Marriott quietly suspends category changes at mainland China hotels

Mar 13, 2020

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The rapid spread of a novel coronavirus that originated in the Chinese city of Wuhan has caused demand for travel to evaporate at an unprecedented rate. Airlines have cancelled flights and grounded hundreds of planes worldwide, and travel providers are grappling with ways to keep their loyal customers coming back in these difficult times.

One popular strategy so far has been for airlines and hotel chains to extend the elite status of customers who might not be able to travel as much this year, but Marriott Bonvoy has gone one step farther with a decision that will benefit all members, regardless of elite status. Marriott’s annual category changes were scheduled to go into effect on 4 March 2020, and this year was an especially brutal change with a whopping 22% of Marriott’s global portfolio moving up a category.

It now appears that Marriott has suspended category increases for properties in mainland China, though hotels that were slated to move down a category are now bookable at these cheaper prices.

One property that I had my eye on was the St. Regis Sanya Yalong Bay resort in Hainan, a stunning hotel that was supposed to move up from Category 6 to Category 7 on March 4. When you search for hotels in Hainan on the Marriott website, you’ll see the St. Regis is still listed as a Category 6 hotel. The property is currently available at off-peak rates, meaning you can book a free night here for only 40,000 points instead of the 50,000 that would be required for a standard award.

The same is true at the W Xi’an, a vibrant and psychedelic hotel that might be the most extreme iteration of the W brand I’ve ever stayed at. The property was supposed to move up to Category 5 during the recent round of category changes, but it’s still bookable as a Category 4 hotel:

The category changes weren’t suspended entirely though, as properties in China that were slated to move down a category are now bookable at these cheaper rates. The Westin Xi’an was a solid hotel with a decent location, and I loved using my Marriott Suite Night Awards here to upgrade to a three-bedroom duplex suite. The hotel was a Category 4 when I stayed there last summer, but as of 4 March it dropped as scheduled to a Category 3.

Bottom line

The coronavirus has reshaped the travel landscape, and it will take a long time for demand to recover to previous highs. In the meantime, it’s nice to see companies doing what they can to take care of their loyal customers with low prices and attractive deals.

Featured photo of the JW Marriott Shanghai courtesy of the hotel.

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