Starwood had some truly amazing hotels. The St. Regis properties in the Maldives and Bora Bora probably get the most ink, and perhaps Al Maha where every room is a standalone bedouin villa with private infinity pool looking over the desert and meals and activities are included.
Al Maha Desert Resort
However this category includes postcard destinations like Mystique on Santorini and playgrounds of the European super rich like Cala di Volpe.
Starwood didn’t used to offer these for ‘regular’ redemption prices, even at their top category 7.
- Instead they’d charge double the top category points. “All suite” properties didn’t have standard rooms. (Nevermind that in some cases it was the unique characteristics of the rooms that drove their room rates, and thus category 7 placement, in the first place.)
- And sometimes it would be even more, for instance an overwater villa at the St. Regis Maldives was pricing at 90,000 Starpoints (270,000 Marriott points) per night.
Al Maha Desert Resort
Initially Marriott’s Senior Vice President of Loyalty David Flueck told me that these redemptions wouldn’t be a part of their regular redemption chart. However that was revised and the new Marriott program promised to offer those rooms at just 60,000 Marriott points (20,000 Starpoints) per night, with 5th night free, though as I’ve pointed out hotels were permitted to be much more restrictive with inventory (creative definition of ‘standard room’ which isn’t, as you’d think, the most common room).
Of course these rooms get more expensive in 2019. The 60,000 point top price was temporary, a ruse in some sense to lead with strong value, before introducing pricing as high as 100,000 points per night next year — still not higher than Starwood’s top category price even before getting into double points.
There have been issues with inventory though with certain hotels not bookable, others withholding most of their inventory from award redemption. Richard Kerr wrote about hotel General Managers being upset by Marriott’s award availability policies and pushing back.
A senior Marriott insider with direct knowledge of the merger told me there is an impasse between two core division leaders at Marriott Rewards, with one saying the temporary rewards redemption for their region is unfair because “the US doesn’t have properties worth a damn.”
“I was on vacation and my staff called me. They asked if I knew that corporate had listed our rooms at 60,000 points and if I knew what was going on,” a GM of one of these Category 7 luxury properties told me. “I wasn’t even aware they were going to make our rooms available for booking on September 6. It was a bit of a surprise.”
What’s interesting is that it’s largely ex-Starwood hotels that have had challenges with award availability. One highly placed source with direct knowledge of the matter tells me there are two reasons for this,
- While Marriott award night reimbursement rates are generous from a hotel perspective, they’re not as high as what Starwood paid.
- Starwood’s system allowed hotels a greater ability to game their inventory and reimbursements.
Making award nights available is part of the cost of doing business, and hotels wouldn’t have the paid business they do (or the revenue from award nights) without the loyalty program and marketing muscle of the chain. So they come out ahead even if a few don’t always look at it that way.
However the ability for hotels to play games with inventory is on the way out. Hotels are transitioning to the Marriott revenue management system, and that will drive availability rather than property discretion. And all legacy Starwood properties should be on this system by December 11.
The great thing about this is that it creates a window before Marriott’s new higher category 8 pricing goes into effect where hotels shouldn’t be able to block award space.
When I first spoke with Marriott’s David Flueck about the contours of the new program he told me that eventually legacy Marriott properties would also begin matching Starwood’s award availability policy where if there’s a standard room available for cash you can book it with points.
Eventually there won’t be as many hotels playing inventory games — both by policy and technical implementation.