Your Guide to Marriott’s 2019 Category Changes

Feb 8, 2019

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Update: The category changes detailed below took place on March 5, 2019. For details on Marriott redemption options, please visit How to Redeem Points With the Marriott Bonvoy Program. Some offers mentioned below are no longer available – Starwood Preferred Guest® Luxury Credit Card from American Express,  Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express

In December, we learned that Marriott’s long-awaited Category 8 pricing would take effect sometime in March. This would also include the program’s annual category changes, and many were obviously concerned that there would be a significant devaluation in the combined program’s award chart. We now know the date of these changes (March 5, 2019) as well as the full scope of the changes. While it isn’t catastrophic, there are definitely some important implications for anyone loyal to Marriott or looking in another direction.

Let’s dive into the details and see what March 5 will bring.

Additional Category 8 Properties

Scrub Island Resort & Spa is located on a private island off Tortola in the British Virgin Islands.
Scrub Island Resort & Spa is one property jumping into Category 8 as of March 5. Photo courtesy of the resort.

Marriott’s original award chart included 59 properties that were slated to move into the newly-created Category 8 once that pricing took effect. These luxurious hotels and resorts were (and are still) available for just 60,000 points per night but will jump to 85,000 points per night starting March 5. Not surprisingly, this included top-notch properties like the St. Regis Maldives and St. Regis Bora Bora.

However, as part of these changes, I now count eight additional properties that’ll fall into this higher tier that weren’t on the original list:

However, there is one that was supposed to jump to Category 8 (the St. Regis Osaka) that will instead fall into Category 7 with these changes and will thus maintain its 60,000-point nightly rate for award stays.

When you combine these numbers, you’ll now have 66 properties total in Category 8, almost 1% of the entire program’s portfolio.

Fewer Properties for Free Night Certificates

Many of Marriott’s cobranded credit cards will be undergoing a refresh in just a few days, but the mid-tier cards like the Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express will continue to offer free night certificates valid at properties up to 35,000 points per night (standard Category 5 pricing). You can also select a free night award when you reach 75 nights and qualify for Titanium status as part of the program’s Choice Benefits program (worth up to 40,000 points per night).

Unfortunately, this perk is being hit hard with the category changes. In all, I count 72 properties that are moving from Category 5 to Category 6, a shift that will boost their nightly rates to 50,000 points per night and make them ineligible for these free night certificates.

But surely some existing Category 6 hotels are dropping to Category 5, right? Well, that’s correct: three of them. This is a net loss of 69 properties and includes locations like the W Miami, The Lexington Hotel in New York and the Courtyard Waikiki Beach.

You’ll also see a net loss for holders of the Starwood Preferred Guest® American Express Luxury Card, as you’ll have fewer properties to redeem the annual free night certificate valid at properties up to 50,000 points per night. A total of 22 are moving from Category 6 to 7, while only 7 are going the other way and dropping from Category 7 to Category 6. This is a net loss of 15 properties and includes properties like the Westin Grand Cayman and The Cosmopolitan in Las Vegas.

Note that the Westin Grand Cayman increasing in price is especially galling, since it also jumped in the combined award chart. This property was 12,000 Starpoints per night (or the equivalent of 36,000 Marriott points) before the integration less than a year ago but jumped to 50,000 points as of August 18, 2018. Starting March 5, it’ll require 60,000 points for a free night. That’s an increase of 66.7% from before the merger.

Lower Tiers Also Hit Hard

While the above properties tend to fall into the higher tier brands, the less exciting ones are also being hit hard with this change. For example, I count a total of 55 Courtyard locations changing categories as of March 5. However, a mere three of them are dropping in price, while the remaining 52 are moving up a category.

It’s even more noticeable at two other limited-service brands:

  • Fairfield: Every one of the 25 properties changing award categories is moving up.
  • Residence Inn: Every one of the 32 properties changing award categories is moving up.

Big Impact on Big Cities

(Photo courtesy of Hotel London Marriott County Hall)
Planning a trip to London? Like most big cities, there are many properties increasing in price. (Photo courtesy of Hotel London Marriott County Hall)

Larger cities tend to be very expensive hotel markets, and a couple are being hit hard with these changes. New York has at least 12 properties changing categories, and all of them are increasing in price. All four of the Boston locations I see on the list are increasing, as are all four of the hotels in the Bay Area (three in San Francisco, one in Oakland). All six Chicago-area hotels I see are increasing, and London has seven properties on the list, six of which are increasing in price.

Possible Points Advance Implications

There’s another (potential) issue with these problems. Marriott included the following information when they emailed us about the upcoming changes (emphasis mine):

“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.”

We’ve reached out to Marriott to confirm the practical implications of this verbiage, as it sounds like Points Advance reservations will revert to the new pricing if they don’t have certificates attached prior to March 5. This would be a tremendously negative change, though again, we don’t yet know for sure that it will work in this way. We’ll be sure to provide an update as soon as we have confirmation from Marriott.

It’s Not All Bad News

Despite the above, it isn’t all bad news. There are a handful of solid properties that are dropping in price:

Note that the Sheraton Maldives Full Moon Resort & Spa is also dropping in price, though among the list of points hotels in the Maldives, you may want to steer clear of this one.

Bottom Line

Any time a hotel loyalty program announces category changes with more properties moving up than down, it’s bound to cause some anxiety for its members. That’s exactly what’s happened here, as Marriott is implementing both new Category 8 pricing and adjusting the award rates for hundreds of others. Almost 350 properties are moving up in price, while just more than 30 are dropping in price.

However, the biggest drawback to me is the fact that the program only provided three and a half weeks’ notice, which doesn’t give you a lot of time to finalize plans before the new rates take effect. While you should be able to book at the current rates for stays through February 2020, you must lock in those reservations prior to March 5, 2019. Otherwise you may wind up paying more for your award stay.

Featured photo by Adam Kotkin/TPG.

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