As the world’s largest hotel loyalty program, Marriott Bonvoy aims to strike the right balance between providing value to their customers while ensuring profitability for their hotel owners.
Marriott operates under an “asset-light” model, meaning they don’t own the hotels themselves, but rather franchise and manage the hotel/hotel brand for the hotel owners. This bit of information is key to understanding one of the flagship benefits for members with Marriott Bonvoy status: Nightly Upgrade Awards (formerly known as Suite Night Awards).
The idea behind Nightly Upgrade Awards is that even though suite upgrades are often provided for status members at check-in, it’s not a certainty – you simply have to take your chances and do your best “suite-talking“. Instead, Nightly Upgrade Awards are a way to provide more assurance around whether you could receive an upgrade for your upcoming stay.
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How Do You Earn Nightly Upgrade Awards?
Nightly Upgrade Awards are earned as part of your Marriott Bonvoy elite status. When you reach Platinum Elite status by earning 50 elite qualifying nights per year, you’re invited to select an Annual Choice Benefit.
When it becomes available, you’re able to choose one of the following items:
- 5 Nightly Upgrade Awards
- Gift of Silver Elite status to a friend or family member
- $1,000 (USD) off your favourite mattress
- 5 Elite Night Credits
- $100 (USD) charity donation
Additionally, if you’re able to achieve Titanium Elite status by earning 75 elite qualifying nights per year, you’re given an additional Annual Choice Benefit with slightly different options:
- 5 Nightly Upgrade Awards
- Free Night Award worth up to 40,000 points
- Gift of Gold Elite status to a friend or family member
- $1,000 (USD) off your favourite mattress
- 5 Elite Night Credits
- $100 (USD) charity donation
If reaching 50 or 75 nights per year seems daunting, remember that the Marriott Bonvoy American Express Card and Marriott Bonvoy Business American Express Card provide 15 elite qualifying nights per year, which is an excellent way to jumpstart your way into status with Marriott.
Furthermore, if you happen to have access to US credit cards, then you can earn up to 40 elite qualifying nights by holding a combination of the Amex US Bonvoy Brilliant Card and the Amex US Bonvoy Business Card. The former gives you 25 nights, and the latter gives you 15 nights, and the combination of a personal card and a business card allows you to stack the nights.
If you have other US-issued personal co-branded credit cards, such as the Amex US Bonvoy Bevy Card, the Chase Bonvoy Bountiful Card, the Chase Bonvoy Boundless Card, or the Chase Bonvoy Bold Card, as well as the Amex US Bonvoy Business Card, then you’ll earn a total of 30 elite qualifying nights (15 from the personal card and 15 from the business card).
It’s worth noting that the Bonvoy Brilliant Card gives you 25 elite qualifying nights; however, if you hold this card, you’ll get instant Platinum Elite status, so the extra elite nights are only useful for earning an Annual Choice Benefit at 50 nights or reaching Titanium Elite status at 75 nights.
You won’t be able to stack the elite qualifying nights from your Canadian card and your American cards – the most you can earn is 40, with the aforementioned combination of the Amex US Bonvoy Brilliant Card and the Amex US Bonvoy Business Card.
There’s no doubt that upon reaching Platinum Elite status, you should choose the five Nightly Upgrade Awards as your Annual Gift Choice, but the choice becomes a bit less clear at Titanium Elite. That’s because the Free Night Award worth 40,000 points would likely offer better value, but is it significantly more valuable than five additional Nightly Upgrade Awards? That’s up to you to decide, but let’s look at it in a bit more depth.
How to Redeem Nightly Upgrade Awards
If you fall into the middle of this very rare Venn diagram, count yourself lucky.
Here’s how you actually make use of those hard-earned Nightly Upgrade Awards once you’ve earned them:
- Make a reservation: In order to find out if you can even use your Nightly Upgrade Awards at a property, you’re required to have a reservation to do so. You can also make a dummy booking well into the future to test this out.
Just be careful in doing so because some hotels have very inflexible cancellation policies. Read your particular hotel’s policy closely to ensure you don’t get penalized for cancellation.
- Find your reservation: When you log into your Marriott account, click on “My Trips” and find the reservation you want to use your Nightly Upgrade Awards on. Once you find it, click on “View/Modify”.
- Start upgrade request: If your hotel participates in Nightly Upgrade Awards, you’ll see a banner that says “Take an upgrade. You’ve earned it.” Within the banner, click the button that’s labelled “Start Upgrade Request.”
- Choose your upgrades: Here, you’ll see the upgrade options available to you. The best and most valuable upgrade option is at the top of the list, with the worst option at the bottom.
Something to keep in mind here is that you can choose multiple upgrade options. If you only choose the top option and it turns out to be unavailable, Marriott will not automatically try to process the next-best option unless you specifically check it off.
- Wait to see if your Nightly Upgrade Award request is cleared. Once you submit your request for an upgrade, you’re done – now to wait to see if the upgrade is processed, which happens within three days of your arrival.
If you change your mind at any time prior to the upgrade being confirmed, you can cancel the request had have your Nightly Upgrade Awards redeposited.
One very large caveat to remember is that each Nightly Upgrade Award is good for a one-night upgrade, meaning if you have a six-night stay, you need to have six Nightly Upgrade Awards in your account to apply the certificates.
Another thing to keep in mind is that if the number of nights in your stay exceeds the number of Nightly Upgrade Awards you have, you cannot apply them to only a portion of your stay. Sticking to the same example above, if you have a six-night stay and five Nightly Upgrade Awards, you cannot use any, because your stay is longer than the number of awards you have.
Your only option here is to break your stay into different back-to-back reservations and apply your Nightly Upgrade Awards to the shorter reservation. While not ideal, there are some anecdotes of hotels honouring the full stay in the upgraded suite, but this is clearly a “your mileage may vary” type of situation.
How Do Nightly Upgrade Awards Work? (In Theory)
The way that Nightly Upgrade Awards are supposed to work is that once you make a reservation at a hotel, you’re able to apply them against the reservation, as outlined above. The hotel will start their search for your upgrade three days from your arrival and every day after that.
In theory, Nightly Upgrade Awards seem to provide a lot of value – who doesn’t want certainty around their potential suite upgrades? When it works well, you’re guaranteed an upgrade up to three days prior to arrival, and you’ll receive an email confirming the upgrade.
When this happens, it can feel like you hit the jackpot. But the real question is, how often do Nightly Upgrade Awards actually work? Spoiler alert – sadly, not as often as you’d hope.
How Do Nightly Upgrade Awards Work? (In Practice)
In practice, Nightly Upgrade Awards aren’t as effective as members would hope they’d be. You’re more likely to be denied an upgrade rather than have it confirmed, especially if you choose the higher-end upgrades that are available on the list at aspirational hotels.
If your request is denied, you’ll receive an email confirming that you weren’t successful, and the Nightly Upgrade Awards will be automatically deposited back into your account.
The additional challenge around Nightly Upgrade Awards is that there’s a huge variety among hotels in terms of which suites are available for request.
For example, you may see an option to upgrade to one of the higher-level suites, which would undoubtedly be a score if it were to be confirmed. On the other hand, the options may just be for a room with a better view, which doesn’t really seem like a worthwhile use of Nightly Upgrade Awards.
Since you only have a limited number of Nightly Upgrade Awards available each year, the best practice is to be selective about which stays you choose to redeem them on. Your experience is much more likely to be elevated by using them at aspirational hotels, even if competition might be higher.
If you’re denied, have a look at some other upcoming reservations and apply your Nightly Upgrade Awards to a different stay.
Hotels Not Participating in Nightly Upgrade Awards
As if clearing Nightly Upgrade Awards wasn’t enough of a challenge, there’s a list of hotel brands that don’t participate in Nightly Upgrade Award redemptions at all. These hotels brands include:
- The Ritz-Carlton Reserve
- The Ritz-Carlton Destination Club
- The Ritz-Carlton Residences
- Design Hotels
- Marriott Executive Apartments
- Marriott Vacation Club
- Marriott Grand Residence Club properties
- All-suite hotels
- All-inclusive resorts
It’s worth noting that this list used to include Ritz-Carlton and EDITION properties; however, Nightly Upgrade Awards became valid at these properties as of January 2024.
Hotels Participating, But Not Participating in Nightly Upgrade Awards
There are also times when Nightly Upgrade Awards aren’t available for redemption, even if the hotel brand does normally participate in them. In other words, some hotels can simply choose not to participate in the program.
Every hotel has the ability to designate dates when they believe that suites will be occupied by paying guests. That obviously leaves a lot of wiggle room for hotels to not offer Nightly Upgrade Award redemptions under the auspice that the suites will be occupied, even if they end up not being occupied during your stay.
This is further borne out in the catch-all language in Marriott’s Terms and Conditions:
Not all Participating Properties participate in Nightly Upgrade Awards.
There will be many situations in which you either don’t see Nightly Upgrade Award redemptions available, or they’re simply denied, only to find out later in the app that suites were indeed available during your entire stay. This is obviously quite frustrating and contrary to the original intent of Nightly Upgrade Awards.
Why Don’t Hotels Always Honour Nightly Upgrade Awards?
So why don’t hotel owners honour Nightly Upgrade Awards more frequently? While there’s no way to be certain about the exact answer, here’s an educated guess.
Hotels are paid by Marriott for every certificate they honour – exactly how much is anyone’s guess, but let’s assume that the compensation is minimal. If you put yourself in the shoes of a hotel owner, you have to think about your bottom line.
If you honour a request, that means that a suite becomes unavailable for purchase. Even if there is a 1-in-100 chance that a fat cat millionaire strolls up and wants to pay for a suite on the day of without a reservation, it still represents more potential revenue than what they can recoup from the redemption of a Nightly Upgrade Award, and that’s not even taking into account the additional cost to clean and service the suite.
The additional disincentive for a hotel owner to honour these is that Nightly Upgrade Awards tend to be redeemed at aspirational properties or while the member is on vacation.
The likelihood of someone returning to the property on a continuous basis, and therefore padding the hotel’s bottom line, is fairly low compared to a business traveller – so while you are building loyalty to the Marriott brand, the hotel itself derives little value.
While Marriott Bonvoy‘s Nightly Upgrade Awards can sometimes be a valuable tool for securing suites and upgrades, there are far too many warts on its implementation and actual use in practice.
For those that have achieved Platinum Elite status, there’s no doubt that you should choose Nightly Upgrade Awards for your Annual Choice Benefit. But if you make it to Titanium Elite, you should most definitely choose the Free Night Award worth 40,000 points as your secondary choice.
While Marriott can be commended for trying to give more certainty to elite members through the use of Nightly Upgrade Awards, it wouldn’t be right to gloss over their very apparent flaws either. Let’s hope Marriott can address this over the coming years to make the Nightly Upgrade Award program more valuable for its members.
Appeared first on: princeoftravel.com