4 things to do now before Marriott’s new award categories take effect
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4 March 2020 brings a major shift in Marriott’s award chart as the programme’s annual category changes take effect. While some shifts are expected each year, the 2020 adjustments are widespread and almost entirely negative. Nearly one-third of Marriott’s 7,200+ properties are changing categories, with a total of 22% moving up, and just 7% moving down.
Our calculations show that the average award night cost across the entire portfolio will be going up roughly 6%, with a notable increase in how many properties occupy the top end of the award chart.
That being said, you still have a few weeks before these changes take effect, and there are some important action items you should take now. Here’s a run-down of five things you need to do before 4 March to minimize the impact of the devaluation.
Book properties going up — now
As noted above, a large proportion of the properties changing award categories are moving up in price: 1,686 of them, to be exact.
As you’d expect, there are a lot of luxurious properties on this list that currently make for a great use of Marriott points. If you have plans to visit any of these locations between now and early 2021, do your absolute best to finalize your plans and lock in these awards before 4 March, since the current (lower) prices will remain in effect for awards booked and confirmed prior to that date.
Here are a few gems that you should consider booking now:
Confirm existing Points Advance reservations
Marriott’s Points Advance functionality used to be incredibly useful. When you were short on points, you could book an award stay for a future date and then earn the remaining points to cover the full redemption at least 14 days before arrival. This not only confirmed the room; it also locked in the award rate, making you immune to future price adjustments.
Unfortunately, that all changed with the introduction of peak and off-peak pricing. While these reservations still confirm the room inventory (which can be nice on high-demand dates), your award price isn’t locked in until you have enough points to finalize the reservation and attach a certificate. Marriott has confirmed to TPG that next month’s category changes will follow the same approach: Points Advance reservations at properties going up in price will automatically adjust to the higher award rate unless you’ve actually redeemed the required points.
If you have a Points Advance reservation at one or more of these properties and have earned (or will earn) enough points before 4 March 2020, you should absolutely confirm the stay before that date. Otherwise, you’ll likely find yourself in need of even more points for the same room.
There are a number of ways to quickly earn Marriott points, including transfers from American Express Membership Rewards.
Also don’t overlook the ability to share up to 100,000 points per year with another member for free. If there’s no other way for you to earn enough points to cover your Points Advance reservation before 4 March, see if any friends or family members will “loan” you points. He/she can transfer you up to 100,000 points for you to confirm your reservation, and then you can pay those points back at a later date, once you’ve earned them.
Book new Points Advance reservations
Hear me out on this one, since it’s a bit convoluted. As noted above, Points Advance reservations are subject to price changes until the moment you redeem points to cover the stay. These fluctuations could be due to shifting peak/off-peak dates or due to category changes, but one thing’s for sure: Your Points Advance award rate isn’t finalized until the points are deducted from your account. This is why it’s critical to confirm your Points Advance stay now for properties moving to a higher category.
However, if you’re looking to visit a property that is dropping to a lower category come 4 March, such as the W Aspen, I’d recommend booking a Points Advance reservation now.
You may be wondering the rationale for this, especially since it directly contradicts what Marriott is recommending on its own category-change page (emphasis mine):
“Rest assured, if your favorite hotel is moving to a higher category, you can save points by booking at the current redemption rate before the changes go into effect. If it’s moving to a lower category, you might want to wait until the changes take effect.“
Why should you book these stays now? Well, there’s essentially no downside to doing so, and there’s a lot of upside.
As noted previously, there’s not a lot to love about these category changes, but it’s entirely plausible that properties dropping to lower categories will see a bit of a run on award bookings for some dates in the days after 4 March. This could limit the number of standard rooms available using points at these locations, as multiple members will rush to book award stays at lower rates.
However, if you’ve made a Points Advance reservation at a property moving to a lower category, you’ve confirmed the room inventory now and can still benefit from the soon-to-be-lower award price later. As soon as the category changes take effect, your reservation should shift to the new rate — at which point you could confirm the stay with fewer points than your original booking.
(Note: Marriott used to allow you to hold a room on a Points Advance reservations even when you had enough points in your account to cover the stay, but that’s been changed. There’s a workaround, though. If you currently have enough points for a property dropping in price, book a refundable award stay at another hotel, then book the Points Advance reservation once your points appear depleted, then cancel the other stay and get your points back.)
The only possible downside to this strategy is if 4 March brings a major change to the given property’s peak and off-peak calendar. This is highly unlikely and — from my calculation — only applies to the 9 properties dropping from Category 7 to Category 6, but in the interest of thoroughness, I want to cover it.
Let’s say that you book a two-night, off-peak award stay at one of these properties. Right now, you’d need to spend just 50,000 points per night. However, if both of those dates shift to peak pricing once the property drops to Category 6, your reservation will actually require more points as of 4 March — 20,000 more to be exact.
Keep in mind that this is the only instance when the lower category’s peak pricing is higher than the higher category’s off-peak pricing. With any other tier, a shift from off-peak to peak pricing will (at worst) result in the same number of points needed for the reservation, while any other shift (off-peak to standard, standard to peak, etc.) will result in a lower redemption rate.
Explore airline transfer partners
If this was your final straw and you’re throwing in the towel on getting solid value from your Marriott points for hotel stays, consider looking at the programme’s airline transfer partners.
Generally speaking, you get the most value from hotel loyalty programmes by redeeming points for free nights. However, Marriott Bonvoy has over 40 airline partners, and the vast majority give you 1 mile for every 3 Marriott points you transfer, plus a 5,000-mile bonus when you transfer 60,000 points. You can also leverage the RewardsPlus partnership between Marriott and United to enjoy an additional 10% bonus when you transfer Marriott points to United Mileage Plus.
This isn’t always a great option, but there are times when it makes sense to transfer Marriott points to airlines, including:
- 87,000 Marriott points = 34,000 Iberia Avios, good for a one-way, business-class flight to Madrid (MAD) from New York-JFK, Boston (BOS) or Chicago-O’Hare (ORD) on off-peak dates
- 120,000 Marriott points = 50,000 Alaska miles, good for a one-way, business-class flight on Cathay Pacific from the U.S. to Asia
- 60,000 Marriott points = 25,000 Japan Airlines miles, good for a one-way, economy-class flight from the U.S. to Japan
By familiarizing yourself with these transfer options now, you’ll be better equipped to initiate one after 4 March if that works best for you.
There’s little to love (or even like) about Marriott’s 2020 category changes, as nearly a quarter of the programme’s portfolio will be shifting to a higher award category while only 7% is moving down. However, with the adjustments set to take effect 4 March 2020, you still have a number of things you can (and should) do ahead of that date to minimize the impact and ensure you can still get some value from your Marriott points.
Featured photo of the Boulder Marriott Hotel & Spa courtesy of the hotel.