On 5 March 2019, Marriott made its annual category changes to its hotel portfolio. The biggest change was that the most expensive properties moved from Category 7 (60,000 points a night) into the newly-created Category 8 (85,000 points a night), a 40% price increase.
The silver lining to this was that members could use Marriott’s Points Advance feature to lock in Category 7 pricing, provided they did so before 5 March 2019. Points Advance is a “bill me later” feature that lets you make an award reservation now, but only pay for it 15 days before your stay.
For example, I could use Points Advance to reserve a room at the St Regis Bali at 60,000 points per night for a stay in January 2020.
This property now costs 85,000 points a night, but I can still enjoy the old 60,000 per night rate because I made the Points Advance reservation before 5 March 2019.
Keep in mind that a Points Advance reservation entails no obligation to actually stay. If you don’t pay for the reservation at least 15 days before arrival, it will be automatically cancelled with no penalty.
In light of this, it’s no wonder that everyone was snapping up Points Advance stays like hotcakes before 5 March 2019 rolled around. I personally don’t think it’s a good system, insofar as there’s very little incentive for members to cancel these Points Advance reservations in advance of the 15 day deadline. This means a higher likelihood of wasted rooms, and less availability for those who may be genuinely intending to stay but haven’t made reservations yet.
That said, I did make a few (five, to be exact) reservations based on my likely travel dates for the rest of 2019 and early 2020. One of them is coming up, so I decided it was time to pay for and confirm the reservation.
My experience getting Marriott to honor Category 7 pricing
Although you only need to fund a Points Advance reservation 15 days before arrival, I got a bit kiasu here. There’s a little voice at the back of my head saying that Marriott properties aren’t going to be too happy with the sudden deluge of Points Advance reservations that may or may not actually be used. If my travel plans are confirmed, why not just confirm the booking too? (to be clear, I haven’t heard anything that suggests properties are cancelling unconfirmed Points Advance reservations, but you never know with Bonvoy)
I have an upcoming trip to Florence in September 2019 and booked the St Regis Florence for five nights back in February 2019. This priced at 240,000 points, after taking into account the fifth night free benefit on award stays.
Points Advance bookings can usually be confirmed online once you have enough points. The problem is: once the reservation system switched over to the new pricing on 5 March 2019, erstwhile Category 7 hotels now price out at the new Category 8 cost.
This means that you’ll need to call up Marriott customer service to get them to confirm the stay at the old pricing.
Depending on who you get, the call may be a five minute simple affair, or a long drawn-out argument with a poorly-trained CSO who insists you need to pay the new price. Unfortunately, I got the latter- but I was prepared.
I read up about the issue beforehand and learned about something called KM 6115. From what I understand, it’s some sort of circular that went out to Marriott CSOs which states unambiguously that Points Advance reservations made before 5 March 2019 are to be honored at the old rates. It also provides CSOs with instructions on how to make the booking, which basically involves issuing the stay certificate at the new pricing and adding back the points difference as a manual credit.
Once it became clear the CSO was intending to charge me 340,000 points, I dropped the KM 6115 reference and waited on hold while she read it. After that, everything went smoothly- she issued the certificate for 340,000 points, and credited my account with 100,000 points.
Now, I’m sure a bright idea might be forming in some people’s heads. These reservations can be cancelled and refunded, just like any other points reservation. If you cancelled the booking, would you earn a net total of 100,000 points?
The answer is no: Marriott isn’t that stupid. Cancelling a price-adjusted Points Advance reservation will result in a clawback of the points which were manually credited- so if I cancelled my St Regis Florence booking, I’d only get back 240,000 points.
Please don’t try and game the system with these reservations. It’s already nice enough that Marriott is honoring the predevaluation rates, and there’s no reason to make them regret doing so.
For those of you holding on to Points Advance reservations at pre 5 March 2019 pricing, I hope this article makes your confirmation process as painless as possible.
Remember: if you meet a CSO who refuses to help you out, the least stressful course of action is to simply hang up and call back.