Marriott Makes No-Notice Change to Points Advance
Saving up for an award redemption at a specific hotel can be a nerve-wracking process, as award availability can change day to day while you're still working on earning enough points. Marriott Bonvoy lets members get around this stress through its Points Advance booking feature. This redemption options allows members to lock in award space at a hotel even when they're short on points; you'd then need to earn the required number of points within 14 days of arrival.
While Points Advance was intended for members who were actually short on points, it used to be possible to make a reservation this way even if you had enough points to cover the entire award stay. Jeffsetter points out that this has changed, and it appears to be no longer possible to use Points Advance if you have the required number of points in your account.
As an example, here's a screenshot from a sample two-night award booking at the Westin Maldives from late last year:
Even though I had the required number of points in my account, I could've booked the stay using Points Advance.
Here's the exact same room if I tried to book it now (note that the property has changed the picture of the room, but it's the same as the one above).
My only option is to go ahead and redeem points for the stay.
Assuming this was an intentional change and not a glitch in the Marriott award booking system, it certainly matches the spirit of Points Advance. Here's how this redemption option is described in the program's terms and conditions (emphasis mine):
"Members who seek to make an Award Redemption with an insufficient Point balance may make the Award Redemption and either (1) purchase Points (as described in Section 2.9) to make a valid Award Redemption, provided that the aggregate amount of Points purchased and/or received as a gift by the Member is less than or equivalent to 50,000 Points per calendar year; or (2) the Member accrues sufficient Points to use Points for payment of the Award Redemption no less than fourteen (14) days prior to Member’s arrival date."
Allowing members to utilize Points Advance with enough points in their account runs counter to this verbiage.
That being said, it's worth pointing out that this change was made with no warning and no communication to members. The Marriott-SPG integration has been trying enough, and Points Advance has long been one of the differentiating factors that has led some to stick with Marriott through it all. This isn't a debilitating change (see below), but it hopefully won't be foreshadowing of additionally unannounced changes to come.
If you're trying to use Points Advance to lock in award space, there is a very simple workaround. Simply book a refundable award stay at any property to temporarily drain your Marriott account balance, then book the Points Advance reservation you want, and then cancel the original reservation. Just make sure you pay close attention to the cancellation terms for the first award stay so you don't wind up stuck with a reservation you can't use. Obviously this requires an extra step and some additional bookkeeping, but it's an easy way to keep using Points Advance for all of your reservations.
We reached out to Marriott to confirm these changes but hadn't heard back by the time of publication. We'll be sure to update this post once they answer.
Marriott is running out of goodwill with some of its most loyal customers, and making a no-notice change to a popular feature like Points Advance is not going to help its cause. That being said, this doesn't have a tremendous practical impact. After all, both full award stays and Points Advance reservations can almost always be canceled without penalty, so whether you're outlaying the points upfront or not, you can still take advantage of this unique and generous perk to lock in award inventory at sought-after hotels when you're short on points.