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Update 29 March 2022: Reports now suggest that Marriott will not start the move to dynamic pricing until “late” tonight Eastern Time so we have a little bit longer than expected to book the current rates.
Towards the end of October last year, Marriott dropped the bombshell news that it was planning to make significant changes to how the Bonvoy program works, and now that we’re less than 24 hours away from these changes coming into effect, I thought I’d post a reminder of what we should expect.
Key Bonvoy changes coming
- Marriott Bonvoy award charts will be eliminated from 29 March 2022
- Dynamic award pricing will be introduced in place of award charts
- Seasonal pricing is being eliminated
- Marriott says that most major award price changes will take place in 2023
- Marriott says that only approximately 3% of its properties will see significant changes to the cost of awards in 2022 (link to a list of affected properties)
- Bonvoy members will be able to top up free night certificates with up to 15,000 points
Bye-bye Bonvoy charts
The current Bonvoy award chart will be eliminated from tomorrow at which point it will be replaced by a dynamic pricing model which will see the cost of awards linked to the cash cost of a room.
Worryingly, nothing in what Marriott has said publicly so far suggests that there will be a cap on how many points an award night can cost so while the market may end up putting a cap on the cost of an award night, technically, there doesn’t appear to be a mechanism being put in place to limit what a property can charge for award bookings.
For the past few months, Marriott executives have been attempting to put a positive spin on the news that award charts are on the way out by suggesting that by giving hotels the right to price awards dynamically, more rooms will be made available for redemptions.
Unfortunately, while this may end up being true, it won’t really matter how many rooms are opened up for award bookings if the properties end up charging 200,000 points/night – that’s a potential issue that Marriott executives have dodged since this news was made public.
Marriott has said that Bonvoy members will only see significant changes to how awards are priced at 3% of its properties in 2022 with most changes coming next year, but I don’t understand how this will work.
Yes, Marriott has provided us with a list of the properties that it says will cost more from tomorrow (link), but what’s to stop any of the other properties from charging whatever they want to once dynamic pricing kicks in? Unless Marriott actually instructs the remaining 97% of its properties not to do whatever they want to do with award pricing once the dynamic pricing model goes live tomorrow (and there’s no indication that this is what Marriott has done), it could be a free for all from tomorrow onwards.
As I asked back in October, does anyone really believe that a property like the Westin New York Grand Central will continue to offer awards at 60,000 points when room rates are over $700?
How about the Fairfield Inn Indianapolis South? Is a property like this really going to continue pricing rooms at 20,000 points when room rates are almost $400?
And who thinks that the Courtyard Atlanta Downtown will continue to charge 22,500 points for a stay when the room rate is $281?
None of these hotels is on Marriott’s list of properties that will be jumping up in cost from tomorrow, but I’m struggling to believe that we’ll be seeing award prices like this when dynamic pricing kicks in.
Marriott may want to have us believe that we’ll only see noticeable changes in 3% of its properties during 2022, but unless there’s a mechanism that we haven’t been told about to keep award costs in check for the remainder of this year, Bonvoy members should be prepared for noticeable price changes across the board and should be prepared to make significant changes to how they value Marriott Bonvoy points.
Free night certificates can be boosted
To try and offset the pain of dynamic award pricing and to try to stop the value of its co-branded credit card offerings going through the floor, Marriott has said that Bonvoy members will be able to add up to 15,000 points to standard room bookings being made with free night certificates.
This won’t see Bonoy members allowed to boost their certificates to book a premium room, but it will mean that someone with a 35,000 certificate will be able to boost it to book a 50,000 points standard room award and someone with a 50,000 certificate will be able to boost it to book a 65,000 standard room award.
On the face of things, this looks like good news and a nice enhancement, but the truth is that this probably won’t lead to Bonvoy members getting more value out of their certificates. Once the price inflation that the age of dynamic award pricing will usher in is accounted for, I suspect that certificate holders will probably need to use points as well as certificates to get pretty much the same value that they get out of the certificate alone right now.
This is something that will have to be watched closely as it could seriously affect the value that some Bonvoy credit cards offer.
The 5th-night free benefit remains
A key method to getting truly excellent value out of the Bonvoy program has long been to book 5 night stays with points as such bookings see Marriott giving guests the 5th night free. For the time being, this benefit will remain and that’s probably just as well because this could end up being the only way to get any real extra value out of Marriott Bonvoy points.
If hotels are going to peg award pricing to cash rates (which they are), we can expect it to become difficult to redeem Bonvoy Points at more than a standard rate (or a narrow range of rates) when booking stays of 4 nights or less. The 5th-night free benefit, however, should be able to unlock a little more value for Bonvoy members and booking stays of 5 nights in length will probably be the best way to redeem Bonvoy points going forward.
What to do?
We know that dynamic pricing is coming tomorrow and we know that award charts are being eliminated tomorrow so now is the time to book whatever good value Marriott Bonvoy awards you can find.
We know that any bookings made before dynamic pricing is introduced (tomorrow) will be priced up using the current award charts and will not be repriced unless a change is made to the reservation so as long as you read the cancellation terms of any bookings you make carefully, there’s little downside to making a few speculative bookings before tomorrow.
Earn and burn has always been the best way to approach the miles and points game and that has never been more true than it is today. Marriott Bonvoy awards will be moving to dynamic pricing from tomorrow so there’s very little time left in which to lock in any great deals that the award charts are currently offering.
We’re told that most hotels won’t be making any major changes before 2023 but I’ve chosen to take that statement with a pinch of salt and have been burning my points ever since the move to dynamic award pricing was announced.
Award bookings are flexible so if pricing doesn’t get crazy when dynamic pricing kicks in I can always cancel the bookings I’ve made so far and use my points another way. By locking in rates before dynamic pricing comes into effect, however, I at least guarantee myself a decent return on the points that I hold right now.