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Last Thursday Thursday Marriott finally got around to announcing that some long-expected changes to its Bonvoy loyalty program will be coming in to effect from 14 September 2019, and it announced a few small unexpected tweaks to the program to – this is what you need to know about the changes ahead.
Peak/Off-Peak Award Prices Will Launch On 14 September
This is a change that we have known about since the new Bonvoy program was first unveiled but, rather annoyingly, a number of key unknowns remain just that – unknown.
From 14 September 2019 Marriott’s award chart will look like this…
…so top-tier properties will now cost up to 100,000 points per night (up from the current 85,000 points per night).
What Marriott has failed to address is the following:
- What criteria will properties be using to determine peak/standard/off-peak dates?
- Will properties be restricted to the number of peak dates per year?
- Will all properties have to have a certain number of off-peak & standard dates in a year?
These are all pretty important questions because, without any controls in place, one has to wonder what’s going to stop year-round popular properties (e.g. The St Regis Maldives) from charging 100,000 points/night on every night of the year?
Marriot has said that the majority of dates will be priced at “standard rates” but it has also been clever in how it’s phrased this – it also says that this will be the way things are “across the portfolio”, which leaves individual (and highly aspirational) properties the chance to offer mostly peak date rates with other less desirable properties balancing them out by offering mostly off-peak and standard rates.
On a positive note, Marriott has confirmed that all bookings made before 14 September will be charged at the current award rates irrespective of when the stay is taking place.
Members will have until September 14, 2019 to make reservations under the current standard award chart. As always, members may book redemption reservations up to 50 weeks in advance of their stay.
Importantly, Marriott has also confirmed that any changes made to award reservations on or after 14 September 2019 will see the awards priced at the new rates – Bonvoy members should, therefore, be very careful when making award booking changes on/after 14 September as the cost could increase significantly.
Cash & Points Bookings Are Changing
Marriott has jettisoned the original it had for Cash & Points bookings and decided to introduce a standard cash co-pay for each hotel category (regardless of the season) and only vary the number of points needed from season to season.
What this has done is opened up a few interesting options that would not necessarily have been around under the originally planned system.
Allow me to explain.
When you choose to pay with cash & points rather than entirely with points, what you’re effectively doing is ‘buying’ points with the cash element of the cash & point award.
For example, if you wanted to book a standard season award at a category 6 property, you could choose to either pay 50,000 points per night or $190 + 25,000 points per night, so the $190 is essentially buying you the difference between 50,000 points and 25,000 points.
The interesting thing about the new Marriott cash & points award chart is that there are certain awards where the cash and points redemption may make sense based on the cost at which you’re essentially ‘buying’ points.
Here’s the breakdown of the cost to ‘buy’ points using a cash and points award for each hotel category across all three seasons (click to enlarge)
I value Marriott Bonvoy points at around $0.007 each so in the chart above I’ve color-coded cost the of points according to how good or bad a deal I think they are – your own valuation of Marriott Bonvoy points will dictate how you see these figures.
With the exception of a cash & points booking at a Category 6 property during peak season, there are no great deals to be had….but all the figures highlighted in green could definitely represent value if you’re short of points or if you’d prefer to save some points for another booking.
Note: One thing to keep a close eye on is the taxes that are charged on the cash element of a cash & points booking – they may be insignificant by they may also tip the scales in favor of a points only booking.
The 5th Night Free Benefit Is Going To Be An Ungenerous As Possible
Marriott is rebranding the ‘5th night free’ benefit as ‘Stay for 5, Pay for 4’ but what that new name doesn’t tell you is that Marriott has been exceedingly stingy with how the benefit will work going forward.
From 14 September 2019 the cost of the ‘free night’ will be calculated as being the cost of the cheapest night in your booking.
What this means is that if, for example, you have a 5-night award booking which straddles standard and peak seasons, the number of points that will be deducted from the cost of your booking will be equivalent to the number of points needed for a standard rate booking…even if the 5th night of the stay falls on a ‘peak season’ date.
Points Advance Is Changing For The Worse
Points Advance is currently a very useful benefit that Marriott offers which allows Bonvoy members to make an award booking even if they don’t have enough points in their account at the time the booking is being made – guests just need to make sure that they have the required number of points two weeks before check-in.
As of 14 September, Marriott says the following will change:
- Bonvoy members will not be able to have more than active 3 Points Advance reservations at any one time.
- Marriott’s Points Advance option will only secure availability at any given property and will not lockin the price – the price (in points) that needs to be paid will be whatever the award costs at the time the points are applied to the reservation and not the cost at the time the reservation was made.
I don’t have an issue with the first change as it will stop certain Bonvoy members (you know who you are) from making numerous Points Advance reservations (and reducing award availability for others) until their plans firm up and they ditch all but one reservation.
The second change is more problematic as it suggests that properties can change how much an award will cost after a reservation has been made and I can’t help but wonder if this is actually legal.
A hotel cannot legally increase the cost of a cash booking on a reservation once it has been made (even when payment isn’t due until check-out), so it is a little strange that it’s legal (apparently) for Marriott to say that it can change the cost of an award reservation after it has been made.
This seems like an unnecessarily harsh change from Marriott and just makes it easier for Bonvoy members to claim (rightly) that the program is getting more and more unfriendly.
The biggest deal here is the move to peak/off-peak pricing and we’ve known that this has been coming for at least a year…and it’s hard to tell just how bad the news regarding peak-season pricing is going to be until we actually see it in practice.
Personally, I don’t care if a Springhill Suites property somewhere in the middle of nowhere has off-peak award pricing 365 days of the year if it means that I have to pay peak-season award prices all year round at a property that I (and a lot of other people) would like to visit.
A situation like this would see Marriott be able to continue to claim that, across its portfolio, most dates are standard rates or below, but the reality would be that award costs at places people actually care about would have increased significantly and we’d have a seriously devalued program on our hands…possibly even more so than we already thought.