The next round of major changes within Marriott Bonvoy is coming soon, and it revolves around something we’ve known was coming for a long time.
Peak & Off-Peak Pricing
Currently, you can redeem for a free night at Marriott hotels at the standard rate based on the hotel category, between Category 1 (7,500 points for a free night) and Category 8 (85,000 points for a free night).
As of September 14, 2019, all 7,000+ Marriott Bonvoy hotels will be subject to variable pricing throughout the year, with peak, standard, and off-peak pricing being charged depending on the date. The following award chart will apply:
As you can see, the range of price levels is quite significant. On the low end, redeeming only 5,000 Bonvoy points for an off-peak Category 1 property may represent an incredible deal when the circumstances are right, whereas redeeming 100,000 Bonvoy points for a Category 8 free night during peak dates might never be a good idea.
Don’t get me wrong – doing so might still represent good value on paper, since the hotel’s retail rates could be going for well over, say, $1,500. But for me, the value simply wouldn’t be there in the sense that there are so many other ways to use 100,000 Bonvoy points than dropping them entirely on a one-night stay, even if it’s a luxurious all-inclusive resort like the Al Maha Desert Resort & Spa.
I’ve already talked about how I find myself paying cash for hotels more and more, and that effect will only be amplified when I’m staying at hotels on peak dates. In particular, hotels in major North American cities often fall into Categories 5 or 6 despite only going for US$200–250 per night, so I certainly can’t see myself spending 40,000 or 60,000 points per night at those properties.
The transition to higher or lower award rates will be handled similar to the category changes that take place every year. If you make a booking before September 14, you’ll be able to cancel and rebook if the rate then goes down to an off-peak rate (assuming you’re outside of the cancellation window). Meanwhile, if it rises to a peak rate, you don’t have to pay the extra difference since you made the booking beforehand.
The challenge is that the peak and off-peak dates themselves will not be revealed until September 14, making it virtually impossible to plan ahead. The general advice is to lock in the hotel reservations for any future travel you have planned, so that you can at least secure the standard rate that’s being charged now.
The above is true for reservations in which you deduct the points from your account instantly. Points Advance bookings will be subject to tighter restrictions than before, which we will discuss further below.
Hotels Can Choose Their Own Peak & Off-Peak Dates
Each hotel will designate their own specific set of dates as peak or off-peak. However, does this mean that a hotel can simply charge the peak rate throughout the year?
No. Marriott is quick to let us know that a majority of dates will be charged at the standard rate, with the remainder distributed evenly between peak and off-peak designations. I suppose we can take this to mean that at least 50% of dates will still be charged at the same rate as they are today.
Note that this policy applies across the portfolio rather than at individual hotels, so ultimately the most popular properties could still end up charging peak rates for a large portion of the year, although they must also have off-peak dates for at least some part of the year.
Marriott also notes that the peak and off-peak dates are determined by an algorithm, and will be recalibrated around once per month. Overall, the fluctuating price levels that we’re about to see within Marriott Bonvoy definitely heralds a shift towards a more dynamic pricing model.
The Marriott Bonvoy marketing people have created a few videos to help explain these upcoming changes. Below is the one related to Peak & Off-Peak dates.
How Does Fifth Night Free Work?
Marriott Bonvoy’s popular Fifth Night Free benefit will henceforth be known as Stay for 5, Pay for 4.
When your five-night stay spans peak and off-peak dates, you’ll get the least expensive night free, and you’ll pay the points for the remaining nights. This policy works pretty much how I expected it to.
Here’s the video explaining this detail and a few other “tips” for getting free nights:
Peak & Off-Peak Dates + Free Night Certificates
Most of the free night certificates issued on the Marriott Bonvoy credit cards come with a certain point value. For example, the Canadian-issued Amex Bonvoy Card or Amex Bonvoy Business Card comes with an annual free night worth 35,000 Bonvoy points every card membership anniversary, whereas the US-issued Amex Bonvoy Brilliant Card comes with a free night worth 50,000 Bonvoy points every year.
You’ll note that these points levels correspond to the standard pricing for Categories 5 and 6 respectively, although the September 14 move to peak and off-peak dates will limit the number of nights that you can use this certificate. That’s because you won’t be able to redeem them on peak dates, when the prices will rise to 40,000 points and 60,000 points, respectively.
If you’re looking to redeem one of these free night certificates for a Category 5 or 6 hotel for a date which will be designated as a peak date, you should definitely be looking to do so before the September 14 transition.
Meanwhile, if you’re still holding onto any seven-night certificates from the legacy Marriott Travel Packages (or the new packages, for that matter), my understanding is that they will remain valid for seven nights, regardless of whether those nights are designated as peak, standard, or off-peak.
Cash + Points
Marriott also offers a Cash + Points option for award bookings, and that too will be moving to a peak/off-peak structure, as below:
Personally, I rarely make use of the Cash + Points award chart, mainly because only an extremely limited number of hotels actually allow you to book this way. So this change is a purely academic one for me, although you can check out the video about it below for additional clarity:
Points Advance Will Be Tightening Up
Marriott Bonvoy’s Points Advance policy has historically been one of the most generous in the industry. You could make reservations before you even had the points in your account, and would only need to “honour” the booking by deducting the points two weeks before your stay.
Needless to say, this perk became subject to, how do we say it… “extensive usage” 😉, especially back when the New Category 8 hotels were bookable at the reduced rate of 60,000 points per night. It’s therefore somewhat unsurprising to see Marriott Bonvoy implementing changes to curtail its use.
These days, it’s already the case that you can only make Points Advance reservations if you actually don’t have the points in your account – whereas in the past, you could choose Points Advance even if you did have the points, opening the door to making dozens upon dozens of speculative reservations.
And starting September 14, members will be limited to three Points Advance reservations at any given time. Furthermore, starting from that date, Points Advance can only be used to lock in the room, not the rate.
This is a huge distinction, because it means you can no longer “pre-empt” a change to a peak rate, or a category change and an accompanying increase in the award cost, by making a Points Advance reservation. The price of the hotel at the time you deduct the points from your account will be how much you’re paying – there’s no getting around it by making the booking earlier and getting Marriott to honour the old price after the fact.
Note that this change takes place as of September 14, so until then, you can still make Points Advance bookings (if you don’t have the points in your account) and have them honoured at the existing level if your chosen dates later rise to a peak rate.
This is a negative change, but ultimately a fair one, since the old Points Advance policy was way out of balance with how generous it was. I’m reluctant but happy to bid it a safe passage into that good night, and I’ll always remember that frenzied window between August 2018 and March 2019 when it allowed us to play around with dozens upon dozens of luxury hotel reservations.
We’ve known since the beginning that peak and off-peak dates were coming to Marriott Bonvoy, and now that the September 14 transition date has been announced, it gives you some time to think about your strategies for booking your upcoming stays.
By the very nature of this change, the value of Marriott Bonvoy points will be eroded for the types of travellers who tend to go on trips at the same time as everyone else, whereas travellers with greater flexibility who can plan around off-peak dates will benefit greatly from this change (70,000 Bonvoy points for a top-tier hotel is much more palatable than 85,000 points, after all!)
Meanwhile, the move to tighten up the Points Advance policy is disappointing, but should be viewed more as Marriott Bonvoy closing up a particularly vulnerable loophole than a real meaningful negative change.