It’s been something of a long road for Marriott as it relates to the merger with SPG and the rollout of a new, combined loyalty program. Just over a year ago Marriott announced most of what we could expect from the new program. There were ways to earn more points, but it was also pretty clear that many award redemptions would get more expensive. At the time, we learned that peak and off-peak dates would be coming to the award chart, we just weren’t sure when. There have been a couple of false starts since then, but we now know the dates as well as some other changes you’re not going to like.
Peak/Off-Peak Award Pricing
New peak and off-peak award pricing will go into effect on September 14th and will line up with the previously released chart.
In some of the higher categories, the swing between peak and off-peak pricing can make a huge difference in the price of a vacation. We don’t know what the split for each property will be when it comes to peak and off-peak dates, only a promise from Marriott that it will be balanced. Gary Leff of View From the Wing notes that promise is for the system as a whole and not individual properties. It wouldn’t surprise me to see the most popular properties lean pretty heavily into peak pricing. We’ll know more in a month.
Peak/Off-Peak Pricing Adjusted Monthly
Marriott plans to adjust peak and off-peak pricing for hotels on a monthly basis. That means you’ll need to check repeatedly to make sure you’re getting the best possible redemption rate. That’s sure to cause frustration to members who understand the way the system works. For those who don’t know the new structure, they’ll just end up paying whatever happens to pop up that month without a clearer understanding of how they can maximize their points. If you have a reservation that drops in price, you’ll need to cancel and rebook to take advantage of the lower pricing. For key properties with more stringent cancelation policies, this may mean penalties for doing so. Marriott has rolled out a video to walk through this.
Points Advance Changes
Marriott is really putting a hurt into their popular points advance program. Points Advance allowed members to hold an available award room until they had all the points necessary to complete the reservation. For folks who earn points slowly from their travels or credit card spend over the course of a year, this was a big deal. Similarly, it was valuable for Marriott. The member could lock in their dream vacation spot, Marriott could potentially lock in their spending for a period of time while they earned their way to their next vacation.
Going forward, members will still be able to hold a room using points advance but the amount of points required for the reservation will vary. If the number of points required to complete your reservation changes during the time you have it on hold, you’ll need to pay the new amount. That will include award chart changes (usually done on a yearly basis) and the new peak/off-peak pricing adjustments on a monthly basis. Marriott has another video explaining things.
Members will also be limited to three points advance bookings at any one time.
Cash & Points Changes
Cash & Points reservations get new cash components, according to the following chart:
At first blush, these changes are probably better than Hyatt’s changes last year that require 50% of the prevailing room rate. I’ll have to dig more into these at a later date to determine how much value remains in the Cash & Points program.
5th Night Free
Marriott’s 5th night free option now becomes “Stay for 5, Pay for 4”, but the name is a bit misleading. If your dates happen to include different rates (such as one peak day and the rest standard award rates), you’ll be charged the points total for the 4 most expensive nights of your reservation, regardless of the chronological order. Put another way, if you book a Category 6 resort the standard rate is 50,000 points per night. If the first or last night was off-peak (40,000 points) and the remaining four nights were at the standard rate of 50,000 points per night, you’d be responsible for 200,000 points, or 50,000 points per night for four nights.
The Final Two Pennies
After a few delays on the start of peak and off-peak pricing, the official announcement comes with some bitter medicine for loyal Marriott members. The adjustment of pricing on a monthly basis will further confuse members or lead to more of a lottery effect when it comes to award pricing. We’ll need to wait for the rollout on September 14th to see how the peak and off-peak categories are applied at popular hotels.
The changes to Points Advance are especially disappointing. I understand some members used to abuse this benefit, and the recognition of that behavior seems to affect members as a whole. Instead of just limiting the number of Points Advance bookings a member could make, Marriott makes the pricing translucent and impossible to predict. Especially when it comes to annual award chart changes, some members are going to get a nasty surprise when their Points Advance reservation gets re-priced to a new category. This change is the antithesis of the loyalty programs like Marriott should be creating.
With the new Points Advance changes, Marriott becomes Lucy holding the football while their customers become Charlie Brown, charging down the road to a vacation they may not be able to afford. That’s pretty disappointing.
I sure hope Marriott broadcasts these changes loudly to members unlike when they changed course and quietly removed benefits from travel agent bookings last year. Negative changes are par for the course with loyalty programs over any long period of time. A lack of proper notification here coupled with the possibility of big changes to the price of your next vacation without notice going forward could end up with some pretty upset folks.
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