Marriott Bonvoy’s Points Advance option is a relatively unique loyalty program feature. Unlike competitors, Marriott allows any member to easily make a points reservation online even when they don’t have enough points in their account to pay for their stay under the premise that they need to have enough points by 14 days ahead of the stay or the stay will be canceled (each member can only have up to 3 such reservations). Effective today, Marriott is changing how Points Advance works: members will now need to have the number of points required to pay for the stay within 60 days of the day they make the reservation or 14 days in advance of check-in, whichever comes sooner. This means that members can no longer lock in award availability a year in advance and hold it for months and months without points in their accounts.
On the surface, this appears to be a devaluation. As of yesterday, it was possible to book a stay at a property like the St. Regis Bora Bora (shown above) a year in advance while giving yourself 11.5 months to earn the points — whether from new card welcome bonuses, credit card spending, or via your paid stays and bonuses. Now you won’t be able to hold that award space for more than 60 days at a time. That hurts for those who like to lock in the stay first and then hunt for flight availability and worry about accumulating the points for the hotel later.
On the other hand, Marriott bills this as a change aimed at making it possible for those who really want to redeem points at popular hotels to do so. Here was the statement that Marriott provided:
We are making a change to Points Advance effective today. The change will help ensure that members who want to redeem points toward free stays at some of our most popular resorts can do so. We have seen a rise in Points Advance bookings at these resorts that are being canceled because not enough points have been accrued to pay for the stay. In some cases, around 25% of all bookings at any one time at these properties are Points Advance. This potentially disadvantages members who would otherwise book using points in their account, and it has an economic impact on these properties. Beginning today, Points Advance reservations may be held for 60 days from the time of booking or within 14 days before the stay whichever occurs first for the required number of points to be earned or acquired, or the reservation is cancelled. Members will still be limited to a maximum of three Points Advance reservations at any one time. For more information about the changes, please see click here.
While my knee-jerk reaction was to feel like this is a devaluation, I have no doubt that it is true that part of the reason it is so difficult to book a room at popular resorts is because people speculatively book them as Points Advance reservations. While the 25% number seemed high to me as it doesn’t seem like there are enough “standard” rooms at the most popular properties for those bookings to account for 25% of the property’s bookings, the general point that it is hard for people who have points to make a reservation because rooms are held by people who don’t have points is likely a valid one (though I suppose that rooms are also held by people who don’t yet have the money to pay for them and who may cancel ahead of the deadline).
I am at least hopeful that this change will indeed make it easier to book some of the most popular properties. For example, Greg has often raved about his Inn at Bay Harbor as a great use of 35K free night certificates when it is available at the standard rate, but he has also frequently noted how difficult it is to get an award booking during peak travel periods. I am sure that the rarity of availability just creates a spiral of people booking speculatively because they feel like they have to in order to have a shot at booking. Hopefully this change helps alleviate that problem.
But for those of us who were hoping to lock up some summer 2022 award availability far in advance, this means we’ll need to have the points to do so within 60 days of making our reservation. That’s certainly disappointing to me as I intended to make some points advance reservations in the next month, but now I’ll hope that I can actually find availability a few months in advance when I’ll likely be able to make firmer plans. Time will tell.