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Last month Marriott finally got around to setting a date for the introduction of a number of changes to the Bonvoy program that we’ve been expecting for some time.
Judging by some of the online reaction (parts of which where unnecessarily hysterical) you would have thought that everything Marriott announced in August was brand new information (which it wasn’t) – most of the information was old news and, in practice, still doesn’t really let us know how damaging some of the changes to the Bonvoy program will be.
Changes To Points Advance Bookings
One of the new things that we did learn was that Marriott is changing the way its Points Advance benefit works and one of the two changes being made is a particularly annoying one.
As things stand, Points Advance is a 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 2019 Bonvoy members will not be able to have more than 3 active Points Advance reservations at any one time and the Points Advance option will only guarantee award availability at a property and not the final cost in points.
I have no issue with the first new rule (it will help to stop those who make dozens of speculative Points Advance reservations knowing full well that they only plan to actually go through with one or two of them) but I have a big issue with the second rule change.
Essentially, from 14 September Marriott will allow properties 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) you’re quoted at the time a Points Advance reservation is made may not be the cost you eventually pay.
What Does This Mean In Practice?
The most obvious effect of this rule will be to prevent Marriott Bonvoy members from using a Points Advance booking to lock in the price of a stay ahead of any changes Marriott makes to the category a hotel is in (these changes usually take place in January or February of every year).
The new rule will also allow Marriott (or the individual hotels) to increase the cost of a Points Advance booking should a change be made to the season (off-peak/standard/peak) into which the booking falls.
It’s only fair to point out that the cost of a Points Advance booking may also fall (as well as rise) if the property being booked moves down a hotel category or if the season in which the booking falls is changed in favor of the guest…but this isn’t a new benefit.
Points Advance bookings have always been fully refundable so if a property’s nightly points rate fell after a Points Advance booking was made the guest could cancel the old reservation and make a new one at the cheaper rate.
The only meaningful change being made here is one which could see guests with Points Advance bookings paying more than they expect to.
Why You Should Make Points Advance Bookings Now
When Marriott announced the changes to the way Points Advance bookings will work it was far from clear on which bookings would be affected – would existing Points Advance bookings at risk of seeing their cost increase or is this only going to affect those bookings made on/after 14 September?
To get some clarity I posed that question to the Bonvoy Twitter team.
After the first reply was a complete non-answer and I pressed for a definitive response this is what Marriott said:
That’s crystal clear.
If you make a Points Advance reservation before 14 September (and then leave that reservation alone) Marriott will not change the rate you’re being charged.
Should the rate decrease you can always cancel and rebook at the lower rate, but then you’ll also be at the mercy of any future hotel category/season changes.
Is The Application Of A Suite Night Award Considered A Change To A Reservation?
Right now I have a Points Advance reservation in my account and it’s for a property that I fully expect to increase in cost before my stay. It’s also a property at which I’d like to use a Marriott Bonvoy Suite Night award.
This makes me particularly interested in what exactly Marriott classifies as a “change to the reservation”
Quite obviously, any change of dates, the number of nights being booked or the nature of the room being booked will be categorized by Marriott as a change to the Points Advance reservation…but what about Suite Night Awards?
Will Marriott consider the application of a Suite Night Award to a reservation as a “change” to that reservation?
The only way to find out is to ask Marriott directly (which I did), and this was the response:
Another definitive answer and this one is good news.
I was fully ready for Marriott to say that the application of a Suite Night award would be considered a change to a reservation (and therefore open up the reservation to and increase in cost should the property go up a category) so I was pleasantly surprised to see that Marriott hasn’t gone down that path.
Points Advance reservations make it possible for Marriott Bonvoy members to make bookings even when they don’t currently have enough points in their account to fulfill that reservation, so you should be using this benefit to the full before 14 September comes along.
Now is the time to lock-in the rates we’re currently seeing (ahead of the introduction of varying seasons on the 14th and the inevitable hotel category changes in early 2020) just in case the property you’d like to visit suddenly jumps up in price.
You’re not locked into your booking so you can always cancel and rebook if the cost falls (or if you change your mind about the trip) so you really have nothing to lose.