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Update 14 December 2018: Marriott’s website is now saying the following “Save up to 25,000 points per night when you book future Category 8 hotels at the Category 7 rate until March 2019” so it would appear that we have through the end of February before the award rates go up.
Leaving aside the significant number of issues that still plague the Marriott/Starwood merger, the biggest changes on the horizon for Marriott Rewards members are changes coming to the award chart in 2019.
The change that most people seem to have been concentrating on so far is the one that will see top-tier properties (like the St Regis Bora Bora) moving from Category 7 to a newly created Category 8 and, as a result, they’ll be charging a lot more points for a free award night.
We don’t know exactly when Marriott will introduce Category 8 into its award chart but, as the hotelier has been saying that it will arrive in “early 2019”, most people appear to taking a prudent approach and operating as if it will appear from 1 January 2019.
That’s fine, and this has seen a mad scramble (in certain quarters) for bookings at the more aspirational properties that Marriott controls….but those aren’t the only awards I think people should be booking right now.
I think that travelers should be booking ALL Marriott rewards reservations (that they know or think they’ll be needing in 2019) before this year is over.
The other major change coming to the Marriott award chart in 2019 is the introduction of peak and off-peak seasons and, as important as the introduction of Category 8 may be, this is what I consider to be the biggest change travelers need to prepare for.
Here’s a reminder of what the new Marriott award chart looks like:
As you can see, the difference in cost between a standard award night and a peak award night can be as high as 10,000 points (or 15,000 points once Category 8 is introduced) and that translates to a lot of extra points that will be required for anyone looking to book a longer stay.
We don’t know when (in 2019) Marriott will introduce the different seasons into its award chart and we don’t know what the seasons will look like for individual properties but we do know that this is coming so this is something travelers should be prepared for.
Personally, I’m being prudent and working on the assumption that the new seasons will be introduced from 1 January 2019 so I’m in the process of making as many 2019 Marriott award bookings as I think I’ll need before the end of 2018 – I have nothing to lose and everything to gain.
By making my award bookings now I’m locking in the “standard” rate that Marriott is currently charging and insuring myself against the risk that a property I’m hoping to book at will be in “peak season” when seasons are introduced next year.
Here’s an example of what I mean:
I’ve just booked the Residence Inn Miami Beach for a couple of nights next summer at a cost of 35,000 points/night (it’s a Category 5 property).
If, once Marriott introduces seasons into its award chart, this property classifies the dates of my stay as “peak season”, award nights will cost 40,000 points per night.
By booking before the seasons were introduced I will have saved 5,000 points per night.
If, on the other hand, the property classifies my dates as “off-peak season” the cost per night will be lower (30,000 points/night) and, because Marriott Rewards reservations are flexible, I can cancel my old reservation and make a new one using the cheaper rates.
If I know the dates I want to travel why wouldn’t I make my booking now? Where’s the downside?
Marriott Makes It Super-Easy To Book Early
There’s one aspect of Marriott’s loyalty program that makes it very easy to book award nights well ahead of your arrival date and it’s called “points advance“.
“Points advance” allows guests to make award night reservations at Marriott properties (this doesn’t work for legacy Starwood properties) even if they don’t have enough points in their account at the time of booking.
Marriott will allow you to make an award booking today (for example) even if you have no points in your account and it will give you up to 14 days before your check-in date to earn the points you need for the stay.
We know that Marriott will be introducing seasons into its award chart in early 2019 so why not lock in the current rates before that happens?
If you know you’ll be needing to make an award booking in 2019 why not make it now and insure yourself against a potential rate hike if your dates fall within peak season? Even if you’re not 100% sure what dates you’ll be needing there’s nothing stopping you from making a speculative reservation that you can later cancel at no cost whatsoever.
The fact that Marriott award reservations are fully refundable means that there is no downside here so what do you have to lose?