As part of Marriott’s move to dynamic pricing of free reward nights which raises award pricing, but will be worse next year, Bonvoy now allows you to add up to 15,000 points when redeeming a free night certificate.
These certificates come in several flavors. U.S. members generally see:
- 35,000 point free night certificates from the Chase consumer co-brand and the American Express small business co-brand
- 50,000 point free night certificates from the American Express premium co-brand as well as the legacy Chase Ritz-Carlton card
- 40,000 point free night certificates as a 75 night elite benefit choice
Marriott only lets you add up to 15,000 points. These certificates aren’t ‘worth’ their face value towards and award. In contrast, the IHG One Rewards free night certificates that come with the Premier and Business credit cards offer uncapped top-off.
Allowing for top off reduces breakage and increases Marriott’s costs, but they’re raising the price of free nights so taking more points in many cases and taking more points when these certificates are used. And by maintaining a cap on how many points you can add, they still limit usage and cost.
You also still can’t use the certificates towards an award other than a standard free night. If you want to reserve a better room, the certificates cannot be sued.
These certificates are more usable than without the flexibility of top off, but top off in many cases just offsets recent price increases. Put another way, without this flexibility the free nights would have become worth a lot less and would have frustrated members. I have frequently seen hotels pricing at 36,000 or 37,000 points – just out of reach of a 35,000 point free night certificate. And making these certificates worth less undermines the value proposition of their co-brand credit card.
These free night certificates are the reason many people keep their Marriott credit cards. They consider the free nights worth more than the card annual fee. Turn them into a frustrating experience and people cancel their cards. That’s a big hit to Marriott’s biggest partners Chase and American Express, and a big hit to Bonvoy program economics. Make no mistake, Marriott had to do this.
This new feature is welcome, as a way to preserve he value of Marriott’s free night certificates in the face of devaluation, and thus try to preserve the value of their co-brands. I expect redemption of these certificates to go up a lot, and certainly go up compared to the last month when prices were raised – pricing many certificates out of use.