How Points Advance cost me 135,000 Marriott points — reader mistake story

Apr 13, 2020

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Today, I want to share a story from TPG reader Nicholas, who ended up owing Marriott a lot of extra points after a hotel he’d reserved with Points Advance went up a category:

Despite my best efforts to stay abreast of all the rules and pitfalls that come with the territory of award travel, I made a huge mistake that jeopardized our family’s vacation.

In early February 2020, I made a reservation at the Ritz-Carlton Kapalua for a six-night stay in August 2020. At the time I made the reservation, this was a Category 7 property requiring 320,000 points for the stay (including a fifth night free). Since I was just shy of the necessary points, my wife initiated a transfer from her Bonvoy account to my account and I booked the reservation. Since my wife’s transfer had not posted to my account at the time I made the reservation, I made a Points Advance reservation. I seem to have forgotten that I had done so or not understood the implications, or both.

Regardless, thinking my reservation was safe and that the required points would automatically deduct and be applied to the reservation as soon as my wife’s transfer posted, I promptly made airfare and rental car reservations, then put the trip out of mind. As I now know, points must be manually applied to a Points Advance Reservation and the pricing is not locked in until that is done. Despite reading Summer Hull and Nick Ewen’s articles warning that certain Marriott properties would be moving from Category 7 to Category 8, including the Ritz-Carlton Kapalua, it didn’t occur to confirm my reservation. I let March 4 — the date properties changed categories — come and go. To my shock, the required number of points had increased to 455,000 when I checked my account on March 8!

I called the Bonvoy Elite reservation number and was bluntly told that there was nothing that could be done. Figuring it was a long shot, I contacted Marriott’s Corporate Office of Consumer Affairs. A very helpful representative has indicated that they will monitor my account through June to determine the shortfall and “will try to assist to ensure that my account had the necessary points.” So, while nothing has been expressly promised, they do seem to be ready to honor the reservation even if I am short the required points (albeit not at the original 320,000 points).

Since this transpired in early March, the world has obviously changed dramatically. I wish that the only challenge we faced was botched award travel logistics. We may not be able to take this trip anyway, but perhaps my error can still help other readers avoid making it too.

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This is an unfortunate story to hear, but there are two great lessons we can all take away from Nicholas’ experience. The first is that you need to pay careful attention to how you book, especially if you’re using a feature like Marriott’s Points Advance that isn’t 100% straightforward. While Points Advance used to be an incredible tool for award travelers, and a great way Marriott stood out from the competition, the feature was heavily devalued last year when Marriott introduced peak and off-peak pricing. Now, Points Advance only locks in your award inventory at the hotel, but the actual price can fluctuate up until the date where you confirm your booking and have the points debited from your account.

In most cases, this variation is going to be limited to a property changing between off-peak, standard and peak pricing. This might mean the price goes up a few thousand points (possibly tens of thousands for a longer stay at a higher-category property), but you also might get lucky and see the price drop if the hotel moves down to standard or off-peak pricing. Nicholas got especially unlucky here that the hotel he was staying at moved up an entire category, and his Points Advance reservation did nothing to protect him from that price change. I still use Marriott’s Points Advance feature pretty regularly, but I always set a reminder on my calendar to debit the points as soon as I have enough in my account.

The second and equally-important lesson here is that you should always monitor your bookings up until the time of travel to make sure every detail is correct. There are a lot of moving parts that go into a trip, from selecting the right seats on an airline to making sure you account for date and time changes when booking your hotels. If you’re booking your travel far in advance you should plan to follow up on your itinerary every 3 to 6 months until you actually travel, to make sure that your reservations are valid and confirmed and everything is taken care of.

Related: Maximizing redemptions with Marriott Bonvoy

I appreciate this story, and I hope it can help other readers avoid making the same mistake. In appreciation for sharing this experience (and for allowing us to post it online), I’m sending Nicholas a gift card to enjoy on future travels, and I’d like to do the same for you. Please email your own travel mistake stories to info@thepointsguy.com, and put “Reader Mistake Story” in the subject line. Tell us how things went wrong, and (where applicable) how you made them right. Offer any wisdom you gained from the experience, and explain what the rest of us can do to avoid the same pitfalls.

Feel free to also submit your best travel success stories. If your story is published in either case, I’ll send you a gift to jump-start your next adventure. Due to the volume of submissions, we can’t respond to each story individually, but we’ll be in touch if yours is selected. I look forward to hearing from you, and until then, I wish you a safe and mistake-free journey!

Featured photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy.

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