Marriott Hotel Award Category 2014 Changes – 21% Going Up

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Like the other major chains, Marriott periodically adjusts the hotels within each of its award categories, and it has just released the list of hotels that will be changing categories in 2014. About one fifth of Marriott’s properties are moving up in categories, and those new rates will kick in for reservations booked on or after April 8, 2014, so if you have any stays you can book before April 7, even for travel after that date, I would recommend doing so.

Marriott is one of the biggest hotel chains partnered with Southwest.
Marriott released a lot of changes today.

Here’s the full list as posted by the Community Manager on the Marriott Rewards Insider Blog: 2014 Rewards Hotel Category File

And here’s what they had to say in the accompanying statement:

  • All redemption reservations booked on or before April 7, 2014 will be honored at the current point price, even if the stay occurs after April 8. 2014. If you have not ordered your certificate prior to April 8, 2014, call Guest Services prior to your stay to request the lower priced certificate.
  • As always, you may book redemption reservations up to 50 weeks in advance of your stay, even before having the required points in your account.
  • You can also use Cash + Points to take advantage of booking your redemption stay early.

How many hotels are affected?

73% of the properties remain unchanged
66% of the programs properties will remain in Categories 1-4
27% of the hotels are changing; of these 22% are decreasing by one category and 78% are increasing by one category

Is my existing redemption reservation impacted?

All redemption reservations booked on or before April 7, 2014 for stays beginning April 8, 2014, will be honored at the point price booked. If you have not ordered your certificate prior to April 8, 2014, call Guest Services to request the lower priced certificate before your stay.

How long can I book a redemption stay using the current hotel categories?

You may book redemption reservations up to 50 weeks in advance of your stay, even before having the required points in your account. For example, on April 1, 2014 you may book your redemption stay as far out as March 15, 2015.

So most of the hotels that are changing are going up one category – and that equates to about 21% of all Marriott properties going up in award redemption levels – not good news at all for Marriott Rewards members. While that’s not as bad as last year’s news that Marriott was creating a new, more expensive, top-tier Category 9, and that about a third of all their properties were moving up a category, it’s still a devaluation in my book.

The Cosmopolitan is one of the many properties going up in category.
The Cosmopolitan is one of the many properties going up in category.

Of the over 800 properties moving up, half of them are category 5 jumping to category 6 and from category 6 to category 7, while it looks like 75 will jump from category 7 to 8 and 16 will jump up to the top tier of category 9. Included in those jumping to the top tier are some notable properties like the Cosmopolitan in Vegas, the Marriott Beachside Hotel in Key West, and the Renaissance Paris Hotel Le Parc Trocadero.

Given the recent hotel and airline devaluations we’ve seen, I can’t say I’m surprised, but I am disappointed that it’s going to take even more points to book more Marriott hotels now, and this is just more of the same – and more bad news for the consumer – from loyalty programs. That said, it’s not the end of the world, because when hotels jump a category, it’s a difference of 5,000 points – and with some savvy spending strategies, you can make up for that by maximizing category spending bonuses and other credit card benefits.

Ritz-Carlton Changes

Ritz-Carlton also announced that 20 of its 85 properties would also be changing categories – and they’re all going up. Four will jump from 1-2, seven from 2-3, six from 3-4 and three from 4-5. Included in those jumping to the top tier are the Ritz-Carlton Tokyo, Grand Cayman and Dubai, while the property at Kapalua on Maui will go up to category 4, as will those in LA and Tahoe, among others.

Pool cabanas at the Ritz-Carlton Kapalua.
It’ll cost you 10,000 more points per night to stay at the  Ritz-Carlton Kapalua.

Ritz-Carlton Tiers are 10,000 points apart, so though there are fewer properties, Ritz-Carlton devotees are bound to feel the devaluation here a bit more.

Competition Comparison

To put this in perspective, I thought I’d take a look at how much you’d have to spend to earn enough points for an award night at a top-tier hotel. Excluding credit card bonuses and elite status, it takes the following base spend to achieve a top tier award night:

-$4,500 at Marriott (45,000 points at 10 points per dollar spent)
-$5,000 at IHG (50,000 points at 10 points per dollar spent)
-$6,000 for Hyatt (30,000 points at 5 points earned per dollar spent)
-$6,333 for a free night at a top-tier Hilton (95,000 points at 15 points earned per dollar spent)
-$15,000 for a Starwood Category 7 property (30,000 points at 2 points per dollar spent)

So Marriott is actually not looking so bad there, but clearly there is more to a hotel program than just top-tier redemptions, and credit cards and elite status make earning free nights easier in many cases. However, the fact that Marriott is shifting over 20% of its properties up a category including to its new top-tier is not good news for anyone. Marriott is not one of my main hotel programs and I prefer to transfer my Chase Ultimate Rewards points to other partners like United and Hyatt, but for you Marriott Rewards loyalists out there, what are your thoughts?

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