Analysis Of Marriott Hotel Redemption Category Changes Coming March 4

Marriott has an award chart with each hotel assigned a category from 1 to 8. That determines the price you’ll pay in points for a standard room, as long as that room is available. (Each category has a low, regular, and high season price and Marriott adjusts the dates that apply to each for a given hotel monthly.)

Every year Marriott re-categorizes hotels, moving them up or down, largely based on whether the rates are expected higher or lower than the previous year. There’s some wiggle room for adjustment, but changes largely track the hotel market.

Each Year At This Time Marriott Increases The Category And Price Of Hotels

Last year in addition to introducing a new highest hotel category 8 (1% of hotels), Marriott raised the category of 4% of their hotels and lowered the category of 1%. Overall increases outnumbered decreases 9-to-1.

I’ve been tracking this since 2012 and in every single year more hotels have gone up in category (and thus in redemption price) than have gone down.

So it should be no shock to anyone that on top of the news that capacity controls on redemptions are being imposed at legacy Starwood hotel brands, this year’s re-categorization of hotels means substantially more going up than going down.

More Hotels Going Up, Up, Up in March

Out of Marriott’s roughly 7500 hotels a whopping 22% are going up in category March 4, 2020 while just 7% are going down, or over 1000 more increases than decreases. That’s especially brutal, even compared to prior years, and comparable perhaps only to 2013.

  • 1687 go up in category
  • 507 go down in category
  • Only one hotel, Four Points by Sheraton Bali Ungasan, moves two categories and that is a decrease.
  • Four hotels move from category 8 to category 7: the W Hong Kong (for obvious reasons), W Aspen, Hotel President Wilson Geneva and Cristallo in Italy.
  • Although Marriott says most of the change “takes place between categories 1-5” don’t let the smaller number of changes in the upper categories fool you – they just have fewer truly top end hotels.

    While 4 hotels drop out of category 8 Marriott is adding 37 hotels to the top redemption tier.

Cosmopolitan Las Vegas, A New Category 8 Hotel

Marriott has posted the list of changes here. You can download a sortable spreadsheet of the changes hosted on my blog here.

Marriott Has Engaged In Consistent Devaluation Since Launching Their New Program

Since the new combined Marriott loyalty program launched a year and a half ago we’ve gone from the most expensive redemption being 60,000 points per night to 100,000 points per night; a new limit on redemptions at ex-Starwood hotels; and more hotels costing more points. Oh, and Marriott’s CEO claims not to believe in devaluation.

Remember to book any hotels going up in price before March 4, and to request refunds of points for hotels that drop in price come that date. This is complicated of course by shifting high and low season pricing.

2019 was a banner year for hotel occupancy and room rates, so it’s not surprising to see the price of hotels going up in points too. Late 2019 seemed to plateau, so hopefully changes going forward will moderate somewhat.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. @ Gary — One of my smartest travel moves ever was transferring out all our points after the merger. I actively avoid their hotels. Hopefully, I will never need to stay at one.

  2. Something nobody is saying: This is at least the 4th or 5th change since 2018. Marriott made changes in early or mid-2018 when the combined loyalty program was announced, further changes at the end of 2018, and then one or two additional changes in 2019. So, again, the 4th or 5th change in 2 years. You can partly blame all the points travelers bragging about hotels that were or are a bargain since most of us concur that the number of guests redeeming points at a property has some sort of impact on what category a hotel is placed into. Marriott could at least be transparent and explain the formula it uses in determining which category a hotel is classified under since a brand new hotel flagged as a Courtyard or Fairfield Inn can start at category 5 whereas there are existing Westin and Ritz-Carlton hotels classified as category 3.

    I complained to a property I frequent several times per year. This property went from a category 4 in 2018 to a category 5 to a category 6 in 2019 to a category 7 now. The general manager said this is 100% the decision of corporate Marriott. It should be noted that her property is NOT managed by Marriott. So if she is being honest it isn’t greedy owners.

    So why would corporate raise a franchise-operated hotel? Perhaps to protect the properties Marriott manages in the market. If other properties within the market NOT managed by Marriott are at a lower category then Marriott is losing revenue since Marriott makes MORE money at properties it manages.

  3. One month’s notice? Why didn’t Marriott announce this at the end of 2019 and give everyone two full months’ notice?

  4. they wanted to squeeze every $ from every single day on every hotel. if they can they’d do it every hour the dynamic pricing will kick in.

  5. Based on my quick look, any remaining reasonable redemption will be gone on March 4. Even without that, the inflation was quite humongous. Let say a category 5 goes to 6. This + high season increased the redemption cost from 35,000/night to 60,000 night. This is 71% inflation in about 1 year. Also, this decreased the value of free night from cc or after staying 75 nights/year.
    Of course, all this was fully expected after Marriott bonvoyed SPG program.

  6. This article is also incomplete without noting the earn side. Quantities of a currency have no meaning absent the cost to acquire. Marriott has not only ramped you redemption levels, it has majorly slashed earning opportunities in the form of very poor promos.

  7. This is a massive devaluation pure and simple. Many of these categories are just a joke. A hotel that I stayed in last weekend at a paid rate of $136 will become a Cat 7 property?

    This cuts my valuation of Marriott points by at least 1/4. I will now value them at 0.5-0.6 cpp, or just a nose above that of Hilton points. But as CW notes, the earn rate also matters and both promos, credit cards and elite status all provide better opportunities to earn Hilton points. I just wish that they had more and better properties in the places that I stay a lot. Keep upping your game Hilton and I will gladly drop Marriott like a hot potato.

  8. 226 hotels going from cat 5 to cat 6. They are now removed from the standard season $95 credit card “free” anniversary night redemption.

    14 hotels going from cat 6 to cat 5.

  9. I have redeemed points at a very nice Renaissance hotel every year for 1 week since 2015. It went for 35,000 points per night until 2018, when it increased to 50,000 for 2019. Now, the same hotel for my 2020 stay will be 60,000 points. Yes, it’s one of the nicer Renaissance properties across the entire Renaissance brand even though it doesn’t have a club lounge. But this city has also two Autograph Collection properties, one W, and one Luxury Collection property. All of them are category 7 properties. One of the Luxury Collection properties is considered one of the best in the entire Luxury Collection portfolio. Why would I redeem my points for a better than average Renaissance if I can redeem the same number of points for an even nicer Autograph Collection or Luxury Collection property? Absurd.

  10. At this rate there will soon only be category 7 and 8 hotels…at that point they will introduce category 9.

    Vote with your feet. Dump this garbage program.

  11. @JohnnyBoy: Good point. There is no correlation between generally accepted hotel star rating, the Marriott brand of the property, or even its nightly cash rate and the award-redemption category. There is no way a Courtyard, Fairfield Inn, Four Points by Sheraton or whatever should be above a category 5.

  12. It would help if Marriott would be transparent and confirm for the record exactly how it determines a hotel’s category.

  13. Obviously, Marriott does not see business value in offering a generous loyalty program. And that’s been obvious since, like, forever. Marriott is probably correct in their assessment: they’s so big and they have such good corporate contracts that they simply don’t need to be generous. If you don’t like this — and I don’t — take most of your business elsewhere.

  14. The only reason to keep Marriott points is if you’re gonna transfer them to airlines. But with the earning cuts, I need to jump ship ASAP.

  15. Thanks Gary. I am valuing my points 55 cents each, a bit less than others but I keep in mind that I don’t necessarily get to use them until after the next devaluation. Should I knock off 10% from this now? What’s your *real* valuation (not the one tied to the hawking one of the various co-branded cards that pay you a fat commission)?

  16. That ‘rat with a gold tooth’ VP Loyalty should do another interview to go through a checklist of the things he promised at the launch ( ..and lapped up by the shoe-shiners at the time). Never been seen/heard again.

  17. @Andy I publish my valuations on the blog, and compare it to those of others. No need to insult me, I think the facts bear out that my valuations are on the low side compared to some others…

  18. I have 2.1 million Marriott points and ambassador status for three years running. Way too invested to change, especially since Hyatt doesn’t have enough full-service properties where I travel. I’m screwed.

  19. The Sheraton Maui, yes the with in the middle of demolishing the lobby, no permanent restaurant, etc is going up a category? Huh? A very old property badly in need of renovation will be 60,000 points per night in the off season? Used to be 12,000 SPG so probably more than double in two years. Yeesh.

  20. We are Bonvoyed again, because they can.

    For me, Marriott credit cards gone at renewal and Marriott hotels only when there is no alternative. No one really expected that Marriott was going to change, did they? It was a crappy program before and is now getting worse as they try to wring more profit from their acquisitions.

    We knew that the absorption of Starwood was a death knell for a great program, but didn’t think it would happen this quickly.

    Bonvoy will not age well, Marriott. You are being sunk by greed.

  21. In just 2 short years we’ve gone from leading elite perks (e.g. free breakfast for Gold) and great redemption opportunities 60k fka 20k SPG) per night for top resorts and St Regis hotels to a program with mediocre mid-tier elite benefits and absurd redemption levels.
    I’m betting that Hyatt will see an uptick in bookings as people shift away from Marriott when they can. Even Hilton will do better as Marriott has essentially matched their mediocre point values.

  22. @Boraxo – Actually when taking into account earn rates, Hiltons return on spend has, from my data, been exceeding that of Marriott for quite some time. Usually in the range of 20-25% all-in.

    Far too many people look at only point valuations, which are meaningless without accounting for rate of earning.

  23. First of all I’m lifetime Titanium but also understand business. You people are mad you had something taken away (that you likely didn’t pay for since got points for reimbursed business travel or credit card promotions).

    Gary stayed it up front – the category is based on expected cost of the rooms and those typically, except in a recession, always go up! Not surprising the vast majority of change are to increase category to Jeep redemption level equal relative to cost. They don’t mind a reasonable value along the lines of the typical blog valuation of .6-.8 cent/point but not an outsized one. Just smart business.

    The solution would be to revise the award chart and charge more points for each level. That would have the same effect.

    You can’t expect ANY hotel to keep redemption levels the same when cost of the rooms keep going up. BTW if you don’t like Marriott check out all the other programs – they are doing the same thing.

    Amazes me how petty and selfish people can be. It isn’t all about YOU – understand the business and economic isssues involved

  24. I’m with @Rico. I am bummed that this takes so many cc free night award redemptions off the table. I’m planning a year end trip with my family to NYC and now 31 properties are no longer available to us to use our free cc nights. So disappointing.

    When I upgraded my Marriott cc, it was for a “Cat 5” redemption – but that is capped at 35k points, so I can’t even redeem it at Cat 5 properties year round, only when not “On Peak”.

    I probably won’t renew my cc this year, it just isn’t worth it to me. (My husband travels for work and exclusively stays at Marriott, so I’m sure he’ll keep his, though.)

  25. Very disappointed in a brand where I am an “elite”. How /can I transfer my points to Cap One Venture?

  26. Transferred all points out to an airline.

    Maybe it’s possible with the Amex Brilliant card to have positive value aside from the points.

    Perhaps it’s time to focus on the hotels in the Amex program to receive the perks and credits of booking with Amex Platinum.


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