Former Category 8 Marriott hotels now off the charts: How I'm rethinking my high-end redemptions
Earlier this year, I published an article about how I'm redeeming the 5 million Marriott points I earned from placing students in hotels earlier in the pandemic when university dormitories were closed.
My redemption strategy has been simple: Use points at Marriott properties where cash prices are preposterously high. Subsequently, I've been able to often get 1.5 cents per Marriott point — or roughly double TPG's valuation.
While my redemption strategy has taken me to hotels like The St. Regis Bora Bora and The Ritz-Carlton Maui, Kapalua, these same former Category 8 properties are now "off the charts" in terms of pricing — they cost up to 120,000 points per night.
With about 4 million points still in my account (I've had to cancel lots of stays), here's how I'm rethinking my high-end Marriott redemptions.
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What's happened to high-end Marriott hotels
TPG has run several data analyses since Marriott removed its award categories. Our most recent analysis found that overall award prices across the U.S. — particularly in Hawaii — had significantly increased. In other words, Marriott has devalued its points since the megachain's shift away from award categories.
Here's an example of one of the most aspirational properties in Marriott's portfolio. Let's look at the award prices at The St. Regis Bora Bora for November.
You'll notice that the property has a six-figure price every night in November. When TPG reviewed the hotel four years ago, this property was 60,000 points per night. In other words, since 2018, the hotel has effectively doubled in price.
Assuming award nights continue to increase at this rate, by 2026, entry-level rooms here will cost up to 240,000 points per night.
Skyrocketing award rates extend to most other Category 8 properties as well. At the time of writing, The Hotel de Berri Champs-Elysees, a Luxury Collection Hotel, Paris doesn't have any rooms for fewer than 100,000 points per night next July; The St. Regis New York has rooms for 120,000 points for most nights this December.
To put it bluntly, many former Category 8 hotels have reached new levels in terms of award prices.
Related: Possible impending Marriott devaluation: What dynamic pricing could mean for travelers
Not all regions are equally affected
With high award rates at Category 8 hotels, I'm looking to other regions around the world to redeem my points.
In our data analyses, we found that hotels like The Westin Singapore and The Westin Tokyo routinely offer redemption rates close to 1.2 cents per point, which is significantly more than TPG's valuation of Marriott points at 0.84 cents per point. While both of these hotels weren't Category 8 properties before, they continue to offer superb redemption opportunities when comparing the cash rates — and that's what I'm looking for.
Our tests found that redemption rates are better at high-end overseas resorts than at most domestic hotels. So, I'm looking to the Asia-Pacific region, the Middle East and Africa to redeem my points going forward.
For reference, outside of the U.S., nightly rates at certain former Category 8 properties haven't reached six figures yet. For example, The Romanos, a Luxury Collection Resort, Costa Navarino has room rates starting at 62,500 points per night. In fairness, however, cash rates at this hotel aren't nearly as high as The St. Regis Bora Bora, The Hotel de Berri Champs-Elysees or The St. Regis New York.
Related: Did the classic stay timeless? (Re)living the dream at The St. Regis New York
How to leverage Marriott promotions
Marriott's promotions generally help you earn more points on cash stays. You can read more about one of these currently available promotions here.
Occasionally, though, you'll find promotions to help you save on redeeming points. In this section, I'll highlight two of my favorite redemption promotions.
One of the best ways to save Marriott points is through Marriott's PointSavers. Below is the award chart of The St. Regis Bali, a former Category 8 property:
Unlike most other Category 8 properties, this resort offers lower award prices compared to when it was a Category 8 hotel. There are nights for as few as 53,600 points per night.
Searching for various hotels during travel dates is worth your while to see if you can hop on a PointSavers deal. When you search for your next Marriott stay on points, type in a city name to see all the award prices at the hotels within a 50-mile radius. If you're using the Marriott website (as opposed to the app), you'll see "PointSavers" below the nightly rate. You can also book Marriott PointSavers rates on the app, but you'll see discounted prices later in the booking process.
Week of Wonders
Travelers can also take advantage of Marriott's annual Week of Wonders promotion. As part of this promotion, the hotel brand offers up to 15% off award stays at 4,500 properties this year. While we couldn't find heavily discounted award rooms, it's always worth staying apprised of redemption promotions. TPG will let you know if and when these promotions become available.
Related: What is Marriott Bonvoy elite status worth in 2022?
Checking and rechecking
Ever since Marriott's move to dynamic pricing, I find myself constantly checking and rechecking for less expensive awards. It's not uncommon to find slightly reduced pricing in the days leading up to check-in.
By repricing your reservation, you stand to have points deposited back into your account. You can rebook your room on Marriott's website if you find a lower award price. Make sure you select the correct dates, the number of guests and the room type.
Related: 17 ways to earn lots of Marriott Bonvoy points
A strong contingency plan
As I mentioned, in four years, some creme-de-la-creme Marriott hotels could be close to a quarter-million points per night if award rates continue to increase at the rate they have.
If this happens, I will start transferring Marriott points to airline miles. With most of Marriott's airline partners, the transfer ratio is 3:1 (3 Marriott points equals 1 airline mile), with a 5,000-mile bonus for every 60,000 points transferred.
Some lesser-known airline transfer programs are on the lengthy list of Marriott's airline partners, including some you can't transfer credit card points to. For example, you can fly from Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) to South Africa in Lufthansa first class for just 75,000 Aegean Miles+Bonus miles.
So, if all else fails, I dive into the lesser-known airline point currencies to book award travel at a fraction of the price of popular programs like United MileagePlus and Delta SkyMiles.
Related: Will we be upgraded in 2023? Here's where TPG's staff stands midyear on our airline status quest
While the recent spikes in award prices at some former Category 8 hotels are disappointing, Marriott points can still deliver value. However, I've had to return to the drawing board on my redemption strategy.
Before breaking the bank for 120,000 points for a night at a former Category 8 hotel like the London Marriott Hotel County Hall, consider how much time you'll spend in the room. If you're traveling for work or planning to sightsee from sunrise to sunset, it's hard to justify spending so many points for a room you'll hardly occupy.
Looking at nearby hotels instead, you might find a PointSavers deal. Plus, by periodically checking the award prices for your dates, you might get some extra points redeposited to your account if the price goes down.