Marriott Rewards has just announced their 2016 hotel category changes. These changes kick in for bookings made as of March 24, 2016.
With these changes, Marriott Rewards isn’t changing the number of points required for a free night redemption at a given category of hotel, but rather is adjusting which hotels belong to which categories. Their free night redemption chart will continue to look as follows:
So, how many Marriott Rewards properties are changing categories?
- 797 hotels are changing category (~18% of Marriott’s portfolio)
- 560 hotels are going up by one category (~13% of Marriott’s portfolio)
- 237 hotels are going down by one category (~5% of Marriott’s portfolio)
These annual adjustments are pretty standard on the part of hotel loyalty programs, though the severity of the changes differ. Here we’re seeing a net increase in redemption costs for 323 hotels, which is pretty rough.
Only ~120 hotels outside the US are adjusting categories, and of those more than two thirds are going down in price. A vast majority of the category changes are for US hotels, and that’s where most of the increases are.
For some context as to Marriott’s category changes the past few years:
- In 2015, 36% of Marriott hotels changed category, with 75% of them going up in price
- In 2014, 27% of Marriott hotels changed category, with 78% of them going up in price
- In 2013, 36% of Marriott hotels changed category, with 97% of them going up in price, plus Marriott added a new Category 9
While Marriott hasn’t actually changed categories as such the past couple of years, hotels creeping up in categories can basically have the same impact in practice, as members are paying a lot more for free night stays than before. Marriott is among the most drastic hotel chains when it comes to these category changes.
If you’re staying at a property going up in price, you’ll want to lock in your booking before March 24, 2016. Keep in mind that Marriott lets you make award bookings even without enough points in your account, so you can lock the stays in now and always cancel later, pending the hotel’s cancellation policy. Marriott lets you book free night stays up to 50 weeks out, meaning on March 23, 2016, you can book as far out as March 8, 2017.
This year we’re seeing a net increase in cost for 323 Marriott Rewards properties, which represents about 8% of Marriott’s portfolio. Marriott is more aggressive with category changes than any other hotel chain, and over time these translate into a pretty serious devaluation.
It’s perhaps especially bad because those with the Marriott Visa get an annual free night certificate valid at a Category 1-5 property, and year after year we’re seeing the number of eligible properties decrease.
These huge increases year after year don’t make me feel very good about the merger between Marriott and Starwood. While Marriott’s CEO likes claiming that “devaluing points or member benefits is not the way to preserve and strengthen these programs,” Marriott Rewards’ actions don’t really reflect that.
What do you make of Marriott’s 2016 hotel category changes?