How I Hack - Explaining Arbitrage and How to Take Advantage of the Marriott/SPG Merger

How I Hack - Explaining Arbitrage and How to Take Advantage of the Marriott/SPG Merger

Warning

I will warn you right at the beginning of this post that we are going to be exploring some advanced topics and will be going deep into the rabbit hole but this article is the essence of Travel Hacking.  If you can wrap your head around this post and understand why it’s valuable, you will be well on your way to becoming a Travel Hacking expert.

Preface

Travel Hacking requires a different mindset.  The easiest way to think about it is that as a Travel Hacker, you are attempting to exploit loopholes or weakness in the system.  This requires attention to detail and reading the terms and conditions of offers.  It also means taking advantage of something called “arbitrage”.

Arbitrage is defined as the simultaneous buying and selling of securities, currency, or commodities in different markets or in derivative forms in order to take advantage of differing prices for the same asset.

Okay but what does that mean in English and how do I take advantage of it as a travel hacker?  Well, that’s what we are going to explore.

Background

Marriott is a hotel chain that has been known for mid-range hotels with lots and lots of locations worldwide and a middle-of-the-pack rewards program.  One bright spot in the Marriott reward chart was something referred to as their Rewards Plus Program whereby you could redeem Marriott points for a package that included 7 nights at a hotel + airline points.  The chart below is for Aeroplan but if you look at the fine print, there are other points programs you can transfer to.  There are other airline programs you can transfer to and if you would like to explore transferring to programs outside the example in this post you can refer to Marriott’s official page for the Rewards Plus Program.

 

marriott-rewards-plus-aeroplan

Now back in the day, this offer was a pretty good one but I personally never paid much attention to it because of the large amount of Marriott point that were required and there was only one credit card that you could apply for that earned you Marriott points.  I’m also not a huge fan of their hotels but that’s just me.

Now keep this reward chart handy because we’re going to refer back to it shortly.

As you may know, Marriott purchased SPG Hotels back in November of 2015 but the merger has only recently been approved by all regulators.

SPG has a much stronger loyalty program called SPG Preferred Guest as SPG properties tended to be on the higher end of the hotel food chain.  I am personally a big fan of SPG because their product is always spot on and of the highest quality.

Now that the programs merged, effective September 23rd, 2016, you can link your Marriott and SPG accounts together and transfer points between accounts … and this is where things get interesting.

With the SPG Program, there were many airline programs that would allow you to transfer from SPG to their program at a 1:1 ratio.  You would also receive a bonus of 5,000 points if you transferred in batches of 20,000.  So for example, if you transfer 20,000 SPG points to Aeroplan, you would receive 25,000 Aeroplan (20,000 for the original transfer PLUS a 5,000 point bonus).  This could be done multiple times so if you transferred 60,000 SPG to Aeroplan, you would receive the 60,000 PLUS 15,000 bonus points.  This makes SPG a VERY powerful program and because SPG is a better program than Marriott, the predefined transfer ratio is 1 SPG to 3 Marriott Reward Points.

Arbitrage Opportunity

Remember that chart I told you we would be referring to above?  Well, let’s convert that into the required SPG points (based on 1 SPG point to 3 Marriott points) to redeem in the Rewards Plus program.

spg-to-marriott

What I have done here is converted the original chart into SPG Points required by dividing the Marriott points by 3.  Now at first blush, it looks like if you transferred over SPG to Marriott points, in some instances you could get more points than the standard 1:1 ratio offered by SPG.

For example, if we look at the top right cell, it looks like if we transferred 90,000 SPG points, we would get back 120,000 Aeroplan (or any other points as listed in the original chart).

But aren’t we forgetting something?  Oh right.  The bonus 5,000 points when you transfer in increments of 20,000.   So maybe it’s not that lucrative …

spg-to-marriott-actual-redemption

This second chart now shows the number of points (in brackets) you would actually get back if you transferred SPG points to Aeroplan.

Again, let’s focus on the 7 Nights + 120,000 points in a Category 1-5 hotel.  It looks like even if you take into account the bonus points from a traditional transfer, you still come out ahead using the Rewards Plus Program … and that’s not even taking into account that you get 7 Nights Free in a Category 1-5 Marriott hotel.

In this particular example, if you transferred 90,000 SPG to Marriott, you would get 270,000 Marriott points, which would be enough to redeem for 7 Nights in a Category 1-5 hotel PLUS 120,000 Aeroplan points.

If we transferred 90,000 SPG to Aeroplan, we would get 110,000 Aeroplan back (90,000 + 20,000 bonus).

So not only do we get a bonus of 10,000 Aeroplan points, we also get a certificate for 7 nights in a Category 1-5 Marriott hotel.  If we use the conservative estimate of $150 USD/night at a Category 5 hotel, we basically get 10,000 free Aeroplan points and $1,050 in hotel value.  Not a bad little deal there.

An Even Better Opportunity?

If you ask me, 7 nights in one city at the same hotel is a bit on the long side.  I’ve done it before but I tend to like seeing a lot of cities on my trips.  If you are like me, there’s a secret redemption chart that allows for a 5-night stay rather than the 7 nights we noted above.  This chart isn’t published anywhere but Marriott representatives have access to it and have disclosed the redemption values in the past.  This redemption option was originally intended as a perk for Marriott Timeshare holders but stories have cropped up online that if you ask for the 5-night redemption, the Marriott representative will allow you to book it.

So what does the chart look like?  Well, I’ll provide the Marriott points required and then the SPG equivalent.

rewards-plus-5-night-chart

As you can see, the 5 night redemption is logically less Marriott points than the 7 night redemption but are there more arbitrage opportunities in this chart?  The answer is a resounding YES!  It’s WAY better!

rewards-plus-5-night-actual

For simplicity’s sake, let’s stick to the top right cell again.  Here, if we transferred 78,333 SPG points, we would get 235,000 Marriott Reward Points (well, actually 234,999 but you get my drift).

With those points, we could redeem for 5 Nights in a Category 1-5 Marriott Hotel PLUS 120,000 airline points.

If we had done a straight SPG –> Aeroplan transfer, our 78,333 SPG Points would have turned into 93,333 Aeroplan Points.

So if we use the Rewards Plus redemption, we get an additional 26,667 Aeroplan AND 5 Nights at a Category 1-5 Marriott Hotel.  If we again use the conservative estimate of $150 USD/night in a Category 5 hotel, we get $750 USD of hotel value as well.

So for the same amount of points, we get FOR FREE an additional 26,667 Airline Miles … that’s a roundtrip anywhere in North America (in economy) PLUS $750 USD in hotel value.

If you can’t see the value understanding this then Travel Hacking isn’t your cup of tea.

I don’t know if you noticed but Alaska Airlines is one of the airlines you can transfer your points to and you can extract EXTREME value out of those points.  I’ll link you to Travel is Free and Drew Macomber’s post on Alaska Miles but again … it’s a very deep rabbit hole.

Conclusion

This was a very long post and it took me a lot of time to write it but I warned you at the beginning that this was an advanced topic that goes deep into the rabbit hole but I hope you can see the value of looking at points redemption through this lens.

With the Marriott SPG merger being very recent, I expect that this loophole will be closed soon so if this redemption is something you are interested in, I would encourage you to make the leap before they close the loop.

I know that many of you may find this idea intimidating so please feel free to leave your comments below and I will do my best to answer any and all questions.


Also published on Medium.

23 Comments
  1. Thanks for this excellent breakdown. From the 5 day Marriott chart, it looks like I still won’t even be able to crack the left-most cell as a current non-collector. It’s been a few months since I applied for my first credit card for the bonus miles alone, and I’ve been collecting Aeroplan points (in part because of my familiarity with the program). Now, as I cast my sight to wider waters, the SPG/Marriott merger is happening before I’ve really gotten on the bandwagon.

    Even if I apply for 20K SPG signup card, and a Marriott card as well, I’m still shy. I hope your breakdown can help someone else snag this excellence deal!

    1. Natalie, don’t give up so easily! This points thing is a long game so don’t give up if you aren’t in position to make the redemption now. Save up and you’ll get there.

      If you apply for the AMEX SPG Personal (20K SPG) and the SPG Business (20K SPG) and the Marriott Card (50K Marriott), you would have 170K Marriott points … only 65K Marriott away from the top tier redemption! I know it may seem like a long ways away but everybody has been in the same boat before. I just takes patience and perseverance and you’ll soon be redeeming for unbelievable vacations too. Good luck!

      1. I could only find the 30K Marriott Card offer – is 50K a referral bonus?

  2. Great article but not quite sure how to do it.
    I have 67000 aeroplan points,
    40000 amx gold reward points
    55000 marriott points and
    21000 spg points
    I want to trade for a trip for 2 to europe and spend some nites in one of Marriott’s hotels and then will buy a cruise to finish this trip and return to Montreal,Qc.
    What do you suggest I do?

  3. Hi Jayce, I tried to send this to you through the contact section but it didn’t confirm that it sent. So you might get this msg a few times 🙂
    This was an awesome post! I never considered this redemption before cause I didn’t need 7 nights but 5 nights would be great. Question for you, what are your thoughts on the SPG nights & flights package? It doesn’t seem like it’s as good of a deal as the Marriott but might work out better for where I’m going?
    In Apr, I’ll be going to Amsterdam for 4 nights and then Rome for 5 nights (aeroplan business redemption, yay!). Initial plan was to stay at the Element Amsterdam and the Le Meridien Visconti Rome for 72,000 SPG points total (points will be coming in soon after multiple credit card sign ups). After reading your post, I considered converting the SPG points to Marriott to take advantage of the 5 nights (which I can use in Rome) and get the 100,000 aeroplan points. Then I checked the Marriott hotels in Rome and the 2 that are in the city centre are category 9, which would mean way more points to redeem and the other 2 are a bit far. It would also mean instead of getting a free stay in Amsterdam, I’d have to pay around $500 CAD out of pocket (cheapest was on airbnb). So I looked into the SPG nights & flights instead and it’s 70,000 points to get 5 nights in a category 4 hotel (which would work with the le meridien) + 50,000 miles. I would still have to pay for the Amsterdam stay though. I can’t decide what to do because i feel like the Marriott hotel & stay package would be so great but don’t know if it’d work out for this trip.
    Do you have any suggestions/ tips for me? Thank you!

    1. Hey Becca,

      Thanks for your kind comments about the article and your question.

      The answer for your question can be quite complicated but the simple answer is that you need to book what makes sense to you. It sounds like the Marriott package (while very attractive), doesn’t meet your specific travel needs. I caution people against booking packages and/or points speculatively with the hopes of use later on. I personally cashed in for the 5 night package at Marriott because I know that I will use the certificate and the points in 2017. If you cannot claim the same, I would stick to what you know you will use. The certificate will expire after 1 year so don’t get it unless you can use it.

      I should also warn you that many people have reported not being able to secure the 5 night package even though I managed to, so be aware that you may only be able to get the 7 night package. Basically, don’t put all your eggs in one basket.

      As far as the SPG Nights and Flights go, you get pretty good value. For a Category 4 hotel, you need to cash in 70,000 SPG points for 5 nights and 50,000 points on a 1:1 transfer partner airline (pretty much every airline).

      If you wanted the 50,000 airline points outside of the Nights and Flights promotion, it would cost you 40,000 SPG on a regular redemption (20,000 + 5,000 bonus PLUS 20,000 + 5,000 bonus) so essentially you are cashing in 30,000 SPG points for 5 nights which works out to 6,000 SPG points per night. The normal cost of a Category 4 room is 10,000 SPG so you are saving 4,000 SPG per night or 20,000 SPG for the 5 nights. Saving 20,000 SPG is nothing to scoff at.

      The question you should ask yourself is, “am I trying to fit a square peg in a round hole?” … basically, is Le Meridian the right hotel for you or are you simply considering it because it happens to fit into the redemption? If the answer is that you would have wanted to stay at that hotel to begin with, then make the redemption. If not, perhaps look into other hotels that fit your needs better and then see if there is anything that you can do in terms of redemptions.

      Lastly, I would say that you should look into the Capital One Aspire Card. It’s perfect for situations like these where you may want to book a hotel that isn’t part of your points portfolio.

      Hope this helps.
      Cheers

      Jayce

      1. Thank you so much for replying!! Great advice. Ya, I don’t currently have plans to go anywhere to use a 7 night redemption and it’d be horrible to lose it. I actually was planning to stay at Le meridien regardless. So maybe I will do that. Thank you for taking the time to respond to my question!!

  4. Hey Jayce, thanks for the post. super useful.

    When I *try* to redeem for the 5 nights (although like you I’ve read that it’s not a guaranteed), do I need to book exactly which hotel and when that I want to use the booking? Or is it moveable?

    Thanks,

    1. Hi Marcus,

      When you redeem for the Marriott Nights and Flights redemption, you receive a certificate in your online profile that will allow you to book a Category 1-5 (or whatever you’ve redeemed for). There is no need to specify which hotel you want to use it on when you make your initial redemption. You have 1 year to use the certificate though if you ask Marriott, they will in all likelihood extend if for another year if you can’t use it in that time.

      You can also upgrade the certificate at a later time to a higher category hotel for additional points and you can also cash in the certificate for Marriott points. The redemption is extremely flexible.

      Hope that helps.

      Cheers
      Jayce

  5. Hi Jayce, I took a sabbatical from the points game and am just starting back up. You provided a very interesting article. You mentioned previously that you get a certificate but how does Marriott handle the airline points, specially AA? Do you give them your FF number and they deposit the miles in your account? Looking forward to your response, Mary Jane

    1. Hi MaryJane!

      Thanks for your question and welcome back to the game!

      To answer your question, yes that is exactly what happens. The Marriott agent will ask you what program you want to have the points deposited into and they ask for your frequent flier number. Within a few days, the points are deposited (length of time depends on the program).

      It should also be noted that depending on which FFP you chose, the points required are different. Look to the footnotes at http://www.marriott.com/rewards/usepoints/morepack.mi and make sure you understand the cost of each program’s transfer.

      Hope that helps!

      Cheers
      Jayce

  6. Hi Jayce,

    I have been aiming to take advantage of this loophole and I didnt know about the 5 day hotel thing. I presently have 40,000 spg points and 60,000 MR points which is equivalent to 20,000 spg points. So in total i could have 60,000 spg points and 8,000 MR Select. Do you think it is worth buying the balance of spg points needed to transfer to Marriott for the hotel pkg. thats what my aim was for but Im running short on time to do so. Just to confirm if my calculations are right, would you please tell me what amount I would have to buy if this is recommended for good value still?

    Thank you Jayce
    Marlene

    1. Hi Marlene,

      Let’s work in Marriott Reward Points so that we don’t get confused.

      40,000 SPG = 120,000 Marriott
      60,000 Marriott = 60,000 Marriott
      8,000 Membership Rewards Select = 4,000 SPG = 12,000 Marriott

      Total Marriott = 196,000 Marriott
      Points Required for a Marriott 7 Night Category 1-5 and 120,000 Airline Points = 270,000

      Total shortfall = 74,000 Marriott Points = 37,000 SPG

      You would need to purchase 37,000 SPG points to make the package work and I would recommend buying SPG points if you want to get to the package before August 1st. Unfortunately, you are only allowed to purchase 30,000 SPG a year so hopefully, you get a chance to earn an additional 7,000 SPG.

      Good luck!

      1. Thank you Brian for your calculations etc. the 60,000 iMR points I have are membership Rewards though not Marriott so this will change things ups it seems. Since my MR would be 30,000 spg= to 90,000 Marriott correct. Im not sure it its worth converting my membership reward points though or if it is better to buy as muh spg as i can and convert the balance of what I need! Eeeek! Confused to death!

        Marlene

  7. thanks for the info and its perfect time as i was debating when to do this conversion and redemption .
    I accumulated 156k SPG via AMEX spg (personal and business) last year.
    I converter 78k’s into 235k MR’s each (750 were short but Rep is kind enough to adjust)
    and
    Redeemed for two 5Night+Aircanada (AeroPlan) in the first call conversation as well.

    It was a breeze and the Rep was so nice and gave me goodwill miles while buying 2nd package due to some shortagage.

    Now its time to explore how to make the best value of these two certificates with Air itinary in one year.

    Probably will explore Mini-RTW using AeroPlan (have 280k miles) where we can stop in two places to use these hotel certificates.
    Once again thank you for the reminder post.

  8. Hi Jaycee,

    Thank you for this great post!

    If you have time, would love to have your input on this.

    I have booked months ago a 5 night stay at a Cat 9 property.
    Total cost of reservation is $750 +180,000 Marriott Points (Chose an upgraded room)
    At the time I did not have the necessary points so no certificate has been apied to the reservation yet.
    I now have 348,000 Marriott Points.

    It’s a no brainier that I should call and try get this 5-Night Travel Package and earn 120,000 Alaska Miles at the same time right?

    If so will I be able to use the certificate with the current reservation I have?

    Thanks much!
    Leo

    1. Hey Leo, your plan makes perfect sense except that you can only use the certificate on standard rooms. Not sure if Marriott would allow for a redemption and then a buy up. Only way to know is to call Marriott but I’m interested in the result so please be sure to let everyone know

      1. I’ve tried calling several times these days, impossible to get through…. was on hold 45 min last time and then I had to hang up. Ialso tried a number in Australia but they redirect me to Vacation Club Owner number for 5 night Travel-Packages… And then I can’t get through.
        Very frustrating since time is running out! 🙂

      2. Good news Brian!
        It took me 4 calls before I was able to find someone on the other line that could help me. I booked the 5-Night + 120k Alaska miles and asked the agent if she could directly attach the certificate she just created to the reservation I had at the Cat-9 Property (with the upgrade). She did it and its all done! So far it seems it worked! Thank you so much!

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