Existing Marriott Certificates Will Convert to New Categories — How We Think It Will Play Out
Last week we received word from Marriott on a new month-long blackout period for using existing certificates from the program's Hotel + Air packages. As a reminder, this redemption option carries some solid value in its current form, but the new iteration that will go live on August 18 is an almost universally bad value proposition. There's been rampant speculation on what would happen to seven-night certificates that weren't attached to a reservation when the programs are fully integrated, and while we're still short on details, we now have a little bit more information.
Over the weekend, we received the following information directly from Marriott (emphasis mine):
"While we plan on sharing the full conversion chart on 8/18, I can let you know that all existing certificates will convert to similarly valued categories after that date."
This officially confirms a couple of things. For starters, as I suspected, we now know that these certificates aren't going to be converted to points. If you were still holding out hope for a windfall, it's safe to say that's not going to happen. In addition, we aren't going to know exactly how these certificates convert until the new program officially launches on August 18.
However, that isn't going to stop me from taking my best guess at how current certificates will map to the new categories! Let me be clear: what follows is my own speculation on how existing certificates will be transferred into the new award chart. I have no insider information, so don't take my thoughts as the gospel truth and please don't send me an angry email on August 19 because you relied on my guesses and are now left in the lurch. My recommendation remains the same: attach your certificates now to at least ensure that you have a reservation.
With that out of the way, let's dive in!
Group 1: 95% Probability
This first set of conversions I'll peg at a 95% probability. There are a few current categories of the program that map perfectly into the new award chart, and while this may change, I'd say it's highly likely to see the following:
- Current Category 1-5 certificate = New Category 1-4 certificate: In the current program, the lowest level certificate you can obtain is valid at any property in Category 5 or lower. Through August 17, these properties cost up to 25,000 points per night. This happens to be the standard rate for Category 4 hotels in the new program. In addition, Category 1-4 certificates are the lowest available redemption option through the new (terrible) Hotel + Air package program, so I'm supremely confident that these will map accordingly.
- Current Category 7 certificate = New Category 5 certificate: Another "perfect" match between the current and new award charts involves hotels that currently fall into Category 7 (35,000 points per night). The new chart has Category 5 priced the same, and in the spreadsheet I used to crunch the numbers on the new award chart, I see that the vast majority of current properties that cost 35,000 points per night are either staying the same or dropping in value. Moreover, many SPG Category 5 properties, currently priced at 12,000 Starpoints (or 36,000 Marriott points) per night, fall into this new category as well. As a result, I'm quite confident that your current 7-night Category 7 certificate will become a 7-night Category 5 certificate in the new program.
- Current Tier 1-3 certificate = New Category 6 certificate: This one isn't as perfect but still has a high probability of happening in my opinion. Under the current award chart for Ritz-Carlton properties, a Tier 1-3 certificate would be applicable at properties up to 50,000 points per night. This is the standard rate for hotels in the new Category 6. In addition, of the 61 properties currently in Tiers 1-3, only four will no longer be available at this rate, while two current Tier 4 hotels will drop to 50,000 points per night. By converting to new Category 6, these certificate-holders will be kept mostly "whole" in the new program.
Again, since these current categories and tiers map to new categories pretty cleanly, I'm very confident that these will work out this way.
Group 2: It's Anyone's Guess
The second group of categories are a bit murkier. I don't envy the Marriott executive(s) who will make the final determination of how these certificates will map to the new award chart. They need to make sure existing certificates aren't decimated, but at the same time don't want to be too generous and thus create an oversupply of certificates valid at the most desirable properties in the world.
Keeping that balance in mind, I'm providing two predictions for each of the remaining categories/tiers. The first is the more conservative guess — this is the conversion that would, in my opinion, leave little to no room for certificate holders to complain, as it would keep them mostly whole. The second (in parentheses) would be slightly more generous. While not wildly optimistic, it would still be a slight enhancement.
Here are my predictions, both conservative and (optimistic):
- Current Category 6 certificate = New Category 4 (or Category 5) certificate: Under the current award chart, Category 6 properties will set you back 30,000 points per night through August 17, and there are 583 legacy Marriott properties priced at this amount. Unfortunately, there's no category in the new chart at this level. However, of these properties, roughly 81% (471 to be exact) will fall into Category 4 or lower on the new award chart and thus cost 25,000 points per night. In addition, a further 77 properties are dropping from higher levels to Category 4, and you'll also gain access to 424 additional SPG properties along with 4 new Ritz-Carlton properties. As a result, I think it would be fair for Marriott to convert existing Category 6 certificates into Category 4 certificates, as your footprint of hotels at this level is growing by 68% (from 583 to 980). That being said, if Marriott wanted to be slightly more generous, these certificates could convert to Category 5 (35,000 points per night).
- Current Category 8 certificate = New Category 5 (or Category 6) certificate: Under the current award chart, Category 8 properties will set you back 40,000 points per night through August 17, and 354 are currently priced at this amount. Once again, there's no direct match in the new award chart, but 246 of them (almost 70%) are being placed into Category 5 (35,000 points per night). In addition, two higher-priced properties are dropping to this level, while another 424 SPG properties are being added to the mix, giving you an additional 426 hotels at which your certificate would be valid. As a result, I think it would be fair for Marriott to convert existing Category 8 certificates into Category 5 certificates since your pool of applicable hotels is more than doubling in size. That being said, if Marriott wanted to be slightly more generous, these certificates could convert to Category 6 (50,000 points per night).
- Current Category 9 certificate = New Category 6 (or Category 7) certificate: Under the current award chart, Category 9 properties will set you back 45,000 points per night through August 17, with just 92 hotels at this level. 76% of them (70) will fall into Category 6 or lower in the new award chart (50,000 points per night). You then have an additional 20 Ritz-Carlton properties and 108 SPG properties being added to this level, expanding your pool of hotels to 198 in the combined program. I thus think it's fair for Marriott convert existing Category 9 certificates into Category 6 certificates. However, if Marriott wanted to be slightly more generous, these certificates may convert to Category 7 (60,000 points per night).
- Current Tier 4-5 certificate = New Category 7 (or Category 8) certificate: Under the current award chart, Tier 4-5 properties will set you back 60,000-70,000 points per night through August 17, with 33 resorts pricing at this level. 23 of these properties will fall into Category 7 or lower in the new award chart (60,000 points per night), and you'll also gain access to 25 legacy Marriott hotels along with 96 additional legacy SPG properties. This more than triples the number of properties you can book with your certificate, making it fair (in my opinion) for Marriott to convert existing Tier 4-5 certificates into Category 7 certificates. However, if Marriott wanted to be slightly more generous, these certificates may convert to Category 8 (85,000 points per night), though bear in mind that converting to Category 7 would essentially be the same as Category 8 for the remainder of 2018, since this new level won't be introduced until early 2019.
So which do I think are more likely, the conservative options or the generous options? I'd probably give the more conservative options a 70% chance and the more generous options a 25% chance. The remaining 5% probability would be for a third conversion of some sort, though I'd consider that highly unlikely. As detailed above, each of my proposed conversions is (in my opinion) very fair and wouldn't leave a ton of room for complaints, so I certainly hope that Marriott will implement my conservative predictions at the very least.
What Should You Do?
This new bit of information and my predictions for how existing certificates will map to new categories don't change my recommendation: I'd strongly encourage everyone to attach your certificates before August 18. Call me overly cautious, but I'd rather have a confirmed reservation than risk a possible devaluation, and this would also allow you to avoid the month-long blackout for applying these certificates or changing them. Once that blackout period lifts, you should be able to change your reservation if your certificate can be applied to a higher category property than the one you've booked. Again though, I'd hate the uncertainty and would rather have a plan in place.
If you choose to hold off, there's one strategy that may allow you to overcome the month-long blackout. As soon as you know how these certificates will convert in the new program, go ahead and make a standard award reservation for the property at which you want to redeem the certificate. As long as the stay will take place in late 2018 or early 2019, you should be able to book without enough points in your account. Then, once September 18 rolls around, call Marriott to attach the certificate to the existing reservation.
(Important disclaimer: this strategy is theoretical based on how the integrated system should work, but we won't know anything for sure until it's up and running on (or shortly after) August 18.)
More and more information is trickling out regarding outstanding Marriott travel certificates from the current program's Hotel + Air package option, but we truly won't know the full details until the integrated program goes live on August 18. The exact conversion to the new award chart remains to be seen, but after analyzing the combined program, I'm fairly confident with the predictions outlined above. My fingers are crossed for more generous solutions, but in my opinion, any of the aforementioned options would be fair.