibility when it comes to booking my vacations.

  14. ” All other hotels/meals CSR. All flying/bills go on united club card.”

    Considering the tight relationship between Chase and UA, in which UR points can be considered an extension of UA miles and vice versa, why put “all flying” on the UC card to earn 2x UA miles, when you could earn 3x UR points (i.e., 3x UA miles) on the CSR?

    For “bills”, it would make sense to put those for non-travel purchases on the UC card, but not those on travel or flying when one has the CSR.

    Having said that, if it seems to work you, then that is good…

  15. Historically I have always used the Chase Marriott Rewards Visa Signature because of the additional night credit based in spend. It has helped me get my 75 nights a year. But I have 88 nights this year because of more Marriott and less Hilton. I am still using it because I have over 750 lifetime nights but under 1.5m lifetime points. I am trying to be lifetime platinum by the end of the year.

  16. The changes in Marriott’s elite qualifying rules really hurt the Chase Marriott card, in my opinion almost more than the much written about SPG card. For now with the older version of the Chase Marriott you can still earn 1EQN per $3k spent this certainly helped getting to 50 nights, where the real value was and still is in Marriott status. But the dropping of rollover nights this year really hurt the card because not only did rollover help the coming years status the EQN were counted twice as far as Lifetime total. On top of the the new lifetime qualifying rules don’t count points and dollars spent on the Marriott card counted towards that also. Charging on the Marriott cards use to make it significantly easier to reach lifetime status, it no longer does.

    Charging $75k on the Ritz-Carlton is one of the only was to buy worthwhile Marriott status left.

  17. Hey Lucky, are you going to cover the Marriott workers’ strike at all? The picket lines here in San Francisco are unmissable and have been here for weeks.

    I imagine that OMAAT readers would want to know about this strike since (as this post demonstrates!) Marriott is such a huge part of the miles/points ecosystem. The strike will certainly affect travel plans for some people, even if for no reason other than the discomfort of seeing striking workers. But more importantly, I care about spending my own money on companies that are treating their workers well. That’s not to say that Marriott isn’t – I’m not informed enough to make a judgement call – but it’s something I think about as I walk by the picket lines in downtown SF.

    Here’s an article about the impact here in SF: https://www.sfchronicle.com/business/article/SF-Marriott-hotel-strike-costs-conference-13327598.php

  18. @DCS thanks for the idea.. funny I used to have the Cont8netal Presidential Plus and gave it up (why?) and since then have always just used UAL flights on the Club card..Initally I thought the advantage for us8nzg UClub card was for free checked bags but since I hit either Platinum or 1K every year I may be changing all future tickets to CSR. Appreciate the idea

  19. @Bill n DC – you stayed at a Fairfield Inn. Don’t compare it to a top tier Starwood or Hyatt. Compare it to a Sheraton 4 Points. They are both crap hotels, and if you dare stay at one, you have to expect it’s a crappy hotel and will be a motel experience.

  20. Agree with an earlier comment – I get WAAAAY more than .7 or .9 cents per Marriot point. I guess it’s how you do your redemptions. I booked the Gritti Palace in Italy and based on published rates on the Marriott website, Booking.com, etc. I’m getting about 1.58 cents per point. Similar value (1.5 cents) for Ritz Santa Barbara over Christmas break.

    Obviously, YMMV, but I haven’t booked anything less than about 1.2 or 1.3 in years.

  21. I think that we can quibble about valuations all day long but there are two things I’d like to point out:

    1) I like to use Marriott points for hotel stays. If you use them for airline miles that changes the calculus but I do not.

    2) With the new restrictions on the Marriott/SPG credit cards…it’s going to be significantly harder to earn Marriott points via signup bonus in the future. That means if it’s even remotely close I am going to lean towards whatever generates Marriott points.

  22. @Robert Yes its easy to get redemptions if you value based on the cash price of the hotels you book… the question is whether that cash price is a price you’d actually pay if points didnt exist?

    For example, If I’d willingly book a room at Gritti for $600 a night but decide to book a different hotel if the price was higher, I’m not really getting $2,000 in value from a points redemption just because thats the price on a given night. If you’ve decided you have to stay there no matter what over X date (say, for a wedding), then youre getting closer to the $2K value… If youre just picking a dart on the map to go somewhere on a given weekend and decide to redeem at Gritti (but would never pay that $2K price) then I dont think

    It all comes down to your booking patterns.

  23. Additionally, if you’re part of the Marriott rewards program you get an additional 10x points at most properties (Fairfield, Residence INN, and a few more not included and are at 5X). When you add that in to the 6x you get from the card, and the potential of percentage of points back depending if you have elite status… We have both, and always use our Marriott/SPG card for stays. No brainer for us.

  24. @Jordan – I am curious about this; I was trying to research which of the following was true, but nobody seems to have written on it clearly enough within 15 mins or of Google and reading. If I am a platinum elite member getting 50% bonus staying at normal Marriott brand (10 pt/$) using a Marriott credit card (6pt/$), everything else excluded, spending $1000 is it:

    1. ((10 * 1000) * 1.5) + (6 * 1000) = 21000
    2. ((16 * 1000) * 1.5) or (10 * 1000) * 1.5) + ((6 * 1000) * 1.5) = 24000

    Where 1.5 represents the 50% bonus.

    Also, do the credit card points post separately, or at same time as the stay posts to the Marriott rewards account?

  25. Interesting article and comments. I always learn a lot. How about using refreshed ” amex green card” for 3 x MR? I don’t carry CSR. Jane

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