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.

Free Night Award Top Off

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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[…] been happening in the world of Points & Miles.  Perhaps the biggest news dropped this week. . .Marriott announced some impactful changes to their Bonvoy loyalty program.  First, the good […]

Beth B

So, I just called Marriott to try to use one of the certs that they will be extending, since they announced it, but haven’t changed the expiration date yet, and the representative on the phone would not book the hotel with the cert because the expiration date hasn’t been modified yet…that seems unreasonable…can’t they override the date and book the hotel as a courtesy, since it was already announced?

John

Marriott has joined Hilton in a race to the bottom. We will burn the remainder of Marriott points and be done. Held their card for 35 years. Earned over 3MM points by mostly staying at their hotels while I worked. Now have 500k to spend quickly.

shilph

Greg, you should add “Like” or “Agree” button on your blog. I will vote you for 100M Like/Agree.

I still can see some bright side, but it is MARRIOTT. We already learned how “MAD”DIOTT did. They know how to treat (I meant trick) their customers.

BAD BONVOY. BAD…

Reno Joe

This is a shameful legacy that Bill Marriott has left.

Why is this a surprise to anyone? The next thing will be removal of any points guidelines — some properties will charge 150k points per day. Just watch. There is a systemic assault on hotel loyalty program members by both the property owners and the programs themselves. As I’ve said repeatedly in other comments, hotel loyalty programs are a mug’s game and we’re the mugs.

Since Marriott went to low / mid / high-season points pricing, some properties seemed to be predominantly in high season. At the same time, it eliminated to “true” no-blackout-date feature, which allowed property owners to “manage” award inventory — maybe you get to redeem at the property you want and maybe you don’t. Breakfast for elites seems to have become coffee and a doughnut. Room upgrades are illusive.

Now, throw in the “resort” and “destination” fee scandal that is the subject of a District of Columbia Attorney General prosecution.

Grant

I hope the points top up feature is very popular and IHG and Hyatt take note. Would be great to use this feature with IHG and Hyatt too 🙂

Miles Ahead

2 different models and approaches and I’ll take Hyatts approach all day long over Marriott’s. A category 1-4 for as long as there’s avaiability regardless of “peak, “off peak” or some other nonsense applied by a computer algorithm to align point value with pricing. Everyone’s use case is different, but I’ve often enjoyed over $500 (and more) with my cat 4 certs and $800+ (and way more) on my cat 7 certs. With Marriott’s 35K certs, its been a victory when i could get $250 value at a hotel i wanted to stay at and these were not easy to find. Going forward, i suspect this will value our more like $200 another reader pointed out. I’ll take $600 over $200.
Hyatt, please leave it as is! Boo to the point price algorithm!

Ryan

How do you get Hyatt certs?

AlexL

“Free night certificates can be earned through the World of Hyatt credit card, through Milestone Rewards, Hyatt’s 5-Brand Free Night Award, etc.”
If you need additional information, you can find the hyatt guide in the resources tab on top.

wadacash

The real question I want to know is how often are the award prices going to change. Part of the comfort of an award chart is knowing how much it will cost. Marriott previously would have properties bouncing around between peak, off-peak, and standard on a monthly basis. Will this change to more dynamic pricing also mean award prices will change more often than once a month?

I like being able to book my hotels around the same time I book my flights–11 months out. Will this mean I can book 11 months out, but I will frequently have to check my reservation weekly a few months out to see if the points price drops because the cash price has also fallen? There is “simplicity” in the new method, but at the same time, I feel like there is far more maintenance we will have to do if we want to maximize our points.

Mark

With IHG and Hilton, the price in points can change daily. Sometimes, intra-day.

Esquiar

My first reaction was omg, cancelling Bonvoy cards. This will make points and certs less valuable in the long run. Used to get $250-$300 value from 35k certs, now I’ll expect them to be worth ~$200. However, the new flexibility around certs and more uniform points value together mean I’ll end up using them at first reasonable opportunity, so less stress about maximising them

DSK

Just checking spending on my cards. AMEX has been running promotions all year which have yielded a good bit of spend (yielding effectively 3 points per dollar plus additional points per dollar with other promotions atop that). Chase promotions have been much less common and much less lucrative than AMEX. My non-bonused and non-reimbursed spend on my two Chase cards this calendar year is $15 and $19 TOTAL. If there are no bonuses in 2022, my non-reimbursed spending on Marriott credit cards will drop to close to zero. I will keep the cards for the free nights (and with respect to one card, Priority Pass) but that is about it. Seems like a crazy way to run a co-brand credit card program.

Mark

I know it’s popular to see the elimination of award charts as a bad thing, but I have been very happy with Hilton and IHG ever since they went to dynamic pricing. I am often able to get hotels at places I want to go between 15k and 25k per night. It’s very unusual for the price to be over 30k. That was rarely possible before. Maybe I don’t want to go where everyone else wants to go. I also don’t mind checking on my reservations every day to see if the price dropped. I may not jump for joy like Greg when that happens, but I certainly sit for joy. Today many of the low-end Marriotts still cost 40-50k. I look forward to it being half of that.

PeterSFO

Both Hilton and IHG has much better earning promos. When was the last good Marriott promo? But I agree that going dynamic didn’t kill Hilton but IHG is now a very distant 4th for people in the points game despite their footprint and having some pretty aspirational properties. I have to imagine their points being valued near .4 for most redemption had something to do with that.

I can’t see low end properties dropping in points unless they are really in the middle of nowhere and will welcome any traffic. If you were willing to pay 40-50k points before, why would they cut it by half now.

Mark

I have not paid for a hotel in a long time, so earning promos don’t really affect me, though I do like that Hilton promotions are good on point stays, unlike everyone else. In 3-player mode, we earn all our hotel points from credit card bonuses, so I am only thinking of how to spend them best. And I’m not too concerned with value per point because I wouldn’t consider spending cash for the room anyway. If I see a Holiday Inn Express costing 15k (dynamic) next to a Courtyard costing 30k (fixed), I will not like the idea of fixed prices very much. And this has happened a lot. I am expecting that Bonvoy going dynamic will help this situation. And by the way, it’s not the properties who want to welcome any traffic that will lower the point price. They don’t know or care how many points you spent on your points stay. It’s Bonvoy who will cut the price in half, probably because there really aren’t people redeeming at 40-50k for a particular hotel.

Christian

Marriott just hates their customers, particularly engaged customers, and absolutely loathes elite engaged customers.

JW in GA

I had a stay at the Sheraton Ann Arbor a few weeks ago where I asked the manager how she could rationally justify keeping the club lounge closed (“for COVID”) while the restaurant and everything else was opened. She said “it’s expensive to open the club” and “there are just too many of you” referring to Titanium elites.

There was no additional compensation offered for the closed lounge (just welcome points OR breakfast). I’m thinking that Bonvoy does indeed hate their loyal elite customers…

LarryInNYC

I wouldn’t get to excited about the top-offs until we see whether 51 is the new 36.

Vince

So how does this affect your assessment of the recent Marriott co-branded card sign up offers – in particular the Amex Marriott Business card? On my to do list today was to grab that before the offer expired…now I am on the fence.

Just with respect to the SUB, I guess I would say it is pretty good still (125K points and 50k cert x 2). For long term keeper that is up for debate I suppose (unless you value the additional 15 elite nights and 35K cert, of which we do not know the real value going forward).

Esquiar

The changes make certs more points-like but will make redemptions better than 0.6 cpp more rare. 125k + 50k + 50k = 225k Bonvoy = $1350 value for someone who is willing to pay the cash rate (~$300) at a 50k property. For someone who wouldn’t ever spend that much, then the 50k certs are worth max what you’re willing to pay for a night at Bonvoy property