I'll let the travel package experts weigh in on the effective strategies for using points with the packages and I seem to always be able to beat the catalog items on deals (but if you had millions burning a hole in your pocket...). I'm an earn 'em and burn 'em guy when it comes to my points, matching my hotel points with my airline points.
1) The key for me is to plan ahead - this February, Marriott will increase the hotel Categories requiring more points for the properties you will want to stay at, you will (if they keep the same practices) have until mid-May to commit at the old rates.
2) Use one of the last true deals remaining, the five nights lodging for four nights points offer. Of course, the 20,000 points savings (4 nights at 5k per night) isn't worth it if you choose the wrong dates, so once again, start planning now.
3) Book the most expensive five nights using points - often weeknights. Consider weekends (1 or 2 depending on trip) as a cash vs. points decision. I've been able to put together some superb value 7 and 9 day trips that way.
4) And of course, have fun and enjoy the experience, that makes for the best value, regardless of points invested
Travel Packages are the way to go!
I wrote a blog entry about them…quite extensive. We use them frequently for hotel stay and international premium class hotel seats.
Since most of my travel is associated with business my wife and I seldom use our Marriott points, except for the annual award for renewal of my Marriott Visa Signature card, or if we're planning a side trip to a really expensive place, like Paris, or Rome, where the hotel costs over $400/night.
Otherwise, we've had great pleasure in utilizing our points by giving our grandchildren several nights in Marriott hotels on their honeymoon. Thus far, we've arranged this for our oldest grandchild - now in medical school - with first night at JW in Atlanta; followed by night at Marriott in Milan and subsequent stays at Grand Flora in Rome, with final night at Marriott Courtyard at Rome Airport.
More recently, our next grandson and his bride stayed several nights at the Renaissance in Paris with final stay at Marriott at Charles de Gaul Airport, and we're making arrangements for our third oldest grandson and his soon-to-be bride at Marriott in St. Thomas.
Along with the hotel nights we gave them all airline tickets also.
"It's better to give than to receive", especially when it's your own family!