Marriott and Starwood Just Announced Hotel Reward Category Changes, Do You Need to Book Your Awards Quickly?

Each year hotels with award redemption categories adjust which hotels are in which categories, and thus how many points they cost to redeem. In most cases the cost in points is related to average room rates, although Marriott’s have been tied to frequency of redemption.

This year Marriott and Starwood both have announced their planned changes at the same time, and coordinated that those changes will go into effect March 7.

If you’ve got an award you want to book that will be getting more expensive March 7, book it now. You can redeem at current pricing as far out as hotel schedules go.

If you have an award booked now for travel after March 7, and the hotel will be going down in price, you may want to rebook it and save some points next month.

Marriott Category Changes — Not As Bad As You’d Expect

I’ve come to expect many more hotels going up in price than down from Marriott, and they haven’t even always given us notice about which ones. In 2013 an unhappy Marriott Rewards member even wrote a song about it (to the tune of Les Miserables “Master of the House”).

This year about a quarter of hotels will be changing category, and naturally more (60%) are going up than going down.

However the increases skew towards limited-service hotels, full service hotels are equally balanced between increases and decreases.

In the US 73 TownePlace Suites, 64 SpringHill Suites, 133 Residence Inns, 112 Fairfield Inns, and 136 Courtyards are changing categories. I realize these are important to many customers, but I’m just not interested in using my points for these.

Marriott highlights that about three quarters of hotels remain categories 1 – 5, so eligible for redemption with the free annual account anniversary night for holders of the Marriott Rewards Premier Credit Card.

The Ritz-Carlton Bali drops while the JW Marriott Cancun goes up. I’d rather stay in Bali.

Starwood Category Changes — More Hotels Getting Less Expensive

About 21% of hotels — 325 in all — are changing category. 63% of those are going down (getting less expensive) and 37% are going up (requiring more points).

Five hotels jump 2 categories, none in the U.S. Two of those go from category 3 to 5, and three from category 2 to 4.

Meanwhile two hotels drop 2 categories — both from category 4 to 2: the Four Points by Sheraton Fort Lauderdale Airport/Cruise Port and Sheraton Grand Istanbul Atasehir (a big drop in Turkey is not surprising).

Starwood’s categories have traditionally been based on the year’s projected average daily room rates. These two hotels expect room rates to be below what was expected in 2016.

The Four Points Havana drops from 6 to 5.

I’m bummed to see Vana Belle in Koh Samui going up in category from 6 to 7, that’s one I’ve been considering visiting. Naka Island in Thailand as well goes from 5 to 6, another on my list. And the Le Meridien Bora Bora goes from 6 to 7, it was the one halfway accessible property there. However I much enjoy Malaysia and the St. Regis brand so a drop in category from 7 to 6 at the St. Regis Langkawi is good news for me.

In general Africa properties are weighted towards reductions — 9 down and 2 up. 15 hotels fall in the Mideast while only one goes up. Asia skews 2:1 towards reductions, 75 falling and 37 going up. Central and South America also skews towards reductions with 19 falling and 3 going up. Europe also skews towards reductions with 17 falling and 32 rising. It’s North America where hotel increases somewhat outpace decreases.

This tells us something, actually, about where Starwood sees the global economy or at least hotel rates as a proxy — largely flat with the US outperforming the world on a relative basis.

Specific Changes Will Matter to You — But Overall Shift in Value in Modest

I commend Marriott Rewards and Starwood Preferred Guest for getting these changes out a month in advance, with full property lists, so that members can find which hotels they may wish to book at ‘old’ prices and also plan to get points back on existing reservations where possible.

The changes at specific hotels will matter to those who do book them, but roughly speaking net net there’s not a huge shift in value up or down for the programs as a whole as a result of these changes.

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. I’m baffled by some of these, as a few seem downright crazy.

    All but one of the Texas properties (including some great ones in Austin and San Antonio) are going down, but the Sheraton Clayton Plaza in St Louis – by far the worst SPG property i’ve ever stayed at – is going up? 10000 points per night for that place is an insult.

  2. @ Shane — That happened years ago! The Marriott free night is only good for when you need a hotel room somewhere you don’t want to be, like a funeral in the middle of nowhere, or a forced overnight at an airport. Definitely won’t leave you feeling warm and fuzzy…

  3. For all those not able to use their Cat 5 certs, stop by and visit Spokane, Washington this summer — two nice Autograph Collection hotels in Spokane are Cat 5: Davenport Tower (moving down to Cat 5 from Cat 6 with this change) and Davenport Grand Hotel, across the street from Riverfront Park.

    Spokane: Near Nature, Near Perfect

  4. Of course Africa, Russia, Venezuela and Middle East are dropping, tourists are not exactly flocking to use their points there.
    By contrast the 4->5 bump for mediocre Westin Kyoto simply demonstrates high demand due to lack of competition. Ditto for Sheraton Delfina and Petaluma.
    On the plus side, nice to see Westin Copley Plaza drop 6->5 and New Orleans is also down.
    For me the biggest loss is RC Lake Tahoe 4->5 as this bumps it out of the Chase free nights range.

  5. Wow. Every SPG change for Japan is heading up a category.

    “Changes you’re going to like”, I guess.

  6. Is there a link to Starwood properties where I can specifically see the hotels that change categories ?

  7. If Marriott is reimbursing foreign properties in dollars then the strength of the probably leads to a big number of these decisions. The folks in accounting are driving the train.

  8. Well, if Starwood hadn’t merged with Marriott, I’d be happiest about the SF Park Central dropping to a cat 5, as all the other Union Square area Starwood properties jumped to Cat6 last year.

  9. I see that two of my favorites, which I have always considered to be undervalued are going up one category; the MOXY Milan Malpensa Intl Airport and the JW Marriott Bucharest Grand Hotel. The MOXY is a basic hotel but incredibly convenient and with great staff. The Bucharest Grand is just that, a throwback to old Europe.

  10. Not bad at all. Mostly low end hotels changes.. Ones I stay at have dropped back to Cat 5 (they never should have gone to Cat 6 anyway).

  11. They killed the marriott credit card for me… The only reason I had 2 of them was to use a weekend on The Castle, Autograph Collection in Orlando, now 5 going to 6. The hotel is $99 most of the time. This CC is such a piece of crap.

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