Marriott has made some major updates this morning regarding extensions to elite status and free night certificates along with major changes to the program (including the elimination of the award chart next spring). There are a number of positives in today’s announcement, though it is hard to ignore the (likely) negative long-term impact of the elimination of award charts.
Elite status extension
Good news for everyone with current Marriott elite status: your 2021 status (whether based on 2020 activity or 2019 activity that led to a 2020 extension) will be extended through February 2023. That’s obviously great for those whose travel has not recovered to pre-pandemic levels (which is likely the vast majority of business travelers).
A small oddity here is that this news will actually disincentivize me from further Marriott stays this year since I won’t need further stays to re-qualify for Titanium status. I had planned to use expiring free night certificates before the end of this year and possibly book a mattress run in order to get to 75 nights. However, that won’t be necessary since my status will be extended — and free night certificates will also be extended.
Free night certificate extensions
Speaking of free night certificates, those set to expire between January 3, 2022, and June 29, 2022 (whether certificates from annual cobrand credit card benefits, annual choice benefit, or promotions) will be extended to be redeemable through June 30, 2022. That’s great news for those of us sitting on soon-to-expire certificates.
This announcement is a win for me as I have a 50K certificate that had previously been extended to January 3, 2022 and one that had naturally been set to expire later in January (my annual Ritz 50K certificate). I should also get an additional new 50K certificate (as part of my annual Ritz card benefit) before the end of January. Using those for a 3-night stay will be pretty appealing.
My wife is in a sort of similar situation in that she has a couple of 35K free night certificates set to expire in January and she’ll be getting a couple more in the next month or two — though in her case she is currently at Gold and is just 6 nights away from Platinum, so she may end up using her certificates this year to get her closer to status. That might be a good deal since the new 35K certificates she gets next year might make for a good back-to-back reservation with my 50K certificates thanks to the newfound ability to combine certificates with points.
New: Free Night Award Top Off. Combine Free Night Award certificates with up to 15K points.
One of the most common points of frustration we hear from Marriott Bonvoy members with free night certificates is that they can not combine their certificate with points to stay at a property that is priced just beyond the value of their certificate. For example, Marriott Category 5 properties cost 35K for a “standard” award and could theoretically be booked with the 35K annual free night certificate that comes with a couple of Marriott credit cards. However, when those Category 5 properties are priced at the “peak” rate of 40K points per night, a 35K certificate has been useless. Thankfully, that is changing.
Marriott has announced that beginning in early 2022, members will be able to combine a free night award with up to 15K points from their accounts. This means that, for example, a 35K free night certificate that comes from a credit card benefit could be combined with 15K points to book a property that costs 50K points. That is huge news and it could make free night certificates much more valuable for many members.
With my situation as an example, if I found a desirable property costing 50K points per night, I could use my 50K free night certificates and my wife could combine her 35K certificates with 15K points per night to book an extended stay. That could be awesome. At the very least, free night certificates will become less frustrating to use.
At least, they will be less frustrating until Marriott eliminates its award chart.
Award chart to be eliminated
The big punch in the gut from this morning’s announcement is that Marriott will be eliminating its award chart in March 2022. Marriott is billing this as “Flexible Point Redemption Rates” and says that “rates will more closely resemble hotel rates and give members more flexibility and options to explore our portfolio when redeeming points for stays.” They tout that more price points means that members will have “more options when they are looking for the best redemption value”.
Obviously Marriott is going to try to spin this as a positive, but I can’t really buy the “more flexibility” explanation. Consider:
- Marriott indicates that they think more price points will give members more options when looking for the best value, but keep in mind that Marriott currently has up to nine different prices for a standard room:
- Off-peak PointSavers
- Standard PointSavers
- Peak PointSavers
- Off-peak cash and points
- Standard cash and points
- Peak cash and points
- Beyond the multitude of price points for a standard room, there are currently room upgrade options at many hotels that vary in terms of the number of points or amount of cash required for various upgraded room types (in short: even more price points).
- With PointSavers rates already readily available for hotels that want to incentivize redemption with lower point rates at off-peak times, it would seem that the main purpose of eliminating the award chart would be to allow hotels to charge more than they currently do whether off-peak, standard, or peak.
Marriott goes on to say that they “expect redemption rates for nearly all hotels – more than 97% – will continue to range between their current off-peak and peak redemption rates for stays throughout 2022” but of crucial importance “For stays beyond 2022, we will adjust rates based more closely on hotel rates“. Translation? “We’re about to go full Hilton on you, so smoke ’em if you got ’em.”
We asked Marriott whether or not rooms will continue to price between 5K points per night and 100K points per night moving beyond 2022. They told us: “For stays in 2023, members can expect to see rates that will be both above and below a hotel’s 2022 range”. Currently, the award chart tops out at 100K peak for Category 8 properties, but this response indicates to me that beyond 2022, we likely will not see a 100K cap on standard awards.
Obviously dynamic pricing will mean that there will be some opportunity to stay in nicer-than-normal hotels for fewer points and/or with free night certificates (and the ability to add points to them) during low-demand periods. That will be exciting for those who just want to stay at a high-end property and don’t care very much about redemption value. On the other hand, it will likely severely limit the chance to get far outsized value from free night certificates.
That said, there is a chance that we will see an opportunity for outsized value for a brief window of time. It sounds like the ability to top off a free night certificate with points is slated to debut in “early 2022”. Assuming that happens before the award chart is eliminated in March 2022, there will be a window where 35K certs could be used to book peak Category 5 or standard Category 6 rooms by adding points. The 85K cert that is part of the temporary welcome bonus on the Bonvoy Brilliant card could be topped off to book a peak Category 8 property at peak pricing. That could be a fantastic deal in the short term.
Assuming that redemption rates do eventually predictably track room rates, it’ll be interesting to see where the value for free night certificates lands. I imagine it will become easier to predict exactly how much value you can expect for a 35K or 50K free night certificate. That will be somewhat positive since it will be easier to count on full value but very negative for those of us who look forward to getting massively outsized value out of certificates.
It will be most interesting to see what happens with the new pricing model. If most hotels still cap out around 100K points per night, it means that 85K free night certificates will become even more valuable since they will be usable (when combined with 15K points) even at hotels that are “peak” priced. If those certificates become a regular feature on the Brilliant card, that could be very valuable (note: they are not a regular feature now, this is just wishful thinking).
Again, at the very least, the window between whenever in early 2022 the certificate + points option becomes possible and the abolition of the award chart in March will be the window of opportunity. Those new 85K certificates could potentially get you a room at the top end of the chart for at least a little while. Keep in mind though that we don’t yet have a precise timeline for when to expect that feature to debut, so it is possible that the award chart will be eliminated before free night award top off is enabled. We just don’t yet know.
What about Travel Packages?
While interest in Marriott’s Travel Packages has understandably waned considerably given the pricing model post-merger, the key positive on travel packages has been that they can be used even when a property in the associated category level is peak-priced. With the elimination of award charts, I was curious how existing travel package certificates would be handled.
Unfortunately, Marriott wasn’t able to provide any clarification on that at this time. When inquiring about Travel Packages, we were told “We will be communicating additional details to members as they become available, and we get closer to March 2022.” Given the way Travel Packages were handled during the merger, I wouldn’t recommend redeeming for one unless you have a near-term plan to book the hotel portion.
There are quite a few positives coming in 2022 from Marriott, including the extension of elite status (through February 2023) and free night certificates (through June 30, 2022) and the ability to “top off” a free night certificate with up to 15K additional points from your account to book a higher-level hotel. Unfortunately, the coming elimination of the Marriott Bonvoy award chart in March 2022 will likely mean that opportunities for outsized value from free night certificates or Marriott Bonvoy points will be extremely limited if not nonexistent. It will make sense to take advantage of those opportunities for outsized value while the chart still exists since bookings made before the chart disappears in March 2022 will be honored at the rate at which you book them.