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Marriott Rewards Program Changes Bring Good News and Bad

Dec. 28, 2018
Loyalty Programs, Travel, Vacations & Trip Planning
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Have you been saving up Marriott Rewards points for an ultra-luxury vacation you’d never dream of buying with cash? It might be time to book. Now.

A pending change to Marriott’s redemption tiers means posh accommodations like the Ritz-Carlton Barcelona and the St. Regis Bora Bora will soon cost up to 25,000 more points per night than you’ll pay if you book within the next two or three months.

This little window of opportunity comes courtesy of the chaos everyone expected when Marriott merged its rewards program with the Starwood Preferred Guest program earlier this year. Upsides and downsides were inevitable, if hard to foresee. But a few are coming into focus, including this soon-to-expire opportunity to book some of the most luxurious hotels in the world for redemption rates we likely won’t see again.

Luxury will cost you more

Marriott’s top tier-properties, including some brands that became part of the Marriott program during the merger, make up the highest category for redemptions: Category 7. Right now, one night in a Category 7 hotel costs 60,000 Marriott Rewards points. But sometime in March, the top-tier hotels and resorts will be put into a new Category 8, with off-peak rates of 70,000 points per night and peak rates of 85,000 per night.

>>Learn more: How to snag hotel loyalty points, even when you’re disloyal

These lower redemption rates will be effective “until March,” according to Marriott’s website, but there’s no way to know whether that means March 1 or March 31, 2019. And because you can book rewards rooms nearly a year in advance, now’s the time to plan ahead for that St. Regis, Ritz-Carlton or other cream-of-the-crop resort you’ve been eyeballing.

“Points Advance” policy buys you time

Even if you don’t have as many points as you need, you still might be able to book that dream trip. Marriott has a “Points Advance” policy that lets you reserve a stay even if you don’t have the points yet.

You just need to earn them or buy them no less than 14 days before check-in and your reservation is good to go.

“No blackout dates” might be capped

Also coming to Marriott’s program is cleaned-up language about blackout dates that could make it harder to redeem points for free nights. The program’s no blackout dates policy, while technically keeping true to that promise, does create a possibility you’ll be shut out. As Marriott puts it on its website: “Participating Properties from the following Brands may cap the number of standard rooms available for redemption on a limited number of days: The Ritz-Carlton, EDITION, JW Marriott, Marriott Hotels, Delta Hotels, Autograph Collection Hotels, Renaissance Hotels, Gaylord Hotels, Courtyard, SpringHill Suites, Protea Hotels, Fairfield by Marriott, AC Hotels, Moxy Hotels, Residence Inn, TownePlace Suites.”

The word “cap” in there means while there won’t be any dates when these properties forbid all awards redemptions, there could be dates on which the company limit the number of rooms they make available to folks paying with points. So whereas “no blackout dates” seems to promise that any available room can be yours if you pay with points, that may not be true if other members have already booked more than the company wants to give away.

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:

Planning a trip? Check out these articles for more inspiration and advice:
The Marriot-SPG merger: 5 things you need to know
The Marriot Rewards program categories, explained
7 guaranteed ways to find a cheap hotel room

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