Marriott’s Brutal 2016 Hotel Category Changes

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.

Marriott is also in the process of adding Cash + Points redemptions, which will become available starting March 24, 2016. While that was previously announced, I’m guessing they’re adding that on the same date as the category changes so members feel like they get some good news as well.

Marriott’s new Cash + Points redemption option

Bottom line

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?


  1. You describing these changes as “brutal” is brutal. They are more modest than previous years and no increase at the top tier.

  2. I actually thought it wasn’t that bad. Not that many changes in the top end, and even some j w Marriott in Asia are going back down

  3. If Marriott wants people to retain their credit cards for an $85 fee, or even bother with their Megabonus, they are going to have to step up and allow the annual free night or award night to cover Category 6. Many properties that were a Cat 4 just two or three years ago have jumped to a Cat 6.

  4. My friend in Singapore is telling me they are going to bump Platinum to 100+ nights for 2017. He is very high up with Marriott in SE Asia. More changes coming!

  5. Seems like most of the changes are with low end Marriott brands. Not many JWs, Rens or Full Service affected. So I don’t see much impact. The LAX Courtyard El Segundo was the last Cat 5 at LAX, and now it goes to 6 – so this is a disappointment for using your Cat 5 certificate. And the latest MegaBonus is giving out a Cat 5 – seems like they should have made it a Cat 6.

    Ben – I don’t see hotel on the list where you would stay – so no big deal. Thank goodness Cat 9 is still top.

  6. I don’t “see” your brutal other than getting headline attention. Look at the end of the day nothing is free and cost are rising. It’s a small price to pay for the consistency of Marriott across the board and especially internationally.

    And for the churners who cares. there are many of us that earn our points the hard way, we stay at Marriott !

    Disclaimer I am Lifetime PLT

  7. Right.

    And how, again, do they think their actions are going to entice SPG loyalists to stick around after the merger?

  8. The loss of so many category 5 properties makes it harder to justify keeping the card and paying the annual fee every year. It never was a card to put spend on. Who gives a flying f— about the top tier. With the the new Chase restrictions on churn you might as well just spend cash.

  9. Oh wow! Marriott Marquis Atlanta moved down to category 5. One of my favorite hotels, finally I can use certs there again!

  10. its brutal at Marriott because Ben is a SPG loyalist (not that its a bad thing) (and he is paid accordingly) since the increase in properties are about the same at 12-13% (by his own calculation). Can’t wait to see when the merger completes and he either changes his tone or change to stay at Hyatt exclusively.

  11. Hi Ben,

    Off topic. Boarding Area has loaded onto its system an extremely badly written layer ad that takes over the screen on my iPhone. It’s so big that I can’t get to the close button so I can’t see your content. And it freezes the browser for a few moments and makes the iPhone heat up. Any chance you can do something about it? It seems to affect Gary’s blog as well. Started some time in the last 24 hours or so. Thanks in advance.

  12. @Vicente, that’s because it’s undergoing a major renovation, and hotels with construction are not an ideal experience. They are also “millenializing” the property… hopefully they’ll keep the desks though.

  13. The degree to which Marriott has been relentlessly inflating redemption costs year after year is somewhat brutal in a relentless way. Contrast that with SPG’s more equal number of ups and downs this year (but following up previous somewhat “brutal” changes like the adjustment to cash and points.) What’s better – gradual and relentless inflation or periodic bumps?

  14. It’s not brutal just because of the current changes. It’s brutal because of the unrelenting year after year devaluation of points by category change. Some Fairfield Suites are moving up to Cat 7. The Cairo property, which almost certainly has minimal occupancy given the current political and security situation, is moving up to Cat 5. Seriously?

    I canceled my previous Marriott card 2 years ago, having let my annual “free” certificate expire unused, due to there being no where I wanted to stay that was still at Cat 5. My 24 months being up, I just got a new one, strictly for the 80K point sign up bonus. I’m not spending on it, beyond the required minimum. It takes nearly as much spend to earn a “free” night at a top level Marriott as it takes on a Citi AA card to earn a Saver one/way J TATL award. And if you use the Surpass card at grocery stores, you get enough points for a night at a big city Hilton, with free breakfast and nearly certain room upgrade, for less than one fourth the $ spend.

    I do like staying at the better Marriott properties. We are booked at the London Park Lane property this summer with points from our recent cc sign ups. But I can’t understand who spends on this card, given the lousy value of the points. When the AF comes due, I’m canceling, with no regret that due to the upcoming rule change, Chase will never give me another one.

  15. This shows why Marriott’s program is really oriented towards business travelers on paid stays. As a silver, 4 or 5 paid stays (2-3 nights each) at a full service Marriott, Ritz Carlton, JW, Autograph, etc can get you a free night at a category 9 hotel. For credit card spend, the math is a lost worse.

  16. I see there’s a sweet spot for P+Cash at 5-6. If you cancel a P+C, do you get to keep the points and sacrifice the cash, a la IHG? If so, this is a way to buy points at 0.6c.

  17. We should ALL complain to CHASE BANK that the Marriott credit card has become worthless (Chase has some say in this since they bought points from Marriott at certain cost and now it is worth less).

  18. When I joined the Marriott program there were only five categories. The first time I cashed in points (yes, it was a long time ago) it cost 195,000 points for two coach airlines tickets to anywhere in the world (with multiple airlines to choose from) and two five-night certificates to any Marriott property in the world. That was not air/hotel at 195,000 per person–it was 195,000 for two of us. My friend and I flew from California to Athens. I used one 5-night certificate for the Athens Marriott and the other I used for five nights in Hawaii several months later. A year or two later they changed it to 200,000 points for two airlines tickets (any where in the world) and one 7-night hotel certificate (to any Marriott property in the world)–still a generous offer. The points have been devalued so they are not a great value any more. I am shooting for a few thousand more points using my credit card and then I should have enough to stay at a nice property overseas. Then, I’m dumping the card. I used to have an upgraded Marriott card where I got one free night annually at a 1-5 category property. There are few (if any) properties in categories 1-5 that are worth the effort for me. Moved to a lower level and less expensive Marriott card not too long ago. So sad. I have used points at many Marriott properties around the world. I guess all good things come to an end.

  19. Yeah- I’m not sure why the Marriott changes are “brutal” while the SPG changes seem to be no big deal- fewer Marriott hotels are changing categories, whit almost exactly the same percentage going up (13% of Marriotts vs 12% of SPG). Given Marriott’s history, I thin this year’s devaluation is about as good as it gets…

  20. In san diego california they list the new hotel Springhill suites as being a category 7 then they claim it’s downtown but it’s a few minutes from the Airport and a few miles from downtown. How the heck can a average middle of the line Springhill suites be a category 7? They are doing this so people get a middle hotel to use for your points. Springhill suites should be a category 5 tops maybe even a 4. What is then a category 4 the Bates Motel with Bats, Rats & Roaches? Marriott is totally cheaping it out

  21. I’ve had platinum status for about 10 years and this year they took me down to Gold because I fell short a few nights. In the past they would allow me to keep my platinum status as a courtesy, it was one of the main reasosn I continued staying with Marriott. I agree, the value of getting a free night once a year at a hotel that only costs about 112.00 a night is barely that over the cost of the annual fee. This was the final change for me, that and the fact that upgrades have rarely been offered to me in half empty hotels but if I asked they would often say I could upgrade. It was better service a few years back when they would automatically upgrade my room as a gesture of appreciation for loyalty. Looking aroud now for a hotel card with better perks.

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