At NerdWallet, we strive to help you make financial decisions with confidence. To do this, many or all of the products featured here are from our partners. However, this doesn’t influence our evaluations. Our opinions are our own.
If you are a Marriott Bonvoy member who has been ignoring Marriott emails and updates lately, perhaps now is the time to start paying attention. For the past several months, Marriott has been preparing for the implementation of its new peak/standard/off-peak award pricing system. Under the new variable pricing system, point redemption rates are based on demand throughout the year. As of Sept. 14, 2019, this pricing model has officially gone into effect.
Peak, Standard and Off-Peak redemption rates
The new model begins by first dividing all properties into Category 1 - 8, as usual. Then, each category is divided into peak, standard and off-peak costs. The variation between those three redemption rates increases by category.
For example, the difference between Off-Peak and Peak awards for Category 1 properties is only 5,000 points, but the difference between off-peak and peak awards for Category 8 properties is 30,000 points.
When I think of peak and off-peak seasons, I think of the way the tourism industry works at large. Folks generally wouldn’t stay at an Aspen ski resort in August, and almost nobody visits Bronner’s Christmas Wonderland in June. Winter and surrounding months are the peak and shoulder seasons for those activities, while summer tends to be quiet or unavailable. In my mind, this is how Marriott would work with properties to determine the seasonality of visitation. In actuality, this isn’t quite right.
» Learn more: Marriott Rewards program: The complete guide
How award rates are determined
Instead, Marriott’s variable pricing system is closer to a dynamic pricing model that ebbs and flows with the market in almost real time. This is similar to airline pricing models, which market airfare for high prices a year out and price them reasonably within a few months of departure. Volatile market fluctuations take over within a few weeks before wheels-up.
Snag a ticket at the last minute and you could find a great deal for a seat the airline desperately wants to sell, or you could pay a premium price for the back seat. It depends on the itinerary, projected occupancy and yes, the season. This is basically what Marriott is doing.
For example, let’s go through a dummy booking and choose a Category 6 property in Manhattan during November, one of the peak months to visit Times Square.
How it works in practice
Let’s say that I want to visit Times Square for one night in November, but I’m not sure which night. To compare all of the available nights in November, I can search using Flexible Dates. That just means that I can search by month, which actually displays a 35-day calendar.
When I run the search, Marriott will first give me a list of available properties. Category 6 is the range I want to choose for this particular trip to Manhattan, so I select the New York Marriott Marquis on Broadway.
For Category 6 properties, off-peak pricing starts at 40,000 points, standard pricing is 50,000 and peak pricing requires 60,000 points per night.
Next, Marriott displays the 35-day points calendar for November as it stands today. I see that there is a mixed availability of peak, standard and off-peak award nights, all within this 25-day window.
Most Sunday nights are categorized as off-peak, most Saturdays and some weekdays are peak and the rest of the days are priced at the standard level.
Generally speaking, most nights at most properties start at standard pricing, but at this point, I’m pretty close to November when making the booking. That means that there are only 13 Standard nights throughout the entire 35-day calendar, five off-peak nights and 17 peak nights.
Let’s say that I choose to book Nov. 10 so that I can take advantage of off-peak pricing. This way, it costs me only 40,000 points to stay in a Marquis Deluxe Guest room. If I wanted to go one day earlier, Nov. 9 is a peak night. Because of that, it would cost me 60,000 points to stay in the same room, one day earlier. However, if I booked the peak night and kept checking the rates until the day I check in, it’s possible that the pricing could change.
This is how dynamic pricing works; it follows the market and projected occupancy. If, for some reason, Marriott hasn’t sold enough rooms on Nov. 9, the price might drop to the standard level. In that case, I could cancel and rebook at the lower rate.
On the other hand, if I book for Nov. 10, it’s possible that the price could increase later, in which case I’ll save points if I book now. It pays to know how this new pricing model works and to search using Flexible Dates, if you can.
How to Maximize Your Rewards
You want a travel credit card that prioritizes what’s important to you. Here are our picks for the best travel credit cards of 2019, including those best for:
Airline miles and a large bonus: Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
No annual fee: Wells Fargo Propel American Express® card
Flat-rate rewards with no annual fee: Bank of America® Travel Rewards Visa® credit card
Premium travel rewards: Chase Sapphire Reserve®
Luxury perks: The Platinum Card® from American Express
Business travelers: Ink Business Preferred℠ Credit Card
Planning a trip? Check out these articles for more inspiration and advice: Find the best travel credit card for you Which Marriott Bonvoy credit card should I choose? Snag these hotel loyalty perks, even if you’re disloyal