Marriott Adds New Category 8 Hotels — Book Them Before March 5
Update: The 60,000-point pricing detailed below is no longer available as of March 5, 2019. For details on Marriott redemption options, please visit How to Redeem Points With the Marriott Bonvoy Program.
Earlier this month, Marriott announced its annual award category changes. This is a normal process that most hotel brands undergo each year to make sure pricing matches customer demand, and comparatively speaking, Marriott's 2019 changes are relatively mild (you can check out TPG Editor Nick Ewen's full analysis here). However, there's one massive implication of these changes for award travelers: the implementation of Category 8 pricing.
From now until March 5, 2019, you can still book top-tier Category 8 hotels at Category 7 pricing (60,000 points per night). Starting March 5, the price will jump to 85,000 points for a standard award. Once peak and off-peak pricing is implemented, the nightly rate could climb as high as 100,000 points per night. When Marriott originally announced its new, combined award chart, there were 59 properties classified as future Category 8 hotels. These included the obvious standouts like the all-suite St. Regis Maldives and Al Maha Resort in Dubai as well as a few stunning but slightly more "normal" hotels like the W South Beach.
Unfortunately, out of the 400 or so Marriott hotels that are changing category for 2019, there are an additional eight hotels that will be moving into this upper echelon of the program's award chart. On the flip side, only one Category 8 hotel is moving down (the St. Regis Osaka). All told, this represents a net increase of seven properties for the priciest award category. As of March 5, there will be a total of 66 Category 8 hotels that require 85,000 points per night, a number that reflects roughly 1% of the entire Marriott portfolio.
Without any further ado, let's meet the newcomers:
- Scrub Island Resort, Spa & Marina, Autograph Collection (British Virgin Islands)
- The London EDITION (United Kingdom)
- Las Alcobas, a Luxury Collection Hotel, Napa Valley (United States)
- Pine Cliffs Residence, a Luxury Collection Resort, Algarve (Portugal)
- The Ritz-Carlton Ras Al Khaimah, Al Hamra Beach (United Arab Emirates)
- The Ritz-Carlton, Dubai (United Arab Emirates)
- W Hong Kong
- The Westin Europa & Regina, Venice (Italy)
In the old SPG program, it was easy to look at an all-suite hotel in the Maldives and understand why it was a level above the rest of the normal award chart. Marriott's new Category 8 is a little less obvious in my opinion, with properties spanning multiple brands and every type of hotel, from towering city skyscrapers to secluded resort destinations.
While I'll happily return to Al Maha, even at 85,000 points a night, not every Category 8 hotel is automatically worth its lofty award cost. That being said, if you were eyeing one of these eight properties (or any of the other 58 that will shift to Category 8), you still have a few days left to snag the 60,000-point pricing before these changes take effect.
Lock In Category 7 Pricing With Points Advance
One of my favorite aspects of the Marriott Bonvoy program is Points Advance. While the category change announcement included some worrying language about this feature, Marriott has since confirmed that Points Advance reservations will lock in lower prices and not just the award space itself. If you're not familiar with Points Advance, you can start by reading this guide, but as the name suggests, this redemption option allows you to book award reservations even if you don't have enough points in your account. You'll have until 14 days before check-in to earn the required number of points and order your e-certificate, but make sure to keep an eye on the penalty-free cancellation window as it varies by hotel.
Even if you have enough points in your account, you can still use Points Advance as a hedge for bigger trips. If you find award space in the Maldives, for example, you can use Points Advance to lock in the award space while you work on finding flights. As long as you book an award prior to March 5 at one of these 66 top-tier properties, you'll have a confirmed reservation at the current 60,000-point rate, saving you 25,000 Marriott points per night (worth $225 based on TPG's valuations).
Some, like the W Hong Kong, even have wide open award space.
Others, like the The Ritz-Carlton Ras Al Khaimah, Al Hamra Beach are exciting because award reservations book into a nearly 2,000 square foot beachfront villa.
Just note that Marriott is recommending you attach a certificate prior to March 5 to make it easier to have the 60,000-point rate honored. Again, the program has committed to honoring the rate from the time of booking, but it will take a phone call and some manual adjustment to do so. If you want to avoid that stress (and you have enough points to fully book), I'd strongly encourage you to attach a certificate.
Finally, bear in mind that any changes to a reservation at these properties after March 5 will result in the new rate being charged, so do everything in your power to finalize your travel plans before that date.
Use Outstanding Certificates
Note that booking one of these Category 8 properties is also a great option for anyone with outstanding free night certificates from the Ritz-Carlton Rewards Card (which is no longer open to new applicants). If you earned these certificates as part of a sign-up bonus on the card shortly before it closed for applications, they should've transferred into awards worth up to 60,000 points per night and should be available in your Marriott Bonvoy account:
As long as your reservation takes place before the expiration date, you should see the option to use these when you go to book an award stay.
The above example is for a two-night, weekend stay at the St. Regis New York in May with $877 nightly rates. These certificates would no longer be valid for this reservation as of March 5, and a two-night standard award stay would jump from 120,00 points to 170,000 points.
Eight hotels moving up to Category 8 might not seem like much compared to Marriott's global portfolio of 6,800+ properties, but the expansion of this incredibly expensive top-tier is definitely bad news. If you've been eyeing a stay at any of the 66 soon-to-be Category 8 hotels, make sure to book before March 5 to get the best deal. If you're short on points, you can always use Points Advance to buy some time.