Marriott Bonvoy has announced their annual category changes for 2021, which will take effect on March 3, 2021.
This year’s changes are pretty minor, affecting 201 Marriott hotels out of the global portfolio of 7,000+. In a pandemic year, the natural expectation is for the hotels going down a category to outnumber hotels going up, and that’s indeed what we’re seeing: out of the 201 hotels changing in category this year, 51 are increasing, while 150 are decreasing.
It’s certainly a much more favourable round of changes compared to last year’s ruthless increases across the board, although I’d also argue that the changes may not be favourable enough given the circumstances.
Changes Concentrated in Low-Category Hotels
The majority of category changes affect Marriott’s lower-category hotels. Indeed, of the 201 hotels changing in category, 167 hotels will end up between Category 1 to 4, while only 34 hotels will end up at a Category 5 or above.
Indeed, the ratio of decreases to increases is also split across the lower- and higher-category divide. Among hotels that will be a Category 1–4 after the change, a great majority have undergone favourable changes. However, among hotels that will be a Category 5–8 after March 3, there are actually more hotels increasing in category than decreasing.
So while it may appear on the surface that the decreases outnumber the increases 3-to-1, these decreases have been rather deviously concentrated in the lower-category hotels.
For Marriott Bonvoy members seeking to maximize redemption value through higher-end hotel stays, I’d argue that the overall changes can still be viewed as quite unfavourable after all.
Geography-wise, the changes appear to be less concentrated in key markets compared to last year (when seemingly every hotel in New York, Japan, and Hawaii went up a category). A broad number of decreases can be seen in South East Asia, whereas we’re seeing many increases at US domestic hotspots like beaches and national parks.
Changes to Canadian Hotels
Let’s take a look at the changes to hotel categories here in Canada, keeping in mind that most travellers will likely feel more comfortable travelling domestically before internationally.
Within Canada, the changes are mostly favourable. A total of eight hotels are changing in category, with six of them decreasing and only two Category 1 hotels in Edmonton increasing to a Category 2.
I’m happy to see the Fairfield by Marriott Montreal Downtown stepping down to a Category 4, adding a much-needed budget-friendly option for visitors to Montreal who’d like to remain close to Old Port and the city centre.
It’s also good to see two higher-end hotels in Vancouver dropping down a category: the JW Marriott Parq Vancouver from a Category 7 to a Category 6, and the Sheraton Vancouver Wall Centre from a Category 6 to a Category 5.
However, I’d note that both of these hotels had only increased to their current levels last year, so this is more of a return to the norm than anything else. Indeed, having stayed at both places in the past, I’d say that their current categories were far too overvalued.
In terms of the two Edmonton airport hotels, their ascension to Category 2 does remove a couple of Category 1 mattress-running opportunities here in Canada (as you can book rooms and earn elite qualifying nights for as little as 4,000 Bonvoy points per night at these hotels).
However, Edmonton still has the Four Points by Sheraton Edmonton South as its lone Category 1 hotel. Along with a few more ever-reliable Category 1s in Winnipeg and Petawawa, I wouldn’t worry too much about mattress-running opportunities going away.
Notable Changes to Luxury Hotels
As I mentioned, the higher end of Marriott’s portfolio is little-changed this time around.
Having visited the W Verbier last year, I’ve been eyeing another snazzy ski trip to the W Aspen at some point, so I’m disappointed to see that it will now cost a staggering 85,000 Bonvoy points per night.
That’ll probably still represent good value compared to the cash rates during ski season, but it’ll definitely make more of an impact on my Bonvoy balance than I would’ve liked.
The highly-rated Las Alcobas Mexico City, part of Marriott’s Luxury Collection, is also taking a step up from Category 6 to Category 7.
The cash rates of around $300 do not justify the standard points pricing of 60,000 points per night, so I’d lean towards an Amex FHR or Marriott STARS booking for this one, or perhaps staying at one of the many other luxury hotels (including many more reasonably-categorized Bonvoy options) in CDMX instead.
Impact on Marriott Bonvoy’s Free Night Awards
These annual category changes also usher in a new set of eligible hotels for your Marriott Bonvoy annual free night certificates.
Most of these certificates, including the ones you earn from the Canadian-issued Amex Bonvoy Card and Amex Bonvoy Business Card, are valid for up to 35,000 Bonvoy points per night. We therefore consult the list of hotels that have changed between Category 5 and 6:
Among the hotels that have dropped to Category 5 and are now eligible for your Free Night Award at the standard rate, the Curaçao Marriott Beach Resort and the aforementioned Sheraton Vancouver Wall Centre catch my eye the most.
Meanwhile, it’s a shame that the Sheraton Kauai Coconut Beach Resort is rising to Category 6, continuing the trend of previous years in which Hawaii’s hotels have been increasing in category on a seemingly endless basis – without a noticeable increase in quality, it must be said.
If you hold a US-issued Bonvoy Brilliant Card and have earned a Free Night Award worth 50,000 Bonvoy points, then there are two more hotels that you can now book at the standard rate: the JW Marriott Parq Vancouver we discussed previously, and the Grand Hotel Suisse Majestic in Montreux, Switzerland.
Finally, in case anyone is still sitting on Category 1–4 seven-night certificates from the old 2018 Travel Packages under the legacy Marriott Rewards program, this year’s category changes actually usher in quite a few new possibilities for a seven-night stay.
The newly-opened Marriott Buenos Aires strikes me as a good base for a return trip to Argentina at some point and a potential candidate for my last remaining Category 1–4 seven-night certificate.
Now it’s just a matter of getting these certificates extended until we’re able to travel again…
Can You Do Better, Marriott?
It’s the year of a global pandemic and the travel industry is down in the dumps. Say, what better way to entice people to book some future trips than by lowering hotel categories across the board?
Personally, I would’ve liked to see a lot more latitude from Marriott in terms of hotels going down a category during these tricky times in the travel industry – even if it’s only temporarily for one year. Clearly, Marriott has no qualms allowing hotels to yo-yo between categories year after year anyway (as we’re seeing with the two Vancouver properties).
Marriott can point to the fact that decreases outnumber increases 3-to-1 this year, but that would be glossing over the reality that this year’s changes (3% of the total portfolio) are a fraction of last year’s (29%) – and last year’s increases had outnumbered decreases 3-to-1.
Moreover, this year’s favourable changes are concentrated in the mid-to-lower-end hotels, with very little to get us excited on the higher end. Would it have been too much to ask for a single Category 8 hotel to drop down to Category 7?
Ultimately, it aligns with the patterns we’ve seen from Marriott in the past: they’re the world’s largest hotel chain, and many of us are “stuck” with them if we want to get value out of hotel rewards points. With that in mind, I suppose we should simply be thankful that the changes weren’t as bad as last year.
Marriott Bonvoy’s annual category changes for 2021 are relatively muted, but are at least more favourable than what we’ve seen over the past couple of years running.
If you’re someone who likes to redeem Bonvoy points for lower-end properties, you may find yourself coming out ahead in many destinations such as South East Asia; meanwhile, closer to home, some welcome decreases in category can also be found in Montreal and Vancouver.
I certainly would’ve liked to see even more generous action from Marriott in light of the current circumstances. But hey, Bonvoy is Bonvoy, so we should take what we can get and consider diversifying into Hilton or Hyatt if we’re in a position to do so.
These changes kick in on March 3, 2021, so make sure to lock in any bookings at hotels that will be increasing in category prior to that date.