How to Stay at Disney World for Free: Marriott Bonvoy and the Swan and Dolphin Hotel
How to Stay at Disney World For Free: Marriott Bonvoy and the Swan and Dolphin Hotel
If you checked out our recent post about the Southwest Rapid Rewards program, you’ll know that we are big fans of leveraging loyalty programs into free travel. Our favorite hotel in Disney World is the Swan and Dolphin resort. Why? A big factor is that the Swan is a Westin and the Dolphin in a Sheraton. This means that these two hotels are part of the Marriott Bonvoy collection of hotels (formerly SPG).
By being part of Marriott, the Swan and Dolphin are the only Disney properties that allow you to walk to the parks (Hollywood and Epcot) while also allowing you to redeem points for free stays. Though there is a lot of important information about the Bonvoy program, this post will focus on the benefits directly related to staying at the Swan and Dolphin hotels in Disney World.
Marriott Bonvoy Program
The Marriott Bonvoy program is the newly launched successor to the Marriott Rewards Program. In the simplest terms, Bonvoy is Marriott’s loyalty program. The Bonvoy program tracks your hotel stays and reward points, provides different levels of Elite Status, and gives you the opportunity to earn free travel. Additionally, members get free Wi-Fi at hotels, mobile check-in, and access to lower member rates for hotel stays.
It is free to sign up for a Marriott Bonvoy account and you can do it right on marriott.com. For most people, having a Marriott rewards account means: if I spend a night at Marriott, I earn hotel points. Once I stay enough nights at a Marriott, I will earn enough points to have a free night at a hotel. What many people aren’t aware of, is that you can earn Marriott points a lot of other ways too.
The Marriott Bonvoy program has 5 levels of status: Silver, Gold, Platinum, Titanium, and Titanium Elite. Each successive level provides additional benefits. For us, the benefits we enjoy the most are bonus points (earned at each level) and the welcome amenity for Platinum members. The amenity we always choose is free breakfast. At the Swan and Dolphin, this includes the continental breakfast at Fresh Mediterranean Market (Dolphin) or Garden Grove (Swan) for each night of your stay.
Other perks of Elite Status include room upgrades. While you are likely to get assigned a better room based on your status, even Bonvoy members with the lowest tier can get some form of an upgrade. Our general strategy when staying at the Swan and Dolphin is to book the cheapest room available. About a day prior to arrival, Marriott provides our room information and we find that we have been assigned an upgraded room. Sometimes these upgrades are as simple as a better view. An upgrade to a resort view room with a balcony is pretty common. The nicest upgrade we have gotten is a huge Suite with two full bathrooms and a living room designed to entertain upwards of 50 guests. We have a video of that room upgrade below. These small (or sometimes large) upgrades are a great way to make guests feel special and appreciated.
How to Earn Points
There are countless ways to earn Marriott points, ranging from co-branded credit cards, to staying at Marriott hotels, and even by utilizing shopping portals that offer bonus points. The focus of this post will be on the credit cards offered by Chase or American Express and staying at Marriott hotels (keep in mind, when you book a free stay on points, you do not also earn points on that stay).
There are a wide variety of credit cards available to those looking to accumulate Marriott points. Chase offers Marriott brand credit cards as well as Ultimate Reward credit cards, while American Express offers SPG brand credit cards. Ever since the merger of Marriott and SPG, both cards earn Marriott points. I will talk about each of the main credit card types in detail, but my focus here is going to be on the personal version of each card rather than the business version.
Marriott from Chase
The Marriott co-branded credit cards are offered by Chase. There is the Marriott Bonvoy Boundless personal card available with a signup bonus of 100,000 points after spending $5,000 during your first 3 months with the card. If you don’t find a signup bonus of 100,000 points when you look for this card, I would suggest holding off on the card and waiting for the bonus to go back up. In addition to the points earned from the signup bonus, you will get elite status, bonus points when using your credit card at a Marriott property, and the ability to spend your way to even higher status (Marriott Card).
The Marriott cards offered by Chase are a great way to earn a signup bonus, but the points you earn from everyday use of the card are not worthwhile. That being said, you earn 2 Marriott point for every dollar you spend and 6 points per dollar spent at Marriott properties (in addition to the normal points you would earn on a paid Marriott stay). What this means is I recommend getting this card and earning the 100,000 point signup bonus. Once you have earned the signup bonus, I would only use this card when booking Marriott hotel stays.
Ultimate Rewards by Chase
Next up is the Sapphire Preferred and Sapphire Reserve cards from Chase. These two credit cards do not earn Marriott points directly, but you are able to transfer Ultimate Rewards points directly to Marriott points with just a click of a button.
I will give my own advice before diving into the details – I do not recommend transferring Ultimate Rewards points to Marriott points. I find that the best use of Ultimate Rewards points is to book international flights. Why? Because I might be able to get a $400(ish) dollar Marriott room with my Ultimate Reward points. With my Ultimate Reward points transferred to an airline, I can often get thousands of dollars of value with an international flight. That being said, saving points for an international flight just to maximize your point value does not work for everyone. Each person should use their points in the way that gives them the most joy. If you want the free hotel night at Disney with these points, go for it!
Ultimate Reward points are the transferable points earned by Chase credit cards that are not co-branded (ie. Marriott, Southwest, Hyatt, etc…). These points are considered transferable because you do have the option to use them directly with Chase to book travel, they also transfer directly to a number of hotel and airline partners (some of our favorites include Southwest, Virgin Atlantic, United, and Hyatt). Transferring the points is easy. It requires that you have a loyalty account with whichever partner you want (in the case of this article, you would need a Marriott Bonvoy account). Once you have the necessary account, login to your Ultimate Reward account, click transfer, select your transfer partner, enter your Marriott Bonvoy account number, and it’s done.
Chase Credit Cards
The two personal cards that earn Ultimate Reward points are the Sapphire Preferred and Reserve. For anyone just getting into collecting miles and points, I recommend the Sapphire Preferred as the best all-around card. It offers great benefits, earns 2 points on travel and dining, provides primary card rental insurance, and only has a $95 annual fee. While the Sapphire Reserve offers similar benefits plus many additional ones, the annual fee of $450 is harder to justify and some of the additional benefits may only apply to certain people. You can see the details of the Sapphire Preferred and the Sapphire Reserve.
Marriott (Formerly SPG) by American Express
The final set of credit cards earning Marriott points are those from American Express. The Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant card is very similar to the card offered by Chase. This card offers a 100,000 signup bonus after spending $5,000 in the first 3 months with an annual fee of $450. Although the annual fee is higher, this card comes with some additional perks to help offset the cost, including a free anniversary night at a property costing 50,000 points or less, an annual statement credit, and a few others (Marriott Card). These points are no different than those earned from a Marriott Chase card and they are directly deposited into the exact same Marriott Bonvoy account. The only reason these are offered my American Express is because Amex used to offer the SPG branded card before the SPG/Marriott merger.
One thing to keep in mind is that American Express has a policy that prohibits anyone from earning a signup bonus more than once in their lifetime. This means that you can only get this card once. In contrast, Chase allows you to get the same card every 24 months, which allows for some additional flexibility.
Membership Rewards (the American Express equivalent of Ultimate Rewards) is one additional option, but the transfer rate to Marriott is just two poor that I can’t justify discussing this option. There is also a nice American Express Marriott Bonvoy Business card available that offers you the chance to earn an additional 100,000 miles as well.
Credit Card Restrictions
Do not just go out and randomly apply for these credit cards! There are restrictions in place on who can get what bonuses based on what cards they already have. For example, if I have the Sapphire Preferred, I am not eligible to earn a signup bonus for the Sapphire Reserve. Similarly, if I have the Marriott card from Chase, I am not eligible for a signup bonus for the Marriott card from American Express for at least 90 days (see terms of eligibility before signing up for a new card). A detailed discussion of these restrictions is confusing, so if you are unsure if you are eligible, I recommend calling Chase or American Express and asking.
Do Not Miss Out On The Sign-Up Bonus
The sign-up bonus is one of the best ways to earn Marriott Bonvoy points. You want to be 100% sure you will be able to meet the required spend within the required time frame before signing up for any of the cards mentioned above.
There are four main ways that we earn Marriott points. The first is through credit card signup bonuses which I discussed above. The second is through paid stays at Marriott hotels and Elite bonuses. The third is through making a Green Choice. And finally, we earn points through Marriott promotions.
Paid Marriott Stays and Elite Bonuses
Although we enjoy free nights at the Swan or Dolphin hotel, when each night costs 50,000 Marriott points, we sometimes choose to pay for a room. On average, room rates tend to range from around $200 per night up to $500 per night depending on when we are looking to travel. When we find a room for around $200/night, we usually choose to pay for our room rather than redeem points. At a nightly rate of $200, we get a value of just $0.004 cents per point (though it ends up being slightly more when you consider the resort fees). However, when rooms are $500 per night, we still have to redeem the same 50,000 points, but in this case, we get $0.01 cents per point. This is results in us getting 2.5 times more value from our Marriott points.
Should I Book a Stay on Points?
There is no right answer to when you should or should not redeem your Marriott points for free stays, but you should always consider what value you will earn from a reward redemption.
That being said, when you do pay for a night at the Swan or Dolphin (or any Marriott hotel), you will earn Marriott points. You will earn a base rate of 10 points per dollar spend (more details here), and you continue to earn at a higher rate depending which credit card you use and what level of Marriott status you have. For example, if you book with the Bonvoy Boundless card I mentioned earlier, you will get your 10 base points, plus your 6 points per dollar from the credit card, resulting in a minimum of 16 points per dollar spent on your stay. Although the details of which card to use for Marriott stays is beyond the scope of this post, I would generally suggest using either a Marriott, SPG, or Ultimate Reward credit card to maximize your earning.
An additional method for earning points from staying at a Marriott is by making a Green Choice. By making a Green Choice, you forgo room service during your stay and in exchange the hotel gives you 500 points per night, excluding the last night of your stay (ie. if you stay for 4 night, you will get 1,500 Marriott points for your Green Choice). Although this isn’t going to result in a large number of points, we usually skip on house keeping anyways, so the free points are just an extra benefit to us.
Promotions (points and nights)
One of the easiest ways to earn free points or bonus nights towards Elite status are through Marriott promotions. For example, as of writing this post, we are enrolled in two promotions. The first offers double Elite night credit for all stays over a three-month period, and the second offers double points on all stays beginning with our second stay.
Promotions are free to join and only take a few seconds to sign up for. If you’re trying to earn Marriott status, the first promotion is a great way to get a jump start on earning qualifying nights, and the second promotion bumps your base earning rate up to 20 points per dollar spent. I can’t count the number of times we have seen a promotion and forgotten to sign up for it in the past! Don’t make this mistake, there is no downside to singing up for a promotion and not actually participating in it. They’re free points so take advantage of them!
How to Use Points For A Free Hotel Stay
Once you have earned enough Marriott Bonvoy points, redeeming the points is easy. You have two options for booking your hotel stay with points. You can book online through the Marriott website. The process is pretty simple. First, login to your account and you should see your point balance. You can then search for the hotel of your choice, and check the “use points” box and you will be good to go. You can also call Marriott and book the hotel room over the phone. The three screen shots below walk you through booking a free room using Marriott points.
Beyond Marriott – Free Flights!
One final aspect of the Marriott program that we love is the ability to use our Marriott points on airlines. This is a result of the SPG merger and is one of the nicest benefits of any hotel loyalty program. You can transfer Marriott points to over 40 airline partners at a rate of 3:1. For every 3 Marriott points you transfer, you get 1 airline mile. However, if you transfer 60,000 Marriott points, you get your normal 20,000 airline miles plus a bonus 5,000 miles for a total of 25,000 miles. This is a great benefit of the program that provides a ton of flexibility.
Even beyond free flights, there are Marriott Moments which provide you the opportunity to bid or purchase rare and unique events. These events include private cooking classes, concerts, sporting events, and many other unique experiences. Though we use our points for travel purposes, these Marriott Moments can provide some really fun ways to use your points.
Overall the Marriott Bonvoy program is a great way to enjoy free hotel nights at Disney World in what we consider to be one of the best locations on property. The Swan and Dolphin hotels are centrally located, with a short walk to either Hollywood Studios or Epcot. With a little bit of planning and a new credit card or two, you can enjoy a few free nights at our favorite Disney resort.
One final piece of advice – this is not an exhaustive list of how the Marriott Bonvoy program works. I’ve been doing this for about 5 years now and I’m still learning new stuff every day. If you have questions, feel free to leave a comment/question below!
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