Buyer Beware: Month-Long Blackout Period Coming for Marriott Certificates

Aug 10, 2018

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August 18 is just around the corner, and with it comes the official integration of the Marriott and Starwood Preferred Guest programs. One of the big outstanding questions is how Marriott will handle outstanding certificates issued as part of its Hotel + Air travel packages. The current iteration of this redemption option can offer some terrific value (well, for the next week anyway), while the new version that will go live on August 18 is almost universally terrible.

While we still don’t have a definitive answer of what Marriott plans to do with existing certificates, we did just get an update directly from the company. If you’re sitting on a certificate that isn’t attached to a reservation, you’ll want to read this carefully:

“You will not be able to modify your certificate for an existing reservation or attach it to a new one between August 18 and September 18, 2018.”

This essentially means that there will be a month-long blackout on doing anything with these certificates. You can’t make a new reservation with one, and you won’t be able to change an existing reservation with one. While it doesn’t explicitly say it, you most likely won’t be able to cancel a reservation with one of the certificates attached if your plans suddenly change. This is a pretty significant window of time, so it’s essential to carefully consider your options.

Here are the additional details provided to us (copied word-for-word):

“If you currently have a Travel Package Certificate that’s not yet attached to a hotel reservation, you have the following options:

  • If you know when you want to travel, make a new reservation or attach your certificate to an existing one prior to August 18, 2018.
  • If you are still trying to plan that perfect trip, you can hold onto the certificate and will be able to add it to a reservation starting September 18, 2018.”

My advice? I’m sticking to my guns from my article with tasks to complete before the programs combine on August 18: attach these certificates to reservations now. There’s been rampant speculation of what will happen with these outstanding certificates, with some saying they’ll be cancelled and converted to equivalent points, others claiming they’ll transfer into corresponding categories in the new award chart and still others warning that they’ll be cancelled with a partial refund of points (worst case scenario). The above verbiage implies that the new program will keep the certificates intact to be attached to reservations starting September 18, but again, we have no idea exactly what this will look like.

Call me conservative, but I’d rather play it safe and have a confirmed reservation that I could actually use rather than rolling the dice to see what will be available on September 18. In fact, since they’re hinting that these certificates will still be valid as of September 18 and that you’ll once again be able to modify existing reservations with these certificates as of that date, I see no downside to attaching them now. If they’re devalued, you at least have a confirmed room. If they’re not, you should still be able to change the reservation once the blackout period is over.

Keep in mind too that removing the ability to do anything with them for an entire month gives everyone else a lot of time to lock in award stays at high-demand properties. If you were hoping to use these at a top-tier legacy Starwood property that would temporarily be priced as a Category 7 redemption through the rest of this year, there’s a solid chance that award availability would be nearly (or completely) dried up by September 18.

Bottom Line

We still don’t know exactly how outstanding Marriott certificates from the current Hotel + Air packages will be handled in the new program, but we’ve now been told that you’ll be unable to do anything with these for a full month after the integration goes live. My earlier advice was to attach these certificates to existing reservations ahead of August 18, and this update reinforces that recommendation. If you choose to wait, there’s a small chance your certificate will get more valuable, but I’d rather lock-in my redemption now. Don’t say we didn’t warn you!

Featured image courtesy of the Mariott Waikoloa.

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