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Saturday marks the formal integration of the Marriott Rewards, Ritz-Carlton Rewards and Starwood Preferred Guest programs. While we already know a great deal about what this entails — from the full award chart to new Platinum Elite choice benefits — there’s one question that many readers still have: How will existing certificates from Marriott’s Hotel + Air travel packages convert in the new program?

Bottom line: We still don’t know. A Marriott spokesperson has told TPG that they “plan on sharing the full conversion chart on [August 18].” I’ve previously shared my best guesses on how these certificates will map to the new categories, but by the time it happens, it’ll be too late to do anything about it as the new program will have kicked in. To make matters worse, August 18 marks the start of a month-long blackout period for these certificates, so once you know how they’ll convert, you’ll need to cool your heels until September 18.

So with all that in mind, if you’re holding onto one of these certificates or are considering redeeming your points for a last-minute package, here are five mistakes to avoid making today:

1. Don’t wait until tonight.

All platforms for the three programs are set to be pulled offline in the early morning hours on Saturday, and until the system integration is complete, you’ll be unable to book reservations or redeem your points. We’ve already seen intermittent outages this week across the three programs, and I’d be willing to bet that tonight will be a flurry of activity for both the websites as well as the customer service lines, so expect long hold times and a high degree of frustration. When you add in the fact that actually booking these packages can be challenging for many phone agents, I would strongly advise you to not call Marriott Rewards at 10pm tonight and expect an easy experience.

My advice: If you’re going to book a new package or attach an existing certificate to a reservation, do it ASAP. Like right now. Don’t keep reading. Do it now.

2. Don’t expect a 1:1 conversion.

A current Category 7 certificate almost certainly will not become a new Category 7 certificate to be used at top-tier resorts like the St. Regis Maldives.

A reader left an interesting comment on my earlier story where I shared my predictions for how existing certificates will map to the new program. I indicated that I thought it would be fair for current Category 6 certificates to convert into new Category 4 certificates, and TPG reader Joan responded with the following:

“No it isn’t! I bought a cat 6 cert for a cat 6 property – THE END!”

I don’t mean any disrespect to Joan, but do not expect your existing certificate to convert to the same numerical category in the new program. A current Category 6 property will set you back 30,000 points per night (for the next few hours at least), while a Category 6 hotel in the new program will set you back 50,000 points per night. I simply see no alternate universe where the Marriott leadership team would decide to boost these certificates’ value by 67%. Category 6 in the current program is simply not the same as a Category 6 in the new program.

In fact, a Marriott spokesman proactively emailed us yesterday about a similar reader comment, and specifically stated the following:

“Existing category 6 certificates will not transfer to category 6 certificates under the new chart as the new chart categories require different number of points and are not comparable to the old categories.”

Personally, I’d say there’s a decent chance of Category 6 converting to Category 5, but my money is on Category 4.

My advice: Don’t plan on having your certificate convert to the same numerical category. I’m virtually certain that you’ll be disappointed.

3. Don’t expect a windfall of points.

Earlier in the year, an official Starwood representative posted the following on FlyerTalk:

“Floater certificates, including outstanding Marriott Travel Packages, will be cancelled and converted to equivalent points, credited to the member’s account for future redemption.”

This led to rampant speculation that existing certificate-holders who didn’t attach their certificates to a reservation before August 18 would suddenly come into a huge amount of points in exchange for their certificates that could be redeemed for anything. A lot of people jumped on this single sentence and began booking speculative packages, assuming that “equivalent points” meant the full value of the certificate (e.g. a seven-night Category 8 certificate would convert to 240,000 points, given the 40,000-point nightly price and fifth night free in the current standard award chart).

However, this idea has since been refuted by Marriott spokespeople, who have reiterated to us at TPG multiple times that “all existing certificates will convert to similarly valued categories” after August 18. Once again, it simply doesn’t make sense for Marriott to refund these points to then be used another way. They were initially redeemed as a package for seven nights at a specific level property — giving them back would provide an incredible amount of flexibility that doesn’t align with anything else the company is doing with the merger.

My advice: Erase the above statement from your mind and assume that your certificate will remain a certificate, valid at a to-be-named category of hotel in the new program.

4. Don’t expect to have added flexibility after tomorrow.

Flexibility is likely to go out the window as of tomorrow, so don’t plan on being able to upgrade your certificate to redeem at property like the Marriott Waikoloa.

One of the hallmarks of the certificates associated with current Hotel + Air packages is that they’re flexible. You can redeem points for a certain property level, but then either upgrade or downgrade them based on the category property you eventually select. You could also cancel the certificates entirely and receive a portion of your points back.

It’s not entirely clear whether this flexibility will still apply under the new program, but another official company rep said the following on FlyerTalk earlier in the week:

“Members will be able to cancel and get points back at a reduced amount.”

“After 8/18, certificates cannot be upgraded or downgraded, regardless of when they were purchased.”

Let me first acknowledge the elephant in the room: yes, I’m taking these words at face value even though Marriott has repudiated a post above from the same website (though in fairness, they were posts from two different company reps). However, the first post appeared on May 21, just over a month after the initial announcement and almost three months ago, while the second appeared on August 15. I’m much more likely to believe information delivered three days before an integration than details provided three months before.

My advice: Given these two statements, I would plan on having a much more restrictive certificate as of tomorrow.

5. Don’t keep your certificates unattached.

Many readers will probably fault me for my cautious approach here, but I’ve been consistently saying one thing from the start: attach outstanding certificates to reservations before the integration (as in, before August 18, so pretty much right now). There’s simply too much uncertainty surrounding the conversion, and since we won’t have confirmed details until Saturday, I would rather have a confirmed reservation at a property that I plan to visit than risk having a significant devaluation.

In addition, Marriott has indicated that reservations booked with these certificates can be changed once the blackout period lifts on September 18. That leads me to believe that you’ll be able to swap an existing certificate from a property you book today to a higher-category one, if (of course) the final conversion chart makes your certificate more valuable. However, if your certificate is converted at a less favorable rate, you at least have a desirable property booked. And if it’s an equal conversion, you’ve lost nothing by confirming your reservation now.

My advice: At the end of the day, I simply see no downside to attaching your certificate now and then being ready to change it as soon as September 18 hits if the conversion allows it. So attach your existing certificate to a new reservation today in case the conversion isn’t in your favor.

Bottom Line

One of the most hotly debated topics in the frequent traveler world over the last several weeks has been how Marriott will handle outstanding certificates from the current program’s Hotel + Air packages. With the terrible new iteration of this redemption option, it’s no wonder that many members scrambled to book these before August 18, and why we here at The Points Guy continue to get questions about how these certificates will convert into the new award chart.

Again, we still don’t know for sure how this will all play out, but I see a handful of potential errors you could make over the next several hours. I hope this story has highlighted exactly what those are likely to be, and while I could be wrong on any (or all) of them, I’d strongly encourage you to take my advice to heart.

Featured image courtesy of the Aruba Marriott Resort & Stellaris Casino.

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