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When Marriott announced it would add Category 8 redemptions to its newly revised post-merger award chart, the chain also said that it would add peak and off-peak pricing in the new year. The rates would apply to rooms booked on points, and they would fluctuate based on whether it’s peak travel season or low travel season for each property.
You don’t have to be a genius to predict that the calendar would likely include more peak than off-peak dates once the change is implemented. So, at the risk of being #Bonvoyed, I decided to strike first and redeem my Marriott points before I got struck with the so-called enhancements to the award chart.
I had enough points to book four nights at a Category 5 property (plus the fifth night free), and I had some choices to make. A few hotels piqued my interest, but I chose the Renaissance Aruba Resort & Casino as a tropical vacation destination. I invited my girlfriend, and we left the Utah winter behind to chase the sun on the Dutch Caribbean island.
My friend and I caught a redeye flight from Salt Lake City to Philadelphia, spent the wee hours in The Centurion Lounge and arrived in Aruba in the early afternoon. The cab dropped us off at the Renaissance Aruba an hour shy of check-in time, and the elite desk clerk in the open-air lobby informed us that our island-view room with two beds wasn’t ready yet.
“No problem,” we said before storing our luggage and going out to grab a bite to eat. An hour and a half later, we returned and were given a key. We took an elevator upstairs only to find a single bed in the room. Um, so why did we wait in the first place?
I called the front desk, and about 10 minutes later, the issue was sorted and we moved to our double room. It was nothing special with a partial view of both the sea and (mostly) the island.
Because of the disruption that took time to resolve, we decided to catch the last few sunrays by the pool with some drinks in hand. The hotel’s pool area faces the island’s port, which makes it a perfect opportunity to look at cruise ships when they leave for the night. It also faces a rather busy street with tons of foot and car traffic, and it isn’t as relaxing as I had imagined.
The Renaissance Private Island
As mentioned, the hotel is located right by the port, and there’s no beach in front of it. What the property lacks in on-site sand between your toes it makes up for in its private island. If you’re a guest at the hotel, you get free access to the Renaissance Island. Non-guests have to shell out $125 for a day pass to access this treasure.
The only private stretch of sand in all of Aruba is just a short water-taxi ride away. The boat picks you up right from the lobby, and 15 minutes later you’re on Renaissance Island, a 40-acre lush piece of land with two beaches (one for families and one for adults only), private cabanas for rent, a restaurant and a spa. The boat runs every 15 minutes, 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.
When the water taxi dropped us off in heaven, my friend and I got a short briefing about the island and off we went to bask in the sun. Since it was a girls’ trip, we chose Flamingo Beach—the one for adults only—and planted our rear ends on two lounge chairs for the day.
Flamingo Beach is known for—you guessed it—flamingoes. The long-necked pink birds roam around the shoreline like they own the place weaving in and out of hordes of tourists surrounding them in an effort to capture their photo for the ’gram.
And let me tell you, the flamingoes are quite the divas! They’re not afraid to show you attitude, bite your hands instead of the food in them and even swim away when they’re over being the subjects of everyone’s attention. They’re wild animals after all, and capturing a great photo with your new pink friend isn’t as easy as it seems. Still, they’re gorgeous and therefore get to be as sassy as they want.
Iguana Beach is nearby and is where families can enjoy their vacation. There, one can rent floaties, paddle boards, book day trips and excursions, etc. Despite the name, it’s not the only place on the island iguanas can be seen. They crawl everywhere, and if you order fries from the restaurant, the iguanas crawl toward you. But don’t worry. They’re friendly—and handsome—creatures.
While on the island, you can rent one of the private cabanas on either beach. For $350, you get an oceanfront cabana that comes with its own floaties, a hammock, a fresh-water shower, a fruit plate, a bottle of sparkling wine, several water bottles and, most important of all, privacy from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Although we didn’t rent one, the cabanas looked awesome! I think they’d be perfect for a group of cruise-ship guests who don’t have to pay for the room at the hotel and just as much for the cabana.
Renaissance Island is where we spent most of our time. And why wouldn’t we? The flamingoes are too cute, and the pool in the city is too noisy.
Five nights at the Renaissance Aruba Resort & Casino would’ve cost us $2,326.49 on our dates. In points, the stay cost us 140,000 as I booked four nights at 35,000 Marriott points each and received a fifth night free.
Once peak pricing hits, the same rooms will go for 40,000 points per night. Alternatively, they’ll go down to 30,000 points on off-peak dates. No one knows what dates will be peak, off-peak or standard at this point.
I collected the points by spending on the former Starwood Preferred Guest credit cards from American Express—now known as the Marriott Bonvoy Amex cards—as well as receiving a couple of retention offers on both the personal and the business version of the card last year.
At the time of booking, standard rooms had been sold out, and I had to settle for an island-view room, which included a nightly co-pay of $25 plus tax. After it was all said and done, I paid $136.90 out of pocket on top of the points spent.
What’s cool about this property is that the Renaissance Aruba doesn’t charge pesky resort fees in addition to your nightly rate, which I enjoyed immensely. The price you see is the price you get when booking a stay at this hotel. In fact, the taxes actually came out slightly lower than what the original invoice showed, and I was happy about that as well.
Overall, I was quite pleased with my stay at the Renaissance Aruba and glad I had enough points for a quick getaway during the snowy season. It did, in fact, snow in Utah when my friend and I were gone, so I call this a quality trip.
You can easily replicate my Aruban vacation by collecting Marriott points, perhaps in combination with the free-night certificates that come with the Bonvoy-branded credit cards.
The Marriott Bonvoy Boundless Credit Card from Chase and the Marriott Bonvoy Business American Express Card both come with an anniversary free night certificate good towards a room at any property that requires up to 35,000 points per night, and the Renaissance Aruba is one of those properties.
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