I think it would be great for Insiders who have used their Rewards Points for travel packages to tell us about their experiences doing it. Please chime in if you have used a Marriott Rewards rep or done it on your own or in some other way. I think this type of information would really be helpful to everyone and this area is a little discussed one. Let's hear about it if you've done it, Insiders!
Hello fellow Marriott travelers,
My wife and I are retirees with lots of reward points and are starting to use them again. Years ago, we used rewards packages for air fare, hotels and a car to Europe and later for a trip to California. We have paid for our children's honeymoons with rewards, We are now retired and cruising with friends. In 2013 we are doing an Asian cruise starting in Hong Kong and getting off in Anchorage that we purchased while on a previous Celebrity cruise. In the past, we used local travel agents paying cash. This time we are booking all the arrangements on our own for rewards and using a travel agent for some items.
The trip entails travel from Ohio to NYC; overnight in NYC; flying premium economy to Hong Kong; overnight at a Renaissance in Hong Kong before boarding the ship; sailing to Asian countries on Celebrity; sailing back to Alaska; flying home first class to Ohio.
We have discovered travel agents are not always correct about frequent flyer miles needed and some airline frequent flier programs are slow processing transactions. It is difficult to book air travel rewards in advance on some airlines. Each person travelling need a frequent flyer account. Transfer of points within Marriott Rewards to another account requires Faxed forms. Most airlines' web sites will help you calculate number of miles for specific travel. Marriott's site give you the conversion factors. Transfer of points required a phone call to Marriott. Transfer of points within an airline's site can be expensive.
We are open to questions and look forward to reading comments.
dnbenson Oct 1, 2012 12:27 PM
I'm assuming you're gold or platinum so I wanted to ask if you'd considered buying the Marriott cheques to subsidize your package plans? The cheques are in $50 increments and are exchanged at the daily rate in a country other than the U.S. They can be used for meals and spas, as well as other things that are Marriott owned at different hotels. For 135,000 points, I think they're a bargain. The last I knew, $1000 could be used for cruises, too, at the rate of 145,000 points.
I assume that status is earned by staying at Marriott hotels. We have lots of points earned with our time share exchanges, but are only silver status. Does that mean we aren't eligible to buy cheques or there is higher value for higher status?
Our upcoming travel to Asia will entail one night in a Marriott before boarding the cruise ship. We booked the hotel using points. We planned to use a credit card to purchase meals.
Sorry I didn't get back. Yes, the special rate of 135,000 points is for gold and above. I'm not sure about the 145,000 points for $1000 credit on cruises, but I think that a regular rewards rate for all elites, of which I think you would qualify. The $1000 Marriott cheques are for 190,000 regularly, but they could help earn nights. I don't know how the silver status for MVA works.
About 3 years ago, redeemed points for a week long stay at the Los Suenos Resort in Costa Rica. Probably the best family vacation we ever had. I just researched how many points was needed then clicked on the link on the Marriott website. The rest occurred electronically. I booked my own air fare and id not rent a car, as at hat time, the highway system was just starting to be constructed.
DNBenson, thanks for the info. I'll share my own story late next year after I book rewards travel to Rome. I just posted a question looking for tips on how to best do this, which you and lone6star have somewhat helped with. Please see my question titled "Any tips on booking rewards travel?" You've explained the challenges, but if you have advice on getting through the challenges, I'd love to hear it.
When you book a TP, you get a stay at a hotel of a certain category and corresponding number of airline miles. (Or points for some of the low cost carriers) The big benefit of the TP is the transfer ratio for the airline miles is 1:1. That's huge for a hotel program.
The hotel stay expires within a year. The miles simply transfer to the FF plan that you have selected. We transfer to US Airways. We like the flexibility of Star Alliance. Annually, US Airways has a 50% bonus to transfer from hotel programs that we like to take advantage of. So if the TP normally gets you 120k miles, you actually get 180k miles.
Prior to getting the TP, we know how we want to use it. When and where. The toughest part is the airline tickets. Availability and just KNOWING the availability. Couple of tricks to this. 1) Use the ANA tool to research availability. ANA is a member of Star Alliance that allows members to search for Star Alliance tix through the website. If they are available through their Star Alliance search, they are available through US. (Domestic Airlines get a better transfer rate than most foreign airlines.) Directions to use the ANA tool. http://thepointsguy.com/2011/06/how-to-use-the-ana-award-tool-to-search-star-alliance-award-availability/
US Airways (and most airlines) will allow you to hold award tix for several days pending the transfer. This is HUGE. You can actually Hold the tickets without the miles. Then call Marriott and process the TP. After the miles post, call and ticket. As a previous poster said, other options exist to boost points and miles. Marriott allows spouses to transfer points for FREE. yes it requires a fax. But, you can pool points. You an purchase 50k points/year as well. Airlines allow miles transfers and purchase for a fee as well.
The hotel portion of the TP is yours to use at your leisure. It DOES not have to be used at the same time as the miles. However, it must be used only at one hotel for 7 consecutive nights.
The award tix are the challenging part, but I can tell you. We have been to Thailand 3 times: first class, business class. Rome, Aruba, Costa Rica. and Paris upcoming. Don't be afraid and don't miss out!
I am happy to answer any questions about Marriott Travel Packages. We have literally used them to travel the World: Europe, Asia, Caribbean, South America. International Air Travel in Coach, Business and First Class.
IMHO, this is one of the greatest benefits of the MR programs. Our next TP usage is a 2013 Spring trip to Paris. One week at the Marriott Champs Elysees. Air travel Business Class on Lufthansa.
We have gotten through many challenges. Just requires flexibility and patience.
This is one of the reasons I wanted to become a steward on this board. How can I help? Fire away!
Here is a link to the TP web page. IF you are a MVCI owner, you can get a TP with a 5 night certificate for reduced points. Otherwise, its 7 nights as this page indicates.
I have just booked a travel package using points to get 120K United Miles, and 5 nights in the Hotel Gran Flora in Rome. Since the hotel is a Category 8, I knew the demand signal for using points there is very high so I booked the room at the maximum time ahead of the trip which is in early Oct 2013. Marriott states that they'll let a person book up to 50 weeks in advance, but be advised, the rooms may not be released exactly that much time ahead, a day or two either way is what I've observed. At first I was only able to book 3 days of my 5 day certificate, thinking I just had to call back 2 days later to get the whole 5, but those rooms still weren't released. I tried again each day until all 5 days were booked, and was successful just a few days later on a Monday, with room seemingly being released in blocks vice day by day. Speaking to the Marriott Customer Service agent helped in that he assured me that the rooms available that far in advance and even a month earlier were numerous. The dates needed are not very flexible though due to a cruise we're taking just before the 5 days in Rome.
However, I also want to use the miles to book the flight and the airlines don't release their Award Flight seats until 337 days ahead of your return flight home. Therefore it's a bit risky in that I've got a hotel, but may not be able to get flights to match up with those dates. If anyone has any tips, please let me know their experiences. While I know I can use that certificate at any time, it's sort of a personal challenge to book the entire trip solely using Marriott Rewards Points. United might be tougher since I expect they allow even fewer Award Flights per flight than Marriott allows Reward Points bookings. As I look at the Award Flight availability for September 2013, there seems to be no rhyme or reason for which flights and which days (and the miles required) to complete a booking. If someone knows how that process works, I'd love to know.
1) Grand Flora is a great place. If you are Marriott Gold or Plat. you will love the daily breakfast. Roof top with a view of St. Peter's.
2) Eat at Il Pomordorino around the corner. Wonderful inexpensive restaurant.
3) WALK WALK WALK
4) Great private tours with Daniella Hunt. Google her name and "rome tours" Had difficulty pasting link.
5) to Answer your actual question. I generally don't order the TP without confirming the tix are availaible. As you have and they are United miles, you are able to utilize all Star Alliance Miles to get to Rome. United, US Airways, Lufthansa, et al. They actually open 330 days out. I would start at that moment. CALL that day and keep trying. If you are looking for economy tickets, I imagine you will get them fairly easily. You are taking a cruise just before your stay in Rome. Keep in mind you: You will want to arrive one day before your cruise to allow for any travel delays. Also, keep in mind that if award tix arent available on your exact days, staying extra days may provide award tix. You will have to pay hotel nights, but free plane tix. (Did that make sense?)
What airport are you flying out of? Also keep airport options open. We live in Baltimore. To get award tix, we fly out of BWI, IAD, PHL, EWR, and JFK. The drive is worth 10+ hours in a free seat.
GREAT advice. Thanks so much. I think if I waited 330 days, the hotel would have been booked. I've read here that it books very fast. As a category 8, it's obviously very popular and probably doesn't allow very many reward stays. I looked at award flights and there seems to be no logic to how certain flights and days are open for saver and super-saver awards. One day- nothing, the next- super-saver, the next, saver only, etc. And the miles needed for flights varies greatly- some economy flights needing more than business. It's our 20th anniversary so we're hoping to go in style with business class. I have enough miles for 2 super-saver flights. If you understand these differences, you could have a very popular blog. Anyway, thanks again for the tips. I'll check into the private tour person.
I think you did the right thing to book the hotel. You were locked in to your dates. In our cases, we could float the hotel dates to match airline availability. And that hotel does book quickly. Figuring out airline miles needed from day to day? If I could do that, I would be rich! Good luck and have faith. You all get it done and Happy Anniversary.
As discussed above, I'm using a Travel Package for a trip to Rome in Sep '13- trading points for airline miles and 5 nights in a Category 8 hotel. Fortunately I've been successful in matching up the hotel and airline availability using miles/rewards. Booking the hotel was easy- I had the certificate in my profile, called Marriott, reserved the nights asking if they were available as rewards nights, which they were. Booking far in advance is definitely the way to go for high category hotels. I've finally gotten inside the window for reserving the flights, which is 337 days for United according to my observations and the UAL.com site. I wanted to book the flights as early as possible since I want to fly in business class, so I've been watching the availability like a hawk. There is a tremendous randomness to airline reward flight availability. Some days have nothing, some have only "saver" flights (higher miles needed), and others are wide open with super-saver availability. From month to month, there's no pattern to the availability.
Some tips I've discovered:
1. Searching for both round trip and one way flights. The availability seemed to be different between the two. Since I want to use the miles for both legs, it doesn't matter if I booked one way or round trip.
2. I also found that the flights shown on the website varied throughout the day- not drastically, but somewhat. I would check usually at 10PM PDT and the next day's availability would show up. I'd see some flights, then the next morning, they'd be different. The United flights would show up at night, then the next day, the Star Alliance flights would appear.
3. United vs. Star Alliance availability. On my chosen return date, at the max lead time for availability (337 days) two USAir flights appeared. I selected one, but was unable to complete the booking. Choosing the other flight option gave me the same issue. The next day- the same problem. I called the UAL reservation number and the agent stated she couldn't see the flight in her system. As it turns out, USAir and United have different release lead times. Not sure what USAir is, but it's closer to 330 or so. UAL will show it, but since USAir has not yet released it, you can't select it. However, the next day, those two flights were gone, but others were displayed.
4. Look for alternate cities/routings. When certain days weren't available during my research, I changed the routing to fly out of an east coast city (I'm in San Diego). When the full trip wasn't available on a particular day, I could find a trip from Newark, Philly, Dulles. If needed, I could purchase a flight to those cities, then pick up the award flight from there.
5. Call to book the trip- they can recommend varied options that you may not think about. I don't know if everyone can do this, but as a 1K member (I fly a lot for business), I have a dedicated line for booking. The agent found a return flight from Rome, to Munich, to LA which I wound up booking. She recommended just purchasing a commuter flight down to SD, or even a one-way rental. The website is great, but it doesn't match the expertise of an agent. However, agent experience varies because UAL is now using Continental's computer system and not everyone is as skilled as you may need.
6. Use Seatguru.com to see the seating plans if it's not on the airline site. Some flights were super-savers, but when I checked that particular seating plan, I noticed the airplane might be older, without certain seat types. I mentioned business class- well there's a big difference between different jets. 767-400ERs have only traditional business seating- big comfortable seats that only recline. Newer planes or remodeled ones have "lie-flat" seats. Much preferable on the transatlantic flights. Lufthansa flights within Europe have the same seats in Business as in Coach, but the middle seat is a tray.
7. Check with Marriott about hotel reward availability if you are able to vary your travel dates. When the chosen day of arrival wasn't available, I found out from Marriott that the hotel could shift my certificate a day right or left if needed, therefore matching up with the flight availability.
Well, I hope this helps someone. It's more airline related than Marriott related though.
If anyone is interested, I added this Travel Package blog to Marriott Insiders. Feel free to read and comment.
Travel package Information!