Mapping out your Marriott Bonvoy hotel room upgrade strategy

By Chris Chamberlin, April 30 2019

Even if your corporate travel policy doesn't allow you to 'book' a suite, that doesn't necessarily mean you can't upgrade to one on your next hotel stay, or even switch to a nicer room – and that's where the Marriott Bonvoy hotel loyalty program comes into play.

Offering regular travellers complimentary upgrades to more desirable rooms and even suites. Here's what you need to know to get upgraded at hotels like The Ritz-Carlton, St. Regis, W Hotels, JW Marriott and more.

Complimentary room upgrades at check-in for Marriott Bonvoy elite members

If you've reached the lofty heights of Marriott Bonvoy Gold, Platinum, Titanium or even Ambassador status, you could receive a complimentary room upgrade at check-in as part of your usual suite of benefits: here's how that works.

Marriott Bonvoy Gold room upgrades

For Gold-grade members, complimentary upgrades may be offered to what Marriott calls an 'enhanced room', subject to availability at check-in.

That could be anything from a room on a higher floor when those rooms are sold as a separate category – as is commonplace in cities like New York – through to something with a more desirable view than originally booked, or a corner room providing a little more space, or extra windows.

Technically, it can also include upgrades to rooms on the Executive Floor with Executive Lounge access included, although upgrades to suites aren't offered at the Gold level.

However, speaking as a long-time Marriott Gold cardholder, I've always found that upgrades tend to be single-category, such as from a basic room to one with a better view, or a newly-renovated room of a comparable type, as opposed to being bumped from a basic room right up to one on the Executive Floor, except where Executive is the next-highest room type – so don't be disappointed if you're not upgraded to an Executive room with every stay!

Room upgrades for Gold members are offered at most Marriott Bonvoy brands except for Marriott Vacation Club, Marriott Grand Residence Club, Aloft, Element and Vistana. Any upgrades at Ritz-Carlton properties also don't include Ritz-Carlton Club lounge access, except when access to the hotel lounge is included with the room type initially booked and paid for.

Marriott Bonvoy Platinum, Titanium, Ambassador room upgrades

Unlike upgrades for Gold members which are more restrictive, upgrades for Marriott's higher-tier Platinum, Titanium and Ambassador guests are to the best available room at the hotel as available at check-in time for the entire length of stay, up to and including standard suites.

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Keeping in mind that all upgrades are subject to availability and that each hotel only has a certain number of suites to go around, this doesn't guarantee that Platinum members would get the keys to a suite every time they check-in: the "best available room" could well be the room type they originally reserved if the hotel is fully-booked, or, a room type below that of a suite.

Ritz-Carlton hotels also restrict suite upgrades to Titanium- and Ambassador-level members only (not Platinum), and as with Gold, those Ritz-Carlton upgrades don't include lounge access if the traveller wasn't already entitled to lounge use via their original booking.

Again, room upgrades are available at most brands except for Marriott Vacation Club, Marriott Grand Residence Club, Aloft, Element and Vistana.

Room upgrades confirmed in advance using 'Suite Night Awards'

Don't want to chance an upgrade at check-in? If you're a regular Marriott guest, you can earn a set number of 'Suite Night Awards' every year: each of which can be traded in for a confirmed, complimentary upgrade to a suite, as the name suggests.

'Suite Night Awards': the basics

After spending 50 qualifying nights in Marriott Bonvoy hotels every year, five Suite Night Awards will be loaded into your account, and if you push that to a total of 75 nights in the same year, you'll get five more: 10 all up, but there are a few rules and catches to get your head around.

Firstly, you'll require one Suite Night Award per night of your upgraded stay: so a five-night stay would burn five Suite Night Awards. This includes 'fifth night free' reward bookings (where a five-night stay costs no extra points than a four-night stay), so even though the fifth night may be 'free', you'll still spend a Suite Night Award if upgrading.

Next, Suite Night Awards are only valid for upgrades to standard suites – the same room type as Platinum members and above may be upgraded to for free at check-in – but of course, using a Suite Night Award locks that upgrade in before you arrive, rather than hoping for the best at the front desk.

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Many travellers use their Suite Night Awards when travelling with a partner, when an upgraded room type would be more appreciated, but even though paid hotel reservations are accepted a year in advance, Suite Night Award upgrades can't be requested until five days before your arrival.

Using a 'Suite Night Award' on your next hotel stay

Members with Suite Night Awards to burn can do so via the Marriott Bonvoy website, when an upcoming hotel reservation is linked to the same Marriott Bonvoy account.

If an upgrade is available for the duration of your stay, it can be secured immediately and those Suite Night Awards deducted from your account – but, if an upgrade isn't immediately available, you can still request one anyway, and the system will keep checking for availability up until 2pm the day before you arrive: if something pops up, your upgrade will be processed.

If not, those Suite Night Awards can be spent another time, and are returned to your account.

It's generally unwise to use Suite Night Awards when your plans may change, because if an upgrade has been processed but the hotel booking is cancelled after 2pm local time the day before arrival, you'll lose any Suite Night Awards that had been applied to that stay, even if the booking itself allows for free cancellation.

They also can't be used at all Marriott brands, with a list of exceptions covering The Ritz-Carlton, The Ritz-Carlton Reserve, The Ritz-Carlton Destination Club, Edition, Protea Hotels, Aloft, Element, Design Hotels, any all-suite hotels, Marriott Executive Apartments, ExecuStay, Marriott Vacation Club, Marriott Grand Residence Club properties and Vistana properties.

That still leaves a long line-up of participating brands such as St. Regis, The Luxury Collection, W Hotels, JW Marriott, Marriott, Sheraton, Delta Hotels, Le Meridien, Westin and more.

Finally, the Marriott Bonvoy scheme also has 'Point Upgrade Awards', but they're not 'upgrades' in the traditional sense – merely, the opportunity to use a higher number of points during the booking process to secure a higher-level room.

Compared to an airline frequent flyer program, that's on-par with using your hard-earned points to book business class as opposed to premium economy from the onset, rather than genuinely 'upgrading' an existing booking, so we won't include this here.

Also read: Your guide to the new Marriott Bonvoy program – status, perks and more

Chris Chamberlin

Chris Chamberlin is the Associate Editor of Executive Traveller and lives by the motto that a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, a great latte, a theatre ticket and a glass of wine!


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