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Update: 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, Starwood Preferred Guest® Business Credit Card from American Express
While the Marriott/SPG merger has been fraught with delays and technological problems, earlier this week it crossed a major threshold: All legacy SPG brands have been migrated over to the Marriott IT platform for reservations. This is great news for a couple of reasons. Not only will it be harder (or hopefully impossible) for certain hotels to play games with their award availability; it also means that Marriott’s Points Advance feature is now available for most of the legacy SPG properties.
If you’re not familiar with this tool, Points Advance allows you to reserve an award night even if you don’t have enough points in your account. You’ll receive a confirmation number for your stay when you book and can log in to your account to pay with points up to 14 days before check-in.
With just under three weeks left in the year, the timing of this enhancement couldn’t be better. If you thought you were just beginning to acclimate to the new Marriott award chart, think again. Beginning at some point in early 2019, Marriott will finally implement top-tier Category 8 pricing and introduce peak pricing (off-peak pricing will also take effect, though that doesn’t apply to the suggestions in this article). If you have a vacation that you’re not 100% sure about, consider using Points Advance to lock in cheaper pricing now before these changes occur.
Category 8 Hotels
One of the hottest deals to come out of the Marriott merger has been the ability to book the most luxurious hotels in the combined program at Category 7 pricing (60,000 points per night) through the end of the year. While it hasn’t always been smooth sailing in terms of finding and booking award space, many people have been able to score discounted reservations at some of the fanciest hotels in the Marriott portfolio. There are 59 hotels slated to go up to Category 8 in 2019, including a few of our favorites:
- St. Regis Maldives
- St. Regis Bora Bora
- Al Maha Resort Dubai
- Gramercy Park Hotel, New York
- Ritz Carlton Hong Kong
At the most basic level, without even considering the impact of peak and off-peak pricing at in-demand properties like these, moving from Category 7 to Category 8 will raise the cost of these properties from 60,000 points a night (worth $540 based on TPG’s valuations) to 85,000 points (worth $765).
However, until this change is implemented, you can use Points Advance to lock in the 60,000-point rate risk-free, and some of these properties even have wide open award availability at the time of writing. For example, here’s the award calendar for Al Maha in March. All but two days are available for award bookings!
While the exact terms of these reservations might vary slightly by hotel, Al Maha allows you to cancel a Points Advance reservation without penalties up to 30 days before check-in. While most award reservations have generous cancellation policies, Points Advance gives you that same benefit without tying up your points in case a more immediate trip comes along. You can go ahead and make a speculative reservation while you get your flights sorted out, and if it doesn’t work, you can cancel up to 30 days before arrival.
Avoid Peak / Off-Peak Pricing
One of the last major unknowns regarding the merger is exactly how Marriott will chose to implement peak and off-peak pricing. We can assume that seasonal destinations (like Miami or the Maldives) are likely to see a good amount of peak pricing, but what about a big city like New York that’s always in high demand from tourists and business travelers alike?
Rather than wait and see, you might be better off making a Points Advance reservation now to lock in standard pricing. Category 7 properties like the New York EDITION will see an increase of 16.67% on peak dates compared to standard dates, jumping from 60,000 to 70,000 points a night. If you see a trip to New York any time in the future, why not go ahead and lock in standard pricing while the award space is wide open? The EDITION lets you cancel penalty free up to 3 days before arrival, so there isn’t much risk to you.
This is even more pronounced for Category 8 properties like the St. Regis New York. You can currently book these properties for 60,000 points per night, but in early 2019, standard rates will jump to 85,000 points per night. On peak dates, you’ll need to redeem 100,000 points, a jump of 66.67% from today’s pricing!
Book Early For Special Events
Even if we don’t know exactly how Marriott will assign peak and off-peak pricing, we can use some common sense and assume that if a city hosts a major event that draws thousands of visitors, we’re likely to see peak pricing at most properties over those dates.
For example, millions of visitors flock to Tokyo every spring to see the stunning cherry blossoms in full bloom, massively distorting hotel prices (in an already expensive market) and creating fierce competition for rooms using points. Several high-end Marriott properties are already out of award space for the week the blossoms are scheduled to bloom, but if you act quickly you can still book a five-night stay at the Category 6 Westin Tokyo or Sheraton Tokyo to take advantage of Marriott’s fifth night free on award stays. These hotels currently cost 50,000 points a night with standard pricing, but during peak season they’ll jump to 60,000 points a night, a 20% increase.
Booking now would save you 10,000 Marriott points, worth $90 based on TPG’s most recent valuations. That’s a solid savings that is magnified across multi-night stays.
Boosting Your Marriott Balance
Of course, once you’ve locked in your award stay using Points Advance, you still need to actually earn the required points at least 14 days before arrival (though this may be further in advance if the hotel has a more restrictive cancellation window). The easiest way to do this is via welcome offers on the program’s cobranded credit cards. For example, both the Starwood Preferred Guest® American Express Luxury Card and the Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express are currently offering bonuses of 75,000 points after you use your new card to make $3,000 in purchases within the first three months. Either of these would go a long way toward covering the outstanding point balance you’d need on any Points Advance reservation.
Bear in mind that you can also transfer Chase Ultimate Rewards points and American Express Membership Rewards points directly to Marriott, though you may want to save those currencies for more valuable airline awards.
Stringing together an international award trip requires a lot of moving pieces to line up perfectly, including flights, hotels and vacation time (to name a few). Marriott’s Points Advance feature means you have one less thing to worry about, as you can ‘hold’ award space for months, even if you don’t have enough points in your account to cover the full redemption amount. Just be aware of the specific cancellation terms for the hotel you’re interested in, and if you decide not to take the trip, be sure to cancel your reservation as soon as you can so another reader can get that award space.
Know before you go.
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