Surviving Marriott Peak & Off-Peak Award Pricing

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For better or worse (mostly worse), Marriott’s Peak and Off-Peak award pricing will begin September 14 2019.  At first glance, it doesn’t look too bad.  Category 1,2 and 3 award prices only vary 2,500 points per night from standard.  And category 4 and 5 award prices only vary 5,000 points per night from standard.  Categories 6 and 7, though, see bigger swings: 10K points per night from standard.  And category 8 jumps to 15K points per night from standard.

The picture looks quite different if you calculate the percent difference from standard pricing.  Here we can see that category 1 hotels actually have the largest swing in pricing on a percentage basis (33%):

Of course, all of this could be good news if you find off-peak awards when you need them.  Marriott says that there will be an “even distribution between Off-Peak and Peak rates portfolio wide.”  But that means that some hotels can be mostly peak year-around while others are mostly off-peak.  More likely, though, peak and off-peak designations will closely match room prices.  When room prices are unusually high, we’ll see peak rates.  When room prices are unusually low, we’ll see off-peak rates.  The net effect is that it will be harder to get outsized value from your points.

Free Night Certificates Devalued

The worst thing about peak/off-peak pricing, in my opinion, is that it will be harder to use the free night certificates earned from credit cards.  Here’s a summary of the various Marriott credit cards currently available:

As you can see above, several credit cards offer free night certificates worth up to 35K points per night and two offer certificates worth up to 50K points per night.  Before Peak pricing was introduced, this meant that you could always book category 5 hotels with the 35K certs and category 6 hotels with the 50K certs.  Now, those same certificates will only be good for category 4 and 5 hotels, respectively, during peak pricing.  Boo.

Off-peak pricing, on the other hand, could be good for those with 50K certs.  If you’re lucky enough to find a category 7 hotel priced off-peak, you should be able to use your 50K cert to book it.  The same is not true with 35K certs.  Category 6 off-peak pricing only drops the rate to 40K.  That’s not enough of a drop to book with a 35K cert.

PointSavers to the rescue?

Marriott offers lower award rates at certain hotels at certain times.  They call these “PointSavers”.  This chart shows PointSavers rates next to regular rates:

PointSavers rates are available only with select hotels during set dates. To find which hotels are participating, go to the Marriott PointSavers page, scroll down to “Participating Hotels with Available Dates” and click USA or Worldwide.

The PointSavers chart is interesting to this discussion only because category 6 off-peak PointSaver awards cost 35,000 points per night.  Good luck finding such a thing.  If you do find one, though, it should be bookable with a 35K certificate.

Note that any hotel that’s available both as off-peak and PointSavers probably has dirt cheap cash prices at the same time.  That means that you’ll get lousy value for your certificate.  You will almost certainly get better value booking a standard category 5 award night or a peak category 4 night.

Travel Package Certificates Retain Value

Marriott offers an option to redeem points for travel packages, also known as hotel + air packages.  The idea is that you can spend a fixed number of Marriott points to get two things: a bunch of airline miles and a 7 night stay certificate. Please see Travel Packages in our Complete Guide to Marriott Bonvoy for a complete analysis.

In most cases, in my opinion, travel packages are a bad deal.  But, if you already have a certificate (maybe you bought one before they devalued last year?), it has just become more valuable (more precisely, it has retained value).  Unlike credit card free night certificates, travel package certificates are tied to the hotel’s category not the award price.  As a result, your certificate can be used during peak pricing.

I still have a category 6 seven night certificate in my account (details here).  Currently, category 6 hotels cost 50K points per night.  Soon, they’ll go as high as 60K points per night during peak pricing.  With my certificate, I’ll still be able to book a stay even if some or all of the nights are priced at 60K.

5 ways to protect yourself from peak pricing

  1. Book at standard rates before September 14 2019.  If you have the points and/or free night certificates available, go ahead and book now for stays as far off as next summer.  Read the cancellation policy carefully to make sure that you can make changes or cancel for free.  Note that if you later make changes, you will be charged at the new rate.
  2. Book before 9/14 as a Points Advance.  If you don’t have enough points (or you don’t have your free night certificate yet), you can book up to 5 Points Advance reservations before 9/14 at standard rates.  Later, if you find that the award is at Peak pricing, you can call to apply your points and/or certificates based on standard pricing.  This capability will no longer be true for Points Advance bookings made 9/14 and later.  For more about Points Advance bookings, please see our Complete Guide to Marriott Bonvoy.
  3. Use your travel certificates wisely.  Travel certificates are based on the hotel’s category, not the hotel’s current award price.  You can maximize value by booking your stay during Peak pricing.
  4. Book early.  Marriott plans to reassign Peak and Off-Peak designations monthly.  It is likely that when hotels start to fill up, the remaining standard rooms for those dates will be set to Peak pricing.  Therefore, it is likely that standard pricing will be more readily available if you book many months in advance.
  5. Search monthly.  With the new peak/off-peak pricing, award rates will fluctuate over time.  Even if you’ve already made an award booking, it’s a good idea to redo the award search each month.  This way, if the price drops (from peak to standard, or standard to off-peak), you can re-book at the lower rate.
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