Marriott Rewards (soon-to-be-called Marriott Bonvoy) is about to undergo a massive devaluation for award bookings. Marriott hasn’t given us a specific date, but it has told us that devaluation will occur sometime “in March.” That means we may be as few as 30 days away from watching our Marriott points balances shrink in value.
We want Middle Age Miles readers to be aware of this coming devaluation and prepare as best we can. In this article, we’ll first go through what we know and don’t know about the coming devaluation. We’ll take a look at what to do to prepare. And finally, we’ll take a look at some of the high-end properties where devaluation will hit hardest to check on availability and value.
We hope you can use your Marriott Rewards points well, to book stays now that will give you the most value and help your travel dreams come true!
Understanding the Massive Marriott March Devaluation
As our first step, let’s take a look at what we know for sure about Marriott’s impending huge devaluation.
1. Marriott is introducing “Peak” award pricing, which will result in huge devaluations when people want to stay most.
Currently, Marriott places each hotel into a “Category” – categories 1 through 7 – and it has a single award price level for each Category (“Standard” pricing). In March, however, Marriott will implement three-tiered award pricing for each category – Peak, Standard, and Off-Peak pricing. For each category, Standard pricing will remain the same, whereas Peak pricing is higher, requiring more points than Standard, and Off-Peak pricing is lower.
The new award pricing structure will be as follows:
Let’s think about this for a minute – When do award redemptions save you the most money? At Peak times, of course, when paid room rates are highest. And when are people most likely to want to stay at a particular hotel and redeem their points? Again, at Peak times.
This means that at for the dates you’re most likely to want to stay, and for the dates where we’ve been saving the most money by using points, award pricing will be increasing for literally every single hotel in the entire Marriott system. Let that sink in for a minute. Make no mistake, this is a massive devaluation.
Category-by-category, points redemptions for each existing category are increasing by somewhere between 14.3% and 33.3%, during Peak pricing:
- Category 1 – 7,500 points to 10,000 points = 33.3% increase
- Category 2 – 12,500 points to 15,000 points = 20.0% increase
- Category 3 – 17,500 points to 20,000 points = 14.3% increase
- Category 4 – 25,000 points to 30,000 points = 20.0% increase
- Category 5 – 35,000 points to 40,000 points = 14.3% increase
- Category 6 – 50,000 points to 60,000 points = 20.0% increase
- Category 7 – 60,000 points to 70,000 points = 16.7% increase
Thus, at the times when we’re most likely to want to use our points, we’re clearly looking at a serious devaluation.
2. Marriott is introducing a new “Category 8” for 59 hotels, with higher pricing across-the-board.
In addition, as you can see in the bottom line of the award pricing chart above, starting in March, Marriott is adding a new “Category 8” with higher pricing on all dates. Right now, the highest category is Category 7, and all award pricing is at the Standard level. Thus, the highest award pricing for any Marriott hotel is 60,000 points at this time.
There are 59 hotels that will be moving to the new Category 8. The best way to see them is to go to this Marriott Free Night Award Chart and click twice on “New Award Category” so that the chart will show all new Category 8 properties at the top of the chart.
Of course, the new Category 8 properties are the most desirable aspirational properties in the entire Marriott universe, places like the Blue Palace in Crete.
New Category 8 hotels are increasing in award price for all price levels – Peak, Standard, and Off-Peak:
- Category 8 on Peak dates – 60,000 points to 100,000 points = 66.7% increase!!!
- Category 8 on Standard dates – 60,000 points to 85,000 points = 41.7% increase!
- Category 8 on Off-Peak dates – 60,000 points to 70,000 points = 16.7% increase
Thus, for the aspirational properties where we most want to stay – where we most want to use our points to have experiences we perhaps never would or could actually pay for – we’re going to have to pay more for every single day of the year. And during the Peak times when we most want to stay there, the price is going up by a whopping 66.7%!!!
Are we all seeing clearly now what a massive devaluation we’re facing?
3. Marriott credit card free night certificates have fixed values of 35,000 and 50,000 points. Peak pricing will mean we can no longer use those certificates at same category of hotels.
Several Amex and Chase Marriott co-branded credit cards include a benefit of a free night certificate after your cardholder anniversary. The free night certificates are good at any hotel up to a fixed number of points – 25,000, 35,000 or 50,000 depending on the card (I’ll refer to them by their current names):
- 25,000 points:
- legacy Chase Marriott Premier personal card
- 35,000 points:
- Amex SPG Personal card
- Amex SPG Business card
- Chase Marriott Rewards Premier Plus personal card
- Chase Marriott Rewards Premier Plus Business card
- 50,000 points:
- Amex SPG Luxury card
- Chase Ritz-Carlton Rewards card
Currently, at Standard pricing:
- 25k certificates can be used at any Category 4 or lower hotel
- 35k certificates can be used at any Category 5 or lower hotel
- 50k certificates can be used at any Category 6 or lower hotel
However, once Peak pricing is introduced, you will no longer be able to use the free night certificates at the same category of hotel – during the times when you want to stay the most and when the certificate would save you the most money. On Peak pricing dates, your options will look like this:
- 25k certificates can’t be used at a Category 4 during Peak, only at Category 3 or lower
- 35k certificates can’t be used at a Category 5 during Peak, only at Category 4 or lower
- 50k certificates can’t be used at a Category 6 during Peak, only at Category 5 or lower
Thus, clearly, our Marriott free night certificates will be worth less and are being significantly devalued just like our Marriott points.
We’ve covered the devaluations that we know for sure, and they’re really bad. But believe it or not, things may actually be worse that what we already realize. Let’s think about the things we don’t know but which may make this devaluation even worse.
4. How will Marriott implement Peak pricing? Will Peak pricing be in effect most of the time at some or all properties?
When we’re presented with a chart of Peak/Standard/Off-Peak like Marriott has done, at some level we tend to assume that this will be implemented in some kind of “fair” way for each property, like:
- 2 months of Peak / 8 months of Standard / 2 months of Off-Peak; or
- 3 months of Peak / 6 months of Standard / 3 months of Off-Peak; or even
- 4 months of Peak / 4 months of Standard / 4 months of Off-Peak
But Marriott has not given us any guidelines to understand how Peak/Standard/Off-Peak pricing will be implemented. And it certainly hasn’t given us any assurances that the designations of Peak, Standard and Off-Peak dates will be fair or even-handed. For example, how do we know that the distribution of Peak/Standard/Off-Peak for a particular property won’t look like this:
- 10 months of Peak / 1 month of Standard / 1 month of Off-Peak
Or, for that matter, what do we know that would stop hotels from using Peak pricing 100% of the time (or very close to it)?
Moreover, there’s nothing guaranteeing that a hotel will ever be offered at Off-Peak pricing. If Marriott’s historical sparse offerings for PointsSavers awards is any indication, we shouldn’t expect to be seeing a lot of Off-Peak award pricing.
5. Will hotels be moving to higher Categories?
For the past several years, Marriott has adjusted which of its hotels are in which Category for award redemption purposes. According to The Points Guy, in early 2017 about 1,100 Marriott properties changed categories with about 660 of the changes moving up, and in early 2018 about 1,600 Marriott/SPG properties changed categories with about 1,200 of them moving up. And of course, the properties moving to a higher category – and thus costing more points – are the properties in higher demand, that is, those where we most want to stay!
Right now, we don’t know whether Marriott will implement any category changes in 2019. None have been announced other than the 59 hotels moving up from Category 7 to the new Category 8.
But there are no guarantees that other hotels won’t be moved to higher categories. And the recent historical pattern would tell us that we can reasonably expect Marriott to move some of the hotels that we would perceive to be relative points bargains up into a higher category.
Our Strategy in Light of the Massive Marriott March Devaluation
In light of the upcoming devaluation, we think the strategy is simple – use your Marriott points to book as many Marriott award reservations as possible before the devaluation hits. This is particularly true if you’re wanting to book one of the 59 hotels that will be moving up to new Category 8. All of those hotels will be increasing in award pricing for all dates, and the award pricing increases are especially huge for these aspirational properties.
To implement this strategy, here are a few thoughts:
- We need to have to buckle down and do some serious travel planning now. We need to get our dates right, because if we have to cancel and re-book after the devaluation hits, it’s going to be at the higher price.
- It’s best to do this sooner rather than later. Right now, there is decent-to-good award availability at a lot of the 59 “new Category 8” properties we checked. But as the new pricing draws nearer, you can bet that a lot of our fellow travelers will be booking up that space. In the last day or two before the new pricing kicks in, there may be no space left.
- Remember that we can book at the old rates, as far out as the Marriott schedule allows – so we can make award bookings almost a year in advance. This will allow us to book at the current redemption rates into early 2020.
- We may be able to take advantage of Marriott Rewards’ “Points Advance” program to make bookings even if we don’t have the full number of points right now for our reservation. The Points Advance program is described at Section 3.6 of the Marriott Rewards Terms & Conditions. The Terms & Conditions are light on details about Points Advance – in particular, we don’t see a rule about whether you’ll have to pay the old or new rate if you make a Points Advance reservation when award pricing is low but don’t acquire the points until after award pricing has increased. We have seen at least one data point of a customer getting Marriott to honor the old/lower pricing in this situation, but we’re not certain how this will turn out given the lack of specificity in the Terms & Conditions.
- To the extent possible, we want to take advantage of Marriott Rewards’ “Fifth Night Free” benefit on award bookings. It really helps to enhance the value of our Marriott points when we can get an extra night for free.
What Are Some “New Category 8” Properties of Interest and Their Availability?
Because the hardest (and most certain) devaluation hit will be to the 59 hotels that will be moving up to new Category 8, we took a look at a few of these properties to assess availability. We particularly looked at the Summer 2019 holiday season, May through August, as this is when a lot of people will have the most time available for travel.
Here are a few things we found:
Gritti Palace, Venice – Available for about half of the days in June, most days in July, and all 31 days in August.
St. Regis Maldives – Available for only 2 days in May, 1 in July, and 0 in August. But decent availability in July with almost half of the days showing availability. We also noted that on days where award rooms were available here, the standard-room beach villa was 60k points, but it was generally also possible to reserve an overwater villa for 100k points. This may be especially interesting for an aspirational award for some, given that we’d be talking about a paid rate of more than $1,500 per night.
St. Regis Rome – Available for the majority of days in May, 29 out of 30 days in June, and every day in July and August.
Ritz-Carlton St. Thomas – Says that it’s re-opening in Summer 2019 after renovations to repair hurricane damage, but it’s not taking any reservations at this time, either paid or award.
Ritz-Carlton Grand Cayman – Summer may not be the perfect time to visit the Ritz-Carlton Grand Cayman, but availability is great – almost every day in May, June and July, and every single day in August.
Prince de Galles, Paris – This hotel just a couple of blocks off the Champs-Elysees is available for award redemptions every single day from May through August, including July 13-14 for Bastille Day and July 27-28 when the Tour de France will hold its final stage on the Champs and crown its champion.
Mystique, Santorini, Greece – Unfortunately, we found only 6 days of availability total at Mystique from May through August. Rats.
Al Maha Desert Resort, Dubai – You’re probably not going to want to summer in Dubai, but Al Maha has good availability into November and December as well (save for the week of November 25-29). As Gary from View From the Wing has written, Al Maha is an all-suites property, with private pools looking out over the desert. The 60k points redemption rate is full-board including all meals, and it also includes 2 activities per day.
Be sure to check around to find your favorite destination and book it soon!
Valuation of Marriott Points Going Forward
Historically, we’ve given Marriott points a baseline value of 0.75 cents per point. We assess our baseline values as the level at which its reasonably easy for us to redeem points at or above that rate for stays that we’d make in our normal travel patterns. And we use our baseline values as a guide when we’re acquiring points, to assess the value of what we’re getting and to be able to compare that value across different points-and-miles currencies.
We’ll need to study the exact impact of the Marriott devaluation more, but we expect to reduce our baseline value of Marriott points soon. We can see it dropping to 0.7, 0.65, or even 0.6 points depending on exactly how things play out. But in terms of acquiring Marriott points now, if you don’t have a redemption at pre-devaluation current rates in mind to deploy the points right away, we’d recommend that you start thinking of Marriott points more in the 0.65 or 0.7 cent-per-point range.
We hope that we’ve alerted you to the true magnitude of the Massive Marriott March devaluation and provided you with good guidance on how to best manage your points and book aspirational properties before the devaluation kicks in. The clock is ticking. Let’s book some great travel soon!
What do you think about the Massive Marriott March devaluation? And what plans are you making now? Please share with us and other Middle Age Miles readers in the Comments!
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