Marriott says ‘free nights’ on points are no longer ‘free’

For many people, earning 100,000 points can take a lifetime, or at the very least, years. For all the work it took to make it happen, Marriott once offered a “Free Night” at virtually any of its hotels for 100,000 points or less.

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

The Marriott CEO regularly pontificates that his program is too generous for members and should find more ways to cut costs for investors who 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” from calling it a free night. Why? Because these “free nights” are very rarely free these days.

Marriott changes to “rewards redemption stays”

What used to be “free night rewards” are often no longer free, and now they are no longer called “free night rewards”.

Marriott amended the terms and conditions of Marriott Bonvoy’s new dynamically priced rewards program today and made some key changes to protect the company from legal harm as it continues its assault on loyalty.

Now “Award Redemption Stays” is the new term for what used to be the “Free Night Awards”, in hopes of clearing up any confusion that all that work to earn points and show loyalty has actually resulted in something “free”.

Formerly Marriott-branded hotels, from Fairfield Inns at the Ritz Carlton properties started adding resort fees, destination fees, and breakfast fees, even for high-level guests, the term “free” became a very loose definition anyway. Now it has simply been deleted.

Things like resort fees can add $50 or more per night to a “free” reservation made with points, so this is an appropriate change. It should be noted that other programs, such as Hilton and Hyatt, both waive these fees on points stays. World Of Hyatt even offers free parking on stay points from time to time, to help create the feeling of “winning”.

The floodgates are open to negative changes

Is this a pedantic change? Sure. But now the floodgates are open. A so-called “reward redemption stay” has no implied notion that it is free. Marriott can now add restrictive conditions or add more fees to these “rewards” when members redeem their points.

And after? No free breakfast for 100 nights per year when using points?

With dynamically priced rewards, reliable returns on loyalty are also gone. Before March 29, 2022, a simple and effective table could show anyone how many points they needed for a given hotel, for any date.

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

All of the previous “goals” to help people plan and earn Marriott Bonvoy points are now gone, and all the computer says is what you’ll pay.

If someone asks, “hey, how many points should I earn for a free night at Hotel X”, it’s impossible to tell. You could give a loose range, at least for this year, but even that can be wrong. This was not the case before the current regime.

Ritz Carlton Hong Kong View

The best discount for hotel bookings

Unless you’re a premium customer, credit card issuers are now beating hotels at their own game. So is Most hotels offer points that equate to a discount of less than 10%, but booking competitors offer more, without promising loyalty.

Credit cards like 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 through Chase Travel, for Sapphire Reserve members.

In contrast, a general Marriott Bonvoy member earns less than 8% back, and Marriott Bonvoy points are now worth much less than those earned with Capital One or Chase.

If you’re not glued to the steadily diminishing loyalty benefits offered by Marriott, the deeper discount of booking Marriott hotels through credit card companies makes more sense. You can still stay at Marriott-branded hotels — many are really lovely — but you can earn a better return by not being brand loyal.

That’s why I’ve long argued that hotels are playing a dumb game they’ll lose, and why Marriott makes me look smarter every day. This is no small feat in normal times.

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