A couple days ago, Marriott announced the new categories that will be used in the combined SPG/Marriott Rewards program from August 2018. It’s probably an understatement to say that I (plus everyone else in the miles and points world) am excited beyond all reason at some of the (limited time) opportunities that have been created by this re-categorization.
As a reminder, here’s the chart that will take effect from August 2018 (Marriott hasn’t actually said when in August). Remember that the chart below is based on points in the new program. Existing SPG points will be multiplied by 3 in the new program, Marriott Rewards points will be transferred at a 1:1 ratio.
Category 8 and peak pricing will only be introduced from 2019. That means that between August 2018 and the end of this year, the most expensive property in the Marriott/Starwood collection will cost 60,000 points (20,000 SPG points) a night.
Considering that Starwood’s top properties currently cost up to 90,000 SPG points a night, this is simply insane. I doubt we will ever see another opportunity like this, and it’s no wonder everyone’s licking their lips in anticipation of August
Somebody gonna get hurt real bad
Let’s be honest. August is going to be a blood bath. Members in the US, accounts flush with points from easy credit card bonuses and MS, will be jumping on the chance to get bucket list properties like the St Regis Maldives (~US$3,000 a night) for 20,000 SPG points (US$455 when you buy points under the current SPG points sale). I predict a riot, with phone lines jammed, websites down and the National Guard mobilized.
Keep in mind that Marriott Rewards actually allows members to make speculative bookings even if they don’t currently have sufficient points to pay for it– they simply need to fund the account with the requisite points at least one or two weeks (I forget which) before the stay. I’m not sure if this policy will carry over into the new program but if it does, well…
This means that when it goes all Mad Max Fury Road in August, you need to be prepared. Nothing could be worse than finally getting through to the CSO, finding your preferred date isn’t available and hemming and hawing about having to check with your travel companions whether they can do different dates and calling back.
Forget it. You need Plan A, Plan B, Plan C and quite likely Plan Z all lined up neatly in a spreadsheet, complete with dates and locations, ready to feed to the CSO (in the old Starwood program the top tier categories couldn’t be booked online; you’d have to call/chat with Customer service. I’m not sure if that quirk will carry over).
What’s my strategy?
I have accumulated ~250,000 SPG points to date, a combination of points purchases and five years of business travel. I will coerce The Milelioness to purchase a further 30,000 in the current SPG points sale. This gives me ~280,000 SPG points (840,000 new program points) to work with.
Here’s the list of properties that will be in the new Category 8 bucket from January 2019 (or Category 7 from August till the end of 2018). These are the ones that you should be trying to book between August and December 2018 (you can book rooms 350 days in advance).
|HOTEL||COUNTRY||CURRENT||NEW (TILL END 2018)||DIFF||Nightly Rate|
|The St. Regis Maldives Vommuli Resort||Maldives||90000||60000||-30000||3400|
|Phoenician Residences, a Luxury Collection Residence Club, Scottsdale||USA||90000||60000||-30000||1676|
|Al Maha, a Luxury Collection Desert Resort & Spa, Dubai||United Arab Emirates||90000||60000||-30000||1633|
|The St. Regis Deer Valley||USA||90000||60000||-30000||1621|
|The St. Regis Aspen Resort||USA||90000||60000||-30000||1567|
|The Canyon Suites at The Phoenician, a Luxury Collection Resort, Scottsdale||USA||90000||60000||-30000||1509|
|The St. Regis Bal Harbour Resort||USA||90000||60000||-30000||1177|
|Suiran, a Luxury Collection Hotel, Kyoto||Japan||90000||60000||-30000||1172|
|Hôtel de Berri, a Luxury Collection Hotel, Paris||France||90000||60000||-30000||1047|
|The St. Regis Bora Bora Resort||French Polynesia||90000||60000||-30000||1010|
|Prince de Galles, a Luxury Collection Hotel, Paris||France||90000||60000||-30000||1000|
|The St. Regis Punta Mita Resort||Mexico||90000||60000||-30000||980|
|The St. Regis Bahia Beach Resort, Puerto Rico||Puerto Rico||90000||60000||-30000||953|
|The Ritz-Carlton, Bachelor Gulch||USA||70000||60000||-10000||887|
|The St. Regis Osaka||Japan||90000||60000||-30000||861|
|Hotel Pitrizza, a Luxury Collection Hotel, Costa Smeralda||Italy||90000||60000||-30000||847|
|The St. Regis New York||USA||90000||60000||-30000||844|
|W South Beach||USA||90000||60000||-30000||828|
|W Koh Samui||Thailand||90000||60000||-30000||812|
|Hotel Romazzino, a Luxury Collection Hotel, Costa Smeralda||Italy||90000||60000||-30000||792|
|The Ritz-Carlton, Kyoto||Japan||70000||60000||-10000||779|
|Gramercy Park Hotel, New York, a Member of Design Hotels™||USA||90000||60000||-30000||748|
|The St. Regis Florence||Italy||90000||60000||-30000||742|
|The Ritz-Carlton New York, Central Park||USA||70000||60000||-10000||740|
|The Chatwal, a Luxury Collection Hotel, New York City||USA||90000||60000||-30000||725|
|The St. Regis Rome||Italy||60000||60000||0||712|
|The Ritz-Carlton, Hong Kong||China||70000||60000||-10000||676|
|Mystique, A Luxury Collection Resort, Santorini||Greece||90000||60000||-30000||648|
|The St. Regis Princeville Resort||USA||90000||60000||-30000||647|
|The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman||Cayman Islands||70000||60000||-10000||646|
|The Ritz-Carlton Bal Harbour, Miami||USA||70000||60000||-10000||608|
|Kenoa Exclusive Beach Spa & Resort, Barra de Sao Miguel, a Member of Design Hotels||Brazil||90000||60000||-30000||579|
|Vana Belle, a Luxury Collection Resort, Koh Samui||Thailand||90000||60000||-30000||553|
|The Ritz-Carlton, Tokyo||Japan||70000||60000||-10000||532|
|Domes of Elounda, Autograph Collection||Greece||45000||60000||15000||525|
|The St. Regis Bali Resort||Indonesia||90000||60000||-30000||520|
|Santa Marina, a Luxury Collection Resort, Mykonos||Greece||90000||60000||-30000||511|
|G-Rough, Rome, a Member of Design Hotels||Italy||90000||60000||-30000||492|
|Blue Palace, a Luxury Collection Resort and Spa, Crete||Greece||60000||60000||0||483|
|The Westin Golf Resort & Spa, Playa Conchal||Costa Rica||90000||60000||-30000||474|
|The Prince Gallery Tokyo Kioicho, a Luxury Collection Hotel||Japan||90000||60000||-30000||451|
|Le Méridien Bora Bora||French Polynesia||90000||60000||-30000||450|
|The Gritti Palace, a Luxury Collection Hotel, Venice||Italy||90000||60000||-30000||445|
|Giardino Ascona, A Member Of Design Hotels||Switzerland||90000||60000||-30000||441|
|The Ritz-Carlton, Lake Tahoe||USA||70000||60000||-10000||440|
|Hotel Danieli, a Luxury Collection Hotel, Venice||Italy||90000||60000||-30000||391|
|The Wellesley Knightsbridge, a Luxury Collection Hotel, London||United Kingdom||90000||60000||-30000||390|
|Cristallo, a Luxury Collection Resort & Spa, Cortina d'Ampezzo||Italy||90000||60000||-30000||383|
|The Ritz-Carlton, Naples||USA||70000||60000||-10000||380|
|Hotel Cala di Volpe, a Luxury Collection Hotel, Costa Smeralda||Italy||90000||60000||-30000||379|
|PalazzinaG, Venice, a Member of Design Hotels||Italy||90000||60000||-30000||376|
|The Miami Beach EDITION||USA||70000||60000||-10000||367|
|Giardino Mountain, a Member of Design Hotels||Switzerland||90000||60000||-30000||359|
|Hotel President Wilson, a Luxury Collection Hotel, Geneva||Switzerland||90000||60000||-30000||353|
|The St. Regis Mardavall Mallorca Resort||Spain||90000||60000||-30000||338|
|Schloss Fuschl, a Luxury Collection Resort & Spa, Fuschlsee-Salzburg||Austria||90000||60000||-30000||302|
|Sir Joan Hotel, Ibiza City, a Member of Design Hotels||Spain||90000||60000||-30000||169|
|Parklane, a Luxury Collection Resort & Spa, Limassol||Cyprus||90000||60000||-30000||0|
|The Ritz-Carlton, St. Thomas||Virgin Islands (US)||70000||60000||-10000||0|
That’s a long list, even after removing places I don’t particularly fancy traveling to, so I’ve developed two heuristics to decide how to prioritize my targets.
Criteria 1: Hotels with completely unaffordable revenue room rates
I’ve added the room rates to the Category 8 hotels to give you a sense of where they stand. Fair warning- I took dates at random to get a snapshot view. I’m well aware that there may be peak seasons for some properties (eg winter at a ski resort) which could cause the prices to change dramatically, but I’m not about to do that kind of research. Use these numbers as a dipstick, nothing more.
I could burn 20,000 SPG points on a room at the Blue Palace Crete, a property where rooms go at around US$500 a night. That would net me 2.5 cents per point, a completely respectable amount. But given the context, I’d be dumb to do so. US$500 is a lot, but with the Citibank Prestige card’s fourth night free offer, I could just about justify spending that amount of money for a special trip.
On the other hand, the St Regis Maldives is an eye-popping US$3,400 a night. Fourth night free or not, there’s no way I’m going to be able to spend that kind of dough. This goes back to our classic “value versus access” argument that I often cite when teaching people about miles. Sure, I could take my entire SPG stash and cash it out for many, many nights at the Four Points Bangkok (67 nights, to be exact), but I’d much rather use them to access an experience that I could never afford normally.
The problem is, the “book the highest value hotel” approach may cause you to do some irrational things. I’m in the midst of planning my honeymoon to the Maldives now, and have been religiously researching the W Maldives vs the St Regis. From what I’ve read, the W Maldives seems to have a better beach and much, much nicer house reef, whereas the St Regis can overall be a bit hit and miss.
And yet, I feel obliged to go with the St Regis because the W is “only” US$906 a night. That’s still a buttload of money, and not something I could normally afford, but if the W is unaffordable, the St Regis is extra extra unaffordable. Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure the St Regis will still be amazing, but if I’m honest I’d say I’m going more for the hype than the actual reviews.
You might be in this situation too if you’re eyeing a city that has multiple Category 8 hotels, like New York City, Miami, Paris, Bora Bora, Venice, Tokyo or Koh Samui. There are those who say “the best redemption is one that makes you happy” and to a certain extent I agree. For example, it would make very little sense to force yourself to pick the St Regis New York over the Gramercy Park Hotel, Ritz Carlton or Chatwal just because it’s more expensive if you genuinely prefer the location/style/reviews of the other properties.
But then again, those properties price within ~US$100 of each other. When the price difference is more than 3X, as is the case in the Maldives, well…
Criteria 2: The hotel should be in a place where I could see myself spending 5 nights
The combined program will retain the 5th night free policy that Starwood has on award stays. This means a 4 and 5 night stay cost the same. If I wanted to maximise this, I should be looking at a place I could see myself staying 5 nights without getting bored. You’re going to have to take this call based on your circumstances and what you value.
The first step is to analyze how many points you’ll have post August, when your Starwood points are multiplied by 3 and combined with whatever Marriott Rewards points you have. Decide whether you want to buy points in anticipation of the changes.
The second is to identify the properties you want to stay at, based on the rules above or whatever other criteria you’ve identified.
Third, I’d think of at least three sets of dates per property, based on when you can take leave. Here’s 2019’s public holiday schedule in case you need ideas. Remember that hotels can be booked 350 days in advance.
Fourth, just before the bookings go live in August, camp out on the site and on the chat/phone lines. Platinum members have access to live online chat, and it wouldn’t be a bad idea to open a window for that as well just so you have an additional avenue of reaching someone.
Fifth, once the floodgates open, act fast! Assuming these awards can be booked online, I’d focus on locking in my “Plan A” online while giving “Plan B” to the CSO (no, not that Plan B) to search in the background. I’d probably also rope in at least one family member to search for Plan C etc online in a separate browser logged into my SPG account. Be sure to give them idiot-proof instructions and brief them properly! The more eyeballs you have looking for rooms, the better.
Will this work? Your guess is as good as mine. But the more you prepare, the more research you do now, the better placed you’ll be come August.
One final point- some people may want to try and beat the crowd by making a booking now, and getting the additional points refunded come August 2018. That can work, but the points will not be refunded automatically. This implies a risk- when you do rebook, you’ll need to cancel your original booking and there’s no guarantee you’ll be able to get it back, what with the positive deluge of people clamoring for rooms.
If you go down this path, my advice would be to rebook over the phone with a CSO, instead of handling it yourself online. It seems more conceivable that a CSO could do a points adjustment without having to return that room to inventory, versus doing it online where you’re for all intents and purposes cancelling your original booking, defeating the purpose of choping a room.
So, what’s your plan?