While the Marriott merger has been fraught with problems, from technical glitches to struggles with customer service, I do appreciate the way Marriott gradually introduced changes instead implementing them in one fell swoop. First, there was the ability to transfer points between SPG and Marriott accounts in 2016. Then came the combined award chart and the August integration followed a few months later by a full shift to one system. Now the new program has begun to operate under the unified name and branding of Marriott Bonvoy.
Unfortunately, in just one week, one of the best phases of this merger will come to an end. Marriott’s annual category changes go into effect on March 5, 2019, and this includes the long-awaited implementation of Category 8 pricing for its top hotels. These properties, which include jaw-dropping, all-suite hotels like the St. Regis Maldives and Al Maha Resort, have been pricing out at Category 7 award rates since the August integration, meaning they cost 60,000 points a night.
Starting Mar. 5, these properties will jump to 85,000 points per night for a standard award, though that number will eventually climb as high as 100,000 points once peak and off-peak pricing are implemented (expected at some point later this year). That gives you just one more week to book award stays at 60,000 points per night.
In short, there are three important things to do if you want to utilize this pricing:
- Make new reservations or attach certificates to existing reservations.
- Make Points Advance reservations (and save/print the confirmation).
- Finalize your travel plans to avoid future changes.
Let’s take a closer look at each of these.
New or Existing Award Reservations
If you’ve been eyeing a stay at any Category 8 hotel, be it the over-the-top ones that Marriott originally announced or any of the eight additional hotels moving up, you need to act now. This is likely the cheapest these hotels will ever be with points, and the 40 – 60% price increase coming soon is not going to be fun. If you’re sitting on a bunch of Marriott points and want to save 25,000 points per night, now’s the time to act.
If you need a bit of a push, many of these hotels (like Al Maha) have phenomenal award availability for much of the year, so you pretty much have your pick of dates.
On the other hand, if you have existing Points Advance reservations, have enough points in your account and haven’t attached certificates to your reservation, I’d strongly encourage you to do so in the next week. Marriott has confirmed that it will honor the pre-Mar. 5 award rates, but the system will almost certainly change your reservation to the higher amount if you haven’t attached a certificate by then. If you want to avoid the hassle of calling and working with customer service to manually adjust your rate, attach certificates now.
For full details on how to do this, check out TPG Editor Nick Ewen’s post on the subject.
Make New Points Advance Reservations
Don’t be discouraged if you don’t have hundreds of thousands of points in your account just yet. Maybe you’re waiting for a welcome bonus on your new credit card to post, or maybe you have extensive (or expensive) upcoming stays that’ll earn you a bunch of Marriott points. If you’re in this situation, you don’t have to miss out on this incredible deal. You can use Marriott’s Points Advance feature to lock in award space at the current price of 60,000 points a night, and your reservation will be fine (as long as you earn enough points to pay for it at least 14 days before check-in).
Many people were caught off guard by the sheer scope of tech problems the Marriott merger has faced thus far, and one pain point has been Points Advance reservations jumping in price. As long as you have a confirmed reservation at one of these Category 8 properties at 60,000 points per night before Mar. 5, the program has committed to honoring these rates. That being said, this will require some manual adjustment on Marriott’s part, and there are a few steps you should take to make your experience as smooth as possible.
The first is to screenshot, print and document (in any way you can) your confirmation showing the 60,000-point rate. Despite Marriott’s assurances, a spokesperson has highly recommended attaching certificates before Mar. 5 to ease the process. I wouldn’t be surprised if Points Advance reservations once again automatically change to the 85,000-point nightly rate on this date. Since you’ll almost certainly need to escalate this to Marriott’s customer service team, having hard evidence on your side is sure to help.
Whether you plan on making one Points Advance reservation or several, you should also be sure to carefully note the individual hotel’s cancellation policy, as it can vary significantly. Al Maha, for one, allows you to cancel for free up to 30 days before check-in, while the Ritz-Carlton Hong Kong allows penalty-free cancellations up until the day before arrival.
Last but not least, as a matter of common courtesy, if you make a Points Advance reservation and find that you won’t be able to take the trip, please cancel it as soon as possible! Al Maha only has 42 rooms in the entire property, and if you’re holding onto award space you won’t be using, that means it can’t go to another member of the travel rewards community. An even more extreme example is the St. Regis Maldives, which only has four rooms on the entire island (garden villas) that are eligible for standard awards. The competition for them is already pretty fierce, so don’t hang onto an award you have no intention of using.
Finalize Travel Plans
The third (and final) suggestion I have is to do everything in your power to confirm your travel plans related to these Category 8 reservations. Last-minute changes come up for a number of reasons, but you want to do everything possible to avoid the need to make changes to a pre-Mar. 5 award stay later in the year. While the program will honor existing reservations at the 60,000-point rate, any changes will almost certainly result in the new (higher) award rate kicking in. This would almost certainly apply to adjustments to your length of stay, arrival or departure dates, but I’d be especially conservative and assume that even a simple change like number of adults/children could bump you to the new pricing.
Again, do your best to not just make speculative award bookings but ones that you have a high degree of certainty of using.
While we’ve know this change to Category 8 pricing was coming for a long time, it will still be sad to see this deal go. I have to commend Marriott for giving us several months of use, as it gave us ample time to try out some of the most luxurious hotels in the world at a fraction of the cost. If you’ve been planning a stay at a Category 8 hotel but haven’t made your reservation yet, you have just one week to do so before the price increases on March 5. Remember you can use Points Advance to lock in the pricing and award space if you don’t have all the points right now, but I strongly suggest saving confirmation of the 60,000-point award rate for your own records.
Featured photo by the author.