It’s Marriott Travel Packages Crunch Time

Marriott’s new program will take effect one week from today, and one of the biggest decisions that many of us are trying to make is whether or not we should be booking Marriott Travel Packages. Yesterday I shared the latest update from Marriott regarding this.

I followed up with Marriott to ask if they had any further information regarding how categories will convert, and they responded by saying that “all existing certificates will convert to similarly valued categories after that date.”

For those of you not up to date, I suggest checking out these posts first:

Over a week ago I shared what I think my strategy will be for booking Travel Packages, though I also said that I’d wait until closer to book, in the event that we received more guidance from Marriott.

Now that we’re one week from the new program being formed, and given that Marriott has shared an update, I’m guessing that we’ve now received all the information we’re going to get. So it’s time for me to make a final decision as to what I’m going to do.

What we know:

  • Existing Marriott Travel Packages issued before August 18, 2018, will continue to be redeemable for hotel stays, and won’t be converted into some fixed points amount (as some people had speculated)
  • Existing Marriott Travel Packages can’t be redeemed for a month following the new program being formed

What we don’t know:

  • How existing Travel Packages will convert with the new program in terms of which certificates will be redeemable at which category of hotel, other than that they’ll be converted to “similarly valued categories after that date” (whatever that means)
  • Historically Marriott has let you extend the certificates from Travel Packages for a year, though we don’t know if they’ll continue to allow that with the new program

What does this mean for me?

I promised I’d keep you guys updated as to my strategy, and as we learn more information, my plans also firm up a bit. So what are my thoughts based on the updates we’ve received?

  • The time to get the most value is if you make bookings this year, even if you’re staying next year; that’s because Category 8, as well as peak and off-peak pricing, won’t take effect until 2019
  • For many, the one month delay in being able to redeem these will somewhat limit redemption options, especially if you’re looking to redeem at the St. Regis Aspen, St. Regis Deer Valley, St. Regis Maldives, etc.; if you have a lot of Starpoints, you could always make a seven night booking at the property you’re anticipating now, and then cancel and rebook in September using a Travel Package, assuming you think you know how the categories will convert
  • Based on the other restrictions Marriott is putting in place with these, I do think they’ll be generous with how categories convert

So based on what we know now, I think I’m sort of doubling down on the strategy I was leaning towards earlier. I’m thinking of booking Category 9 Travel Packages, which cost 390,000 Marriott points, or the equivalent of 130,000 Starpoints. For that I’d get 120,000 Alaska miles, plus seven nights at some sort of hotel.

I’m expecting (perhaps foolishly) that this will cover at least a Category 7 hotel under the new program, which means I could redeem at any hotel if booking in 2018 (even if staying on a subsequent date).

Since I value 120,000 Alaska miles at 288,000 Marriott points, I’m really paying just 102,000 Marriott points for seven nights stay. That would be obscenely awesome. That’s ~14,500 Marriott points per night, or under 5,000 Starpoints per night, for the best Marriott hotels.

I’m thinking of booking a few of these, and then next year maybe I’ll spend a week at the St. Regis Aspen, a week at the St. Regis Maldives, and maybe a week at Santa Marina, the Starwood Luxury Collection property in Mykonos that’s outrageously expensive in summer. Those are just a few ideas.

So at this point I’m thinking I’ll book three Category 9 Travel Packages and hope for the best. I’m expecting this will cover any hotel (aka any Category 7 hotel or below), though it’s also possible that I’m completely wrong.

It could be that a Category 7 or Category 8 certificate would also cover it, but I’d rather pay a little more and be safe. It could also be that a Tier 5 certificate is required to redeem at the new Category 7, though I don’t think that would be reasonable.

On the plus side, I think there’s a lot more upside than downside here. So you’ll have to decide for yourself how you think this will end, but that’s my strategy… I think.

What’s your Travel Packages strategy, in light of everything we know at this point?

Comments

  1. @ Randall — First of all, I would put zero weight on that statement. Marriott doesn’t know how they’ll handle this, and I’ve heard people quote a million different things from frontline reps. They sure don’t know either. Second of all, if a Category 1-9 ends up being valid at any property (anything up to a Category 7, which is as expensive as hotels will get this year), I’d say that’s still reasonably generous over all.

  2. @Lucky

    I agree. I am not basing my decision based on that just like I haven’t done it based on any of the other million statements we’ve heard. This was just the most recent statement I’d seen and I wasn’t impressed. Of course nothing is for sure until Marriott tells us so.

    And yes, the category 9 -> category 7 would be very generous indeed! Cheers!

  3. I still think they are just doing the same thing as the credit card certs and make them point based. Only problem is there new system can’t handle that type of usage yet so they need more time to implement it.

    So Cat 9 cert can book hotels up to 45k per night points tier 1-3 up to 50k and tier 4-5 up to 70k.

    No loss for the masses and no extra money Marriott has to pay out for being too generous and mapping directly for cat 1-5 for cat 5.

  4. Two weeks ago I ordered a Cat 1-5 certificate to stay at Marriott Puerto Vallarta for Christmas week. That hotel is now a Category 7, but moving to a Category 5 so it stays at 35,000 point after the changeover. Shouldn’t I wait until September to attach it to a reservation? I figured getting a Cat 1-5 certificate now would be fine since the points are staying the same.

  5. @Lucky – are you referring to the Cat9 Hotel and AirPackage where you also have Miles deposited? Or is there a hotel only package I’m not finding?

    Have a link?

    Thanks

  6. Airline miles are so easy to come by, especially Alaska. I’d rather blow all the points at aspirational cat 7 hotels which will be only 60k points. I’ll have 5 five-seven night stays at Cat 7s.

  7. @ Beachfan — Totally fair in general, though in reality spending seven nights at a Category 7 property would cost 360,000 Marriott points, so you’re paying very little extra for the miles. If the premium were huge I’d agree, but at that rate it seems like it could be worth it, assuming you’d otherwise spend that many nights in a hotel.

  8. So @Lucky, with that Cat9 you recommended, where do you land on the miles? the +55k miles for 320k points? or the other extreme of +132k miles for 390k points?

  9. Lucky, Any speculation about upgrading ‘old’ certs under new system? I’ve upgraded a travel cert in the past, only paying the difference between a CAT 6 hotel and CAT 9 hotel (for six nights)?

  10. How many SPG/Marriott points do you currently have? With all due respect, how much you spend depends on how much you have. Are you eliminating your entire stash? That would be a remarkable commitment to the strategy. If you have several million (I’m guessing you do)–then your example is not very relevant or giving people a misimpression of how much you value T&P and/or SPG points. Thank you.

  11. Lucky – i booked a Category 8 package – 120k miles are in the airline account; and I have an unattached Category 8 Certificate in my account; that drained the account but I have since accumulated another 37,000 marriott points;
    QUESTION: Can I call Marriott Back and ask them to upgrade that to a Category 9 certificate for the 30,000 point difference, do you know if they would permit that?

  12. I stayed at the Santa Marina last Summer. Great place, but I don’t think I would want to spend 7 days there. It is a little hard to get to town with their shuttle, and not big enough to want to stay exclusively at the hotel. It does have a small private beach but again, 7 days seems like a lot for the hotel.

  13. @Lucky, Marriott has allowed cashing in the certs. for 45K pts….any guess they will allow this after 8/18th?

  14. This seems like a huge leap to assume that the current cat 9 will convert to a cat 7. Cat 9 is worth 45,000 points per night now, and new cat 6 will be worth 50,000 points per night. That is pretty similar and is a lot more similar than a new cat 7, which is worth 60,000 points per night. Cat 6 is a 30,000 point bonus, which is nice (and similar); cat 7 is a 90,000 point bonus, which seems excessive and not in keeping with their comment that the new categories would be similar.
    I am going for cat 8 in hopes that they will round up to a cat 6 and give me a 60,000 point bonus. I expect they will just be rounding up to the nearest category, so cat 8 will be the best deal. Cat 8 (cat 6) also seems to be where most of the properties I am interested in cut off, so it makes sense from that perspective as well.

  15. One more thought in favor of the cat 8 if it changes to a cat 6. If they allow downgrades after conversion, it should produce the greatest return of points if downgraded from 6 to 5, more than any other currently available single category downgrade.

  16. My extended family and I booked two 7s, a 8, and a 9 (with max miles added to each). We have the 7s and 8s assigned to real reservations but we are only getting about $1500 of value per cert.

    We’ve had lots of frustrations with Marriott rewards call center. Long waits, poor reps, senseless BS that they can’t modify a rez that is an eBates click-through.

    The lack of information, and the mostly negative info or the past week on the 1-month delay, etc. has been frustrating.

    I’m worried that we might regret following the consensus blogger strategies. Classic case of YMMV.

    I encourage Mariottt to be generous with the rules and to keep it simple to preserve brand integrity and the experience of customers and employees alike.

  17. I’m confused you stated,” I’m thinking of booking Category 9 Travel Packages, which cost 390,000 Starpoints, or the equivalent of 130,000 Starpoints.” How is a cost of 390,000 Starpoint the equivalent of 130,000 Starpoints? Did you mean 390,000 Mariott points is equivalent of 130,000 Starpoints?

  18. @ Lucky — what do you think Marriott will do to attached certificates? For example, if one books Domes using old Cat 1-9 but that certificate gets converted to new Cat 1-6. Would Marriott handle this using exceptions (e.g. can use it for current reservation but not if detached) or would they bump such attached certificates up to the top category?

    (I guess, I’m trying to see if there any potential downsides to having a certificate attached to a reservation…)

  19. I redeemed for a Cat 1-5 7 night and I still have about 142k SPG left. I’m debating on just letting it transfer and getting a top tier for a week at the 60k/night window or transferring for one more package. I’m also going to attach the cert this weekend now that we know there’s a dark period coming.

    On a similar note my AF hit on my SPG Personal and I called and they offered me 20k SPG points for 2k spend. I asked the AMEX rep a few times to confirm it’s SPG points vs Marriott points and she did confirm it. I’m still skeptical so I’m going to hit that 2k spend asap (before 8/18) and see what happens.

  20. Justin.

    Spending $2k for 20k SPG points seems utterly expensive if planning to use that as a stand-alone booking at a cat 8 property. Unless I’m missing something and your Plan is to pool it with the remaining balance for a certs redemption, yes?

  21. I don’t understand how you think old cat 9 packages will be converted to new cat 7 packages.
    Currently cat 9 requires 45,000 points per night while the new cat 7 requires 60,000.
    Shouldn’t the current tier 4-5 cert convert to the new cat 7 cert, instead of the current cat 9?

  22. Once a cert is attached can it be unattached? Looking at Melbourne next year. Have got a cat 6 cert, on assumption it’ll cover cat 5 (new scheme). Would prefer one of the SPG properties but they’re not going to be bookable until Sept. Was considering attaching to Marriott, but only if I then had flexibility to change it afterwards – I guess no-one knows, but how did it work historically for changing hotel component once booked?

  23. Just another entitled person. By the way, how would you have an Iranian passport unless you are from Iran?

  24. So the bet you have to make is that Cat 9 will map to Cat 7, if not you are going to get hosed. If you assign a purchase price of two cents per mile to the airline miles to replace them, then the 120,000 miles has a value of $2,400.

    If Marriott maps Cat 9 to Cat 6, and you get a value of $500 / night, your total package value is $5,900.

    If Marriott maps Cat 9 to Cat 7, your hotel nights are probably worth around $1,000 / night and your total package value is $9,400

    If you keep the points just for hotel, you can redeem 390,000 points for seven Cat 7 nights (but gain flexibility to break them up and spread them around), and another mid-tier redemption, so roughly $7,300 in value plus redemption flexibility.

    Just having a hard time seeing why Marriott would map Cat 9 to Cat 7. They are then basically screwing all of the Ritz Tier certificate holders unless they get a points refund or something to cover the difference. Seems to me like a more likely outcome is:

    Cat 1-9 = Cat 1-6
    Tier 1-3 = Cat 7
    Tier 4-5 = Cat 8

  25. Since I value 120,000 Alaska miles at 288,000 Marriott points…

    So if buying a cat 1-5 package for 270K pts essentially gets you a free 7 night stay or turn in the cert for 45K points? That’s a pretty generous valuation.

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