Hotels Reviews

The JW Marriott Masai Mara Review: The best way to use Marriott points on the planet 🤯🤯🤯

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Is the JW Marriott Masai Mara the best Marriott on the planet?

Going on safari is unbelievably expensive, and the idea that you can mark one off your bucket list with points is an absolute game-changer. If you’re fortunate to ever go on one, you want to do it right, stay at a nice place, and not cut corners, right? To get your head around the cost of a safari, usually, if you’re looking at 4 or 5 star options, you’re talking around $1000 per person per night. This includes all of your food, beverages ( sans super expensive alcohol ), and all game drives. It’s customary to tip in addition to these rates – to the staff, your guide and ranger. All in all…for a few night trip you’re probably going to fork over around $7k+ for 2 people. Ouch!

Enter…The JW Marriott Masai Mara – bookable with Marriott Bonvoy points ( Transfer partner of American Express, Chase Ultimate Rewards, and Bilt Rewards ) When I heard that Marriott was going to have a property in Kenya’s Masai Mara…I was unbelievably excited. What would the award rates be? Would space ever be available? I was like a kid thinking about Santa at Christmas.

a wooden bridge over a river
The bridge to the JW Marriott Masai Mara camp


In 2023… JW Marriott award space hit the market. I had already stayed at the Richard Branson Ulusaba lodge in South Africa, and had a buddy trip planned later in the year. I pitched the idea to my buddy Dave, whom I’d visited Chitwa Chitwa with in 2015, to see if he’d want to do a safari again, and he was 100% onboard. I set out to make it happen over our potential October dates.

The JW Marriott Masai Mara is absolutely outstanding, and as luck would have it, periodically has quite a bit of award space available. “Periodically” is the keyword here. The award space opens in waves, and then within hours/days, closes back up. It also shifts a lot. Not just with availability, but with the pricing as well. For instance, days on our trip kept changing in price, and since there is a cancellation window of , we were able to adjust it all the way up until we were inside that window ( which is now a whopping 90 days ).

JW Marriott Masai Mara Stay Details

As I mentioned above, you need to stay on top of award space searching via calendar mode. Even after you book, I’d keep an eye on award space as it changed price many times.

  • When: October 2023
    • 3 nights
  • Rate: 106k to 112k per night
    • Cash rate was about $2800 a night
  • Status: Marriott Bonvoy Gold
  • Combined points – read more here
    • I moved 160k Marriott points into Dave’s account from two accounts I manage ( mine and my wife’s ).
  • Villa 6

a room with four beds and a couch

Combining points

You can now combine points online…it’s super simple, you just fill out the form and the points are combined within minutes. One member can move 100k points per calendar year, and a member can receive up to 500k points per year. Meaning if you want to do what I did, you’ll need to use more than one account like I did.

a screenshot of a credit card

Booking the JW Marriott Masai Mara

If you want to book the JW Marriott Masai Mara I’d highly suggest checking daily, or you could set award alerts with Awayz ( this is a premium function so you’d need to get a subscription ). As I mentioned earlier, the property doesn’t really have a reliable release schedule and any given day will have hardly any space, or they’ll dump huge volumes of award space.

The best sweet spot is booking 5 nights since all Marriott Bonvoy members get a 5th night free; however, we stayed 3 nights and felt it was enough.

Rates when we started looking

We first made this reservation at this rate…and then changed. I will note that the cancellation policy was 30 days not 90 days like some reservations include.

a screenshot of a room

Rates we booked – 50k cheaper

I haven’t seen rates at 100k or below since they first dropped…which I’d guess is purposeful since you can add 15k to any 85k credit card award certificate.

a screenshot of a calendar



A lot of people don’t factor in the fringe cost of going on safari like the transportation to the lodge, additional add-ons like hot air balloon rides, or tipping. Here’s how we roughly tipped in USD for a 3 night stay. You could add this to the bill, but we just tipped in straight cash. I believe this if fairl

  • Guide – $500
  • Food Host -$200
  • Drink Captain – $100
  • Housekeeping – $100
  • General Staff – $100

Malaria Pills/Yellow Fever Vaccination

We had some malaria pills, but honestly, I stopped taking them once we realized there weren’t any bugs to speak of. To each their own, but I felt like it was unnecessary. Regarding Yellow Fever, we weren’t checked coming from Tanzania, but you will be checked if you’re coming from a country where Yellow Fever is endemic. You can check the list of countries here

Getting to the JW Marriott Masai Mara

Here is a copy of the email we received offering transportation options to the JW Marriott. It’s very important to note that the flights to the Mara depart from Nairobi Wilson airport which is a very small airport compared to the large international airport of NBO. We paid $450 roundtrip, per person for transportation. You could arrange these yourself and potentially save some money, but you’d need to then relay all of the relevant information to the lodge. We chose to just book through them.

Based on my experience I would avoid Air Kenya, which we flew, and should I venture back to the lodge, I’d use Safari Link. The reputation on the ground is they are far more reliable. Upon departure, our Air Kenya flight was terribly delayed, well over 90 mins, and we heard nothing as far as updates. We were leaving out of Nairobi a few hours after our scheduled arrival

a black screen with white text

Air Kenya Flight

  1. You fly out of Nairobi Wilson
  2. You need soft sided bags with weight limits

I was kind of paranoid about the weight of my bags since I was brining along electronics that weighed quite a bit. I stuffed all of those into may backpack, and lucky for me, they never weighed those bags…they only weighed the bags that went under the plane.

Note the following restrictions for SOFT baggage – you can find up to date rules here

  • 15 kg (33 lbs) per person in soft bags, including carry-ons, camera equipment, etc. The dimensions of the bag should not be more than 58 cm (23 in) long x 33 cm (13 inches) high x 25cm (10 in) wide.

We left out additional baggage at the Air Kenya terminal and paid a daily storage fee.

Arrival to the JW Marriott Masai Mara

We made two stops en route to the JW Marriott landing strip which is shared by multiple lodges. I’ve been fortunate enough to do flights like this at Chitwa Chitwa and Ulusaba and the wonderment doesn’t diminish – it’s just incredible seeing animals from the sky.

JW Marriott Masai Mara Airstrip Greeting – champagne anyone?

Some bubbles upon arrival?! Why not! We were kindly greeted and escorted to our waiting Land Cruiser and served up some sparkling wine and snacks. Our guide, Mohammed, wasn’t available so we tagged along with two other guides, and met our guide later that night. We ended up spending about 30 to 45 mins hanging out, paying the park fees and sipping bubbly before the 45 min drive to the camp ( which is a mini safari ).

a vehicle with a ladder on the side

Masai Mara Park Fees

Upon landing you’ll be greeted and required to pay a park fee. This is a daily fee that everyone must pay that is in addition to room rate, transportation fee, and tipping. We paid $70 per person, per day ( 24 hours ). You can find updated fees here

  • From 1/1/24 until 6/30/24 the fee is $100 per day
    • $50 per day for kids 9 to 17
  • From 7/1/24 until 12/31/24 the fee is $200 per day
    • $50 per day for kids 9 to 17
  • If you depart after 10 am you’ll pay another day’s fee

The JW Marriott Masai Mara Land Cruiser

There are 3 different rows on the vehicle and I rode on the top two…the top row over the wheel feels A LOT more of the bounce so keep that in mind. We were quite lucky that we shared the vehicle on just 1 of 6 drives we had.

a vehicle with luggage in the back

There are plugs do charge your devices as well as pockets and storage compartments, but sadly, the charging ports never worked. Luckily I had brought multiple back up battery packs which we used every day. The back row also has a cooler in it.

Ride to the JW Marriott Masai Mara

We set out on our 45 min drive to the camp and I had no idea what we were in for…a group of people in a vehicleWithin minutes we saw a herd of elephant, giraffes, and the incredible vistas out over the Mara. I had feared a lot of mosquitoes, but at 5k to 7k feet it wasn’t much a problem.

a group of elephants in a grassy field

The views are truly spectacular and you’ll often see a herd of elephant walking along the horizon line, zebras, giraffe, buffalo, it’s truly incredible.

a group of zebras and zebras in a field

Arrival at the JW Marriott Masai Mara

How about this for an incredible arrival! Masai Warriors linking arms, holding your hand, and singing with you. What an outstanding way to be greeted!

a group of men wearing matching outfits

You’ll then go across the bridge, have another welcome drink ( I had an amazing lemonade ) and a quick walk around. Sadly I forgot to photograph the incredible Canon rental program.

a man standing behind a bar

We immediately went to the Fig Tree Lounge and had lunch


JW Marriott Masai Mara Main Lodge

The entire camp is tented which is super cool, and something I hadn’t really experienced outside of the Martian Tents in Jordan’s Wadi Rum and the Elephant Camp outside Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe.

a wooden walkway with plants and trees

The main building

This is the main hangout, where you’ll meet before your game drives, and just a super cool hang out.

a room with a fireplace and chairs

The other direction where you can see the Fig Tree Lounge, bar, and outdoor spaces.

a room with a fireplace and chairs

In the background is the bar

a bar with a metal rhinoceros statue and bottles on the shelves

The wine and cigar collection


Below is the gift shop, manager’s office, and where you’ll find the Canon equipment.


JW Marriott Masai Mara Dining Options

There are two dining options, and they are both pretty seamless in their layout connected by that bridge below.

  • Sarabi
  • Fig Tree Lounge

The JW Marriott Masai Mara handles things a little differently. Each time you eat you’ll have the same host and drink captain. At the end of the stay we tipped each individually as they made us feel like kings.

a stuffed animal on a chair

The food was truly outstanding.

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The JW Marriott Masai Mara Room

This is the base villa, number 6, with an additional bed.

a room with a bed and a couchCoffee Station and Mini Bar – ample bottled water, booze, cookies, etc.

a table with bottles of liquor and a tray of teaWriting Desk with stationary

a desk with a telephone and a phone on it

Storage – robes, safe, laundry, etc

You can do laundry, but you only get a couple items each day. Personally I found this to be skimpy compared to other lodges that allowed unlimited items. When guests need to pack light and you limit laundry or charge when rates are $3k a night…feels a bit cheap to me.

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Power next to the bed

a lamp on a table

Bathroom – dual vanities, shower ( inside and out )

Large with a soaker tub, plenty of glass, and a MASSIVE Shower

a bathroom with a wood vanity and mirrors

You can see the outdoor jacuzzi ( we never used it, and required quite a bit of head’s up to fill and heat…a couple hours ).

a bathroom with a double sink and a chair

The shower had very strong pressure and as you can see, a full amenity kit.

Outdoor shower as well

a shower outside of a building

Mosquito cover at night

a room with a bed and a couch

Game Drives – very different than South Africa

I’ve been on game drives in South Africa at both Chitwa Chitwa and Ulusaba, as well as in India at Ranthambore looking for Tigers, and in Zimbabwe near Victoria Falls. All of these drives have been a few hours max. At the JW Marriott, game drives can literally last most of the day. I had no idea what we were in for, but it was beyond words.

Each morning you’ll meet at the bar where there is coffee, snacks, etc

a tray of pastries and coffee cups on a table

Day 1:

  • Game Drive evening

Day 2

  • Morning Game Drive for roughly 7 hours
  • Break for food
  • Evening Game Drive

Day 3

  • Hot Air Balloon + Game Drive
  • Evening Game Drive

Day 4

  • Morning Game Drive.

On our Second day we started the morning off by stumbling upon lions who had just finished their hunt. You could smell the blood and death in the air. I’ve been near animals shortly after a hunt, but nothing like this. You could smell the iron, hear the bones crunching, and see the hyenas starting to circle waiting for their turn. After looking at them for a while, surrounded by other vehicles we got word that a cheetah and her cubs were crossing the Mara so we sped over and they greeted us by walking straight toward our vehicle. As if that wasn’t enough we got word that a leopard was on the hunt about an hour away…should we go? Absolutely. Did we see a leopard hunt a gazelle…yes, yes we did. It drug it 10 feet from our vehicle. What a blessed day of sightings. This didn’t even mention the countless elephants, giraffe, zebra, multiple rhinos, it was jawdropping the sheer number of sightings we had on our first full day.

a lion eating a animal

a lioness and a lioness in a grassy field a cheetah with a kill on a deer two men taking a selfie a cheetah on the ground a group of animals walking on a dirt road

an elephant eating a tree

Hot Air Balloon Ride

One option that we added on was a hot air balloon ride. I believe we were picked up about an hour before sunrise ( roughly 5am ) and driven over to the launch site, about 25 mins away via Land Cruiser. I’d never been in a hot air balloon, and WOW what a cool experience. I now want to do them everywhere.

  • This was an additional $450 per person and I’d do it again in a heartbeat

two men taking a selfie

After the roughly hour ride to the Tanzania border you’ll have a buffet style breakfast.

A Masai Warrior fireside sundowner dance

Chock this up to one of the most memorable experiences of my life. In the middle of the Mara the JW Marriott assembled a sundowner table, fire, and we were graced with not only an incredibly beautiful sunset, but an unforgettable Masai Warrior dance.

Our Guide – Muhamed

Our guide was absolutely fantastic and if we were to return I’d love to have him give us a tour again!

a group of men standing in a field with a sunset behind them


We spent 3 nights at the JW Marriott Masai Mara and my safari cup had runneth over. Could we have stayed longer? Sure. Was it enough. Yes, yes it was. The experience was superb and I have had the distinct privilege of staying at many of the world’s best Marriott properties. When you consider the location, the game drives, food, experiences, all inclusive aspect…it just doesn’t get better than this property. The JW Marriott Masai Mara is the very best use of Marriott Bonvoy points in the world.

Some of the other great Marriott hotels I’ve stayed at:

  • Al Maha
    • Dubai Desert Safari Hotel – all inclusive, an hour outside the city. Book between 85k and 100k a night
  • St Regis Maldives
    • Gorgeous, massive villas that are a bucket list destination. 85-100k would be a steal here.
  • London Edition
    • Sleek, chic, and great bar scene. If you can score a 50k night, you won’t be disappointed in this Soho property
  • JW Marriott Grosvenor House
    • Wonderful location off Hyde Park, recently renovated, great use of 50k cert with a dope club lounge )
  • JW Marriott Austin
    • Modern luxury with a pool in downtown Austin
  • Park Tower London 
    • Knightsbridge – a bit dated, but great location and good use of 50k night cert
  • St Regis New York
    • Iconic, incredible luxury property, smack dab on 5th avenue. Anything under 100k is a steal.
  • St Regis Rome
    • Beautifully renovated, 10-15 mins from Spanish Steps
  • St Regis Doha
    • Large, beach front hotel with multiple pools, and great elite benefits
  • St Regis Aspen
    • Gorgeous boutique feeling property in downtown Aspen
  • St Regis Istanbul
    • Modern luxury off Macka Park
  • Ritz Carlton Abu Dhabi
    • Incredible location across from the Grand Mosque that is on the beach with multiple dining options
  • The Joseph Nashville
    • Boutique luxury off Broadway with sumptuous rooms, intimate new bar, and a roof top pool
  • Westin Hilton Head Island
    • A large family hotel near the heal of the island
  • New York Edition
    • A sleek 5 star property near NYC’s flatiron building
  • Ritz Carlton Tokyo
    • Incredible Ritz Carlton looking over the Tokyo skyline in Roppongi Hills
  • Grande Bretagne Athens
    • Luxury Collection Property which is the Grande Dame of Athens
  • Marriott Mena House Cairo
    • Historic Giza hotel with views of the Pyramid
  • Ritz Carlton Cairo
    • On the Nile, across from the Egyptian Musem

Opinions, reviews, analyses & recommendations are the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, endorsed or approved by any of these entities.

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  • Jordan April 21, 2024
  • Jay March 24, 2024

    $1,000 tip for a three day stay?! ok then.

  • AR March 14, 2024

    What is the bathroom situation for game drives?

    • Miles March 14, 2024

      Pop a squat and keep an eye out for eyes and teeth peeking out of the bushes – lol.

  • JK March 14, 2024

    Can you do a break down of the trip cost?

  • AS March 13, 2024

    What month did you visit the hotel?

    • Lukas March 24, 2024

      LOL, it’s mentioned in two places – October 2023 PLUS you also have a picture of a calendar with exact dates – October 26-28, 2023.

    • Jason V April 11, 2024

      We absolutely loved our staying at the JW Masai Mara as well and are going back again next year. I’d recommend trying to get an executive suite if you can since it’s same number of points and has a plunge pool. The hot air balloon ride is now $505 a person. (Well worth it though). Great review!

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