Marriott Bonvoy Introduces Dynamic Award Pricing (Sort Of)

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We’ve known for over a year that Marriott would introduce peak, standard, and off-peak pricing to the Bonvoy program but it wasn’t until the middle of August this year that we finally got confirmation of when this program change would be implemented.

The introduction of seasonal pricing finally came into effect at Marriott Bonvoy over the weekend but, now that we can see how it’s going to work, it’s safe to say that what we’ve been given isn’t what most people were expecting.

a bed with a blanket and a chair in a room
The London EDITION

Shortly before the new “seasonal” pricing was coded into Marriott’s website I took the opportunity to take a few screenshots showing the cost of an award night at various Marriott properties worldwide so that I could later compare these screenshots to the cost of an award night with seasonal pricing in full effect.

I’m glad I did this because the before and after screenshots do a good job of illustrating just what Marriott has done with its award pricing and why it’s not what Marriott’s information releases let a lot of people to believe.

Marriott’s New Award Pricing

Over the past year Marriott has been telling Bonvoy members that it would be introducing seasonal pricing to its loyalty program and that we should expect properties to offer peak, standard, and off-peak rates according to the award chart below.

a table of numbers and a list of numbers

The use of the word “seasonal” led a lot of people (me included) to believe that Marriott’s award pricing would behave in a very similar way to how seasonal pricing works with a number of airline loyalty programs that offer the same (e.g. British Airways and Virgin Atlantic).

Up until now, the general assumption has been that three date ranges would be set up for each Marriott property which would represent the three Marriot Bonvoy seasons and within each season all dates would cost the same number of Bonvoy points…but that’s not what Marriott has delivered.

When I first started comparing the cost of award nights pre/post the introduction of seasons I thought that Marriott had introduced exactly what I had been expecting.

Here’s the cost of 1-night awards at the St Regis Maldives Vommuli Resort a few hours before the new seasonal pricing was introduced…

a calendar with numbers and a date

…and here it is (for the same month) shortly after the changeover:

a calendar with numbers and a dateWith February being one of the more popular months to visit the Maldives I wasn’t surprised to see that an award night on all available dates was priced at peak season rates – 100,000 points/night.

So far so good…but then things started to look odd.

The summer months are peak travel months for London so I had taken a screenshot of the award costs at the London EDITION (reviewed here) for the month of June before seasonal pricing was introduced…

a calendar with numbers and a few days of sales

…and then I checked the costs for the same month with seasonal pricing in force:

a calendar with numbers and a black text

Mostly it was what I expected to see (peak pricing) but the fact that there didn’t seem to be a definite cut-off between standard and peak pricing seemed a little strange – if Marriott’s new seasons were set date ranges it’s highly unlikely that I’d be seeing 3 peak season nights bookended by standard season nights.

A comparison of December award costs at the newly opened West Hollywood EDITION showed the same trend a little more clearly – off-peak awards were now mixed in with standard season pricing:

a calendar with numbers and a few days of the month
Pricing pre seasonal awards
a calendar with numbers and numbers
Pricing post the introduction of seasonal awards

By the time I compared February award costs at the Aruba Marriott Resort pre/post the introduction of award seasons I was in no doubt what I was looking at – Marriott had introduced a type of dynamic award pricing.

a calendar with numbers and numbers
Pre seasonal awards
a calendar with numbers and red and black text
Award costs post the introduction of seasonal awards

Marriott’s new “seasons” aren’t seasons at all.

What we now have in place is a system under which each individual date on the calendar can be priced differently according to demand.

Where the general assumption had been that Marriott would use historical occupancy/demand data to set date ranges for the three award prices what we’re actually seeing is Marriott using real-time data to set the cost of an award night.

An award night on 25 February at the Aruba Marriott Resort may cost 50,000 points right now (see above) but that will almost certainly go up to 60,000 points if Marriott sees demand for that date increasing.

Likewise, should demand for certain dates fall it’s likely that the cost of an award night will be reduced.

It because of this that Bonvoy members will occasionally see slightly ridiculous scenarios (like the one below) where a solitary night in the middle of a month is priced differently to all the other days in that month.

a calendar with numbers and a red tag

Apparently demand for award nights at the St Regis Maldives is low on 16 July 2020.

My Take

The phrase “dynamic award pricing” usually strikes fear into the very heart of miles & points fans because, inherently, it suggests that it’s hard to get outsized value out a loyalty currency – if the cost of an award night goes up with the cash cost of a room it’s hard to use points economically to book awards when cash rates are high.

Fortunately, Marriott hasn’t introduced true dynamic award pricing.

A true dynamic award is one that doesn’t have a cap to how much it can cost and is an award whose cost is directly related to the cash cost of the reservation – this isn’t what we now have with the Bonvoy program.

Yes, there is a link between cash rates and award costs because both go up and down based on demand but, while the cash rate isn’t capped, the cost of an award night can never exceed the cost set out in the award chart – not even the most luxurious Marriott properties can charge more than 100,000 points per night for a standard room.

With the cost of Marriott awards now fluctuation on a daily basis, Bonvoy members are going to have to be a lot more alert than in the past if they’re to make the most of the new program.

JW Marriott Rio de Janeiro - Roof Deck
JW Marriott Rio de Janeiro – Roof Deck

We already know that Points Advance reservations will no longer lock-in an award rate until a member has actually parted with the points needed to make a booking, so it’s more important than ever to have enough Marriott Bonvoy points in your account to make an award booking the moment you see affordable availability open up.

It’s also going to be important for Bonvoy members to revisit their award bookings on a reasonably frequent basis if they’ve paid anything other than off-peak rates – with prices fluctuating based on demand there’s every chance that the cost of an award night at any given property will drop if demand at that property drops but it will require a guest to cancel an award booking and then immediately rebook it at the lower rate if the best deal is to be had.

Finally, at this stage it’s hard to tell just how good or bad the new pricing structure is as we’ll need a few weeks (possibly months) to see how easy or hard it is to make desirable reservations without having to pay peak rates every time…but at least it’s a little heartening to see that even highly aspirational properties like the St Regis Maldives is offering true off-peak pricing right now.

a calendar with numbers and a few days of the week

Bottom Line

There are positive and negative aspects to the system Marriott has introduced and the net result (other than the fact that wards now cost more than before) is that Bonvoy members will have to be ready to book an award the moment they can afford it and they’ll have to be prepared to check on a frequent basis after they’ve booked an award to see if prices have fallen.

If having to be a little bit more diligent is the worst thing that comes out of this latest change to the Bonvoy program I’ll be very happy but I’m going to hold off reaching any major conclusions until I see just how hard it is to book the properties I’d like to visit at anything other than peak rates – I’m guessing that’s going to be a challenge that I don’t enjoy.


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