Banking travel certificates for future luxury

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Domes of Elounda. Currently this is a Category 9 property requiring 45,000 points per night. In the new program this will be Category 8 requiring 60,000 points per night through early 2019, and then 70,000 to 100,000 points per night if booked thereafter.

I didn’t want to write yet another post about Marriott Travel Packages, but this continues to be a burning topic.  I just may have convinced a number of readers to jump on the last opportunity to buy these travel packages at great rates, and that there’s maybe a 60% chance that the result will be way better than expected.

Following my own advice, I had already bought one travel package to add to the one I’ve had sitting around for quite a while, and I decided to buy one more.  As a reminder, when you buy a travel package, you exchange lots of Marriott points for a bunch of miles (always go for 120K or 132K miles) plus a 7 night stay certificate that can be applied later.  If things go really well, floater certificates (stay certificates that are not attached to an award reservation) will be exchanged for points to cover a similar 7 night stay (see this post for more).

But that’s just one theory.  There are many other theories of what Marriott will do with floater certificates when the new loyalty program kicks in on August 18th.  We don’t know which is correct because Marriott won’t tell us.

In an email conversation with a Marriott source just a couple of days ago, I was told this: “…we are encouraging members with certificates to attach them to a hotel stay before 8/18.”  There’s probably not anything too revealing in this statement.  After all, regardless of what Marriott decides to do with floater certificates, we do know that they’ll honor reservations that have already been booked.  And it makes sense to encourage customers to do the thing that will produce a reliable result.

On the other hand, it’s possible that I was given a little hint.  It’s possible that attached stay certificates will be worth more than floater certificates (un-attached certificates).  I asked a follow-up question: “Would you recommend attaching [stay certificates] to a refundable future hotel stay even if you don’t know where you really want to stay?”  No response.  Was I getting too close to the secret that Marriott won’t reveal?

Is there any downside to booking a refundable stay?

We don’t know how Marriott will handle floater certificates.  We also don’t know how they’ll handle stays booked with certificates before the new program takes effect, that are then cancelled afterwards.  Will they handle those two scenarios exactly the same?  Maybe.  Maybe not.  Here are the likely options (in my opinion):

  1. Tie: Both scenarios result in an equal points refund.
  2. Floater certificates result in a points refund, whereas cancelled stays result in new stay certificates

If the first is true, then there’s no harm in booking a cancellable stay now.  If the second is true, booking a stay now would mean losing out on the chance of getting a good number of points back, but it also means that you may be able to make your stay certificate more valuable by booking a property that you know will go way up in price after the merger.

If you plan to attach, then attach big

If you know where and when you want to stay, then you might as well go ahead and book exactly that.  If you have no idea where you want to stay, though, and you don’t mind the chance of losing out on a points windfall, then it makes sense to book a hotel now that will become much more expensive in the new program.

I drilled down on the award chart information to find the best opportunities to book stays now that will be worth more in the future.  This led me to the following recommendations for how to use existing stay certificates:

Current Category 1-5 certificate (Worth 25K Points Per Night)

Potential value gain: 10K points per night standard; 15K peak [peak pricing will be introduced in early 2019]

Book any of these properties that will be 35K per night in the new program:

  • Marriott’s Villas at Doral
  • Residence Inn Temecula Murrieta
  • Paragraph Resort & Spa Shekvetili, Autograph Collection
  • Eugenia de Montijo, Autograph Collection
  • Calgary Airport Marriott In-Terminal Hotel
  • JW Marriott Hotel New Delhi Aerocity

Current Category 6 certificate (Worth 30K Points Per Night)

Potential value gain: 20K points per night standard; 30K peak [peak pricing will be introduced in early 2019]

Try to book this property that will be 50K per night in the new program:

  • Marriott’s Club Son Antem (unfortunately there is no award availability at this time)

Current Category 7 certificate (Worth 35K Points Per Night)

Potential value gain: 15K points per night standard; 25K peak [peak pricing will be introduced in early 2019]

Book any of these properties that will be 50K per night in the new program:

  • Fairfield Inn & Suites Virgin Zion National Park
  • Marriott’s Imperial Palms Villas
  • Marriott’s Fairway Villas
  • Marriott Vacation Club Pulse, San Diego
  • Marriott’s Royal Palms
  • Marriott’s Sabal Palms
  • Marriott’s St. Kitts Beach Club
  • SpringHill Suites Springdale Zion National Park
  • Marriott’s Cypress Harbour Villas
  • Marriott’s Marbella Beach Resort

Current Category 8 certificate (Worth 40K Points Per Night)

Potential value gain: 20K points per night standard; 30K peak [peak pricing will be introduced in early 2019]

Try to book any of these properties that will be 60K per night in the new program (unfortunately award availability is virtually non-existent in these)

  • Marriott’s Waiohai Beach Club
  • Marriott’s Waikoloa Ocean Club
  • Marriott’s Kauai Lagoons – Kalanipu’u
  • Marriott’s Newport Coast Villas

Current Category 9 certificate (Worth 45K Points Per Night)

Potential value gain: 15K to 40K points per night standard; 55K peak [peak pricing will be introduced in early 2019]

Book this property that will be top tier in the new program (60K through early 2019, then 85K standard, 70K off-peak, 100K peak)

  • Domes of Elounda, Autograph Collection

My approach

After compiling the above data, I realized that current Category 9 certificates have the most potential long-term upside. By using the certificate to book a hotel which will go up to category 8, it might be possible to make the certificate far more valuable.  There’s absolutely no guarantee that this will happen, but it is possible that if one were to wait until after the merger on August 18th and then cancel such a stay, Marriott might issue a new program category 8 certificate (top tier) in its place.  Between August and early 2019 there won’t be any difference between a new category 8 or new category 7 certificate since both will be able to book top tier 60K per night hotels.  But when category 8 and peak pricing appear in early 2019, category 8 certificates will be much more valuable than category 7.  By then, the mad dash to book top tier resorts for 60K per night will be over, and it should then be much easier to book any top tier property you want and at any time.

On the other hand, if I could have leveraged a current category 8 certificate into a future category 7 (60K per night) reservation, I would have done so.  But I couldn’t find any award availability at the properties that would make that possible.  So, I decided to go with current category 9.  If I had a Ritz Tier 1 or Tier 2 certificate I would try to downgrade it to a Category 9.  But I don’t, so I didn’t.

I called Marriott Rewards to upgrade my existing category 8 certificate to category 9 (this process took over 2 hours: the first agent said it couldn’t be done but offered to transfer me to someone who might be able to help. She transferred me to reservations. Sigh. The next Marriott Rewards agent was able to do it, but it took an eternity to complete).  Next, while I still had a competent agent on the phone, I purchased a second category 9 travel package.  Finally I asked her to use both 7 night certificates to book two separate rooms at the Domes of Elounda.  Award availability was quite good for June and July 2019.

With all of that done, I set an April 2019 reminder in my calendar to cancel these reservations in case I haven’t already done so.  I have to cancel this one more than 30 days before in order to avoid a cancellation fee.  Of course, we might alternatively actually stay during the times I picked — that would be great too.

And now I’ll wait to see what happens.  Will we learn any real facts about how Marriott will handle the travel package transition in time to do anything about it?  Probably not.  Most likely, we’ll have to wait until August 19th or maybe even later to find out what will happen with our old style travel packages.  To hedge my bets I kept one certificate un-attached… just in case.

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