Marriott Rolls Out High/Low Season Award Pricing Next Month Along With Other Changes

When Marriott first announced their new program they told us they’d be adding a new highest redemption category 8 and also adding peak and off peak pricing for 2019. They put off category 8 until March but postponed peak and off peak pricing even further.

They’ve been silent on when to expect it until now, giving us a month’s notice before the new top redemption price could go as high as 100,000 points per night. Effective September 14th they’re making some other changes to the program as well.

Peak and Off-Peak Pricing Go Into Effect September 14

Marriott is rolling out peak and off peak pricing to each of their award categories starting September 14, so we have nearly a month’s notice to book awards at the most desirable times at current prices.

Here’s the new Marriott reward chart effective September 14:

Marriott tells me that this will affect all properties, and that any property which has a peak season will also have off peak dates and vice versa.

Peak and Off Peak Dates Will Be Balanced
When Marriott first announced the new program Senior Vice President David Flueck told me, “We’ll make sure there’s a lot of equity in a market, in general roughly the same number of peak nights as off peak nights.”

They say that’s still true.. although there’s a qualifier. There will be more standard pricing dates than peak and off peak dates, with a fairly even distribution of peak and off peak, however that will only hold across the Marriott hotel portfolio as a whole and not necessarily for each individual property.

Marriott Will Adjust Peak and Off-Peak Dates Monthly
The old Starwood program had peak dates for its upper-tier redemption hotels. Each hotel designated those each year. In contrast Marriott will be the one to designate high and low tier dates for each property. This affects how many points they charge you, the member, for an award stay not their reimbursement of hotels.

Marriott will be updating peak and off peak dates around once per month. They aren’t setting dates for the year and leaving them alone. That way hotels that are selling out on a given date, where Marriott would have to reimburse a property more for an award, can be moved to peak and require more points. As a result when you check the redemption cost for a hotel stay, and come back at a later date to book it, the price may change even though the same standard rooms are available.

Re-pricing Awards Booked Now After September 14
If you have a standard room redemption made prior to September 14, and it’s available at off-peak pricing once that goes live, you’ll need to cancel and rebook to get the lower price (and cancellation rules of your reservation apply). There’s no published list of peak and off-peak dates, and those dates will change, so it’s not a matter of ‘getting an existing reservation re-priced’.

Marriott has created a video with a very friendly person explaining how great this all is.

New Limits on Points Advance Bookings

One of the most generous features of the Marriott program has been points advance. You’ve been able to lock in an award, at current price, even without points in your account. When hotel redemptions are going to get more expensive members will start making bookings they think they need in order to lock in the option of a stay at a lower price.

This feature has been too generous because some members would make dozens of speculative bookings, often for one night at a time, figuring that they might need a stay of several nights at some point during the coming year without any idea what nights. Marriott is cracking down on this practice.

  • Points advance locks in the room not the rate. Effective September 14 pricing that will apply to points advance bookings will be the current price at the time the member actually redeems points to cover the reservation. This will no longer be a way to lock in current pricing on the if-come. And with high season dates, which can change each month, the price of the room may vary up until the time of redemption.

    Marriott tells me that for reservations made prior to September 14 they will honor up to 5 points advance bookings at the standard rate even if those reservations fall on a peak date.

  • Maximum of 3 Points Advance bookings at a time Marriott will be updating their terms to limit members to three points advance bookings at a time. Expect to hear from Marriott if you make a bunch of points advance reservations.

A new video explains points advance without reference to any of the shenanigans by members that have led to these new restrictions.

New Cash Amounts for Cash & Points Redemptions

Marriott has updated the cash and points chart to go along with peak and off peak pricing.

In the category of gee, I have a belly button! Marriott has created a video to explain cash and points.

Change to How 5th Night Free Prices Work

Instead of receiving “fifth night free” on an award stay, since the price of some reward nights in your booking may vary with peak and off peak, they’re going to give you the least expensive night of your 5 night stay free.

It seems like at least taking off the average would be more reasonable. This is a cost cutting measure and ensures that you don’t get a ‘windfall’ by timing your stay so that the 5th night is in peak while you pay for off peak nights.

They call this “Stay for 5, Pay for 4” and it replaces “5th Night Free.”

Changes Focus on Limiting Marriott Bonvoy Program Costs

Marriott’s new program launched with an award chart devaluation straight out of the gate. Exiting Marriott Rewards balances became worth less August 1, 2018.

We got a few months where 60,000 points was the most expensive reward in the program, presumably so that members could feel like they were getting great value out of the merged Marriott-Starwood loyalty offering. Then they introduced new category 8 on March 5 where the most expensive price was 85,000 points per night.

At that time Marriott also adjusted hotels within categories, with increases outnumbering decreases 9-to-1. I showed that increases outnumbered decreases in the Marriott program in the seven prior years as well.

Since program launch we’ve also been told to expect high and low season pricing. In just over a year’s time the most expensive (non-Ritz-Carlton) Marriott hotel at category 9 can go from 45,000 points per night to 100,000 points per night.

Marriott’s CEO Arne Sorenson promoted the new Bonvoy program saving costs to hotels. Raising award prices is about saving costs for the program.

The great thing in the past with award categories (thankfully still offered by Hyatt) is that there was a single redemption price for the year and you could get great value for your points when rates were high. High season pricing limits the ability to do that, limits your upside with the program.

What’s more revisiting what dates are considered high season every month allows the program to ensure that when hotels appear to be likely to sell out (so they’d have to pay hotels more for a stay) they can raise the redemption price. This isn’t dynamic pricing or revenue-based redemption, but it’s a clear shift in that direction. Marriott is working to ensure that rooms that cost them more cost you more too.

I remember when Marriott’s CEO said he didn’t believe in devaluations..!

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. ACTUALLY, I believe Marriott’s 2019 category changes were the THIRD change that Marriott made since 2018. There was one change at the end of 2017 or early 2018, another around the time of Bonvoy’s launch and the third in 2019. This is now, effectively, the FOURTH change in less than two years. Moreover, why only a month’s notice? And why September 14? I don’t understand why you wouldn’t build goodwill by giving more notice. Marriott should have also used this to announce an enhancement, even if it was something meager like tweaking the breakfast benefit to ensure that properties can’t cheat or by giving ambassadors something more concrete. Right now, there’s not much point of staying with Marriott after you hit $20,000 and 100 nights. Especially when ambassador benefits at properties aren’t any better than platinum or titanium .

  2. > “Marriott will be updating peak and off peak dates around once per month. They aren’t setting dates for the year and leaving them alone.”

    To me “about” means they’ll reprice whenever they want. Why can’t they at least say there’s some period where pricing doesn’t change? That would give us some stability, but this is basically now dynamic pricing.

  3. Hi Gary,

    What will happen to 7 night certificates valid at specific category, will they be valid for peak dates?
    Or will they be valid only till standard dates.

  4. Your cash+points chart is wrong. The cash amount will not go up or down, only the points amount.

    Also, I’m not happy with devaluations either, but which hotel exactly went from 45k Marriott points to 100k in peak? Domes and Scrubs? Any others? The way this is written makes it seem like dozens of hotels made that jump and ignores the huge value (even at Peak pricing) of some of the SPG properties. Articles used to be written talking about how great a deal Al Maha was at 32k SPG points (96k Marriott), but now it’s not worth mentioning that at least some of the year it will be only 70k points and standard will be 85k.

    You are right that Points Advance was taken advantage of and probably why we lost the value in it.

  5. Re: 5th night free & doing an average point rebate vs. the cheapest night – Gary you know how abysmal Marriott IT is, there’s no possible way it could do such advance calculations of (Total points divided by 5).

  6. A real hit as well to the 35k point free nights that come with the credit cards.

    At least the 50k cert will at least have some higher category low season hotels to use them st. The 45k one just loses opportunities.

  7. Given Marriott’s IT difficulties, I can’t imagine that this process will be implemented (and maintained) without huge difficulties. I just can’t see it happening.

    We shall see. I doubt it will go off without a hitch (and be maintained well), but we shall see.

  8. Marriott’s loyalty program has never been particularly good: it’s not lucrative to earn or manufacture points, and there are few deals when redeeming points. Indeed, it seems like Marriott actively takes steps to make sure most redemptions suck (like charging “destination fees” on “free night” awards in the USA). I have comped Gold status in the program through UA and I use it no more than a handful of times a year, where I tend to get very little from the status. In my mind, variable pricing probably won’t hurt me because I’m currently unlikely to pay their regular award rates; maybe now I can pick up a bargain rate somewhere.

  9. Gary two questions please. Is there anywhere that I can find update terms and conditions for the program, including the most recent change.

    One of the terms and conditions prohibits speculative bookings. Could you please tell me what is meant by the term speculative booking? I personally cancel more than one half of my bookings — does that mean that I make speculative bookings and could have my account closed? I am waiting to see if and when my wife gets an immigration visa to my country — I suspect the answer is more likely to come after september 14 than before it . I am a points millionaire — if I make a lot of bookings in different countries, possibly on the same date — do I risk an account closure?

    In terms of other speculative bookings I have made a lot of non refundable cheap airline bookings (that right now it looks like I will not be using) as well as award bookings that come with fairly substantial change fees. So I am guilty of this kind of behavior, but am I guilty enough to have my account closed?

    Oh last question — the chase or Amex credit card free nights, issued in the bonvoy era , are they possibly extendable? Who would I call to ask that question American Express or Marriott ?

    Thank you

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