No, We Still Don’t Know How Marriott Will Handle Existing Travel Packages

Overall I’ve been impressed by the way that Marriott and Starwood have handled their merger. They introduced reciprocal status and points transfers from the day the deal closed, which is something we’ve never seen before from loyalty programs of this size. The new Marriott program that’s kicking in as of August also exceeds my expectations. That’s not to say that I’m happy about Marriott’s takeover, but it’s still better than I was expecting.

However, I am finding myself pretty disappointed by the final stretch leading up to Marriott’s new program. Marriott’s new loyalty program is kicking in as of August. That’s potentially just over two weeks away, yet they still haven’t announced when in August the new program will launch. It could be August 1, or it could be August 31, we don’t know.

Clearly they were in a rush to introduce a new combined program (I’m guessing this has to do with their combined credit card agreements), and I feel like this has led to an unrealistic timeline for them, at least if they still want to communicate with members and provide proper notice of changes.

The single question I’m getting most often

“What happens to existing certificates issued through Marriott’s Hotel + Air Packages?” I get this question several ties per day, and for good reason. We’re potentially weeks away from a new program being introduced, and they still haven’t told us. I find this to be ridiculous. So the only answer I can give is “I don’t know.”

I reached out to a Marriott spokesperson again today to see if they had any update, and got the following response:

Award certificates are important to our members, and as we work to bring the programs together, it’s something we are working through. When we have more information, we will definitely let you know.

Why Marriott’s Hotel + Air Packages matter

In late May I wrote a post outlining the incredible value of booking Hotel + Air Packages before August. Historically this is the best use of Marriott points, though this redemption is being devalued significantly as of August. So this is your last chance to book these packages at the old rates.

These packages allow you to redeem points for a set number of nights in a certain category of hotel, plus a certain number of miles in select frequent flyer programs.

To give one example, you can redeem 270,000 Marriott Rewards points for 120,000 Alaska miles (I just mention Alaska miles because I consider them to be among the most valuable) plus a seven night stay at a Category 1-5 Marriott Rewards property.

270,000 Marriott Rewards points is equivalent to 90,000 Starpoints. One popular use of Starpoints is that you can convert them into airline miles at a 1:1 ratio, with a 5,000 point bonus for every 20,000 points transferred. So assuming you value one Starpoint at 1.25 airline miles, that means 90,000 Starpoints is worth 112,500 Alaska miles. In other words, booking a Marriott Hotel + Air Package is a better value for getting miles, not even factoring in the seven nights of hotel stays you get.

Why there’s so much confusion

The point of confusion here is regarding what happens to these certificates when Marriott’s new award chart kicks in. Currently Marriott Rewards has Categories 1-9 and Tiers 1-5, and when you book a travel package you can decide which of those tiers you want (the more expensive the tier, the more points are required).

As of August Marriott is adopting a new award chart, which puts all properties in Categories 1-8 (and Category 8 only kicks in starting in 2019, so for the rest of the year Category 7 is the highest):

So this raises the question of what happens if you issued a current Category 1-5 certificate? The old program had more categories, so will this remain a Category 1-5 certificate? Will it become a Category 1-4 certificate? Or what?

People seem to assume there are a few possible outcomes here:

  • Marriott will honor existing certificates, and will transfer over the award levels generously; in other words, a Category 1-5 certificate might still be valid at the new Category 1-5 hotels, which includes a lot more properties
  • Marriott will honor existing certificates, and will transfer over the award levels less generously; in other words, a Category 1-5 certificate might only be valid at a Category 1-3 or Category 1-4 property
  • Marriott may just award members points and invalidate the issued certificates, due to the program changes; the question is how many points they’d award

Personally my guess is that they’ll honor certificates in a way that’s quite generous, and I say that because I think it’s the only reasonable option they have. Invalidating certificates that have already been issued would be unreasonable, unless they’re issuing a lot of points. This is also why I think they may be holding off on communicating with members, since they don’t want a lot of people to book these speculatively.

My strategy with Travel Packages

I have a very healthy balance of Starpoints, and personally my plan is to issue several Travel Packages, even if they don’t explain how the certificates will transfer over. Why? Because I’m already earning more airline miles on these transfers than I’d earn with the program otherwise, and the only question is what type of hotel I’ll be able to redeem the certificate for.

Actually, what I’d like to do is book at least one Travel Package for one of the higher end hotels, so I can book a week at the St. Regis Aspen or St. Regis Deer Valley or St. Regis Maldives, for example. What I’m trying to decide is how expensive of a package I’d need to book to accomplish that. Since Category 7 will be the highest category for the rest of 2018, would booking a Category 7 package cover it? Or should I book a Category 8 or Category 9, or Tier 3-5 package? Unfortunately there’s no way to know.

Bottom line

It’s disappointing that Marriott still hasn’t revealed how Travel Packages will transfer over to the new program. Since this is a question I get multiple times per day, I figured it was worth posting an update that we still don’t know how these certificates will convert over with the new program.

Regardless of how they convert over I think think these are worthwhile for those who want airline miles. The reason I’m holding off is because I’d love to redeem for seven nights at one of Marriott’s top properties (specifically, a St. Regis), and I’m trying to decide how expensive of a package I have to book in order to get that.

What’s your strategy with Marriott’s Travel Packages?

Comments

  1. trying to decide whether to transfer to AA or Alaska; there is currently zero CX biz class seats between USA-HKG and vice versa for entire schedule, so it’s make it harder to transfer to Alaska. @Lucky, what do you think?

  2. @ Kyle — What are you basing that on? Keep in mind Alaska doesn’t show Cathay award space on their website.

  3. My strategy is to hold off until the last few days of July and see if Marriott tells us exactly what’s going to happen. If they don’t by then then I’m going to get a Category 8 travel package with probably 120k Alaska miles. My spidey-sense is telling me Marriott might wait for August 1st to come and go without saying anything and then after a couple of days say they aren’t letting anyone redeem points for travel packages until after the transition; which they will then announce as some future day in August. This would be to keep as many people as possible off balance as to what to do and save a lot of airline miles for Marriott in the process.

  4. @Lucky do you think having a certificate attached to a reservation provides protection that at least that reservation will be respected?

  5. @lucky, BA award search. have you not looked recently? ever since AsiaMiles program changes, no biz space showing for partners.

  6. How easy is it to call in and get one of these packages? I have a feeling a lot of people will be calling towards the end of July. Are wait times generally crazy?

  7. @ Michelle — Wait times with Marriott are a problem in general, so you’ll want to leave some time, but the travel packages don’t take longer than anything else.

  8. Just did the CAT 6 with 120k Alaska Miles. Hold time was about 20min. Interaction with Marriott tech was about 5 min. Outside of waiting for the 60k booking window, I think this is the best use of Marriott/SPG points at the moment. (or booking some lower tier SPG hotels before the weekend rates go away)

  9. Lucky, I am wanting to do high-end properties like you – so which Cat ARE you doing if Marriott doesn’t give any more direction by August?

  10. I’ve been trying to book one all week. Tried the Plat line and the regular numbers and have had hour long waits every time and kept giving up. They’re frustrating to say the least.

  11. @ Justin — Yep, unfortunately hour waits seem to be the norm for the Plat line, which is awful.

  12. @ Pam — I don’t know, I still need to put some thought into it. I’ll certainly post about it when I decide, before the end of the month, of course.

  13. Any thoughts on the 5 night packages? I have read data points on non vacation club members having success booking these. However, also have read dp that after review Marriot clawed certificates back.

  14. Lots of issues,

    Hotels missing from redemption list (eg: W Amman)
    T&C not out
    I noticed that you guys covered complimentary space-available suite upgrades being expanded to Marriott, the exact opposite is the case. The requirement for all hotels now is merely the 1 category upgrade. Perhaps SPG brands *might* continue suite upgrades but they will then be exceeding the program. This is exactly how when breakfast was announced as a benefit for Courtyards, I notified immediately its merely a 10 USD credit, (or about 1/3 or 1/4 the cost of a breakfast in some cities).

    Overall, I don’t know if loyalty even makes sense anymore. A 1 category upgrade can sometimes be ok but often is..30 USD?
    That is smaller than the difference between wholesale rates (packaged with breakfast) and official hotel rates. So you’re better off booking wholesale rates than being a top tier and you only really lose late checkout and you gain the ability to stay at an near infinite footprint of hotels of your choice.

    I feel this is a game changer (in a bad way) for hotel loyalty. 1 category upgrades ensured it never made sense to actually chase status with Hilton, Accor etc (as opposed to just get it with a card, which is still convenient).

  15. With respect to the exact date in August when the new program kicks in, I think I’ve seen August 1 all over the place, more recently in a communique from AMEX announcing changes to the terms of their SPG cards in anticipation of the fully merged program…

    Be ready on August 1.

  16. @ DCS — The credit card changes kick in August 1, but Marriott has repeatedly said that they don’t have a date in August when the rest of the changes kick in.

  17. This is extremely underhanded of Marriott to not announce the certificate details before the merger. Like you, many of us want to redeem for a package but want to make sure it’s for the right category going forward. There won’t be an opportunity to pay any category differences based on the current chart after the fact. Marriott needs to release details ASAP or extend the cutoff date for booking packages.

  18. @Vineet — What hell is “category 1” upgrade anyway?

    The fact that you believe that suite upgrades at SPG were better than at Hilton or other programs, when that claim was just self-serving kool-aid dispensed and perpetuated by self-anointed travel gurus, suggests the need for more critical thinking among consumers of travel blogs…

    You and I had discussed the claim at length before, to where you could not prove how SPG suite upgrades were different than any other major program’s. Because bogus stuff has a way to get ingrained and become tough to dislodge, I expect the claim that SPG had better suite upgrades to get romanticized even more with the program’s demise, its lack of a basis in reality notwithstanding.

    G’day.

  19. @Evan, I attempted this (5 night packages without being a Vacation Club owner) with 2 separate agents last week and no dice. YMMV.

  20. LAXJEFF – Well the changes haven’t happened yet, so how do you know they aren’t going to say what will happen to these packages before then?

  21. Marriott has been very fair and some would say “generous” in the way they have maintained benefits. I think Marriott will honour certificates as is but don’t want to announce it so that they get a run on the TP.

    I’ve upgraded one of my 1-5 TP to a 7. I will redeem for another TP next week.

  22. At the risk of sounding like a crazy conspiracy theorist, they must be hiding something. They have to know and have just decided not to tell us until the new Trav l Package rates take effect. Either because it’s too generous and they don’t want a run on (even more) people buying travel packages or because they want to keep away the hoards with torches and pitchforks.

  23. Lucky, the one thing that I cannot for the life of me see anyone querying is what will happen post-merger with the Amex Platinum charge card in terms of ongoing (or not) provision of gold status once SPG is no more i.e will they replace SPG Gold with Marriott Gold for cardholders, or will that particular benefit simply cease altogether (leaving just Hilton, Radisson Gold et al?)

  24. @DCS

    The threads are still online for anyone to refer and see. You are entirely and utterly wrong, as usual. Your claim distilled down to considering SPG’s verbiage of “Best rooms shall be identified by each property” as a poison statement rendering their best available language moot. Except that’s not what it meant. It meant properties had to identify what constitutes their standard suite to SPG, precisely so SPG could audit them on upgrade complaints and numbers. The hard data shows SPG suite upgrades to be magnitudes better than Hilton and an actual employee that worked at both chains chimed in that thread and told you point blank what the internal policy was at both chains. That at SPG they were told to upgrade to suites and SPG audited them and there were consequences to playing games consistently and over abusing denials and that at Hilton they could do whatever they wanted. Real shocker you come back here and claim you somehow prevailed there, not surprising however.

  25. Slightly OT but I also had an issue which I was unhappy about and unsure what the end result would be with the benefit changes.

    I have Marriott Gold via means of AMEX Plat and way BEFORE the new merged loyalty details were announced I made reservations at Marriott/JW hotels in Kuala Lumpur, Singapore and Bangkok for September. A big factor in making reservations at Marriott properties was the extra Gold benefits afforded – exec lounge access etc.

    Anyway, new details of loyalty program released, Gold no longer entitled to the extra perks.

    I contacted each of the hotels I booked at individually stating my case and that i’d like either
    a) the perks that applied at the time I booked honoured, or
    b) my reservation cancelled and refunded (all my reservations were non refundable when booked)

    Each replied in more or less the same guise – stating the benefits that Gold are now (well post AUG) entitled to and ending with along the lines of ‘however as a loyal Marriott customer we will be delighted to extend you the benefits agreed when you booked’.

    Not sure if that’s the marriott-wide guidance that has been communicated to all their portfolio or whether each property is able to make its own decision but I was happy with the result.

  26. So the change is in August, date unknown. So when travelling suddenly I arrive at a hotel and they don’t know what benefits to give me? That is going to be a mesh..

    I agree smart move to buy package before august 1. I’m also struggling with the right category to buy for redemption in high end st Regis.

  27. @Vineet — Please spare me arguments based on the verbiage in the T&C, which bloggers misinterpreted (starting the bogus claim) and then went to airwaves to accuse SPG of duplicity for correctly enforcing their own policy!

    Arguments based on misinterpreted T&C would sway only those who drank the kool-aid, not any clear-headed person with a grade-school knowledge of the written English language. The best argument must be based on how the T&C are applied in practice, and in that all-important and objective metric, we know the answer: SPG suite upgrades are no different than any other program’s, otherwise the volume (both means of the word) of bloggers and SPG Plats accusing the program of not honoring their own suite upgrade policy would not be as huge as it’s been.

    You lose the debate if your argumentation is based on what the T&C say and on what self-anointed travel gurus claim because the policy on complimentary suite upgrades of all the major programs say exactly the same thing. Really.

    Since 2012, I have clear better than 90% of my complimentary suite upgrades as a HH Diamond. I will be happy to provide, AGAIN, a link to where I documented clearing 100% (14 of 14) suite upgrades a year, with glossy pictures showing the inside of each suite I was upgraded into.

    G’day.

  28. Is it better to convert to Alaskia or Virgin Atlantic. My travels usually take me to Asia but i have no immediate plans. Which is better to bank miles for a while?

  29. @ Sxc234 — It all depends what you’re trying to redeem for. Personally I think Alaska miles are a lot more valuable.

  30. When I booked my last package, the agent kindly reminded me to book hotel stay prior to January 1st, 2019 in order for Marriott to honor the original category. Not sure whether this is official, but that’s what I heard.

  31. On my Marriott account page my “7 Night Partial Package Category 1-5 Hotels” lists as “45,000 Points” and my “7 Night Partial Package Category 8 Hotels” lists as “135,000 Points”. I spoke with a Marriott rewards specialist today about my existing certificates and he told me that those are the values assigned to those certificates and the number of points that would be refunded to me if I canceled the certificate (which I had done when I converted a certificate from a Category 1-5 to an 8).

    If this is the value of the certificates for Marriott I would suggest it’s probably that the conversion in August will be at these rates. This would mean the net cost of 120,000 Alaska points is 225,000 Marriott points (or 75,000 SPG points) via the Hotel + Air packages. It also means that the 7 Night Partial Package Category 1-5 Hotels certificate is only costing 45,000 points versus the 150,000 points it would normally cost.

  32. I went back and forth on this and finally decided to purchase a 1-5 travel package w/ United miles.

    I already have one that is set to expire in October, so now I have two — I’m actually hoping for a point buyout because I already extended my October one and still don’t have anywhere I can use it before expiration.

    Please keep us posted of any new news on what they plan on doing!

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