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Last week, we learned two important details on the Marriott Bonvoy program in 2019: the date that the long-awaited Category 8 pricing will take effect and which other hotels will be moving award categories this year. Both of these changes will take effect March 5, 2019, giving members just a few weeks to finalize plans for stays through early February 2020.

However, one of the more vague aspects of Marriott’s announcement involved the program’s Points Advance redemption option, a key reason why I’m sticking with Marriott this year. Here was the exact verbiage:

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.”

Here at TPG, we had touted Points Advance as a way to lock in award pricing before these increased award prices take effect, so this naturally made me nervous. If affected members didn’t have enough points in their accounts to order certificates before March 5, would their reservations suddenly jump in price?

Photo courtesy of the St. Regis Maldives.
Booked a garden villa at the St. Regis Maldives using Points Advance? Your rate is locked in, even without a certificate attached before March 5. Photo courtesy of the hotel.

Fortunately, despite what other sites have indicated, the answer is no. We reached out to Marriott for confirmation and were told that attaching a certificate “makes it easier to retrieve the original reservation and the original rate.” When I pushed, I was given the following statement:

“[Members can] retain the lower price from the original reservation … The policy for points advance did not change — we are simply sharing that it is easier and helps avoid confusion if the certificate is attached before the categories change.”

So there you have it. If you currently have a Points Advance reservation at a property increasing in price on March 5, 2019, and you don’t have certificates attached at that time, you’ll still be able to have your original award rate honored.

However, the process can be a bit convoluted, so let’s take a look at the practical applications if you’re facing this scenario.

Overview of Certificates

Let’s start with a quick reminder of how Marriott award reservations work. When you go to redeem points at a participating property, you’ll have up to three different options for payment, depending on the parameters of your stay:

  1. You’ll be asked to redeem your points for the entire stay.
  2. You’ll be asked to use applicable free night certificates from credit cards or the program’s Choice Benefits program instead of (or in conjunction with) your points.
  3. You’ll be asked if you want to use Points Advance and wait to earn the points you need (which must happen within 14 days of your arrival date).

Here’s what that might look like if you have all three options available:

In all three cases, the process seems the same to you as the member, as you’ll be given a confirmation number regardless of the option(s) you select. However, the behind-the-scenes action is different. If you decide on Option 1 and/or 2, your points and/or free night(s) will be deducted immediately and a certificate will be generated and sent to the hotel. This is detailed in Section 3.2.b. of the Marriott Bonvoy terms & conditions:

“When making a reservation at least twenty-four (24) hours in advance, a “Redemption Award” will be added to the stay automatically, provided the Member has sufficient Points for the entire stay, and the Redemption Award will be activated upon check-in.”

If, on the other hand, you select Points Advance, a certificate is not sent to the hotel at booking. You still have a confirmed and valid reservation at the price you were quoted; it just won’t be paid on the back end until you earn enough points to cover the stay and attach a certificate within 14 days of your arrival.

So what does this all mean for Points Advance stays at properties increasing in price?

If You Can, Attach a Certificate Now

When you make an award reservation with Marriott, you can use Points Advance even if you do have enough points to cover the entire stay. Some elect this option to keep their points in their account in case another (better) redemption comes along or if they simply aren’t sure of their dates. If you’re in this boat and can redeem your points for your stay, I’d highly recommend doing so before March 5.

Why? Because it’s easier. When you redeem points and attach a certificate to an existing reservation, you are locked into the award price you paid without the need to manually adjust things on the back end when the new award chart takes effect. It’s not the only way to pay the award rate you booked, but it is the simplest.

Here’s how to do that with an existing Points Advance reservation if you currently have enough points in your account:

1. Login to your Marriott account.

2. Click on My Trips at the top

3. Find the applicable reservation, click on Details to expand it, then click View/Modify.

4. Find the yellow box at the top and click Deduct your points now.

5. Select the method of redemption you want to use (points or a certificate), then click Submit Changes at the bottom to finalize your award.

Note that you’ll definitely want to keep the above checkbox for “Do not send the confirmation” unchecked, as I always like to have confirmation emails for my records.

But what if you can’t earn enough points before March 5 to order certificates?

Get a Confirmation Email, Earn the Points, Then Call

As noted above, Marriott will still honor the original rate you booked if you can’t attach a certificate to your Points Advance reservation prior to March 5. However, it will take some intervention on your part.

The first, and most important, thing that you need to do is to make sure you have a confirmation email. Marriott is a little tricky in this regard, as I’ve found that it won’t send such an email until you have actually redeemed the points. In fact, you may have noticed the following at the bottom of the booking page when making a reservation:

“We’ll send you a confirmation email after you complete your reservation.”

This is what it looks like on the page:

Apparently Marriott doesn’t consider a reservation “complete” until you redeem the points, so it won’t send that email until you have done so.

But all hope is not lost! You can still send a confirmation email to yourself with just a few clicks. Here’s how:

1. Login to your Marriott account.

2. Click on My Trips at the top

3. Find the applicable reservation, click on Details to expand it, then click View/Modify.

4. Click the Email link near the top of the Upcoming Reservation page.

5. Enter your email address, then click Submit.

You should receive an email within a few minutes that details out the award rate you booked:

It’s not as pretty as a regular confirmation email, but it has all of the details you need.

Now, this may be overkill, but I like to have proof that I have booked a specific rate, especially if the property is jumping from 60,000 points to 85,000 points per night. That’s a big difference!

It’s then up to you to earn the required number of points you need for the reservation at least 14 days before you arrive. You can do this in a variety of ways: staying at Marriott properties, applying for a new Marriott credit card, or even transferring points from Chase Ultimate Rewards. The terms & conditions of Points Advance indicate that your award reservation may be canceled by the property and “converted to a cash reservation at the best available rate” if you don’t earn enough points before the two-week deadline, so it’s in your best interest to do this sooner rather than later.

Once you have enough points to cover the amount from your original reservation, you’ll then need to call Marriott customer service. Explain that you have a Points Advance reservation for which you’d like to order points, and make sure that the agent honors the award rate from your original reservation. This process has been confirmed by a Marriott spokesperson. Yes, it’s not ideal, but it’s much better than paying 10% to almost 50% more for your award stay!

Unfortunately, we continue to hear reports of phone reps being unable to provide more advanced support, so if you’re initially denied, you may want to hang up and call back. This would be another reason to attach certificates to these stays before March 5, as you’ll avoid the phone call entirely.

What About Properties Decreasing in Price?

If you have a Points Advance reservation at a property that’s moving down a category as of March 5, the process is much easier. Just leave it alone. Once the category changes take effect, your online reservation should automatically reflect the new (lower) pricing. You won’t need to call to have the new rate honored, because the better one will already be reflected in your account. Once you’ve earned enough points, simply login to deduct the points from your account and have the certificates sent to the property.

Bottom Line

Marriott’s Points Advance feature is unique among hotel loyalty programs, and it’s great to see that reservations booked in this fashion will be honored at the pre-March 5 rates. However, if you do have the ability to earn enough points to order certificates before then, I’d strongly recommend that you do so to eliminate the hassle of calling and having a customer service rep manually adjust your reservation.

One final note: if you do have dozens of Points Advance reservations booked and only plan on keeping a small number of them, do what you can to finalize your trips and cancel the ones you don’t need. It truly isn’t fair to other members if you’re blocking a month’s worth of award stays at the St. Regis Maldives (for example) but only intend on using five of those nights. Confirm your plans and put the rest of the award rooms back into inventory before March 5 to allow other travelers to book them.

Featured image courtesy of Marriott.

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Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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