Before the big Marriott / SPG merger last August, I recommended using points to buy Marriott travel packages. At the time, they were a great way to convert points to airline miles. Plus, you’d get a 7 night stay as a bonus.
Marriott was very secretive about what would happen with travel packages after the merger, so I wrote about a thousand posts (give or take) speculating on how best to play it. Since we knew the hotel categories were going to drastically change, there was likely a play where your stay certificate could be worth more… perhaps much more… if you bought the right category. I also wondered if you could score big by attaching a certificate to a hotel that you knew would be much more expensive after the merger. For details about the latter, see the post: Banking travel certificates for future luxury.
I ended up with one old category 6 (new category 4) 7 night certificate that wasn’t attached to any reservation, and two old category 9 (new category 6) certificates. Prior to the merger, I attached the two category 9 certificates to 7 night stay reservations at the Domes of Elounda. I left the old category 6 certificate unattached.
It turned out that almost all of my guesswork about turning stay certificates into gold was wrong. Marriott mapped old to new packages based on new peak pricing. This meant that most of us came out even or lost out a bit if we planned to book stays during standard or off-peak pricing. Nick announced the mapping here: Marriott Travel Packages: worst-case scenario. Even worse, by some measures, we learned that you can no longer cancel the travel certificates and get back lots of points. Many of my guesses about how to win big were contingent upon the ability to cash out certificates for points.
One small win when comparing old pricing to new standard pricing was with category 9 (45K) certificates which mapped to new category 6 (50K standard). I lucked out since two of my three certificates were category 9.
Since I had attached my old category 9 certificates (45K per night) to a hotel which was scheduled to jump to new category 8 (85K per night), I was in a position to test the question of what happens when you detach that certificate. Would I get a new category 8 certificate or a new category 6?
I recently realized that I wouldn’t be able to use one of the weeks I had booked at the Domes of Elounda, but I definitely could use a certificate for a 7 night stay at the Koloa Landing Resort at Poipu (in Kauai, Hawaii). I knew that the Koloa Landing Resort was soon going to change from category 6 to 7, so I needed to get moving on this.
I called Marriott to cancel one of my Domes of Elounda reservations. I could have done so online, but I wasn’t sure what would happen to the stay certificate. The immediate result was that the old category 9 certificate was redeposited in my account. But it had the old expiry date, which was too soon for my Hawaii stay. When I asked the agent on the phone about the expiration date he realized that something wasn’t right. He clicked away at the keyboard a bit and fixed it. Now my account showed a new category 6 certificate with a new expiration date a year from the phone call.
Since Marriott’s IT is a mess, there’s no guarantee that you’ll have the same result. In my case, cancelling a reservation with an attached old certificate resulted in getting a new certificate based on the expected old to new mapping. In other words, my old category 9 certificate was converted into a new category 6 certificate. This is as expected. It wasn’t a big win, but I was very happy to be able to apply the certificate to my 7 night Hawaii stay before the price on that resort goes up.
As a reminder, many Marriott hotels are going up in price on March 5. Some are going up due to annual category reassignments. Others are going up because Marriott will be introducing category 8 pricing (until March 5 they capped top-tier hotels at category 7: 60K per night). See these posts for details: