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Analyzing the New Marriott Hotel Categories Ricky June 29, 2018

Analyzing the New Marriott Hotel Categories

Ever since the takeover of Starwood Hotels & Resorts by Marriott International was announced back in 2016, the two programs have been central to the hotel rewards scene for Canadian travellers. That’s because the ease of earning SPG Starpoints became intertwined with the versatility and value of the Marriott Rewards program via a 1:3 transfer ratio between the two points currencies.

This week, things are finally coming to a head, with some of the final and most important details about the new, combined loyalty program being revealed.

In case you need a refresher, here’s the coverage we’ve done so far here at Prince of Travel:

In addition, yesterday Marriott released the entire list of new hotel categories for all 6,500+ properties, which is scheduled to take effect on August 1, 2018. In this article, we’ll have a detailed look at all the ups and downs in terms of how many points are needed to redeem for a free night, as well as some of the most appealing sweet spots in the new program. 

New-Marriott-Hotels

At the same time, Marriott has also revealed the details on how the new Flight & Hotel Packages will work as of August. For the past year or so, these packages have been one of the most incredibly high-value ways to use your hotel points, so naturally many points collectors are concerned about their future.

I will cover the Travel Packages in detail in a future post, but for now, it’s safe to say that the value of these packages will drastically diminish, so it’d be best to redeem as many packages as you can before the transition on August 1… but with the added caveat that we don’t yet know what will happen to the outstanding hotel certificates you get from redeeming packages now. But like I said, I’ll talk more about that in a separate post. 

The New Hotel Categories

Marriott has set up a mini-site that shows the full list of hotels together with their categories, old and new. The list contains all of the 6,500+ properties that used to fall under the separate umbrellas of Marriott Rewards, The Ritz-Carlton Rewards, and SPG. 

New-Marriott-Hotel-Categories

You can search the list by hotel name, city, country, or brand, although the search function isn’t perfect – if you search “Miami”, for example, you won’t see the W South Beach and The Ritz-Carlton, South Beach.

You can also sort the list by country, brand, current points required, future points required, points difference (to see the biggest movers and shakers), and new hotel category. However, you can only sort by one criterion at a time, so the page is rather useless for figuring out, say, which Westin properties in the United States will fall under the new Category 7. To that end, fellow blogger PointsNerd has exported the chart into a Google Sheets document that allows you to sort by multiple criteria at once, so you can use that as a reference as well.

As a reminder, the new program’s redemption chart looks as follows, with Category 8 as well as “Peak” and “Off-Peak” pricing to be introduced in early 2019. Until then – that is to say, between August 2018 and early 2019 – everything will be available at the “Standard” pricing, and all hotels that are designated as Category 8 will be available at the Category 7 price level. 

Any bookings made before August 1, 2018 will be honoured at the existing points rate, and if your hotel gets cheaper after the changeover, you’d have to call Marriott to get it re-priced at the lower rate, as it won’t get done automatically. Therefore, if you have any upcoming travel plans, it’s worth taking a look at your desired hotels; if it’s going to get more expensive after August 1, make sure to secure your booking before then. Keep in mind that Marriott allows you to make bookings without having the points in your account, so you have nothing to lose.

Breaking Down the Changes

When you compare the old reward chart to the new (taking into account the fact that the SPG properties’ old points costs are multiplied by three), you see that there are significantly more hotels requiring fewer points (about 3,500) than those requiring more points (about 2,200) under the new program. A small share of hotels (about 1,100) will have the same points cost on either side of the August transition.

In light of this, I’d say that the new categories look very fair to me. When the merger was first announced, there were many fears that Marriott would take this opportunity to gut the value of the SPG program, and that definitely hasn’t happened.

Instead, what we’re seeing is largely a “great equalization” of sorts – as I’ve mentioned before, the separate SPG and Marriott hotel redemption rates were grossly uneven in favour of SPG on the low end and in favour of Marriott at the high end. Indeed, with these changes, many hotels’ nightly points costs are moving in ways that correct this imbalance. 

For example, looking at the combined program’s most aspirational properties, we see that former top-end SPG properties tend to be going down across the board. Right now, SPG’s highest Category 7 hotels – the best St. Regises, Ws, and Luxury Collection hotels around the world – cost as much as 35,000 Starpoints a night (which is equivalent to 105,000 Marriott Rewards points); under the new program, the highest Category 8 requires only 85,000 points a night (and remember, these hotels are bookable at Category 7 pricing of 60,000 points a night until early 2019). 

On the other hand, former top-tier Marriott properties tend to be going up – indeed, the single biggest increase we’re seeing is with the Domes of Elounda in Greece, an Autograph Collection property that’s going from 45,000 points a night to 85,000 points a night! Therefore, places in which there is a large concentration of high-end Marriott hotels, such as London, New York, or Hawaii, will be hit particularly hard by these changes.

Domes of Elounda, an Autograph Collection Hotel
Domes of Elounda, an Autograph Collection Hotel

The same is true for The Ritz-Carlton Rewards, which previously used a system of Tiers 1-5 to categorize their hotels. Tier 5 was priced at 70,000 Marriott Rewards points a night; with the new program’s Category 8 reaching 85,000 points a night, most of the high-end Ritz-Carlton and EDITION hotels have inevitably gone up in price by a few notches.

Lower- and Mid-Tier Hotels: It’s Business As Usual

If you’re someone who uses your hotel rewards points mainly for stays at limited-service or mid-range properties, I don’t think these changes will affect you a whole lot. Looking at the new hotel categories, once your Starpoints convert into Marriott Rewards points at a 1:3 ratio, on average you’ll be paying about the same or slightly fewer points for your hotel stays. 

Looking at the popular hotel brands in this segment of the market (Courtyard, Marriott, Renaissance, Four Points, Aloft, Sheraton, Westin, etc.), it’s definitely the case that more hotels are going down in price than going up. Of course, this totally depends on which hotels you’ll actually be staying at, so it’s definitely worthwhile to check your travel plans and either securing bookings before any negative changes take effect or considering alternative hotels. 

The Aloft Montevideo is going from 21,000 points to 12,500 points
The Aloft Montevideo is going from 21,000 points to 12,500 points

On the whole, no matter how I look at this, it seems to me that these category changes will result in a mostly flat – and potentially slightly favourable – impact to travellers who tend to use their hotel points towards more stays at lower-tier properties, rather than splashing them on shorter stays at luxurious hotels.

As a side note, I also had a look at all the Canadian hotels, and discovered pretty much the same thing. In fact, in Canada’s case, a majority of hotels are going down in price, most of these being the various mid-range properties or airport hotels.

On the other hand, the high-end destination hotels tend to be rising in price, the Sheraton on the Falls being the biggest Canadian mover with an increase of 20,000 points per night. That brings me to my next point…

High-End Luxury Hotels: One of the Best Deals Ever

Dare I say, this is a once-in-a-lifetime sweet spot.

The fact that Category 8 won’t be used until early 2019 means that from August 1 until then, you can to book some of the best hotels in the world for only 60,000 points a night. To understand what an unbelievable deal that is, remember that SPG Category 7 would previously cost up to the equivalent of 105,000 points a night, so you’re potentially receiving a discount of over 40%.

Even better, Marriott lets you book hotels up to 350 days out, and will always honour the rate at which you booked, meaning that you can take advantage of these reduced rates on luxury hotels well into late 2019. You can also take advantage of the Fifth Night Free benefit, reducing your nightly cost to a frankly mind-blowing 48,000 points a night.

Better yet, remember that Marriott lets you secure bookings without having the points in your account. Speculative bookings are therefore well and truly on the table, and you’re free to fill up your calendar with overlapping bookings at the same hotel, finalize your travel plans, and cancel all but one as you see fit. 

As though that weren’t good enough, there are some truly extravagant Starwood properties around the world – such as the St. Regis Bora Bora or the W Maldives with their overwater bungalows – that were previously not bookable through SPG at a reasonable points cost because they counted as all-suite hotels (you can only use points for standard rooms, not suites). Now, these hotels do appear as Category 8s in the new chart, meaning that they too can be booked for only 60,000 points a night!

W Maldives
W Maldives

This is truly a gift from Marriott, and I have no doubt in my mind that competition for bookings at these “future Category 8s” will be extremely fierce come August. As I mentioned before, I wouldn’t be surprised if Marriott were to put some controls in place on securing bookings without points, because otherwise the top-tier hotels in the program could easily see all their inventory dry up completely through the end of schedule, only for the vast majority of bookings to be cancelled. 

One thing’s for sure – if you’re the type of traveller who likes to use points to unlock aspirational and expensive experiences, then you’re in paradise. Focus on staying at Category 8 hotels throughout the remainder of 2018 and all of 2019, and make sure you complete your bookings by the turn of the year. Don’t worry about the Category 7s, since you can still stay at those hotels for the same price later on.

And if you have to pick between different hotels, go for the St. Regises, the Ws, and the Luxury Collections, since they were previously the most inaccessible (at a whopping 105,000 points) if they fell within the old SPG Category 7. The top-end Ritz-Carltons aren’t a bad shout either, since you’ll be enjoying them at a discount compared to both their previous Tier 5 pricing (70,000 points) and their future Category 8 pricing (85,000 points).

Certainly, for myself and many others, there’s lots of work to be done in the coming months to plan some epic trips around these incredible redemption opportunities. Here are a few ideas I was sketching out earlier, just to get the ball rolling:

The Miami Beach EDITION
The Miami Beach EDITION
Mystique, a Luxury Collection Hotel, Santorini
Mystique, a Luxury Collection Hotel, Santorini
Hotel Pitrizza, a Luxury Collection Hotel, Costa Smeralda
Hotel Pitrizza, a Luxury Collection Hotel, Costa Smeralda
The Ritz-Carlton, Kyoto
The Ritz-Carlton, Kyoto

Have fun poring over the Category 8 listing, and let me know if you come up with any incredible plans of your own! One thing is certain for those of you who have the itch for luxury – as long as you play your cards right between August and December, 2019 promises to be an unforgettable year of travel.

Conclusion

As eager members of Marriott Rewards and SPG, we’ve been waiting for the new hotel categories to be revealed for a long time. Now that they’re finally here, I’m glad to report that nothing unexpected has happened and that the changes are overall very fair. Significantly more hotels are going down in cost than going up, and at the higher end of the spectrum, the top-tier hotels of the former SPG and Marriott programs are generally moving in offsetting directions.

What’s more, Marriott and SPG’s final flourish in this transition period – one that’s been long and drawn-out, yet entirely fair and respectful to its loyal members in the end – is to provide us with a five-month window in which to book some of the finest properties in their portfolio at a downright too-good-to-be-true discount. I, for one, can’t wait for August to arrive to start putting my points to spectacular use.

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24 Comments
  1. Avatar
    Anna

    Thank you so much Ricky for advising on exact steps for the transfer! I just saw your response to my question a month ago … and followed what you said, by transferring from my Marriott to my SPG to my hubby’s SPG.

    Marriott -> SPG -> SPG -> Marriott (not manually doing last step)

    As it may take up to 5 biz days (just coming under the wire for the Aug. 18th deadline!) for the SPG household transfer, I am ok with Marriott converting my hubby’s SPG x3 to the new Marriott Rewards Program.

    Not too many orphan points left with my Marriott and SPG accounts, and as you said, much easier and more convenient to consolidate now into one account vs later 🙂

    Thanks again Ricky for your awesome blog and dedication to your readers with your helpful responses!!

  2. Avatar
    Felipe

    Hey Ricky,

    When you say: "The fact that Category 8 won’t be used until early 2019 means that from August 1 until then, you can to book some of the best hotels in the world for only 60,000 points a night."

    Do you mean 60,000 MR points or 60,000 SPG points?

    I am trying to figure out how many MR points I’ll need to get 5 nights in one of the category 8 hotels you described in your post.

    Cheers

    1. Avatar
      Ricky

      60,000 points in the new program, so equivalent to 20,000 Starpoints in today’s currency.

  3. Avatar
    Mak

    Great Post, I am new to miles and points and recently collected SPG points and purchased two 5N+AP packages last week.
    i have to learn how to Book mini-RTW first then i can use the cat8 properties in those stop over countries. Hope by then i can find a room for 5 nights.
    Question regarding the upgrading 5N package…can i use the 5N cat1-5 certificate to book cat8 despite the difference of points are not existing in my account (hoping to sign few more cards for that) ..

    Appreciate your feedback on this.

    1. Avatar
      Ricky

      Hey Mak,

      Up until August 18, you should be able to upgrade the Cat 1-5 certs to Cat 8 (assuming that the 5-night certs work in the same way as the 7-night ones). After that date, we don’t know whether Marriott will continue allowing certs to be upgraded for the difference in points. Provided that they do, the upgrade cost will likely be based on the new Travel Packages rates (I have a separate post about this), which will be much more expensive.

  4. Avatar
    Adele

    Nice write up, and one of the only blogs to cover the looming crazy pricing increase for Domes of Elounda. I visited the property last year with a Category 9 travel certificate, and it was amazing. I have booked it again for this year. Sadly though, it doesn’t look like any 2019 nights will be bookable at the current rates, as I understand that availability for the following year is loaded in August (after the next stage of the merger).

    1. Avatar
      Ricky

      Yes – I hadn’t looked at the Domes of Elounda before, but this looming increase is giving me mad FOMO 🙂 Sadly I don’t think I’ll be able to make it to Greece this year, although the silver lining is that we’ll still get to book it at 60,000 points instead of the crazy 85,000 points until the end of the year.

  5. Avatar
    Felipe

    Hi Ricky, thanks for the post!

    I have 317000 Marriott points and I was wondering if I should redeem it now or wait and try to get one of the high end hotels as described in your post.

    I guess my question is: for this post, are you only talking about SPG points or does it include the Marriott travel package too?

    Thanks

    1. Avatar
      Ricky

      Hey Felipe,

      I’ll discuss the Travel Packages in a separate post (generally speaking, though, you’ll want to redeem them before August as they are undergoing a devaluation).

      If you’re trying to decide between the Travel Package and high-end hotels, keep in mind that after the August changeover, you’ll be able to reserve the high-end hotels without having the points in your account (yet). You’ll be able to earn the points required for your stay until shortly before your stay. So if you’re confident that you can earn those points, you can redeem a Travel Package now (at a very good value), then book the high-end hotels after August, then earn the required points for those hotel stays. Does that make sense?

      Of course, how much you value a Travel Package will depend on your plans on using the airline miles and also what happens to the 7-night hotel certificate after August (which is something we don’t know yet).

      1. Avatar
        Felipe

        Thanks Ricky, that is actually a very smart strategy!

        I believe I read that you will get the most return on your points on the right side of the travel package, so I might do that with the categories 1-5 to get all the miles and save the remainder points to use on a high end hotel through SPG later. Sounds like a plan?

        BTW, hope you are having fun in Brazil. I am from Sao Paulo and live in Canada now 🙂

        Cheers!

  6. Avatar
    T

    Hi Ricky, what would happen to existing certificate after Aug 1?

    1. Avatar
      Ricky

      We don’t know yet.

  7. Avatar
    Dan

    Hi Ricky,

    I’m fairly new to the points collecting game and I’m wondering what the best way to go about collecting Marriott Rewards is right now. All these changes have me confused and unsure of where to start. I’m looking to take my family on a luxury trip next year and have the required Aeroplan points but have not started on the Marriott Rewards. Is it still best to collect Amex MR and try to transfer to Marriott? Looking at the Amex SPG cards they don’t indicate a signup bonus of 20,000 star points anymore. Thanks!

    Dan

    1. Avatar
      Ricky

      Yeah, the Amex SPG is no longer offering a compelling signup bonus for the time being, although a new-and-improved bonus should arrive when the transition is complete. For now, Amex MR or MR Select -> SPG is the best strategy, at least until they announce a change (if any) to the 2:1 transfer ratio.

  8. Avatar
    Linda

    Hi Just to note – I did make a booking at the Grovsnor House Hotel in London – and used a certificate to do so – and they noted that I would get all the benefits of current Gold status like free breakfast and lounge access for our trip in April 2017! Linda

  9. Avatar
    Anna

    Hey Ricky, thanks for the mini site link and your tips on maximizing the new MR program!!

    Do you know if it will be easy to consolidate spouse accounts for the new Marriott Rewards program?

    Still debating on whether to consolidate points with one account or to keep our individual accounts for SPG and Marriott separate for now … prior to the August combined program.

    Interested to hear your thoughts 🙂

    1. Avatar
      Ricky

      I haven’t heard updates on household accounts in the new program. I would imagine that there’s a chance of SPG’s generous points pooling policy going away (i.e., unlimited transfers as long as the two addresses have been the same for a 30-day period), so it’s probably best (and most convenient for you later on) to pool everything together via SPG before August.

      Make sure to pool everything to the account holder with the highest status, and remember that you can pool Marriott points together by going Marriott -> SPG -> SPG -> Marriott.

  10. Avatar
    Jason Tran

    Hey Ricky, awesome article. What’s the best way to fly to either Bora Bora or Maldives on points from Vancouver?

    Thanks!
    Jason

  11. Avatar
    Jason Tran

    Hey Ricky, awesome article. What’s the best way to fly to either Bora Bora or Maldives on points from Vancouver?

    Thanks!
    Jason

    1. Avatar
      Ricky

      Hey Jason,

      Maldives will be easier. You can do your "standard" Aeroplan MIni-RTW with MLE as the destination, allowing you to fly via either Europe or Asia. Turkish Airlines, Singapore Airlines, and Air India all fly to MLE. Alternatively, you could book a trip on Cathay Pacific using Alaska miles.

      Bora Bora is a lot harder. You’ll have to fly to Pape’ete first, then book flights to Bora Bora on Air Tahiti. Getting to Pape’ete is the hard part. Air New Zealand (from AKL) and United (from SFO) are both extremely stingy with their award availability to PPT. You can redeem American AAdvantage miles on Air Tahiti Nui from LAX, but it’s a disproportionately expensive redemption considering the distance. You could also redeem miles on Hawaiian Airlines from Honolulu, although that isn’t cheap either, and then you also have to get to Honolulu. If you have MR or MRS points to burn, you can look at the Amex Fixed Points Travel award chart to redeem for a cash fare. The best option might actually be buying a "cheap" economy flight on French Bee, the new discount carrier that flies PPT–SFO. Last I checked, those fares were about $900 roundtrip from SFO.

      Happy planning!
      Ricky

      1. Avatar
        mak

        Great info Ricky,
        will sure to explore the Maldeves as i have plans to have a stop over in DEL (india) during the mini-RTW trip.
        As this will be my first time going into luxary hotels using points…how does the rest of the expenses will be covered? such as food, drinks etc.,..i am sure they will be very pricey and appreciate any tips to cover them.
        Btw..i dont have Gold status which might cover the break fast (still 30 nights to go :0(

        1. Avatar
          Ricky

          Yes, food and drink tends to be expensive, and that’s something you need to consider if you’re going to a place like the Maldives where you can’t just leave the resort and eat elsewhere. Lounge access, if it’s available, can be a blessing since they typically provide breakfast and some evening hors d’oeuvres, which can stand in as dinner. You may also get a welcome drink or two if you have mid/top tier status.

      2. Avatar
        Jason Tran

        Very helpful, thank you!

        1. Avatar
          mak

          Hi Jason,
          Have you bought the mini-RTW ticket including MLE ? would you be sharing the sample itinerary as i just started learning to build the segment availability.

Ricky

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