The Marriott Bonvoy program’s long-awaited major change has now been officially announced and will take effect in one month, on September 14th. It’s great news for those who want to maximize the number of free nights they get (but not for those who tend to travel only during very popular periods).
First of all, if you are among the many readers who’ve taken advantage of the Marriott Bonvoy Card (or its predecessor called the AMEX SPG Card), you got an amazing deal and have enough points for many free hotel nights.
But as we told you, variable-value points like Marriott are more complex. It’s important to know the pro tips, so we please ask you to subscribe to our new free travel hacking newsletter to get our upcoming Ultimate Guide to Marriott and more great tips about the program. It will save you hundreds:
So, in our post detailing the card, we told you that Marriott was launching Off-Peak and Peak pricing levels “in 2019”, and now it’s here.
If you’re like me, and:
- you love to squeeze as much value as possible out of everything
- you value quantity and want to travel more
- you are flexible
- you hate crowds of tourists and expensive flights during holidays
- you prefer having the choice of getting more nights if you want to
… then this is great news: hotels will either cost the same number of points or cost even fewer points, meaning you can maximize your points’ value even more (get more free nights for the same amount of points).
But if you only travel during peak dates… then it’s bad news.
Variable-value points can either save you $150 or $1,500 for the exact same number of points; it really depends on how each traveler uses them (that’s why we’ll help you with our upcoming guide).
It’s more complicated (and therefore potentially way more valuable), and that’s why many don’t understand them and (wrongly) think it is not worth learning…
What Is Changing
As a reminder, hotels are grouped by category, and a free night costs a fixed number of points per night depending on the hotel’s category (Standard level). It was rather simple from the launch of the new Marriott Bonvoy rewards program up to today.
Starting on September 14th, the same categorization will exist, but each hotel category will now have 3 pricing levels: Off-Peak, Standard, Peak (you can see the full chart at the end of the post).
First of all, Marriott confirmed today that:
- overall, a majority of dates will remain at the standard pricing
- some periods of the year will require fewer points
- the busiest times will require more points
- the two new periods will be equal (there won’t be more Peak than Off-Peak)
- every hotel will have its own Peak and Off-Peak dates
- Peak and Off-Peak will be recalculated and modified monthly
- we won’t know which dates are changing until the launch (see below for tip)
Concretely, what does this change mean?
For example, let’s take a look depending on which offer you got for the card, either the Welcome Bonus of 50,000 Points (current offer) or 60,000 Points (special launch offer now expired, making sure you don’t miss out on extra points the next time is another great reason to subscribe to the newsletter).
This is how many nights you can get with those Welcome Bonuses (the maximum):
|Welcome Bonus||Free Nights (STANDARD)||Free Nights (OFF-PEAK)|
That is only with the Welcome Bonus, so excluding your other spending during the year (as always, we calculate the value of a card with the Welcome Bonus alone, we’ll tell you why in our upcoming new travel hacking section).
That also means that if you value free nights and put some of your everyday spend on the Marriott Bonvoy Card, it will be extremely easy to earn more free nights. Since it earns 2 points per dollar, you’ll get a free Category 1 Hotel (Off Peak dates) after just $2,500 in spending.
Keep in mind that you always get the 5th night free when using points (Marriott actually renamed this “Stay for 5, Pay for 4” today). So the actual cost, if redeeming for 5 nights at a time, is 4,000 Points per night. You only need to spend $2,000 for a free night.
Assuming an average hotel value of C$120 per night (this includes taxes since you don’t pay them on most points bookings), it’s like you’re getting 6% in return on your spend (that’s why cashback cards are not better than points, contrary to the very popular myth… we’ll tell you more about that too in our new travel hacking section).
By the way, 6% is nice, but how about getting over 28% return on a good portion of your spend for a year? Getting another 17 free nights to add to those you already have? Makes a 2% cashback card look pretty bad, right?
It’s possible, and it’s easy if you know the pro tricks. Since we really want you to subscribe to our free newsletter, we’ll send you that tip in September if you sign up today. It’s by far the most insane return and value you can find in Canadian travel rewards.
Maximizing Points Reminder
Of course, the above estimated returns require choosing the right hotels and time of year, but for 15 free nights, I am among those who believe it’s worth planning a trip around these benefits to save a ton of money (and therefore travel more).
The best destinations to visit to stay in Category 1 hotels are Spain (I’m spending a couple of weeks there in October), South Africa (I’m spending a couple of weeks there in September), China, Mexico, Colombia, India, Indonesia, and Turkey.
So basically, if you’re flexible, you can maximize the number of free nights you get from your Welcome Bonus.
Here are the 3 main elements to maximize your free nights with Marriott as a reminder:
- location: hotels in more affordable destinations (Category 1 hotels)
- period: traveling on Off-Peak dates or at least Standard dates
- 5th night free: staying for 5 consecutive nights in the same hotel
Stay 5 nights at a time on Off-Peak dates in the category 1 hotels in the countries I just mentioned, and you’ll easily get $1,000 of value out of your Welcome Bonus, which is amazing for just one card.
Since there’s uncertainty about which dates will be Peak or Off-Peak starting September 14th, if you have stays to book, do it before that date, even if you’re not 100% sure you will use it.
That way, you lock in the Standard rate and after the changes take place you can:
- cancel for free if you end up not needing these nights
- cancel for free and rebook at the lower price if your dates change for Off-Peak
- keep the booking at a lower price if the rate went up to Peak pricing
Just be careful: most properties allow free cancellation for Points bookings up until 2 days before arrival, but some require 7 days before arrival to cancel for free. Always check during the booking, the policy is always there, so make sure it isn’t different, as a few hotels might even be even more strict that 2 or 7 days of notice.
You can even use “Points Advance” to book nights if you don’t have the Points yet. It will lock in the rate. After September 14th though, you will be limited to 3 Points Advance bookings, and the rate will no longer be locked in (only the availability will be locked in).
Downside Of The Changes
So as someone who wants to get more free nights, I am looking forward to Off-Peak pricing.
But there are 4 downsides.
The first being the obvious one: if you travel during the Christmas holidays, Spring Break and likely peak July dates, the same hotel will cost more points.
As mentioned, every hotel has different peak dates depending on the market dynamics; you’ll have to search the Marriott website or Marriott app with specific dates to see how it is broken down (starting September 14th).
The second is not really a downside for everyone. It’s just that apart from getting the most free nights with your points, the other way to maximize their value is to use them for the most expensive nights (save more money), which are obviously peak dates and those will now require more points (giving you less theoretical “value per point”, yet another thing we’ll explain in our upcoming free course for travel hacking beginners).
But if you prioritize maximizing the value, getting 66% more nights with Off Peak dates with your Welcome Bonus should be worth more, depending on how you use the points. That’s why they’re called variable-value points; it really depends.
The third is not really a downside at all, because in the worst case it will just be status quo, but for those who wanted to use up all their Points on one same trip, it might be hard to find 15 consecutive nights of Off-Peak dates (we won’t know for sure until we see the changes in September).
So either you split up your point redemptions into multiple trips to always be on Off-Peak dates (Points don’t expire if you use your card once a year). Or you just pay the Standard level pricing for part of the stay (still better than paying Standard level for the entire stay like you had to do up to now).
The fourth downside is about the annual free night certificate that comes with your Marriott Bonvoy Card: the free Category 5 hotel night you get each year will only be valid during Standard or Off-Peak dates, not Peak dates.
But as we showed earlier this week, that certificate is still worth wayyyyyyy more than the card’s $120 fee, so whatever you do don’t cancel this card.
Award Chart Reminder
As a final reminder, here is the award chart for each hotel category.
(starting Sept. 14th 2019)
(starting Sept. 14th 2019)
That means that based on our Flytrippers valuation of 0.9¢ per Marriott Bonvoy Point, a free night will cost you anywhere from $36 worth of points (4,000 for Category 1 Off-Peak with 5th night free) to $900 worth of points (100,000 for Category 8 Peak without 5th night free).
Once again, we will soon have the best Ultimate Guide To The Marriott Bonvoy Program money can buy, and it’ll be free. With 20+ articles on how to make the most of you Marriott Points, you won’t regret signing up to our free travel hacking newsletter:
Marriott is officially launching Peak and Off-Peak pricing, which is good news for those who love getting more free nights for the same amount of points, but bad news for those who travel during peak dates. But in all cases, it’s no surprise at all since Marriott warned everyone over a year in advance and now it’s here.
Have any question at all about Marriott Points? Ask us in the comments!
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Featured image: Fairfield Belitung, Indonesia (Photo Credit: Marriott Website)
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