Marriott grants wishes and dashes hopes [On My Mind]

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What a day!  Today, Marriott announced that they would once again delay certificate expirations and extend elite status.  Cool.  Even better, they announced that they would be adding “Free Night Award Top Offs” next year.  Basically, for the first time ever, you’ll be able to book free nights with a combination of free night certificates and points.  That’s huge!  Huge!  Huge!  But then this: Award charts are going away.  Poof.  Bye bye outsized awards.  Dreams dashed.  Arghhh!  Details here: Marriott to drop award chart, add free night “top off”, extend free nights / status.

a beach with chairs and a sun

Free Night Award Top Off

a chart of different colors

The introduction of Marriott’s Peak and Off Peak award pricing a couple of years ago had the effect of massively devaluing their 35K and 50K free night certificates.  During high demand times, Category 5 properties where suddenly unavailable to be booked with 35K free night certificates because they were peak priced at 40K.  Similarly, Category 6 properties were priced out of range of 50K certificates when peak priced at 60K.  A number of times I was forced to use points instead of certs, or I would use my 50K certs for category 5 peak-priced hotels.  Either way, this made those certs much less valuable.  Many, many times I wished that it was possible to combine certificates with points in order to book slightly more expensive hotels.  Well, now, my wish will come true!

Starting “in early 2022” (no, we don’t know exactly when), Marriott will allow Bonvoy members to combine a free night award with up to 15K points!  So, if you have both points and free night certificates, you’ll be able to book up to 50K per night awards with 35K certificates, up to 65K per night awards with 50K certificates, and up to 100K per night awards with 85K certificates.  This is huge!  We’ll no longer be locked out of peak priced hotels!  Yes, we’ll have to kick in some points but that will be totally worth it.

With this innovation, 35K certificates could be used to book category 5 peak priced hotels or category 6 off-peak hotels by kicking in 5K points per night; or category 6 standard or category 7 off-peak hotels by kicking in 15K points per night.  That’s amazing.  And those 50K certificates could be used to book category 6 peak or category 7 standard hotels by kicking in 10K points per night.  And the new 85K certificates can be used to book category 8 peak priced hotels!

Awesome! Awesome! Awesome!  If only Marriott’s announcement had stopped there…

Bye bye award charts

In March of each year Marriott updates hotel category assignments.  Usually, more hotels go up in category than go down.  But that won’t happen in 2022… or ever again.  Or at least, it won’t matter to anyone if it does happen because hotel award rates won’t be priced by category anymore.  Marriott says that award rates “will more closely resemble hotel rates.”  They are going full Hilton on us and maybe worse.  Hilton has at least maintained upper bounds for their standard room award pricing.  Marriott hasn’t committed to doing the same.

It’s not all bad.  Today, if you’re not paying attention, it’s easy to get horrible value from your Marriott points.  This happens when a property’s cash price is much lower than usual.  In the new world, the award price will presumably be lowered to match that lower cash rate and you’ll get average value from your points rather than poor value.

Another bright spot: when top-end hotels are priced low, their award prices should drop too.  This could make it possible to book some of the nicest hotels in the world for very few points (or with a 35K or 50K free night certificate) during off-peak times.  For example, we saw this happen with IHG when they eliminated award charts.  Suddenly, almost all IHG hotels in the United States were at least sometimes available to book with the 40K free night certificates that come with the IHG Premier card (see this post for details).

On the other hand, a big part of my love for points and miles is the opportunity to get far outsized value.  This usually happens because of award charts.  Award charts constrain the top end point price that a hotel can charge.  And when actual rates are much, much higher, opportunity for outsized value emerges.  An example is booking an award night for New Years Eve in New York City.  Every year, cash rates go through the roof but point prices stay fixed when award charts are in effect.

If Marriott really goes to fully dynamic pricing as they have threatened to do, there won’t be much reason to collect Marriott points anymore.  If you have to choose between earning cash back or Marriott points, it will rarely make sense to go with Marriott.  The Marriott credit cards may still make sense to keep for their annual free night certificates, but I can’t imagine putting much spend on them except when they offer outstanding promotions.  Honestly, that was already my position with Marriott cards, but now I’ll dig into that position even deeper.

Bottom Line

Early next year Marriott is introducing an awesome innovation: the ability to top-off free night certificates with points.  I have to give them huge kudos for that!  Once that’s live, our free night certs will be much easier to use than they are today.

Before I had a chance to jump for joy with the above news, though, I also learned that Marriott plans to ditch their award charts in March.  Ugh, ugh, ugh.  Bad Marriott!  Bad!  Instead of jumping for joy, I’m hopping mad.  At least I’m getting some exercise either way.

If we’re lucky, there will be a window of time when free night cert top-offs are available before award charts go away.  If so, we should be able to capture some last gasp super-high-value award stays.  But all Marriott told us was that the top-offs would be introduced in “early 2022”.  Will that be before the march to doom in March?  Only time will tell (unless Marriott tells us first).

If you have questions about Marriott’s announced changes, please click over to our detailed post: Marriott to drop award chart, add free night “top off”, extend free nights / status.

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