Can you use Marriott Points Advance if you already have enough points in your account?
Reader Questions are answered twice a week by TPG Senior Points & Miles Contributor Ethan Steinberg.
Marriott's Points Advance — which allows members to lock in award space at hotels even if they don't have enough points in their account to pay for the award — used to be one of the best features of the Bonvoy program and one of the biggest edges Marriott had over its competitors, other than just its size. However, Marriott seriously devalued Points Advance in September when it introduced peak and off-peak award pricing. TPG reader Josh wants to know if he can still use Points Advance even if he has enough points in his account to pay for the award now ...
[pullquote source="TPG READER JOSH"]I'm trying to make a Marriott award reservation for next spring and the Points Advance option isn't showing up in my account. Is this feature only available if you're short on points?[/pullquote]
While the intent of Marriott Points Advance is obviously to help members who are short on points, there are plenty of good reasons to consider using it even if you have enough points in your account. For example, I'm planning a trip to the W Maldives in February 2020, and I currently have a five-night stay locked in via Points Advance at 85,000 points per night, or 340,000 points total with Marriott's fifth night free. That's a lot of points, and significantly more than I have in my account right now, so as I start making other travel plans for later in 2020 I'm opting to use the Points Advance feature so I can save all my points for my more immediate trip to the Maldives.
Note that as part of the changes to the program in September, Marriott now only allows you to have three active Points Advance reservations at a time. More importantly, Points Advance reservations made after Sept. 14, 2019 do not lock in the award rate, only the award space at your hotel. This means that the price can fluctuate up or down if the hotel switches to peak or off-peak pricing, and you'll be required to pay the amount of points the hotel costs on whatever day you choose to complete your reservation. Thankfully my Maldives reservation was locked in before the September changes, so my 85,000 point a night rate is safe.
Now on to Josh's question: The terms and conditions of the Bonvoy program describe the Points Advance feature as being available to "Members who seek to make an Award Redemption Reservation with an insufficient Point balance." This isn't a clear answer, but I've found that since the changes I don't see the Points Advance option show up if have enough points in my account to pay for the reservation.
There is, however, a shockingly simple workaround to this. The other day I was trying to make a Points Advance reservation in Syracuse for next May, and I wasn't seeing the option because I had more than the 15,000 points needed to pay for the stay. In order to entice the Marriott system to let me use Points Advance, I booked a refundable award stay at the New York Edition for the end of 2020, draining the points in my account. When I went back to my Syracuse search with only 1,500 Marriott points to my name, the Points Advance option appeared like magic. Once I locked in that reservation I was able to cancel my reservation at the Edition and instantly get the points refunded to my account.
Obviously this would be a bit more complicated if you had hundreds of thousands of points in your account, but a refundable award stay somewhere like the St. Regis Maldives or Al Maha Resort should get the job done. Just be sure to double check and even screenshot the cancellation policy of whatever hotel you pick for this refundable booking, as some properties (especially in ski destinations like Aspen) have outrageously strict cancellation policies.
Marriott has devalued its Points Advance program immensely, and a small but significant part of that is only allowing members to use it when they're actually short on points. The good news is that it's easy to get around this restriction by using a refundable award reservation to temporarily lower the number of points available in your Marriott account.