Middle Age Miles

Marriott Massive March Massacre 2020 – Category Changes Crush Certificate Value – What to Do in the Next Few Days

marriott bonvoy devaluation hotel category changes free night certificate value strategy what to do

Introduction

#Bonvoyed again.

Back in early February, Marriott announced hotel award category changes that will take effect in less than a week, on March 4, 2020. You can access the full list of category changes here:

The category changes are brutal, as we’ll discuss in more detail below.

And, to put the 2020 category changes into a larger context, remember that this is yet another in a series of significant devaluations to the Marriott Bonvoy program over the past 20 months or so, as we’ve reported:

To rub further salt in the wound, Marriott’s last 2 chainwide promotions have been extremely weak:

And right now, while Hyatt and IHG are in the midst of good chainwide promotions and Hilton is running a promotion too, Marriott is running absolutely no promotion at all.

Finally, earlier this month (Feb 2020) Marriott made changes that effectively eliminated its “no blackout dates” policy for award reservations at former SPG properties (legacy Marriott properties were already able to black out certain dates), as Frequent Miler covered here.

So, even before we get to next week’s devaluation, Marriott Bonvoy is a program that has cratered in value over the past 20 months. And it’s about to get even worse.

Massive Marriott March Massacre via Category Changes

As you know, Marriott places its hotels into 1 of 8 categories for award redemption purposes, with the following redemption rates:

Marriott’s current “hotel finder” chart includes 7,741 hotels worldwide, with 5,350 of the properties being in the United States (69.1%).

Each year, Marriott re-evaluates its hotel award redemptions and re-classifies certain properties into different categories. This year’s category changes are particularly unfriendly and uneven-handed (hat tip to The Points Guy for providing a downloadable spreadsheet that helped us work with the data, which you can access through this link):

  • 1,686 properties are going up by a category (21.8% of all properties)
  • 499 properties are going down (6.4% of all properties)

Category-by-category, the hotels going up in category are:

  • Category 1 to 2 = 185 (standard redemption rate up by 5,000 pts/67%)
  • Category 2 to 3 = 558 (standard redemption rate up by 5,000 pts/40%)
  • Category 3 to 4 = 388 (standard redemption rate up by 7,500 pts/43%)
  • Category 4 to 5 = 216 (standard redemption rate up by 10,000 pts/40%)
  • Category 5 to 6 = 216 (standard redemption rate up by 15,000 pts/43%)
  • Category 6 to 7 = 95 (standard redemption rate up by 10,000 pts/20%)
  • Category 7 to 8 = 28 (standard redemption rate up by 25,000 pts/42%)

At this point, we can tell that more than 20% of Marriott’s hotels (1,591 out of 7,741) are going up in standard award price by at least 40%!!! (And remember, this is on top of the other devaluations we’ve seen over the past 20 months!).

By contrast, the hotels going down in category are only:

  • Category 2 to 1 = 44
  • Category 3 to 2 = 140
    • Category 4 to 2 = 1
  • Category 4 to 3 = 190
  • Category 5 to 4 = 96
  • Category 6 to 5 = 15
  • Category 7 to 6 = 9
  • Category 8 to 7 = 4

We could pile on with more stats here, but we suspect that you get the idea.

Free Night Certificate Holders are Particularly Hard-Hit

35,000-point cerrtificates

The most common Marriott free night certificates from credit cards are the 35,000-point certificates that come as a benefit of the following cards:

  • Chase Marriott Bonvoy Boundless card
  • Amex Marriott Bonvoy Business card
  • Amex Marriott Bonvoy personal card (former SPG personal card; no longer available for new applicants)

At standard rates, the 35k certificates are available for redemption at Category 1 through 5 hotels.

With next week’s devaluation, 216 properties move up from Category 5 to Category 6, making them completely unavailable for 35k free night certificates. Only 15 properties drop from Category 6 to 5, meaning that a net 201 hotels are lost for 35k free night certificate redemption.

A few of the most notable hotels that are no longer available with 35k free night certificates include:

  • AC Hotel New York Times Square
  • Gaylord Opryland Resort & Convention Center
  • Hotel Zachary, Chicago, a Tribute Portfolio Hotel
  • JW Marriott Chicago
  • JW Marriott Phu Quoc Emerald Bay Resort & Spa, Vietnam
  • Le Meridien hotels in Columbus; Split, Croatia; Munich; Nice; Philadelphia; Rome; and Vienna
  • Marriott Chicago Downtown Magnificent Mile
  • Marriott Marquis Houston
  • Marriott Prague
  • Renaissance Aruba Resort & Casino
  • Renaissance Lucerne
  • Sheraton Kauai Resort
  • Ritz-Carlton New York, Westchester
  • Ritz-Carlton, Cleveland
  • Sheraton Lake Como
  • St. Regis Abu Dhabi
  • The Hotel Lucerne, Autograph Collection
  • W New Orleans – French Quarter
  • Westin hotels in Austin; Busan, South Korea; Costa Navarino, Greece; Denver (airport); Hilton Head; Kyoto; Malta; Palm Springs; Philadelphia; Portland, ME; Puntacana; San Francisco (airport); Scottsdale; Snowmass; and Vancouver
Middle Age Miles had a nice stay last summer at the funky Hotel Lucerne,
Autograph Collection, using a 35k free night certificate

Remember also that with Peak pricing, even Category 5 hotels are not available during Peak nights (they’re 40k on those nights, out of reach of the certificates). Peak pricing applies on highest-demand nights, so even Category 5 hotels are not available with the 35k free night certificates on the nights that you’re most likely to want to stay there.

The double whammy of Peak pricing plus the new category changes have dramatically reduced the value of the 35k free night certificates. You’ll have to re-assess whether it’s worth the annual fee of $95-125 to keep these cards in order to get a 35k free night certificate.

50,000-point certificates

Holders of 50,000-point certificates are also hard-hit. These 50k certificates come as a benefit of the following cards:

  • Amex Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant
  • JPMorgan Chase Ritz-Carlton (no longer available for new applicants)

At standard rates, the 50k certificates are available for redemption at Category 1 through 6 hotels.

With next week’s devaluation, 95 properties move up from Category 6 to Category 7, making them unavailable for 50k free night certificates at standard rates (Category 7 hotels are available for 50k on Off-Peak nights, although that’s when you’re least likely to want to stay there and cash rates are presumably lower). Only 9 properties drop from Category 7 to 6, meaning that a net 86 properties are lost for 50k free night certificate redemption at standard rates.

Some notable hotels that are moving up to Category 7 include:

  • Aruba Marriott Resort & Stellaris Casino
  • Augustine, a Luxury Collection Hotel, Prague
  • Grand Cayman Marriott Beach Resort
  • Hotel Park City, Autograph Collection
  • JW Marriott hotels in Cannes; San Francisco; Vancouver; and Venice
  • Le Westin Resort & Spa, Tremblant, Quebec
  • Marriott’s Maui Ocean Club
  • Mauna Kea Beach Hotel, Autograph Collection
  • Monterey Marriott
  • New York Marriott Marquis
  • Palace Hotel, a Luxury Collection Hotel, San Francisco
  • Paris Marriott Opera Ambassador Hotel
  • Renaissance hotels in Boston; New York; and Paris (x3)
  • Ritz-Carlton hotels in Amelia Island; Bahrain; Dallas; Denver; Dubai; Herzliya, Israel; Jeddah; Kay Biscayne (Miami); Macau; Marina del Rey; Mexico City; Naples (golf resort); New Orleans; Philadelphia; Sarasota, FL; and Vienna
  • Rome Marriott Grand Hotel Flora
  • Seattle Marriott Waterfront
  • Sheraton Maui Resort & Spa
  • St. Ermin’s Hotel, Autograph Collection
  • St. Regis hotels in Abu Dhabi and Mexico City
  • The Algonquin Hotel Times Square, Autograph Collection
  • W San Francisco
  • Wailea Beach Resort (Marriott), Maui
  • Westin hotels in Dublin; Mammoth, CA; Maui (x2); Nashville; New York Times Square; Palo Alto; Rome; and Tokyo
It’s been a few years since we’ve been there, but we enjoyed our stay
at the Westin Maui with this sweet view!

As with the 35k certificates, holders of 50k certifcates are being hammered with the one-two punch of Peak pricing and hotel category devaluations. And 50k certificate holders likewise need to assess the value of the certificate in relation to their annual fees on the Amex Marriott Brilliant and JPMorgan Chase Ritz-Carlton cards.

We say that the Ritz-Carlton Visa card is a definite keeper, whereas we preferred to downgrade our Brilliant card and hope for an upgrade offer in the future that will allow us to maximize value.

An Example of the Multiple Marriott Devaluations in Action

To illustrate how Marriott’s recent devaluations have compounded on one another and crushed program value, consider the London Marriott Park Lane. Under the old Marriott Rewards program, the Park Lane was in the highest tier of hotels, available for award redemptions for 45,000 points per night. In August 2018, Marriott merged its legacy hotels and former SPG hotels into a single award chart, and the Park Lane became a Category 7 hotel requiring 60,000 points. In September 2019, Marriott implemented Peak/Standard/Off-Peak pricing, so that highest-demand nights at the Park Lane required 70,000 points to book. Now, just 6 months later, Marriott is jumping the Park Lane to Category 8, meaning that it now requires 85,000 points to book at Standard rates; 100,000 at Peak rates.

So, less than 20 months ago, you could book the Park Lane at 45,000 points. As of next week, it will require 85,000 points for a Standard night (an 88.9% increase) and 100,000 points for a Peak night (a 122.2% increase)!

What to Do Now (no later than March 3)

We’ve bellyached a lot about the Marriott changes – but what can we do now to help ourselves?

We’ll want to take these actions before the category changes go into effect – that is, no later than Tuesday, March 3:

  • Review all upcoming personal travel plans and potential plans
    • Remember that you will be able to book at the existing (pre-change) award rates as far out as the Marriott schedule allows, often almost a year in advance
  • If there are any opportunities to use Marriott points for properties that will be increasing in points price, book them now
    • Bookings made on or before March 3 can be made at the existing (pre-change) award rates
  • Similarly, if there are any opportunities to use Marriott free night certificates for properties that will be moving out of the range of certificates you hold, book the reservations now
  • These bookings using points and certificates should be made if there’s any chance they can be used; they can always be canceled and the points or certificate returned to your Marriott Bonvoy account
  • If you have any Points Advance reservations that have not yet been confirmed, call Marriott and confirm them now
    • The price of Points Advance reservations is determined as of the time the reservation is confirmed and the points are actually deducted
    • If you don’t have enough points, it may even be worth transferring Chase Ultimate Rewards points to top off your account in order to confirm the reservation
      • In this situation, you’ll have to do a close analysis of value, as UR points (1.5 cents per point) are generally more valuable than Marriott points (0.67 cents per point) – but if you only need a few in order to lock in the reservation, it might make sense

What to Do on March 4 and Afterwards

Once the category changes go into effect, there are a few more things to do:

  • For any hotels that you’ve booked on points and are decreasing in category & award price, contact Marriott to get the points difference refunded to your account
    • Marriott does not issue automatic refunds when points prices go down
  • For all award reservations made on points prior to March 4, continue to monitor the reservations and your Marriott Bonvoy account
    • There have been many instances where Marriott Bonvoy has taken additional points from a member’s account after the price increase
      • In these situations, the member should call in to Marriott Bonvoy to get the matter corrected – in general, Marriott has simply credited the member’s account with additional points sufficient to cover the increased cost of the reservation
      • You’re not likely to get any notice of this
      • And people who don’t watch their accounts & reservations may completely miss this and be charged more points than they should have

Wrap-Up

Marriott’s impending category changes, combined with the many other devaluations over the past few months, have truly crushed the value of Marriott’s loyalty program. And points-earning rates have not improved to make up for the additional points needed to redeem – although basic earnings have stayed the same, some credit card points-earning avenues have decreased (former Amex SPG cardholders know what we mean) and Marriott’s recent promotions have been sub-par or non-existent.

These Marriott devaluations pushed us to using Hyatt as our primary loyalty program and chain for stays. We’ve complained about the Marriott devaluations, and we’ve placed our actions in line with our words. So far, we’ve been pleased with the results.

That said, there are times when Hyatts aren’t available or Marriotts are more convenient. And there are certainly times when we’ve been treated quite well by Marriott properties, most notably during our stay at the Parklane in Cyprus last fall. No matter how unhappy we are with Marriott, we still need to use it at times, so the continued devaluations still hurt.

Looking forward, we’d like to take a look at where some of the best values still lie for Marriott post-category changes, and hopefully we’ll be able to publish an article on that subject. We’ll also need to take yet another look at our baseline value for Marriott points in light of next week’s changes. At the beginning of 2020, we reduced our baseline value to 0.67 cents per point, and the recent changes mean that this number may go down even more. Finally, we’ll be re-assessing our strategies for Marriott co-branded credit cards in light of the serious devaluations of the certificates, and the changes may well tip the keep-vs-cancel analysis in favor of cancelling cards that we otherwise would have kept!

What are your thoughts on the Marriott category changes, and on strategies in response? Please share with us and other Middle Age Miles readers in the Comments!


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8 thoughts on “Marriott Massive March Massacre 2020 – Category Changes Crush Certificate Value – What to Do in the Next Few Days

  1. Mark

    I wish they would soften this blow with an announcement that they are going to vastly improve their mid-tier hotel breakfast offerings, but alas….

  2. Bob

    Good run down, Craig. I also find “peak” pricing inevitably occurs on a Saturday. Making my favorite use of multiple certs for a weekend getAway far less attractive. Bonvoyed yet again!

    1. Craig at Middle Age Miles Post author

      Thanks, Bob. You make a very good point about Peak pricing showing up very often on Saturday nights. I’ve noticed that as well, at least anecdotally. I suspect there’s a strong pattern that could be found if one were to roll up sleeves and dig into it further. It’s like this program intentionally tries to frustrate anyone who pays attention to what they’re doing. ~Craig

  3. cafesandalleyways

    Great analysis Craig. Your example of the Park Lane is crazy bad!

    Our annual fee for the Old SPG/Now Bonvoy, Business card posted. We’re in the window where we can still cancel and get a refund. The offsetting value for the $125 annual fee is the “free” 35k night certificate. Getting value from this certificate will be increasingly difficult. We need to decide play “keep or cancel” and it’s hard to find reasons to keep! Your post was a good reminder of this.

    Thanks for your great posts.

    1. Craig at Middle Age Miles Post author

      Many thanks, Mike. I hope you guys are doing well. Last time we talked, cafesandalleyways was in its infancy (and I think I was in the airport in Amman!). You guys have been busy since then! It’s starting to fill in quite nicely.

      Very true on the Amex Bonvoy Biz card. Funny timing, ours have just come up for renewal as well. We’re planning a “keep or cancel” article soon. ~Craig

  4. Grant

    Loyalty is a one way street for Marriott. That is why am not loyal to a single hotel program, its great to be a free agent so you can pick and choose where you stay. I agree, Marriott has fallen a long distance from where is was 2 years ago 🙁

  5. Jake Mueller

    Marriott can thrive with a loyalty program as shitty as Bonvoy, so they don’t have an incentive to make it any more rewarding. Hyatt & Hilton have issues of their own, although both of them have better customer-service quality.

    As you correctly pointed out, there’s no escaping Marriott because of its large footprint. That’s why most people only whine but never boycott Bonvoy, thus reaffirming its belief that a perfunctory loyalty program would yield better profits.

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