Brace yourself: Marriott announces 2020 category changes

Feb 5, 2020

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Each year, we tend to see some award category adjustments from the major hotel loyalty programmes. In some cases, these represent a minor shift in pricing, while other times they are a significant change — like Hyatt’s forthcoming peak and off-peak pricing.

Marriott has just announced its annual set of category changes, set to be implemented for stays booked on or after 4 March 2020. Despite the programme’s implementation of peak pricing in September 2019 — a change that might have led to less of a need for annual category adjustments — today’s announcement represents a major shift in the Marriott Bonvoy award chart.

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Here’s a full run-down of the changes.

In This Post

Properties changing categories

Let’s start with the bad news. As of 4 March 2020, 29% of participating properties in the Marriott Bonvoy programme will be changing categories. In past years (prior to the integration of the Starwood Preferred Guest), this number typically would be in the 10% to 15% range — and last year it was only 6%.

To make matters worse, the majority of properties changing categories are moving up in price, not down. Marriott has shared that 7% of its worldwide properties are moving to a lower category, while 22% are moving to a higher one. Based on the current footprint of properties, this means that roughly 1,500 hotels and resorts will require more points for award stays booked on or after 4 March 2020.

Most of the 2020 annual category change movement (84%) takes place between Categories 1 and 5 for a standard redemption stay.

It’s a bit surprising to see the magnitude of these changes. The implementation of peak and off-peak pricing (in theory) should’ve created less of a need for annual category adjustments, as the programme has the ability to require additional points for periods of high demand. The fact that award stays at nearly a quarter of the Bonvoy portfolio were priced too low is a bit shocking.

You can view a full list of the properties changing categories at this page, though remember that you’re still able to lock in stays at current award rates — as long as you book before 4 March.

These category changes aren’t the only updates being announced today.

New inventory controls

As I’ve written about before, Marriott’s no-blackout-dates policy is essentially toothless — as legacy Marriott brands had the ability to restrict award inventory on select dates. As of today, that policy has been updated to allow all properties under the Marriott Bonvoy umbrella to use these inventory controls, as indicated in the updated terms and conditions of the programme:

Participating Properties may limit the number of standard rooms available for redemption on a limited number of days.

Prior versions of the terms included language that specified the brands that were allowed to do this, but now it applies to all.

That being said, this is not necessarily a net loss — and could wind up being a net gain. As part of this update, the programme has reduced the number of days that legacy Marriott properties can restrict for award stays. Since these locations represent the vast majority of the combined programme, “this will result in fewer days in total subject to inventory controls portfolio-wide in 2020 compared to 2019”, according to a Marriott spokesperson.

There are two big outstanding questions here: 1) Whether properties actually took advantage of the higher limits for inventory restrictions in previous years, and 2) whether all of the legacy SPG properties will take advantage of the newly-introduced restrictions.

On the surface, this makes sense from a consistency perspective. After all, why should an Autograph Collection be allowed to mark a certain number of days as “high demand” and thus off-limits to awards, while a Luxury Collection property in the same region has no ability to do so whatsoever? However, the impact to travellers is unclear, until we get a feel for exactly how often properties have used (and will use) these controls.

We’ve asked Marriott for additional details along these lines in an effort to quantify the impact for our readers, but I haven’t heard anything back at the time of writing. We’ll be sure to update this post if and when we get any more information

Bottom line

Annual category changes are a simple part of the Marriott programme, though this appears to be the biggest shift in years. And with a large majority of the affected properties increasing (rather than decreasing) in price, this could have massive implications for award stays booked on or after March 4, 2020.

We’ll be back later today with a deeper dive into these changes, but for now, check out this page for a full list of properties moving categories, and feel free to weigh in below with your thoughts.

Featured photo courtesy of Marriott.

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