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In August Marriott finally gave us some long-awaited news about the new Marriott Bonvoy program and amongst the changes announced was a change to the way Marriott’s very useful Points Advance program works.
The changes to Points Advance bookings were supposed to only affect new reservations made from 14 September 2019 but that doesn’t appear to be the case and it looks like you’ll probably have to call Marriott to get things straightened out.
Marriott Points Advance
Points Advance is a 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 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 first change shouldn’t be an issue for most (it will just prevent people from making dozens of speculative reservations and locking up award availability that they mostly don’t plan to use).
The second change is very significant 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.
The Points Advance Promise
When Marriott announced the changes to the way Points Advance bookings will 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 Systems Cannot Handle Bonvoy Changes
As it happens, I have a Points Advance booking in my account which locked in a rate of 60,000 points/night (with a 5th night free) as it was made before 14 September 2019.
Since Marriott’s dynamic award pricing kicked in, it now costs 250,000 points to make the same booking as the property is charging 60,000 points for 4 of the nights in question with the 5th costing 70,000 points (the cost of the free night now equals the rate of the cheapest night).
But none of this affects me as my rate is locked…or at least that’s how it should be.
I happened to notice two things earlier today:
- A nice chunk of Marriott Bonvoy points hit my account from a recent stay.
- Despite now having enough points in my account to pay for my Points Advance reservation my account hadn’t been debited the points.
When I opened up my reservation I saw the reason why.
My reservation was now showing a cost of 250,000 points (slightly more than is in my account right now) and the cost of one of the nights was now showing as being 70,000 points – dynamic pricing had taken hold of my Points Advance reservation.
What Marriott Said
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 doesn’t have any way to return the cost of the reservation back to its original state.
- Marriott will 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.
There was no issue on the phone (I was very polite, the agent was very helpful, there was never any suggestion that my original rate wouldn’t be honored and the situation was addressed quickly) but this is a little crazy.
Since my conversation with Marriott I’ve had a new reservation confirmation arrive via email and my account has been debited by a net 240,000 points (which is correct) but there are two rather obvious issues here:
- It would appear as if anyone with a Points Advance reservation (made before 14 September 2019) will have to call up Marriott to get their account adjusted if the cost of their reservation goes up.
- What happens if I now cancel my Points Advance reservation? Will I keep the 10,000 points that Marriott added to my account to get around the IT limitations or will Marriott Claw them back?
Issue #1 may well affect a significant number of people (if you have a Marriott Points Advance reservation I suggest you keep a close eye on it) and issue #2 may well be an issue for Marriott because I don’t see how its IT systems will know to claw back points (in the case of a cancellation) if the original credit was a manual one.
There’s actually scope for quite a bit of chaos here and possibly scope for a little dishonesty too.
Issue #1 Is Bad For Guests
If, as I suspect, there are a significant number of people sitting on Points Advance reservations which were made before 14 September 2019, Marriott will be inundated with calls as these people realize that their reservations are showing an incorrect cost (assuming the cost has gone up and not down) or as their accounts are debited an incorrect amount.
Issue #2 May Be Bad For Marriott
Let’s take this (extreme) hypothetical situation:
- 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
Assuming that Marriott’s response to this guest calling up and asking for the original cost to be reinstated in the same response that I got today, this guest will see 120,000 Marriot Bonvoy points added to their account to rectify the issue….but what if this guest then cancels the reservation?
How will Marriott’s IT know to claw back these 120,000 points when refunding 600,000 to the guest’s account following the cancellation?
I really don’t think the IT systems will be up to it.
Once again Marriott’s IT systems are shown up for what they are – incapable of keeping up with the changes the Bonvoy program has been putting through.
Anyone with Points Advance reservations should be checking them to see if the costs have increased and, if they have, they should be calling Marriott sooner rather than later to get the issue sorted out – the longer you wait to call Marriott the greater the chance that more people are calling in as they realize they’re being overcharged.