SPG All-Suite Properties Now Bookable At Standard Rates — With A Catch

Update: We were all able to rebook at the correct Category 7 rate of 60,000 points per night, and received a refund of the extra points.

My wife and I are going to Al Maha with Tiffany and her husband later this year. We planned this trip back when Emirates had a great deal on first class tickets to Milan via Dubai.

Al Maha was a selling point for all involved, so we were committed to going regardless of what happened with the SPG/Marriott merger, and locked in award bookings well in advance. But, we all had a bit of guarded optimism when Marriott made their commitment to pricing hotels with only non-standard rooms at the Category 7 level.

But, I can confirm these rooms are now bookable – with one catch on the points price.

Making the revised booking

Because we knew we wanted to stay at Al Maha, even if it cost an obscene amount of points, we made reservations earlier this year. We were slightly hopeful that SPG might have one last 35% off resorts promo, but the new Marriott rates are even better.

The difference in price is substantial, so I’ve been motivated to get this changed. I originally booked just after SPG increased their categories for this year, so spent 70k SPG points per night (210k Marriott). The new pricing brings a Category 7 property down to 20k SPG points per night (60k Marriott).

After trying once each day for the last few days, I finally got through to an SPG agent yesterday who thought he could manage the refund or rebooking.

We discussed the best way to proceed. He gave me a few options including forcing a manual refund, cancelling the existing reservation and booking a new stay and a third option I didn’t quite follow because it was more about their backend systems.

I stressed my biggest concern was losing the existing booking without a way to reinstate it. He was concerned about a manual refund getting lost in the merger. So, we decided on a brand new booking. And then, once that was processed with a confirmation number, we cancelled the original reservation.

The downside to this, and I was warned in advance, is the refund from the original booking isn’t automatic because of all the other merger processes that are currently ongoing. So, I have even more points tied up in this stay. But, I’ll eventually get those and make some other travel plans.

Tiffany’s booking process was a little different

Tiffany, on the other hand, was initially told the system was still down and award bookings weren’t possible. And when she called back later and was told the same thing, and that Al Maha was listed as a “suites property” and thus not bookable, she provided my new reservation number as an example they could in fact be booked.

Her agent looked at the notes to confirm the details, then decided to process this as a manual refund.

So, Tiffany kept her original confirmation number and received a boatload of points back in the SPG version of her Marriott account right away (like many of us, her accounts haven’t been formally merged yet). She doesn’t have any line-item account activity for this, so that will be interesting should anything go awry.

We were charged an extra 6,000 points per night

Here’s the kicker though — we were both quoted and charged more than the top Category 7 rate. Neither of us were given clear (or consistent) explanations for why our three night stays cost an additional 18,000 Marriott points. But, our total was 198,000 Marriott points for the three nights.

The best explanation I have is from my Marriott account, which shows two line items for this redemption. The first is the correct amount for 180,000 points. The second, as you can see, says it’s for “Upgraded Room Points.”

Based on my call, it sounded like this was hardcoded into their systems. There wasn’t a moment when the agent appeared to be calculating anything on his own. Tiffany’s agent also repeatedly referenced “suite awards” while booking.

What to make of the (slightly) higher price?

So, maybe this is the new policy.

Marriott’s brand new award chart does say the following at the bottom, despite the insistence from representatives that all rooms would be bookable at standard rates.

“Free Night Awards at some locations require higher points redemption amounts either because the hotel does not have standard rooms or the standard rooms it offers have mandatory full board requirements.”

Or, it might be an indication of how Marriott plans to deal with non-standard properties in the future. Or, something is just haywire right now and will be fixed later. Either way, I’m more excited about the big refund than I am about the marginal increase in price.

Has anyone else been able to book at non-standard properties? Were you also charged a premium for an upgraded room?

Comments

  1. Problem is my points are tied up in travel packages and the post you made yesterday about being able to refund us not accurate, yet. Marriott is denying they said it.

  2. ‘ Either way, I’m more excited about the big refund than I am about the marginal increase in price.’

    So if I owed you 3000 dollars you’d be happy getting back 2982 dollars? Good for you! It’s customer’s like this that make business owners like me rich 😉

    Seriously have you ever known a bank let you off for paying your mortgage 18 dollars short? If you booked an award flight on Emirate and were 18 dollars short would they let you have it?

  3. @Russ, Mike is saying, he is “… more excited … than …”. He’s not saying he doesn’t care about those 18,000 extra points removed from his account.

    And as I understand, the original bookings were made before anything was known about any future award chart. So I understand that he is more happy about getting a huge refund than he is unhappy about paying a bit more …

    And, of course, it is not quite clear if those additional points are against the rules or not. In your comparison I guess it is clear that the missing $18 are against the rules.

    Now, if the deduction of those 18,000 points has no basis under the new rules or t&c then, of course, it is not okay. And then you are right.

  4. @Russ except the refund is going to be 630k points vs the new price of 198k. So if my bank called me saying that my mortgage balance had been cut to a third of what it was, I’d call that a result 😉

  5. A 10% points premium (if that is the new go-forward rate) for some of the most aspirational properties anywhere is a drop in the bucket

  6. I have been trying for the last 3 days Al Maha doesn’t show up available on the app using points however shows up using the $$ rate. Not sure what’s going on. Have tried multiple dates across months nothing seems to work.

  7. Hi Mike, welcome back! Unless I missed it, I think you owe us a trip report from your Maldives stay 😉

  8. @Nik – We were seeing the same thing online and on the app. Try the phone and you might have more luck.

    @Russ – The other commenters here understand my view correctly. And I suspect there’s a good chance I’ll eventually get the 18K back since the charge is not spelled out in the new program’s T&Cs. Until then, I’ll take the massive refund and look forward to my trip.

    @Billiken – Thanks and good memory; I do owe that trip report.

  9. Mike,

    I booked a bunch of rooms at the Phoenician Residences in Scottsdale. They’re all 2 or 3 bedroom villas. The reps AND the hotel both say there are only two levels of rooms there, no “standard room.” All they have are “suite level two” (for the 2 bedrooms) and “suite level three” (for the 3 bedrooms). Kicker is…the 2bedrooms are pricing as 135,000 Marriott/night, and then 3bedrooms even higher. I’ve talked to a half dozen reps and they’re all pricing the same way. My account activity page shows a similar breakout with the standard/upgrade showing on two line items. What gives? It’s a cat 7 but they’re saying it is never possible on any dates to ever book it for 60k. Will this be one of the dozen or so outliers that have an asterisks in the Terms and conditions? Sounds reasonable but lame, but completely crazy when I compare it to all these people booking OWBs in the Maldives for 60-85k.

  10. @Jake – According to what we’ve been told, every room in Marriott should be Cat7 pricing or below. So, it seems the pricing they’ve given you at the Phoenician is incorrect. But, they wouldn’t budge on the price at Al Maha when I asked about it. My take is it’s better to have a reservation than not have one. And eventually when some of the bigger picture stuff with the merger is settled, I’m hopeful they’ll be ready to deal with issues like this. That’s just a guess though. And the stakes are much lower for me since it’s only the equivalent of 2K SPG points per night.

  11. I called to book with my points this morning but the representative tell me that the system with points doesn’t work. She made me a reservation with cancellation, and ask me to call back to modify when system will work.

  12. I do not mean to sound bitter, but it is frustrating as an individual traveler who has been trying to book these properties for days that certain people are able to get around the rules and convince agents to do things manually for them. I do appreciate that you shared the experience, though.

    Both agents told Tiffany a firm “no,” but then still processed it after she proved her blogger friend did it.

    I have no friends with PNRs at this property. When I call, I just get the original “no” answer.

    This is certainly just a whiny post, but it is getting frustrating reading about people “convincing” agents to book them Al Maha and St. Regis Maldives, while I politely call, ask nicely, and then take their word when they swear up and down it is not possible.

    – Confessions of someone who has reloaded the Marriott page 100 times

  13. If all the rooms are non standard at a hotel, then what’s a standard room? This is just another failure of Marriott to be transparent and an attempt to devalue Marriott points right out of the gate. If anyone needed convincing that mergers are bad for competition and bad for customers, look no further. Now that they’re the biggest hotel company in the world, Marriott thinks they’re too big to fail.

  14. @ Daniel54321 — There was no claiming a “blogger friend” did it. I just said (correctly) that the other couple we’re going with had been able to get their points refunded.

    There’s rarely such a thing as a “firm no” when dealing with phone agents; just various ways to help encourage them to look beyond the initial screen. Mike got a curious agent who was willing to try things, and then I was able to get one who was willing to follow instructions when they were in front of them.

    Just take a deep breath, and keep calling occasionally.

  15. I was able to book the Al Maha as well. We booked 5 nights for 270,000. They confirmed I got the fifth night free, so it appears to be 67,500 per night for the first four nights. I am not sure why the extra 7,500 per night, but I will worry about that later…I am just happy I got the room for the nights I wanted.

  16. Just booked Al Maha as well, 2 nights in october, for 132k points. Paid rates were about 1500USD/night. It took about 30 minutes on the phone with 2 agents. I’m happy. Thank you

  17. @Mike –

    I was able to book the St. Regis Maldives with points yesterday by calling the old SPG Platinum line. The attendant booked me in an over-water villa, but I was charged 85k points per night (with the fourth night free) instead of the 60k. When I searched the same days on the app and the website it would come up as 48k points a night for the 5 nights (60k per night with one night free), but when I would click on it I couldnt see the room. The agent told me that the higher rate was due it being a category 3 suite (no idea what that is/means?). Should I be trying or expecting to get those extra points back?

  18. @AaronC – The short answer is, I’m not sure. And I don’t think anyone knows including the people at Marriott and SPG. They have been pretty clear with Ben that rooms should book at 60K per night. We can only wait and see at this point. I think it’s entirely possible we’ll still get a refund for the additional charges but Marriott has bigger priorities right now with the merger.

    I’m curious, does your activity in your account show as a single transaction or two? Wondering if the upcharge for a suite is a separate line item.

  19. So unfortunately this post is really only valid with regards to Al Maha….

    I just called about rooms at St Regis Bora Bora and the only thing they come up with are Superior OTW at 180,000 points per night (60k spg). I was quoted the same thing when I called to see about an adjustment on an existing reservation…..

    Any suggestions. This was via SPG number for the adjustment. When I called for a new booking, the marriott number couldn’t see anything (like when you select the points option on the website), so she transferred me to a legacy SPG rep who was the first to quote me 730k for 5 nights for a superior and like 900+ for a Deluxe OTW.

  20. Why not look at the Ritz-Carlton Al Wadi Desert. Tented villas are twice the size of the Al Maha Bedouin Suites and brand new?

  21. @Mike – Good call, I didn’t even think to check originally. When I log in to Marriott I still cant see the reservation at all, however, when I log in with my old SPG credentials I can see it.

    There are two transactions; one that says “Standard Room Redemption Rate” for 240k points (which equals the 60k a night), and a second that says “Upgraded Room Points” for 100k (this equals the 25k a night up charge).

    Do you think its more or less likely to get the points refunded back since they have it broken out this way? It seems that this must be a new policy that Marriott has not effectively communicated.

  22. @Ross. RC Al Wadi has gotten quite a lot of bad reviews on flyertalk and tripadvisor recently. Have you been there? Maybe could share your experience?

  23. @AaronC – Hard to say about the refund. I remain cautiously optimistic they’ll honor what they’ve said with the 60K rooms. My guess is, this is probably how Marriott plans to treat these properties moving forward. So, they go to the Cat8 pricing and have an additional points surcharge that varies property by property. But, that’s pure speculation based on a small sample size.

  24. @Nevsky – Meals are included. That’s one of the appeals about Al Maha is meals and 2 activities are included, even on points stays. And there is nothing in the terms of my reservation confirmation email that suggests otherwise.

  25. @ Nevsky — To add to that, when I stayed there before (also on points), the only things that had an extra fee were alcohol and spa services, or if you wanted to do more than two activities per day.

  26. @mike, @Tiffany, @lucky – I have been trying to book the Mystique in Santorini next May. Finally spoke to an SPG agent who found availability but quoted 355,000 for a 5 night stay. That equals 88,750 points per night. That is higher than the 2019 Category 8 standard redemption. If booked now shouldn’t the property price at category 7 (60,000 points per night) even in 2019? The agent’s explanation was “Maybe this hotel is not participating in the new program.” Any thoughts? As much as I want to stay here I am not paying 640 euros a night and 88,750 points does not seem like a great redemption compared to other properties.

  27. @gdw – If you have the points to cover it now, I’d consider making the booking and then getting a refund later when this all shakes out. In my view, it’s better to have a booking than not. And you can always cancel it if you decide the points cost isn’t worth it without a refund. It’s clear these luxury property bookings are still very YMMV.

  28. @Mike – I wish I could. Unfortunately the bulk of my points are tied up in other air/hotel packages. I took a gamble and lost!

  29. I called today and SPG supervisor said that their system is not allowing me to get the points difference credited back to my account on a booking at Al Maha that I had made before the merger. I pointed out that I knew others who had gotten their points back. She said that while that may have happened, it is not possible to change this booking or make a cat 7 booking this week. She said to wait until Monday or later in next week. Anyone else with this experience?

  30. I was able to book 2 nights at 66K per night. I will request the 6K refund when the dust settles down from this merger mess.

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