You all know the story. It’s the tale of a relationship between someone who keeps doing one thing after another, which should drive the other person away yet that person stays, saying what happened isn’t that bad. They’ll give all the reasons that they’re staying even after being treated like garbage time and time again. I’m starting to think that’s the type of relationship I have with Marriott.
I’m getting tired of all the changes and think it might be time for us to spend time seeing other people. Thankfully I don’t have much time devoted to our relationship so it won’t be too hard to break it off. I can understand how people with decades together can have a tougher time coming to this realization.
The implementation of peak and non-peak pricing for awards, to go along with standard pricing, will go into effect on September 14, 2019 and while everyone has known these changes were coming, the looming deadline has me trying to see what the future holds for Marriott and me.
It’s not so much the fact that Marriott is going to start charging peak and non-peak pricing. It makes perfect sense that they’d like to give an incentive for people to redeem awards during slower periods and make them pay extra to use points when the hotels are typically full.
What’s bothering me is that Marriott is putting these changes into place in the worst way imaginable for the customer. But when dealing with a company whose customer service has been so laughable that it’s led to its own #Bonvoyed meme, I guess I shouldn’t be surprised.
If you haven’t heard about the changes to pricing awards, points advance, cash + points and the 5th-night free benefit, I’d suggest checking out these posts from Miles to Memories and Frequent Miler to get an idea about what going to happen after September 14th, 2019.
Here are the things about these changes I have problems with:
Peak and off-peak balancing, portfolio-wide
I’ve not been able to find anything about this on an official Marriott statement but it’s been widely reported that there will be a relatively even distribution of peak and off-peak pricing portfolio-wide. It’s that last part that really concerns me. Marriott has over 7,000 properties and I’m sure some of them are more popular than others. For example, take a hotel like the Sheraton New York Times Square. I’m sure that there’s more demand for that hotel in the summer months than in February when you can see sub-zero temperatures in Manhattan.
Now, I’d be OK if Marriott said that the summer is peak and January – March is off-peak. But that’s not what they’re saying they’re going to do.
If I understand right, they can still say summer is peak season for the Sheraton in New York, but winter can still be standard pricing, while a hotel in Montana could be off-peak for the winter months to balance things out. And hey, why limit it to the U.S.? A hotel in China or Thailand could be used to balance out the off-peak days in the portfolio. Do we trust Marriott to do anything more?
No ability to make plans for upcoming trips
Marriott is making a two-pronged attack on members’ ability to plan trips in advance. The first thing they’re doing is refreshing the point categories for hotels on a monthly basis. So even if you pick a hotel and see how many points it would cost you, that number of points could change next month and the month after that.
So say you know the hotel you want and just don’t have the points. You can still use points advance and make the reservation even if you don’t have the points in your account. Previously, as long as you had the points by a few weeks before the trip, you were OK. Now the number of points needed can change for the reservation even if you have it on hold. The price isn’t locked in until you complete the booking. If a night or nights go up in price, you’ll need more points for the reservation.
Using the worst possible pricing for 5th night free stays
Since all award nights used to cost the same, the 5th night free on award stays was pretty straightforward. Award stays cost 20% less if you were staying for 5 nights because the last night was free. So what is Marriott doing now that award nights may cost different amounts of points for a stay?
They’ve changed the name of the benefit to “Stay 5, Pay for 4.” Seems innocent enough but the implementation is customer unfriendly. The lowest cost night of your stay is the one you’ll get for free.
Could they have used the average price for the 5 nights? You know they could have, but Marriott chose to stick it to the customer just a little more than necessary.
Limits on rebooking if prices go down
Theoretically, this could be a positive customer change. Say you have an award stay booked and the hotel goes down from peak to standard pricing. Marriott won’t let you re-price the stay, but their advice is to cancel your current stay and rebook. Great, except that several of Marriott’s more exclusive properties have restrictive cancellation policies.
The St. Regis Aspen only allows you to cancel a stay more than 60 days out or you’re on the hook for $1,000 a night penalty if you cancel or no-show. That’s a definite road-block on the way to get back points if the room category goes down, but I’m doubtful the St. Regis Aspen will ever be anything but peak pricing during ski season anyway.
Is there any good news about these changes? Not that I can see. Every single one was designed to wring more points out of customers for award stays. I’m not even mentioning the ones that aren’t important, like the limit on points advance stays and increase in points + cash rates since we don’t usually take advantage of those benefits.
When it comes down to it, I wish I could just quit Marriott Bonvoy. Unfortunately, I still have points in the program so I’ll have to learn how to deal with the system for the meanwhile. These changes will definitely factor into the decision if I’m going to keep their co-brand credit cards open or not. A free night every year is nice but if I have no idea if I’ll be able to use it at a hotel on a month to month basis, makes it significantly less valuable.
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This post first appeared on Your Mileage May Vary