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The Marriott Bonvoy program has been on a downhill trajectory for some time (some would say it’s been on the decline ever since it gave up the pretense of keeping all the good parts of the SPG program) and with the removal of award charts and the move to dynamic pricing, we’ve finally reached a point where I’ve had to sit down and think seriously about whether or not it’s worth persevering with the program at all.
My relationship with Marriott goes back a long way, and it’s the lifetime Titanium elite status that I’ve earned over my years of ‘loyalty’ to Marriott that’s been a big part of why I’ve continued to book a significant number of stays with the chain even as its loyalty program sinks to new lows.
Over the past year, however, as I’ve watched service levels at various Marriott properties decline, as Suite Night awards have become increasingly hard to use (when I want to use them) and as it has become obvious that more and more properties are keen to offer as few program benefits as possible, I’ve come to the conclusion that lifetime elite status isn’t a good enough reason to keep on staying at Marriott properties.
I’ve been around the miles and points game for far too long to come out with statements like “I’m done with Bonvoy” or “I’m never staying with Marriott again” because I know that neither of those statements would be true…but that doesn’t mean that my attitude towards the Bonvoy program isn’t changing. In fact, it has already changed.
This year has been different
So far this year, I’ve credited 50 elite nights to the Bonvoy program, and on the face of things that would appear to suggest that not much has changed at all, but if you dig into where those 50 nights came from, the story is very different to most years.
As usual, 15 of these elite nights have come courtesy of my Chase Ritz-Carlton credit card (a card no longer open to new applicants) but where, in the past, most of the remaining 35 nights would have been earned from cash bookings, most of this year’s 35 nights have been earned from bookings made with points or free night certificates. The amount of money that I’ve been sending Marriott’s way has plummeted.
The reason? I’m burning my Bonvoy points while the going is still good.
Why the burn?
Last year, I was pretty sure that regardless of what Marriott had been telling us, as soon as the Bonvoy program moved to dynamic award pricing (which happened earlier this year), the number of points needed to make even the most ordinary of bookings would increase dramatically, so I’ve been using points instead of cash to make sure that I wasn’t left with an enormous number of mostly useless points should the worst happen.
Fortunately (and surprisingly), Marriott kept to its word, and since the introduction of dynamic award pricing, only a subset of its properties have, so far, seen disappointingly high rate increases…but we know that’s not going to last.
Continuing the burn while the going is good
Marriott has admitted that come next year things will be different, and while currently only a small(ish) percentage of its properties can charge astronomical prices for award nights, the shackles will soon be coming off and from some (as yet unspecified) date in 2023, all Marriott properties will be able to join in the “fun”.
It’s not going to be pretty.
Right now, however, there can still be good value to be had when using Marriott Bonvoy points selectively, so I see no reason to give Marriott any of my cash while these deals are still around.
Here in Los Angeles, for example, it’s still not difficult to get over 1 cent in value out of every Bonvoy point used…
…and when you value Bonvoy points at just 0.6 cents each (as I do) and when Marriott is happy to (occasionally) sell points for less than 0.85 cents each, those are pretty good deals.
Looking elsewhere in the US, similar deals are also not too hard to find.
Here are a couple of properties in Austin where a Bonvoy member could get between 1.1 and 1.4 cents/point in value:
These Chicago deals look good:
And even in price-crazy NYC there are some very good deals to be found if you look hard enough*:
*Admittedly, the St. Regis is only a good deal if you really, really want to (or need to) stay at that particular property.
Importantly, these deals aren’t restricted to the United States.
Here’s a chance to get 1.1 cents of value out of every point used at the London Edition or the Sheraton Grand in Sydney…
…and if you’re prepared to get yourself to the Maldives, a healthy Bonvoy balance could still save you a small fortune!
At this point, I should mention that while all the examples I’ve given above were remarkably easy to find, it was equally easy to find other examples where the value on offer was simply terrible and where you’d have to have to be mad to use points instead of cash…but that’s not really relevant to the point that I’m trying to make.
The point that I’m trying to make is this:
Currently, we’re living through a window of time in which it’s still possible to get great value out of Bonvoy points if you’re willing to put in a bit of effort, but as that window is expected to close (very firmly) in early 2023, this is when those of us with significant Bonvoy balances should be looking to use those points up.
Points can still be “king”, for now, and that’s why I’m still burning them while I can.
When the points are gone
My Marriott Bonvoy account is far from bottomless so at some point (probably soon) I’m going to find myself with barely enough points to book a night at a run-down TownPlace Suites in the middle of nowhere…and I’m ok with that.
I’m ok with that because unlike in previous years, I don’t feel there’s much reason for me to care about Marriott or its loyalty program any more.
I’m not going to ignore Marriott or the Bonvoy program, but as I expect it to get considerably harder to book the kinds of deals that I’ve been highlighting above, and as I don’t really get much benefit out of my elite status unless I travel to Asia, I no longer see a need to keep a healthy balance of Bonvoy points or to go out of my way to earn Marriott Bonvoy points when I travel.
In fact, I’ll probably start treating Bonvoy points in the same way as I treat IHG points – I’ll mostly ignore their existence until I think I’m going to need them and then I’ll buy some in a sale if/when it makes mathematical sense. If I can’t buy enough points for the trip I have in mind, I’ll move on to plan B (whatever that may be).
Logic dictates that I’ll still stay in Marriott properties a few times a year because Marriott offers more options than Hyatt (my preferred hotelier) and I’ll still have two free night certificates (from my credit cards) to use every year, but my days of allowing my Marriott elite status or my desire to earn Bonvoy points to influence my booking patterns are over.
Marriott and the Bonvoy program will probably still have their uses to me, but in a much more limited way than before.
I’ve had a good run with Marriott and I’m sure I’ll still have some good Marriott stays in the future but the way things are now and the way I expect things to be in the future means that I’ve lost interest in making a concerted effort to engage with the Bonvoy program.
I’m deeply immersed in the miles and points world so, of course, I’m still going to keep Marriott and the Bonvoy program as part of my overall miles & points strategy but where both were once focal points of that strategy, both will now be sitting much closer to the periphery.