I've blogged about Marriott Gift Cheques before. I used them at the Renaissance Eden Roc a couple years ago, and I also found that you should be wary using them at international destinations. What are these gift cheques? In a nut shell, they are a special award avaialble for Marriott Platinum Elite members. For 135,000 points, you get 20 $50 gift cheques, totalling $1,000. These can be used same-as-cash to pay for reservations. There are couple rules and regulations. For example, you must use them on a publicly available rate. You can't even use a AAA rate or something like that.
In any case, my wife and I decided to hit up the Lodge at Sonoma, a Renaissance Resort, for a few nights of post-wedding relaxation. As a Category 7 property, it runs 35,000 points per night, and this gets you a room in the normal hotel section of the property. If you would like to move into a cottage, you can either hope for a Platinum upgrade (but seriously given the amount of weddings and stuff that this place has, good luck), pay for the upgrade with cash, or pay for the upgrade with points. In our case, it was an extra 10,000 points per night. My original reservation was actually booked with points. This property has recently moved to a category 7 property so while the numbers I listed above are correct, my reservation was actually for 15,000 less points. Here's the breakdown of the original reservation:
At the time when I booked it, the paid rates were quite expensive, but I kept my eye on them, seeing if they would drop. They eventually dropped slightly, and I booked a new paid reservation:
My new reservation, after all the taxes and fees, would now come out to a hair over $1000. I compared the pros and the cons. Redeeming points for the reservation (and with the new category level, it would now be 135,000 points), it would "cost" me 120,000 bonus points, and I wouldn't earn any points back on the room, nor would I earn elite night credits, nor would I earn credits toward the Marriott Reward Megabonus promotion. If I were to get $1000 in Marriott Gift Cheques, that would cost me 135,000 points.
While it would cost me 15,000 more points than I redeemed originally (although with the new category level it would now be a wash), I would earn 3 elite nights for the stay. Would I "pay" for elite nights at 5,000 points a piece? That's one way to look at the difference between the two options, BUT Marriott Gift Cheques are to be applied as CASH. Marriott Rewards Members earn 10 points per dollar, and there's a 50% Platinum bonus. Thus, I would earn at least 15,000 points for the stay, making my elite nights free. Ah and there's one final kicker!
I had all my stays numbered just right so that I would get exactly 15 nights after our stay at the Renaissance. Those three extra nights pushed me to the first threshold of the Megabonus, earning me an additional 20,000 Marriott Rewards points.
I think Marriott Gift Cheques are a great piece of flexibility that Marriott offers its Platinum members. It's not always worth using them. Try to do the math in advance and see if it works out in your favor. In this case, it definitely did. Even if the math doesn't quite work out in your favor, is it worth it for the elite nights? Maybe it is worth it if you're right on the cusp of requalifying for platinum or need a few more nights for a Megabonus. My general rule of thumb is that these are a great option for high category properties in low season when the paid rates are low. Think Grand Cayman during hurricane season... Despite the extreme bias against Marriott in the blogosphere, I still think it's a generally good program :-). Good luck finding deals to redeem yours!
Oh and now that I've hit the Megabonus and racked up a good amount of Marriott nights for the year, it's now time to get to work on the SPG Nice Choice promo so I can get my triple points!