Marriott’s New 2019 Award Category Changes are Out, Increases Outnumber Decreases 9-to-1

When Marriott launched its new program back in August they re-adjusted the redemption categories hotels were assigned to, after having done the same thing just months earlier. Moreover they ‘pre-announced’ about 60 hotels that would become more expensive in 2019 with the introduction of a new higher category 8.

Now they’ve announced 2019 category changes which go into effect March 5. I’ve archived the full list of changes (.pdf)


Al Maha Desert Resort

More Hotels are Going Up Than Down By a 9-to-1 Margin

Out of over 6900 properties Marriott reports that about 5% are changing category — and the increases outnumber decreases 4-to-1 (4% increasing, 1% decreasing). That doesn’t include the already-announced 1% of properties going up to category 8 and it doesn’t account for rounding.

I count just over 5.5% of Marriott properties or 383 hotels changing category, with increases outnumbering decreases 346 to 37. And that’s generously counting one of the ‘decreases’ as a hotel that was previously announced to be going up to the new category 8 level which instead will stay the same (St. Regis Osaka).

Oddly Marriott is promoting how much category inflation there’s been in the program in past years (“over the past 5 years between 10 – 15 percent of the portfolio went up a category”) to suggest this year’s changes are modest. Here’s what we’ve seen over the last 7 years:

High and Low Season Pricing Doesn’t Start Yet

When Marriott announced their new program they shared what the new award chart would become. It had 8 categories starting in 2019, and also high and low season pricing. That meant while the most expensive redemption in the new August 2018 program cost 60,000 points per night, that would go up to 100,000 in mere months.

While category 8 pricing starts March 5, high and low season pricing does not. Marriott hasn’t said when this will start, only that “it will be announced later this year.”

In the meantime the most expensive redemption goes from 60,000 points per night to 85,000, a 42% increase.

Why Hotels are Changing Category

The category a hotel is assigned to doesn’t determine how much the property gets paid when you redeem points. It simply determines how much you have to pay Marriott Rewards for the redemption.

With the program having just adjusted this pricing back in August, and with many members disgruntled over continued self-inflicted wounds by the program mostly over IT but also over compliance with new program benefits — which will always be a challenge in a company that’s now so far-flung — it’s not surprising that the number of properties going up in price is being held down. Perusing the list I do not see any hotels that are going up or down more than one category.

Though the amount hotels are reimbursed on award stays isn’t determined by its category, hotels themselves will sometimes ask the program to lower the category they’re assigned to. It’s a way to stimulate demand. “Starwood Lurker” William Sanders has written about this in the past, and it’s the same in the program today. A hotel may have low occupancy but high enough average daily room rates to justify a higher category, where the program might be willing to lower the amount it charges members knowing that there will be very few dates it has to reimburse the property at a higher level based on being nearly sold out. A hotel might also want to compete with other more favored properties in the same region by pushing down its category.

Otherwise, for the most part, category changes — especially those moving upwards — should be driven by a hotel’s average daily room rates and Marriott wanting to adjust the number of points it charges based on how much they have to pay hotels.

The move towards high and low season is a further adjustment to align program costs with the points they’re charging members, in other words to shift towards a more revenue-based redemption model. During a hotel’s high season they’re going to sell out more nights and generate greater reimbursements from the program, so the program will charge members more. Similarly during low season the program can generate extra demand for the hotel with lower points pricing while they don’t risk having to pay out higher compensation.

Some Hotels Become Better Value, Many More Go Up in Price

Marriott highlights that Naka Island Resort in Phuket is dropping in Phuket, Thailand is dropping from category 7 to category 6 — this is one of the hotels that used to cost double points in Starwood’s program and would get discounted as part of their ‘Paradise is Closer’ promotion down to 26,000 Starpoints per night (78,000 Marriott points). It’s going down to 50,000 Marriott points per night.

The Sheraton Maldives Full Moon Resort drops to category 6. With other options going up to category 8 I see this being attractive to some members as a strong value, though personally if I’m going to travel all the way to the Maldives I want the best possible accommodations since you’re largely going to remain on-property throughout your stay.

Similarly with the Le Méridien Ile des Pins in New Caledonia a category 7, the Sheraton in New Caledonia may be super attractive dropping to category 4.

The Hotel Bristol in Vienna becomes a nice value dropping to category 5, while Marriott notes that the Ws in Hollywood and West Beverly Hills are dropping a category too.

In all that means 37 going down in price while 346 go up.

  • 1 hotel drops from planned category 8 to 7; 7 hotels drop from category 7 to 6; 3 drop from 6 to 5; 12 drop from 5 to 4; 9 from 4 to 3; 4 from 3 to 2; and 1 from 2 to 1.

  • 34 category 1 hotels go up to category 2; 37 go up from category 2 to category 3; 49 go up from category 3 to category 4; 64 go up from category 4 to category 5; 72 go up from category 5 to category 6; 22 go from category 6 to 7; 68 become category 8.

What You Should Do Now

Hotels that are going up should be booked now. Most redemption bookings are cancellable, so you can make speculative reservations based on the points you have available. Watch for cancellation policies though because some resorts especially in their high season might have policies more onerous than a standard 72 hours — some even have 30 days.

If you happen to have a room booked, or plan to book one, at a property going down in price you’ll want to reprice is March 5 onward.

The hotels to really focus on in my opinion are the ones going up to category 8, since that’s the biggest jump in points required. (And it’ll be great to get these for just 60,000 points while they’re still category 7, compared to when high season for category 8 gets introduced and they go up to 100,000).


St. Regis Maldives Overwater Villa, credit: Marriott

Here are the New Category 8 Hotels

Marriott announced in August that 61 hotels would ascend to their new category 8.

In fact the London Edition, Las Alcobas Napa Valley, Ritz-Carlton Ras Al Khaimah, Ritz-Carlton Dubai, W Hong Kong, Scrub Island Resor, Pine Cliffs Residence in Portugal, and Westin Venice all are going up to category 8 as well — and the St. Regis Osaka ultimately is not. That leaves 68 hotels in category 8 starting March 5.

Here’s the original list:


HOTEL
BRAND COUNTRY/ REGION
Domes of Elounda, Autograph
Collection
Autograph Collection Greece
Kenoa Exclusive Beach Spa
& Resort, Barra de Sao Miguel
Design Hotels Brazil
G-Rough, Rome Design Hotels Italy
PalazzinaG, Venice Design Hotels Italy
Giardino Ascona Design Hotels Switzerland
Giardino Mountain Design Hotels Switzerland
Gramercy Park Hotel, New York™ Design Hotels USA
The Miami Beach EDITION Edition USA
Le Méridien Bora Bora Le Meridien French Polynesia
Schloss Fuschl & Spa,
Fuschlsee-Salzburg
Luxury Collection Austria
Parklane & Spa, Limassol Luxury Collection Cyprus
Hôtel de Berri, Paris Luxury Collection France
Prince de Galles, Paris Luxury Collection France
Blue Palace and Spa, Crete Luxury Collection Greece
Mystique, Santorini Luxury Collection Greece
Santa Marina, Mykonos Luxury Collection Greece
Cristallo & Spa, Cortina
d’Ampezzo
Luxury Collection Italy
Hotel Cala di Volpe, Costa
Smeralda
Luxury Collection Italy
Hotel Danieli, Venice Luxury Collection Italy
Hotel Pitrizza, Costa Smeralda Luxury Collection Italy
Hotel Romazzino, Costa
Smeralda
Luxury Collection Italy
The Gritti Palace, Venice Luxury Collection Italy
Suiran, Kyoto Luxury Collection Japan
The Prince Gallery Tokyo
Kioicho
Luxury Collection Japan
Hotel President Wilson, Geneva Luxury Collection Switzerland
Vana Belle, Koh Samui Luxury Collection Thailand
Al Maha Desert Resort &
Spa, Dubai
Luxury Collection United Arab Emirates
The Wellesley Knightsbridge,
London
Luxury Collection United Kingdom
Phoenician Residences Club,
Scottsdale
Luxury Collection USA
Canyon Suites at The
Phoenician, Scottsdale
Luxury Collection USA
The Chatwal, New York City Luxury Collection USA
The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman Ritz-Carlton Cayman Islands
The Ritz-Carlton, Hong Kong Ritz-Carlton China
The Ritz-Carlton, Kyoto Ritz-Carlton Japan
The Ritz-Carlton, Tokyo Ritz-Carlton Japan
The Ritz-Carlton Bal Harbour, Miami Ritz-Carlton USA
The Ritz-Carlton New York,
Central Park
Ritz-Carlton USA
The Ritz-Carlton, Bachelor
Gulch
Ritz-Carlton USA
The Ritz-Carlton, Lake Tahoe Ritz-Carlton USA
The Ritz-Carlton, Naples Ritz-Carlton USA
The Ritz-Carlton, St. Thomas Ritz-Carlton Virgin Islands (US)
The St. Regis Bora Bora Resort St. Regis French Polynesia
The St. Regis Bali Resort St. Regis Indonesia
The St. Regis Florence St. Regis Italy
The St. Regis Rome St. Regis Italy
The St. Regis Osaka St. Regis Japan
The St. Regis Maldives Vommuli
Resort
St. Regis Maldives
The St. Regis Punta Mita
Resort
St. Regis Mexico
The St. Regis Bahia Beach
Resort, Puerto Rico
St. Regis Puerto Rico
The St. Regis Mardavall
Mallorca Resort
St. Regis Spain
The St. Regis Aspen Resort St. Regis USA
The St. Regis Bal Harbour
Resort
St. Regis USA
The St. Regis Deer Valley St. Regis USA
The St. Regis New York St. Regis USA
W Maldives W Hotels Maldives
W Verbier W Hotels Switzerland
W Koh Samui W Hotels Thailand
W South Beach W Hotels USA
The Westin Golf Resort &
Spa, Playa Conchal
Westin Costa Rica

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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Comments

  1. Marriott can do whatever they want. They’ve the strength of hotel and membership loyalty majority on their side to back that up. Heck, they could create a Category 15 level tomorrow, and no one would be able to do anything about it. They have all the aces, unfortunately. No competition.

    We, the consumers and loyalists, made it possible for Marriott to treat us this way, when we let the merger go through. We never learn from our mistakes. When a company states, that the reason they want to merge is for betterment of the consumers, run far far away….

  2. Exactly what I expected them to do when they announced Free night certificates for the credit cards…move all of the hotels in major cities to the category just above the 35k night certificates. Several in NY and SF just glancing at the list for 3 minutes. Knew it.

  3. It does seem like Marriott is hell bent on destroying their credit card business even further.

    Already useless for spending on anything with the possible exception of Marriott hotels, the cards rely on this “pay a fee, get a night free” benefit that is being systematically destroyed — especially in places like New York.

    There are currently 3 Marriott cards in the household. None are used outside of spending at Marriotts. Two will be canceled almost immediately. The third will be once its certificate gets issued and used.

    For a while, I had regretted not getting Lifetime Platinum. Now I regret not burning the points much faster.

  4. If they’re changing their award chart, they should be increase the 35k point anniversary nights on their credit cards. At some point, people are not going waste their time holding a card to save $15 at a limited-service properties. They’re better off shopping the around as a free agent on Hotels.com.

    Gary, I know you’ve been big on Hyatt and their new card. Are you now actively pulling your spend away from Marriott to Hyatt?

    I know I’m considering certainly considering it. I’ve only been loyal to Marriott because I was loyal to SPG (and their Crossover Rewards partnership with Delta). If Hyatt expands their footprint and tweaks some elite benefits, they could be the SPG we all miss.

  5. Gary, I know you recently did an excellent article on the value of points. How does this further devaluation of Marriott points change your value of the points. I believe you said Marriott Bonvoy 0.007. Would it now possibly be 0.006 or 0.0065

  6. @Greg – In writing it I anticipated the introduction of category 8 and hi/low season redemptions, note that I reduced the value of Marriott points from my previous estimate by 12.5%. The increase in price of about 4% of Marriott’s portfolio outside of those category 8 increases – all by one category — does not push it down to $0.0065 in my opinion. Arguably the devaluation wasn’t as bad as usual and I might have gone too far moving it down to 0.007 knowing this was coming. I think it’s fair to leave where it is for now.

  7. @Jeff — I don’t think there’s a reason to spend on marriott cards any longer — except if you want platinum status for $75k spend on the premium amex card

  8. I dont understand Marriott’s strategy – they made Chase and AMEX come together to share the pie of the credit card offerings, dangling the 35K FN certs, then now making several places the 35K no longer get you the FN you were hoping for – such as NYC. That is basically going back to the previous complaints people have on the old Cat 1 to 5 Credit Card FN cert.

    My bet would be the attrition rates on those new cards would be very sizable. I know we are not tempted by those offerings from the beginning and will not keep our SPG business cards that we have had for so many years.

    I would not be bother to requalify in 2019.

  9. So much about the endless push to get the SPG cards before the x days it would be gone…
    Now 72 properties are taken out from the 35K FN cert’s possible redemption pool…

    Every friend I talked to tonight said they would not renew their Marriott / SPG cards when the next AF billed.

  10. Besides the point inflation of the redemption for a free night is the increases in resort fees, parking fees, destination fees, breakfast not included unless platinum member, etc.; what ever happened to a family friendly hotel chain?

  11. Back in 2014, I almost went down the Marriott road (never did SPG). So glad I chose Hyatt. A few bumps along the way, but it works for me and I’ve never looked back.

  12. Is there any category 8 all-inclusive properties besides The Westin Playa Conchal & Al Maya, Dubai? Thanks

  13. You have written about using points advance to book properties at the current rate, however, in their release they talked about having to get the certificate before the change in the chart. Are they going to be adjusting rates on reservations that have not been fully paid for? I have intentionally booked a cat 5 that is moving up to cat 6 as a points advance even though I have the points for it because I planned to use a FN that I will earn after March 5 but before we travel. I really would prefer not to be screwed for thousands of points because they have made yet another fine print change to their policies.

  14. They may be correct and/or this may have always been the way it has been written, but this is definitely a change to how they have operated in this regard in the past. They have previously always honored points advance bookings at the predevaluation rate.
    They have, yet again, proven that they can’t be trusted.

  15. The article encourages people to book now at lower categories. And I have done that often. This year, Marriott has said:

    “Points Advance — Members can book stays when they do not have enough points if they earn or purchase the needed points at least 14 days prior to check-in. Members who wish to book a points advance redemption under the current Marriott Rewards and SPG award chart are encouraged to order redemption certificates before March 5 to lock in the rate. On March 5, redemption bookings are subject to the new unified program award chart.”

    That’s a game changer and really un-customer friendly. I bet many people have reservations in place with air etc working on the points.

  16. I really think bloggers are downplaying just how badly Marriott is crushing their program. I know that all of the bloggers base their Marriott point value on the airline transfer rather than hotel stays, but it is getting to the point where there will be absolutely no use for Marriott points for hotels stays.
    I have two bookings that I have made for hotels that are on the list for category increases. The value I am receiving for them before devaluation is 0.82 and 0.73 cents per point, roughly in line with how bloggers have valued them. One during spring break at Disneyland and one during the summer in Ireland, so pretty much guaranteed to be peak season, so point requirements will be going from 35,000 to 60,000 and value of points will be dropping to 0.48 and 0.43 cents per point.
    It seems pretty much inevitable that the next shoe to drop will be the transfer rate to airlines to bring the value there back into line with the value for booking their hotels, roughly 0.4 to 0.5 cents per point.

  17. ANYTIME you deal with Marriott……don’t forget the lube. For decades I was a loyal Marriott client. Then over time the company began to forget about loyalty and started to put it to you at every opportunity. I think it may be related to the new management coming in, as the original Marriott family members left the day to day operations to others when they retired.
    Originally there were only 5 tiers. For 200,000 Marriott points they would give you two airline tickets along with a 7 night stay at ANY Marriott in the world. Plus a rental car was included in the package.
    I remember a Marriott points trip to Vienna Austria. We stayed in the nicest Marriott in the city and our rental car was a BMW 5 series. These perks will never be seen from Marriott again.

  18. Speaking of the “old” Travel Packages, they used to offer a “European sampler” 7-night package where you had 3-, 2-, and 2-night certificates that you could use at up to three different properties.

    We stayed at the best hotels in Prague, Vienna, and Budapest on one such package. Ah, they just don’t make them like they used to.

  19. After reading this article, I, as a Marriott property owner in Southern California, a traveler (for business and pleasure), and Chase Marriott Rewards Credit Card holder, seriously re-think about dropping and reconsider to avert to another chain of a hotel, such as Hilton and a few others… Will wait until the Marriott make a final decision on its categories corresponding to its points per night; then, I will make a prompt decision…

  20. I had the same experience as Rob being able to use 200,000 points to travel to Hong Kong in 1997, to Londen in 1999 and Vienna in 2004. These were made possible by trad ing in our Marriott Manor Club timeshare for points every other year.
    Today, our maintenance fee has gone from $450 to $1350 but the points awarded are still 110000. My 110000 points has been tremendously devalued. And remember, we had to pay significant money to buy our timeshare.
    Marriott also introduced another points program which has a fee and further reduced the value of Marriott. Rewards points.
    I blame the degradation to the need to increase the value of the stock and thereby increase the benefits of the executive staff.
    I also had the SPG card and program. I was very upset with the merger and dreaded what would happen and I was correct.

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