How to ensure your existing Marriott Points Advance reservations are honored
Saturday marked an important, final step in the integration of the Marriott, SPG and Ritz-Carlton Rewards programs, as peak and off-peak pricing officially took effect. Each property in a given category now has three award rates, and which one you'll need to pay depends on the date. We took an early look at this new pricing scheme yesterday and are currently conducting a much deeper analysis, but there's one big issue we continue to see involving Points Advance reservations made before Saturday. Now that peak and off-peak pricing is here, your existing Points Advance bookings now fall into one of three categories:
- It shows an identical price to the one you originally booked.
- It shows a lower price than the one you originally booked.
- It shows a higher price than the one you originally booked
The first one is a non-issue, and the second one is great, as your stay will now require fewer points. However, the third one can be a bit nerve-wracking. Are you now on the hook for even more points?
So as not to bury the main story, let me stress up front that the answer to this is no. If you made a Points Advance reservation prior to Saturday Sept. 14, 2019, your reservation will be honored at the rate you booked, even if it's currently showing a higher rate online due to the implementation of peak pricing. This fact has been confirmed directly by Marriott:
"Members can rest assured that any reservations booked with points prior to September 14th are reserved at the Standard redemption rate."
That being said, 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 one or two different options for payment, depending on your account:
- You'll be asked to redeem your points for the entire stay.
- 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.
However, if you don't have enough points to cover the entire stay, you'll be asked if you want to use Points Advance. In essence, this locks in the award availability and gives you more time to earn the required number of points (which must happen within 14 days of your arrival date), though if you're making such a reservation after Sept. 14, 2019, the actual award rate of the reservation is subject to change based on monthly adjustments to the program's peak and off-peak pricing dates.
Whether you redeem points, use a certificate or book a Points Advance stay, the process seems the same to you as the member, as you'll be given a confirmation number regardless of the option 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 reservations you made prior to Sept. 14?
If your award rate hasn't changed
If you booked a reservation before Sept. 14, you were given a single award rate: standard. If the dates of your stay still fall into the standard category — and our initial investigation indicates that most do — then you don't need to do anything. If you have the points to cover the stay, you can certainly go ahead and confirm the reservation. To do this, log in to your account and pull up the reservation. You should find a message along these lines:
Click on Deduct your points now and follow the prompts to finalize the reservation at the rate you originally booked.
If your award rate has decreased
On the other hand, it's entirely possible that your award stay has dropped in price if one or more of your dates now falls into off-peak time periods. If this is the case, you should also go ahead and confirm the reservation (if you have enough points). In this situation, you're using the new off-peak award rates to your advantage. The process should be the same as the one noted above, since your online reservation should reflect the new (lower) price.
In either of these two situations, your work may not be done once you've redeemed the points. Be sure to check your reservations at least once a month. Part of Marriott's peak and off-peak pricing involves monthly adjustments "to reflect market conditions" (per a Marriott spokesperson). It's entirely possible that an existing trip — even if you've already redeemed the points to lock in the rate — will change from standard to off-peak pricing. This could result in a refund of up to 15,000 points per night, depending on the award category you booked.
If your award rate has increased
This third situation is likely the most concerning. If any of your originally-booked dates are now classified as peak, it'll appear that you owe additional points for the award stay. Again, that is not the case. All Points Advance reservations booked prior to Sept. 14, 2019 will be honored at the standard rate you locked in.
Note that this is the case even with reservations made prior to the March 5 category changes that saw the introduction of Category 8 pricing. I happen to have one of those at the St. Regis New York for a two-night stay this fall. When I booked, the rate was 60,000 points per night, but the online reservation in my account jumped to 85,000 points per night as of March 5. When I logged in this morning, I saw the following:
The first night is still at the standard rate, but the second night falls on a peak date for this property. If you're keeping track, this award has increased by over 54% since I booked.
Armed with previous Marriott statements and our earlier coverage of Points Advance reservations, I set out to call Marriott Bonvoy customer service at 1-800-627-7468.
(Side note: Be sure your cell phone number is up to date in your Bonvoy profile. The system recognized it, and I was connected to an agent in less than a minute.)
Agent #1: No dice
The first agent with whom I spoke was very courteous and thanked me for my Platinum Elite loyalty. I started with something like this:
"I made a Points Advance reservation back in February at the St. Regis New York, and with the introduction of Category 8 pricing in March and the Saturday implementation of peak and off-peak pricing, it's now showing a significantly higher number of points. I was calling to go ahead and redeem my points at the originally-booked rate of 60,000 points per night."
The agent pulled up the reservation and confirmed the details, then indicated that he was going to deduct the points. Concerned at the rapidity of this response — having helped a colleague navigate this process before — I clarified that it would be 120,000 points deducted for the two nights.
I'm glad I asked.
He indicated that the reservation was pricing at 85,000 points for the first night and 100,000 points for the second night, so he was going to deduct the full 185,000 points. He went on to say that rates were subject to change until the reservation is confirmed. However, he proactively offered to get a supervisor on the line to help — though he certainly seemed skeptical that I knew what I was talking about.
Agent #2: Initial no but eventual success
After about a 10-minute wait, a supervisor came on the line. He had clearly been briefed on the situation, as he started with, "Well, I wish I had better news." He proceeded to tell me about the change over the weekend and that I now needed to redeem the extra 15,000 points, even going as far as to say that I was "lucky" that only one of the two nights had increased due to peak pricing.
Knowing I was in the right, I pressed him and pointed out that when I originally booked the stay, it was 60,000 points per night, and at the time, Marriott confirmed that those pre-March 5 rates would be honored. I also pointed out that another statement confirmed that reservations made prior to Sept. 14 would also be honored at the originally-booked price. I then politely asked what could be done to confirm the reservation at the 120,000-point price at the time of booking.
He went back into the system and then asked if he could place me on a brief hold. After another 10 minutes or so, he came back with some much better news. He checked with "a couple of other teams" who verified that I made the reservation before Category 8 pricing took effect (he claims by just a few hours, but I know it was a few days based on the timestamp of my confirmation email). As a result, they were going to honor the original price of 60,000 points per night.
It took him a few more minutes to manually adjust the reservation, but after a 36-minute phone call, my account was 120,000 points lower and my reservation is now confirmed.
I knew this process wasn't going to be easy, as my reservation was twice as complicated as others — with impacts from both Category 8 and peak pricing implementation. The biggest takeaway? Be persistent. The program has been clear on the fact that Points Advance reservations made before March 5 and those made before Sept. 14 would be honored at the originally-booked rate. My experience shows that front-line customer support agents — including supervisors — may not know or fully understand this. I knew I was in the right, so I pressed accordingly.
However, you also should be polite. There's still some simmering frustration related to the integration of Marriott and SPG, and there are likely phone agents who have taken the brunt of said frustration from members. Even though I was firm, I never lost my cool on either agent. That may not have helped my cause, but it certainly didn't hurt.
That being said, I recognize that I was lucky. I've read reports from readers — and even TPG staff members — who aren't as successful with getting these reservations issued. If you still can't get the right resolution on a call, consider reaching out to Marriott Bonvoy Assist on Twitter (@MBonvoyAssist). Try calling back, and don't give up.
Finally, remember that any Points Advance reservation made after Sept. 14 provides no guarantee of the rate at the time of booking. It remains to be seen how significant the monthly peak/off-peak date adjustments will be, but if you make a Points Advance booking during an off-peak or standard time, it's entirely possible that it could increase in price before you redeem the points to confirm it — and you'll be required to pay up. As a result, once you've earned enough points for your Points Advance stay, don't wait. You can always go back and rebook the stay if it later drops in price, but once it increases, you may never see the lower award rate again.
Earning points for a Points Advance reservation
Of course, all of this is a moot point if you have a Points Advance reservation but don't actually earn the required number of points in time to cover the stay. Per the terms and conditions of the Marriott Bonvoy program, you need to have enough points in your account for the reservation at least 14 days before you arrive.
Fortunately, there are many ways to earn Marriott points: staying at Marriott properties, applying for a new Marriott credit card, having a friend or family member transfer you points (for free), or even transferring points from Chase Ultimate Rewards or American Express Membership Rewards. The terms of Points Advance indicate that your award reservation may be canceled by the program or individual 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.
Marriott's Points Advance feature is unique among hotel loyalty programs, though it has significantly less utility thanks to the changes introduced on Sept. 14, 2019. However, if you're sitting on a Points Advance reservation from before that date — or even an old one from before March 5 — Marriott will honor the price you originally booked. You'll just need to call, and unfortunately it may not be an easy process.