Backpackers Tokyo

For many people, earning 100,000 points can take a lifetime, or at the very least, years. For all the work involved to get there, Marriott once offered a “Free Night” at virtually any of their hotels for 100,000 points, or less.

In recent years, the company decided to move the goal posts, to make it harder for people to earn enough points for its best hotels. You’ll typically need far greater than 100,000 points for a “free” night at a top tier Marriott brand, like Ritz Carlton or JW or St. Regis, and even then, you’ll likely pay a resort fee on top.

Marriott’s CEO regularly pontificates that its program is too generous to members and should find more ways to cut costs for the investors that own Marriott branded hotels.

And now, the piece de resistance in the Marriott Bonvoy cap — changing the terms and conditions of a prized “free night” to no longer call it a free night. Why? Because these “free nights” are very rarely free these days.

Marriott Changes To “Award Redemption Stays”

What were once “free night awards” are often no longer free, and now they’re no longer called “free night awards” either.

Marriott changed the terms and conditions of the new, dynamically priced Marriott Bonvoy rewards program today and made a few key changes to keep the company out of legal jeopardy, as it continues its assault on loyalty.

Henceforth, “Award Redemption Stays” are the new term for what were once “Free Night Awards”, in hopes of removing any confusion that all that work to earn points and show loyalty actually resulted in something “free”.

Once Marriott branded hotels, from Fairfield Inns to Ritz Carlton properties started adding resort fees, destination fees and breakfast co-pays, even for top tier guests, the term “free” became a very loose definition anyway. Now, it’s simply been removed.

The Floodgates Are Open For Negative Changes

Is this a pedantic change? Sure. But now, the floodgates are open. A so called “award redemption stay” has no implicit notion that it’s free. Marriott can now add restrictive terms or more fees to these “awards” when members redeem their points.

What’s next? No free breakfast for 100 night a year guests when using points?

With dynamically priced awards, dependable returns on loyalty are now gone, too. Prior to March 29th, 2022, a simple and effective chart could show anyone how many points they’d need for a given hotel, for any date.

Now, no one knows how many points they need for their given dates until they search. And if they search today, but aren’t ready to book until tomorrow, the points price can change dramatically overnight. It’s dynamic like cash, rather than a true reward.

Any previous “goal posts” to help people plan and earn Marriott Bonvoy Points are now gone, and whatever the computer says is what you’ll pay.

If someone asks, “hey, how many points do I need to earn for a free night at X hotel”, it’s impossible to say. You could give a loose range, at least for this year, but even that may be wrong. That was-not-the-case before the current regime.

Ritz Carlton Hong Kong View

The Best Rebate For Hotel Bookings

Unless you’re a top tier guest, credit card issuers are now beating hotels at their own game. So is Hotels.com. Most hotels offer points that equate to a rebate under 10%, yet booking competitors are offering more, without pledging loyalty.

Credit cards like the Capital One Venture X offer 10X points on hotels when you book through Capital One Travel. Chase offers the same 10X points when you book hotels via Chase Travel, for Sapphire Reserve Members.

In contrast, a general Marriott Bonvoy member earns lower than an 8% rebate, and Marriott Bonvoy Points are now far less valuable than those earned with either Capital One or Chase.

If you’re not glued to the regularly diminishing loyalty perks offered by Marriott, the greater rebate from booking Marriott Hotels via credit card companies makes more sense. You can still stay at Marriott branded hotels — many are truly lovely — but you can earn better return by not being brand loyal.

It’s why I’ve long argued hotels are playing a dumb game which they will lose, and why Marriott is making me look more intelligent by the day. That’s no easy feat in normal times.