Marriott Peak Awards Are Not What I Expected

Filed Under: Marriott

This weekend Marriott’s peak and off-peak award pricing went live. This is no surprise, as we’ve known for several weeks that this was coming.

What Is Marriott’s Peak And Off-Peak Award Pricing?

Historically when redeeming points for a hotel, the cost has been based on the category of hotel you’re staying at.

With peak and off-peak pricing, a further element is being added to this. Not only will the cost be determined by the category of the hotel, but there will also be different pricing for peak, standard, and off-peak periods.

Here’s the new award chart, for context:

As you can see, with these changes the cost of free night awards ranges anywhere from 5,000 points per night to 100,000 points per night.

This new pricing will apply at all Marriott Bonvoy properties. Standard rates will be offered a majority of the time, and then peak and off-peak dates will be equally distributed.

How To Search Peak And Off-Peak Pricing

If you want to easily browse dates to see whether pricing is peak, standard, or off-peak, just do a flexible date search while using points, and you’ll see the pricing. For example, here’s a look at pricing at the W Aspen across all three pricing ranges, with costs ranging from 70,000 points per night to 100,000 points per night:

For existing bookings, note that:

  • Reservations made prior to September 14, 2019, will be honored at the standard redemption rates
  • If you want to change or modify a reservation after that date, the new pricing will apply

Marriott notes that we may find off-peak award pricing in the following markets:

  • Hawaii: October through mid-December (2019) and late September through October (2020) depending on market
  • California Wine Country: Mid-November (2019) through April (2020)
  • New York: January through February (2020)
  • Orlando: beginning in May with the greatest concentration in August and September (2020)
  • Washington DC: Late November (2019) through February (2020)
  • Cape Town: May through August (2020)
  • Dubai: May through September (2020)
  • European destinations primary November (2019) through March (2020)
  • Maldives: May through June and end of August through early October (2020)
  • Bora Bora: January through March (2020)
  • Bali: November through mid-December (2019), mid-January through March (2020)
  • Phuket: May through June (2020)
  • Koh Samui: October through mid-December (2019) and September through October (2020)
  • Costa Rica: October (2019) and August through October (2020)
  • Macau: March through June (2020)

Why Marriott’s New Pricing Isn’t What I Expected

Marriott’s new peak and off-peak award pricing doesn’t at all work how I was expecting. That’s probably on me for making assumptions, so I’m not saying Marriott was trying to deceive us, or anything. Rather I think this new system lacks transparency. The system is very similar to airlines switching to dynamic award pricing.

How I Was Expecting Marriott Award Pricing To Work

My assumption was that Marriott would work with hotels to determine what dates have peak, standard, and off-peak pricing. I assumed this would be based on projected and historical demand, including pricing and occupancy.

In other words, a particular day would have peak pricing regardless of whether you book a day in advance or 50 weeks in advance, assuming there’s award availability. Certain dates are peak, certain dates are standard, and certain dates are off-peak.

That’s not how it works though.

How Marriott’s New Award Pricing Actually Works

To me Marriott’s new pricing isn’t really peak or off-peak pricing, but rather it’s full-on dynamic award pricing. Marriott notes that:

  • Pricing may vary by day of week
  • Award rates will be updated monthly to reflect market conditions

What this means is that Marriott doesn’t actually have peak and off-peak dates, but rather the pricing for a particular date can change monthly. Presumably pricing would change based on factors like projected occupancy.

On the one hand this could be good news. It could mean that you book a standard or peak award 50 weeks out, but closer to the arrival date they realize the hotel isn’t likely to be full, and therefore it may have off-peak pricing.

But I also really don’t like this system, mainly because it provides very little transparency. Marriott promises that there will be an equal distribution between peak and off-peak dates, though with pricing changing on a monthly basis, there’s literally no way to verify this.

This is truly dynamic award pricing, rather than seasonal or peak date pricing where there’s a clear chart showing which dates price at which levels. This could mean that if you book way in advance the pricing will be standard, but then closer to the arrival date as the hotel fills up the pricing starts to be at the peak level.

I asked a Marriott spokesperson about the dynamic aspect of this, and he gave the following example:

For example, if a planned event were to be canceled in a location, it would impact and lessen market demand and that would have to be taken into account.

I also raised the point of how members don’t really have a way to verify the equal distribution of peak and off-peak pricing, to which he responded with this:

Our commitment is have an fairly equal distribution across of peak and off peak rates portfolio wide.

Bottom Line

Marriott’s new peak and off-peak pricing is now in effect, and it’s not exactly what I was expecting. With this new pricing it’s not that certain dates are peak and certain dates are off-peak at a particular property, but rather the pricing will be dynamic, and on a monthly basis we could see a particular night go from off-peak to peak, from standard to off-peak, etc.

Make no mistake, this is dynamic pricing, rather than a clearly published peak and off-peak calendar.

What do you make of Marriott’s new award pricing system?

Comments
  1. I agree on lack of transparency but I booked 2 reservations for next year last week and I just reprised them and they were in off peak. Let Méridien Marrakech went from 12.5K to 10K/night and French Leave went from 60K to 50K/night. I’m sure this savings will be offset on future reservations that will fall in peak, but if your flexible, it may be beneficial.

  2. Booked st Regis venice for next May .
    It’s all over the place one midweek day is 85k the next is 100k and the weekends are def 100k per night . They really did a great job at this

  3. Hahahaha that last response “portfolio wide”
    Aka all high end hotels will always be peak, low end always off peak and that’ll be “fairly even”

  4. Had over 250,000 Marriott points at the beginning of 2019, which have all been used to book stays through the end of this year. So whatever black box method Marriott concocts going forward for award pricing shouldn’t affect me (although it should be entertaining to read about). Bonvoy!

  5. You know, there is no conceptual difference between what you dub seasonal pricing and dynamic pricing.

    In fact, any award night pricing we see in the wild is dynamic. If demand for awards at a certain properties is above what the property and chain consider healthy, they raise the price. Most chains (e.g., IHG, Hyatt) do this at least two or three times a year. Sometimes, they do change points requirements at individual properties in between those big dates (e.g., happened recently at the Hyatt Parisi Udvar).

    Some points experts call those changes devaluations. But that is inprecise. A devaluation would occur if points become less valuable in general. But, at points changes dates, often times the major things that’s happening is changes in the relative prices of properties (one property goes up, for another the required amount of points falls or stays the same -> the property where the award price goes up becomes relatively more expensive). Not always, points are devalued overall.

    Also, what you call seasonal changes is in fact a form of dynamic. BA announces peak and off-peak dates for the period of a year each year. It stands to reason they incorporate new information each time they announce. They may even modify the model according to which they decide what’s peak. That is, by definition, dynamic!

    Now, from today onwards, Marriott is resetting award prices over shorter intervals of time. Does that imply there’s less variation in points value which people with our hobby can exploit?

    Maybe a little. So it may hurt geeks a bit. It may help regular folk which are less at risk of making particular poor redemption decisions.

    But the effect may be smaller than you may fear. In fact, many chains have been known to interpret rules on award inventory losely. TBH, I’m not the biggest expert on Marriott, only having 10 or so Marriott nights per year,

    There may be some rule requiring a certain supply of award nights. But I have seen those rule bent.

    (Monopolistically competitive) hotels have two distinct ways to act on the market: They can set a price (and supply any given quantity at that price). Or they can set a quantity (and demand determines the market-clearing price).
    In practice, firms choose not one of those pure strategies, but a combination of the two.

    The bottom line, though, is, that making award pricing more flexible is not the only way to “combat” people exploiting fluctuations in the points value. Hotel chains can achieve the same thing by making the number of awards available more flexible.

    Two strategies, same outcome. Just because Marriott is more flexible on one front doesn’t necessarily make it worse than other chains. In fact, movements in award pricing is pretty transparent. Movement in award inventory, less so.

  6. I prefer the system at Hyatt ( and others): categories are set annually and there is no confusion . Consumers have the choice of paying that set fee, in points, or paying cash when rates are lower in off-peak times.
    This Marriott initiative seems to have shifted from the time it was first canvassed , IIRC in an interview on TPG with the Marriott marketing guy ( whose name I can’t recall).

  7. “Make no mistake, this is dynamic pricing, rather than a clearly published peak and off-peak calendar.”

    True, and like with every other program that has implemented dynamic award pricing or revenue-based award pricing or both, the first casualty is invariably the traditional or historic award chart, which others refer to as “transparency”, because award charts are inherently inconsistent with dynamic award pricing in any form.

  8. So not a single Cat 6, 7, or 8 award stay for my coming year has moved from standard to peak pricing–not one. And one Cat 7 award stay did go from standard to off-peak. So the conspiracy theory nonsense of all the aspirational properties always being peak pricing is revealed for the fearmongering it always was.

    Just as they did when everyone freaked out with the Marriott acquisition of Starwood and clamored it was the end of days. Bah hah.

    So those of us who more strategically choose or chose lower occupancy periods to travel for award stays see little difference–or perhaps even a benefit for this new award pricing approach. Whether we stay at aspirational top luxury properties or not.

    So those who book award stays at the highest occupancy periods and holiday periods or weekends are surprised to see more peak pricing? Seriously? There is no lack of transparency here by Marriott; there is a huge lack of common sense by some loyalists who simply don’t like change.

    And sorry, Lucky, but there’s plenty of transparency: Marriott gave us a year and a half notice that peak and off-peak pricing was coming. And just because Marriott didn’t execute peak pricing in a a way that you expected doesn’t make it less transparent. Just assume all awards are peak pricing and any discounts you aren’t expecting are icing on the cake. There’s transparency for you.

    There’s a lot of ego being turn asunder here, I think.

    So much wasted time and energy on conspiracy theories and fearmongering. Some people just cannot accept change. It turns out that peak and off-peak pricing isn’t nearly as terrible as people pretended and threatened that it would be.

  9. Some Marriott hotels’s category went up yesterday without any notice.
    Check out Sheraton -Manhattan NY. It was a Cat 5 hotel required only 35K, but now it is now a Cat 6.

  10. Has anyone heard of this potentially consequential lawsuit against Marriott in Thailand?

    “In a case that underscores the challenges of a global hotel chain owning so many brands in a single market, Minor International is suing Marriott International for a “highly disappointing” performance of the JW Marriott Phuket Resort & Spa, which Minor fully owns and Marriott manages.

    The lawsuit was filed on July 12 and a Thai court said on September 4 that the case can proceed.

    The hotel suffered a 20 percent drop in gross operating profit in the first six months of 2019, compared to the same period last year, said the Bangkok-based hotel group, which is claiming an initial amount of $18.7 million (570.6 million baht) for the loss.”

    … and here’s the punchline for mile/point junkies:

    “Minor alleged the decline in performance was **“due in large part to a failure to drive business to the hotel and is further caused by recent changes to Marriott’s loyalty program, which has severely reduced revenues to the hotel for such business,”** it said in a press statement.”

  11. Just shows how people are driven by miles and points like any herd.
    One can understand businessmen wanting a consistent product, but would anyone not sheepish want to travel to find similar environments ?
    Get a life, see the real world !

  12. All the people backing the system(Marriott lackeys) will be complaining in a couple years when it’s similar to IHG in redemption value.

    Second note.. anyone having issues with the search? When I have tried multiple cities and hotels but when I click flexible it always says check-in date not available. When I click the exact dates it shows the mount of points needed based on that date range.

  13. Looks like a property I am staying at in India went to offpeak. 5k for a room where I’m getting over a penny per Marriott point? OK.

    It’s a Fairfield (Fairfield by Marriott Bengaluru Rajajinagar), but it looks rather upscale as Fairfields go…

  14. @Bill who gets it, sez: “So much wasted time and energy on conspiracy theories and fearmongering. Some people just cannot accept change. It turns out that peak and off-peak pricing isn’t nearly as terrible as people pretended and threatened that it would be.”

    Amen. While others flee to Hyatt because of these and other changes (good luck with that), @Bill will be able to make the most of the changes by simply finding ways to make them work for him. Changes are seasonal? Well, if at all possible, make your redemptions seasonal as well to take advantage of low seasonal costs!

    The tendency in travel blogosphere, invariably, is to see a conspiracy in every move, even in those moves that are potentially beneficial. UA miles will no longer expire? Oh, no, it’s a prelude to a DL-type devaluation!

  15. So as dates move in and hotel occupancy is projected to be above the threshold whereby the hotel receives the full payout on points stays Marriott can move the slider to a peak redemption and disincentive a guest from using points vs cash or potentially book another hotel not projecting to sell out . So now the hotels themselves are being Bonvoyed

  16. @DCS that’s almost funny since the JW Phuket, at Cat 6, except during Christmas week is normally under THB 5500 (USD 180) property during high season ie a terrible use of points. Even Christmas week this year it’s $350/night for 60k points.

  17. Lots of Baghdad Bobs over in the Marriott forum on FT trying to spin this one positively…it’s still a turd no matter how way you try and sh!t it out

  18. Really not fair. We saved for a Category 6 travel package which they then downgraded to Cat 4 so we couldn’t get the holiday in Dubai we saved for. So we started saving again and now we can’t get it again because it’s gone peak period all that week. We couldn’t save anymore points even though we a re regular travelers because of this blasted quarter’s promotion which meant we missed extra points on 13 stays.

    As employees with limited holiday entitlement we can’t just pick the lowest peak periods and have to have what’s available at the time. Marriott have effectually priced us out of the market

  19. @harry, I noticed this too. I booked Residence Inn New York Manhattan/Central park using 35k certs. Today I checked and property is cat 6 and 50k points. However, many blogs had this particular hotel jumping up to cat 6 earlier in the year, so not sure if that was delayed or just a blip error.

  20. How does Peak/Normal/Off-Peak pricing work with the 5th night free benefit?
    Assuming you cannot find 5 nights all at the same award price, does Marriott always make the last (5th) night the free one, or do they only make the ‘cheapest’ of the 5 nights the ‘free’ night?

  21. i’m glad you see that variability.

    i’m on my desktop and the flexible calendar is blank and not populated by any rates — paid or award points!

  22. I made the major mistake of upgrading my Marriott Credit card. Old card was $85 per year and provided a free Cat 5 hotel night. New CC is $95 and provides a 35,000 point hotel.

    Now that Cat 5 hotels can be 40,000 points, this was a big mistake. With the old card you would have avoided the peak pricing for a Cat 5.

  23. Why don’t they just keep it at peak pricing year round? They get what they want and at least we don’t have to be deceived or play games.

  24. Is the Bonvoy Brilliant still worth upgrading into (and paying the $450 AF) with the new dynamic award pricing?

    The 50k annual free night certificate isn’t worth as much as it was pre-Sept 14, although I’m sure I’ll be able to get at least $150 benefit from it.

  25. Looking at the redemption rate for hotels in Hong Kong, I see St. Regis is at Normal Award Pricing for the upcoming month.

    As almost everyone here knows, there has been protests in HK and its been keeping occupancy levels low (and cutting into Cathay’s business). If even now it’s not showing as Off-Peak pricing, then I doubt it will ever show as Off-Peak.

    Looks like another Marriott program “enhancement”.

  26. BELL — Incorrect. Old Category 5 is new Category 4 = 25,000 points. Not new Category 5.

    However, with these changes, you have to decide for yourself.

    ILUV — If it works for you, then go for it. I think the Brilliant Card is certainly worth having if you plan to spend at least $300 at Marriott properties/yearly so as to make the effective cost $150/year.

    Second, if you think you can get $150/year from the cert, then go for it — I think one can as it is the only cert that spans 3 categories (the other certs do not span any category except Standard Reward categories).

    By this I mean, that the Brilliant Cert is good at High Cat 5 properties; Standard Cat 6 properties; and Low Cat 7 properties — thus, it is highly utilizable at a vast number of hotels and I think that anyone with a pulse would be able to realize $150/night from the cert.

    The real question is whether one can realize the $300 to be spent at the same or other Marriott properties within a year. Dedicated Marriott loyalists will have no problem doing that, others, well it is up to them.

    Others, will you report on what type of device you see flexible award pricing? I don’t see it on my desktop!

  27. Did anyone else make an advance points reservation weeks before the new award pricing went into effect? I locked in my rate at the beginning of September for next year (don’t have all the points yet to attach a points certificate) and the hotel stay went to peak and now it says I need an additional 10,000 points a night. I thought that wasn’t supposed to happen if we booked ahead of time.

  28. One other frustrating thing I have discovered about the peak / off peak is that in the shoulder season, where they have some dates with standard levels, they will often have peak on weekends for example ( Fri, Sat, Sun) for example which also devalues the 5th night free, as there will only be 4 off-peak dates at most in a row. In many locations impossible to find 5 standard off-peak dates in a row.

  29. So I had a stay booked in August for Feb 2020 at the JW Marriott. The points for this stay did not get deducted and it was booked as a points advance booking. I called in to see what was going on and they said since the property is not open yet they can’t deduct the points. I made them open up a case and confirm that I will not have to pay higher points if it goes up after Sept 14th (so I have a paper trail). The redemption has gone from 85K to 100K a night now. Here’s hoping it’s not some long winded fight….

  30. @Joachim – well articulated… but I have to disagree. Re the BA comparative, that would be fair if Marriott is completely transparent and published. This is definitely a move to a Delta model, where prices change regularly and continuously vs the customer knowing what they can get well in advance. There can be upsides potentially (though we’ll have to wait and see) as there sometimes are also on Delta where demand is less than forecast, so they lower the rates to redeem. But basically all the burden shifts to the customer to monitor that… and the vast majority will not do so, so end up paying more.

    On devaluation, there is definitely a devaluation if you want to travel at a time others want to travel (i.e. holiday periods and weekends). I have many of my stays booked out thru next summer… and have been back to look at the price of all of them. Without exception, they’ve all increased, the smallest increase being ~10%. It may be a targeted devaluation as the periods only cover ~40% of the year, but it’s a devaluation all the same.

    At 40% coverage at the times people most travel and 10%+ point increases in those periods, it’s guaranteed to impact the majority of people negatively

  31. It’s yet another kick in the teeth for Marriott’s loyal customers. How many devaluations have we seen in the last 18 months now??

  32. I have 4 upcoming reservations. 3 of them had no changes in points or it averaged out to be the same. The last one had some off peak nights and was able to re-book and saved 40K points. Overall, I’m disappointed in the dynamic pricing.

    @Bob S. – they make the cheapest of the 5 nights ‘free’.

  33. These rewards programs create monsters. Especially for those that reach the very top. They demand things and act like petulant children if they dare hear the word “no”! I’ve seen how they act first hand. If you chose to travel whether for your job or pleasure, that’s on you. You shouldn’t be given the keys to the kingdom and get to act like idiots.

  34. Anyone else see that there are now ‘extra person’ fees that that previously were not in booking when made. Wailea is now $160 fee for my 2 night stay of family of 4, in addition to taxes and resort fee. Ridiculous.

  35. That’s the downside of mergers or buyouts from a competitor, Hotel chains just like airlines few years back. All members should Boycott Marriott for a month send them a strong message, change is understandable but bad changes are bad.

  36. Re-checked my upcoming points reservations at two Category 7 properties and both had increased in cost:

    Westin Moana Surfrider – Booked Partial Ocean View King Tower Room for 5 nights in November 2019 for 305,000 points (including 65,000 points upgrade) + resort fee; now the same room is pulling up at 315,000 points (including 85,000 points upgrade). So this one the base rate went down a bit but the upgrade went up more increasing the overall cost by 10,000 points though this is less than a 1% increase.

    Hotel Grande Bretagne, a Luxury Collection Hotel, Athens – Booked King Courtyard Room for 3 nights in May 2020 for a total of 180,000 points and 12 Euros in taxes. Now it’s 200,000 points and same taxes. A 20,000 point increase over three nights isn’t devastating, but represents a more than 11% increase in the cost of the redemption.

    I’m a Delta loyalist so dynamic pricing, sadly, is nothing new to me. This just encourages me to book things as far out as possible hoping they haven’t determined “peak” nights yet on the schedule.

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