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In August last year, Marriott announced a couple of significant changes to the way its Points Advance reservations work and when these changes came into effect in September, I pointed out that the Bonvoy program’s systems appeared to be incapable of dealing with one of these changes correctly. I also pointed out that I thought I could see how Marriott’s solution to this system flaw may actually benefit some guests….and I was right.
The New Points Advance Rules
As of 14 September 2019, two significant changes to the Points Advance benefit have come into force:
- Bonvoy members may no longer have more than 3 active Points Advance reservations at any one time.
- The Points Advance option now only guarantees award availability at a property and not the final cost in points.
The second change is the key one as it essentially means that properties are allowed to change the points cost of a Points Advance booking up to the point where the points are actually debited from a Bonvoy member’s account – the price (cost in points) a guest is quoted at the time a Points Advance reservation is made may not be the cost they eventually pay.
Marriott’s Promise Ahead Of The Changes
When Marriott announced the changes to the way Points Advance bookings would work it was far from clear which bookings would be affected – would existing Points Advance bookings be at risk of seeing their cost increase or would this only affect those bookings made on/after 14 September?
I got clarity around this issue from the Marriott Bonvoy Twitter team:
Points Advance reservations made before 14 September 2019 were in good shape because as long as no changes were made to them the rate was locked in.
Marriott’s System Issue
Before the 14 September changes came into play I made a 5-night Points Advance booking and had locked in a rate of 60,000 points/night (with a 5th night free) for a total cost of 240,000 points.
When Marriott’s dynamic pricing came into effect, the same reservation rose in price to 250,000 points because the property began charging 60,000 points for 4 of the nights in question and 70,000 points for the 5th night (the cost of the free night now equals the rate of the cheapest night).
None of this should have affected me as my rate was locked in…or so I thought.
When a large number of points (from a different stay) hit my Bonvoy account I had just enough points to pay for the Points Advance booking…but Marriott’s system didn’t debit the points from my account and confirm the reservation.
When I opened up my reservation I saw that it was now showing a cost of 250,000 points (which was more than I had in my account) as the system had re-priced my reservation according to the new dynamic prices.
Marriott’s Botched Fix
As soon as I saw what was wrong I called up Marriott, explained the situation and, after a brief hold, this is what I was told:
- The original cost of 240,000 points for the 5 nights will be honored because it was made before 14 September.
- Marriott didn’t have any way to return the cost of the reservation back to its original state.
- Marriott would add 10,000 Bonvoy Points to my account to make up for the difference between what I should be charged and what will actually be debited from my account.
Clearly this was a complete farce as it meant that anyone with a Points Advance reservation that was made before 14 September 2019 would have to call Marriott to get their account adjusted if the cost of their booking increased.
Still, in my case, the botched fix worked because Marriott added the promised 10,000 points to my account…
…so even though my account was debited 250,000 points for the reservation only 240,000 of my own points were used…which was correct.
The Blindingly Obvious Issues
There were three very obvious issues here:
- Anyone who didn’t notice that their Points Advance reservation was miss-priced would end up paying too much.
- If everyone who noticed that their pre 14 September Points Advance reservation was miss-priced had to call up to get the problem rectified, Marriott’s phone lines would be jammed.
- How would Marriott claw back points manually deposited into Bonvoy members’ accounts if the Points Advance reservation was later canceled?
As I said back then, if we take this hypothetical extreme example…
- A guest has a 7-night stay booked through Points Advance
- The reservation was made before 14 September 2019
- The reservation was made at a Category 8 property
- The original cost of the stay was 480,000 points (6 nights at 80,000 points and 1 free night)
- The property moved to dynamic award pricing from 14 September 2019 and the 7 nights in question now cost 100,000 each.
- The guest’s reservation now shows a cost of 600,000 for the stay
…this guest would have 120,000 points manually added to their account by Marriott to make up for the miss-pricing of the reservation.
What would Marriott do if the guest now canceled that reservation? What mechanism would Marriott be able to use to claw those points back?
Well, now I have the answer. There is no mechanism.
Just recently I had reason to cancel the Points Advance reservation which had seen Marriott add an extra 10,000 points to my account and, sure enough, Marriott refunded me 250,000 points.
That’s the 240,000 points that I used to book this stay and the 10,000 points that Marriott added to my account because its systems can’t cope with all the changes it keeps making to the Bonvoy program.
I’m 10,000 points better off because, as I predicted, Marriott has no way of undoing all the manual points adjustments it had to make when its systems started mispricing Points Advance reservations.
Sure, now that I’ve written this post it wouldn’t surprise me if Marriott audited my account and deducted those points (it wouldn’t be hard for them to figure out who I am)…but that’s not an issue for me and it’s not the point.
The point is that Marriott’s systems continue to be woefully inadequate (as long-suffering Bonvoy members have been saying for quite some time) only this time the inadequacy may actually be a bonus to members who (a) had bonus points manually added to their accounts and (b) have subsequently canceled those reservations.
If you’re in a similar situation to me but haven’t canceled your Points Advance reservation this may give you food for thought.