Marriott announced some impactful changes to their Bonvoy loyalty program last week. Not surprisingly, there are pluses and minuses. First, the good news:
- 2021 elite status will be extended through February 2023. Many Bonvoy members haven’t traveled as much during the last couple of years, and they’ll keep the status earned in 2019 or prior.
- All free night certificates set to expire between 1/3/22 and 6/29/22 will be extended to 6/30/22. If you have unused certificates, this extension will make it easier to take advantage of free night stays.
- Bonvoy is introducing a new, unique, and very positive concept: its members can add up to 15k of their own points to those free night certificates to increase their value. This is big! A 35k certificate (most common) can be upgraded or “topped off” to book a free night at the 50k level, a big enhancement. This change will be implemented in “early 2022”.
Now, the bad news, and this has the potential to severely devalue the entire program once again. Starting in March 2022, Marriott will no longer have an award chart that details the category and point values for each of its hotels. Instead, they will introduce “dynamic award pricing”, which means that the number of points charged will fluctuate with each hotel’s rack rate. This will make it very difficult to book an expensive room for a point value that is less than the market price for that room. In practice, I think Marriott will settle on a value for its Bonvoy points of about one half cent per point and make a simple conversion of the rack rate based on that value. Using that half cent value, a $300 rack rate would translate to 60k points, a $500 room would be 100k points, and so on. Unlike Hilton, which made a similar change a couple of years ago (which has made it very tough to find good value), Marriott has not committed to a cap to the number of points they would charge for a night at one of their top end hotels.
Here’s my take on these changes: It’s yet another net devaluation of what used to be one of the best hotel loyalty programs. Before the Marriott-SPG merger and the implementation of the Bonvoy program, Marriott Rewards points were worth about 1.4 cents each. Today, they carry a value of just over six-tenths of a cent. Once Marriott settles on a “conversion rate” going forward, we’ll know exactly what the value will be, and I think it’s very likely to be a half cent or less.
We looked at several hotels in several cities on the Marriott website and found NO instances where a half cent conversion rate resulted in a point value that was less than today’s award chart-based pricing. At peak pricing times, the point value could double or triple if there is no cap. Even if some sweet spots emerge at the lower end of the market at non-peak season hotels, that’s not why you collect Bonvoy points. Our clients want to stay at high-end hotels, and those may be impacted the most.
So, what should you do with that hard-earned stash of Bonvoy points? You should book 2022 reservations NOW, before March, to take advantage of today’s point values. Use the 15k “top-off” feature as soon as it’s implemented to boost the value of free night certificates. Once the award charts go away, consider transferring Bonvoy points to one of Marriott’s several airline partners. Even at a meager 2.4:1 exchange rate, the value of converting Bonvoy points to airline miles may exceed that of using them at a Marriott-branded hotel.
You should also keep any Marriott co-branded cards for their free nights, but only use them at Marriott hotels or when taking advantage of special offers. Instead, use Amex, Chase, Citi or Capital One cards and build up point balances that can be transferred to multiple travel partners, including Marriott. Let us know how we can help you navigate the ever-changing Marriott Bonvoy world.