Hotels

6 things to know about Marriott Bonvoy’s upcoming big changes

From 14 September, Marriott Bonvoy will introduce off-peak/peak pricing, revise Cash + Points rates, change how Points Advance works and tweak fifth night free. Here's what you need to know.
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We’ve known this would happen for a while, but it’s finally been confirmed: Marriott will introduce peak/off-peak pricing for award nights effective 14 September 2019.

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In addition to this, Marriott will be making changes to Cash + Points, Points Advance reservations, and slightly tweaking how 5th night free works.

How much will off-peak and peak pricing cost?

Award nights at Marriott properties currently cost the same throughout the year. With off-peak/peak pricing, award nights will cost less during low season, and more during busy periods.

Currently, award prices range from 7,500 to 85,000 points a night. With “off-peak” and “peak”, that range becomes 5,000 to 100,000 points a night.

CategoryOff-Peak (from 14 Sept)StandardPeak (from 14 Sept)
15,000 (-33%)7,50010,000 (+33%)
210,000 (-20%)12,50015,000 (+20%)
315,000 (-14%)17,50020,000 (+14%)
420,000 (-20%)25,00030,000 (+20%)
530,000 (-14%)35,00040,000 (+14%)
640,000 (-20%)50,00060,000 (+20%)
750,000 (-17%)60,00070,000 (+17%)
870,000 (-18%)85,000100,000 (+18%)

The “peak surcharge” and “off-peak discount” range between 14 to 33%.

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The big ouch is that members looking to redeem Marriott’s most luxurious Category 8 properties will have seen prices increase from 60,000 points (pre March 2019) to as much as 100,000 points (post 14 September 2019) within a year. Yes, it’s only fair to point out that the price increase may be as mild as 60,000 to 70,000 points if you manage to snag an off-peak date, but it remains to be seen how many days a year will be offered at these rates.

What dates are defined as peak/off-peak?

St Regis Bali, a Category 8 property which will cost up to 100,000 points during peak season (probably July-Aug)

It’s currently not possible to know which dates count as peak and off-peak for a given property. You’ll only know this from 14 September, when you go on the Marriott website to try and book an award night.

Peak and off-peak dates are property-specific and not tied to a city or region. For example, different properties in Bali may have different peak and off-peak dates.

Unlike other loyalty programs which may set in advance the peak and off-peak dates for a given year, Marriott will recalculate these once a month. This means a given travel date may change from peak to standard, off-peak to peak, or any permutation of the three.

For what it’s worth, Marriott has said that standard rates will continue to be offered the majority of the time, with an equal distribution of peak and off-peak dates. There’s an important caveat to this- the equal distribution applies across the portfolio, not at a property level. For example, if Marriott had three properties in total, Property A could have peak prices all year, Property B could have standard prices all year, and Property C off-peak prices all year. On a portfolio level there’d be an equal distribution of peak and off-peak, but those staying at Property A aren’t going to be happy…

What if I’m staying at a property where the price is going up or down?

W Bali

On 14 September, you’ll be able to check whether the dates you’re looking to stay have increased or decreased in price. If they’ve decreased, you can cancel your existing reservation and rebook at the lower rates, assuming you’re still within the free cancellation period. If they’ve increased, you can keep your existing price provided you don’t make any adjustments to the reservation. If you do, the new pricing will be charged.

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Given that peak and off peak dates change monthly, you’re going to want to monitor your reservation monthly too. Just because the dates I’ve booked at property X are currently defined as peak doesn’t mean they’ll still be peak next month- so there’s the potential to save some points by periodically monitoring this. 

What’s happening to Points Advance?

Points Advance is one of the best features of Marriott Bonvoy- from an individual’s point of view. From a collective standpoint, it’s an utter disaster, a classic case of tragedy of the commons.

G-Rough, Rome, a Category 8 hotel. Until March this year, you could lock in a future stay with Points Advance at Category 7 pricing

Points Advance reservations allow members to make bookings without spending any points. The only requirement is that they fund their account with the necessary points 15 days from their stay. Members have historically been able to make as many Points Advance reservations as they please, which means one could make 50 speculative bookings at the St Regis Maldives or W Bali, decide later on which dates to stay, and forfeit the rest without penalty.

What’s more, since Points Advance reservations locked in the price at the time of booking, members were scampering to book up whole swaths of nights before Category 8 pricing came into effect. As you can imagine, that creates a situation where hotels see a whole lot of award nights go unused, and it limits the availability for everyone else.

Marriott is making two big changes here

  1. Points Advance bookings now reserve a room, not a rate. In other words, if I book a room at the St Regis Bali that costs 85,000 points today, but by the time I pay for the night the price has gone up to 100,000 points (because the date I’m looking at is considered peak), 100,000 points is what I pay
  2. A member can hold a maximum of three points Advance reservations at any time. If you made Points Advance reservations before 14 September, Marriott will honor up to five at the standard redemption rates. 

Long story short, the only way to lock in a points rate is to pay for it at the time of booking. If you opt for a Points Advance, you accept that you may have to shell out more points than your originally envisioned when the time comes to book.

What’s happening to Cash + Points?

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With the introduction of peak and off-peak pricing, Cash + Points will also see some changes.

CategoryOff-Peak (from 14 Sept)StandardPeak (from 14 Sept)
1US$55 + 1,500US$55 + 3,500US$55+ 4,500
2US$65+ 4,000US$65 + 6,000US$65 + 7,000
3US$80 + 6,000US$80 + 8,500US$80 + 9,500
4US$105 + 8,000US$105 + 12,000US$105 + 15,000
5US$140 + 13,500US$140 + 17,000US$140 + 21,000
6US$190 + 19,000US$190 + 25,000US$190 + 30,000
7US$250 +25,000US$250 + 30,000US$250 + 40,000
8US$440 + 27,500US$440 + 42,500US$440 + 57,500

Compared to the chart for full redemptions, this one makes less sense. The off-peak/peak discount/surcharge is the same within categories- for example, Category 2 hotels cost 20% more during peak, and 20% less during off-peak. For Cash + Points, Category 2 hotels cost 1,000 points more during peak, and 2,000 less during off-peak. That may sound like a good thing, but that pattern gets reversed for Category 7, where you’ll pay 10,000 more for peak, but save only 5,000 during off-peak.

What’s happening to 5th night free?

Marriott Bonvoy allows members to get the fifth night free on points redemptions. This will be revamped as “Stay 5, Pay for 4”, where members get the lowest cost night for free.

This only affects you if you stay during a period that overlaps different periods. For example, if four of my nights are peak and one is standard, I’ll get one standard night free. If three of my nights are off-peak and two are standard, I’ll get one off-peak night free.

Conclusion

Those of you with Marriott Bonvoy points will want to evaluate your travel plans for the next year and see how to best utilize your five Points Advance reservations allowance. Remember- it’s possible to book award stays up to 355 days in advance.

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Marriott points (like all hotel points) aren’t easy to earn in Singapore, but they are a transfer partner of American Express credit cards. I generally don’t find the AMEX conversion rate to be persuasive (you’d get much better value converting Membership Rewards points to miles), but it may make sense for those already flush with airline miles. Marriott hasn’t offered any compelling points sale since the Starwood days, but one hopes they’ll get more aggressive with the offers soon.


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