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Are We to Blame for Marriott’s Reward Cutbacks?

Are We to Blame for Marriott’s Reward Cutbacks?

Now that we’ve all had a little bit of time to recover from Marriott’s sweeping 2020 Category changes, it’s time to wonder: just who’s to blame for Marriott’s devaluation? Is this an inevitable evolution in the nature of rewards programs like Bonvoy? Or did we do something to deserve it?

The War Against Free Night Awards?

While there have always been many benefits to Marriott rewards, one of the most valuable is the Free Night Award (there’s an entire FlyerTalk thread devoted to it). In total, seven co-branded credit cards offer annual free night certificates worth up to 50,000 points.

But, in just six months, Marriott has dealt a one-two punch to the free night certificate. First, in September 2019, Bonvoy introduced Peak and Off-Peak redemption levels which inevitably made the most desirable vacation destinations even more expensive during most peoples’ vacations.

Then, earlier this month, unprecedented category increases were announced for March 2020. And those increases hit the hottest properties the hardest. Between peak pricing and category increases, it’s increasingly harder to redeem lower-level (25K), higher-level (35K) or even luxury-level (50K) certificates for your favorite vacation stays.

For loyal Marriott Rewards members who’ve been redeeming free night certificates for years, it’s hard not to take it personally.


The Blame Game

We get it,” said one FlyerTalker in Is It Marriott’s Mission to Weed Out Gamers?, “credit card vouchers are expensive for Marriott to deal with… But why get the card if your free night can only be used at some Fairfield next to the highway?”

Which brings up an interesting question. Are loyal Marriott Rewards members taking advantage when they take full advantage of free breakfasts just for having a Marriott branded credit card or rollover elite nights?

What about those who speculatively book in advance to lock in rates to beat category changes, or combine multiple 15 elite nights earned from holding multiple Bonvoy credit cards?

All of those features have been recently eliminated from the program. Is it because bloggers promoting “travel hacks” and gamers amassing millions of miles made these kinds of rewards too expensive for Marriott and this is why we can’t have nice things?

Or were they part of the deal Marriott makes to attract repeat customers? “They wave rewards in front of you to get your loyalty,” observed another FlyerTalker. “You give them the loyalty they seek and beyond, and they lessen the value of the points you’ve got, and then shut you out of the vacation stays you loved.”

Cat and Mouse: a Lesson for 2020

Whether you think Marriott is right or wrong, one thing is clear: rewards programs change. When they do, it’s up to you to figure out the best way to use your points. And, whatever you do, don’t hoard them for hoarding’s sake. Miles are depreciating currency, not an investment. Have a trip in mind and stay while the staying is good and before more category changes come down the pipeline.

As one FlyerTalker put it, “it’s a cat and mouse game with the credit card companies. Marriott probably loved all the money they were getting from Chase for buying points, but then realized they lost it at their high-end properties, so until people stop amassing points via cards without spending much at Marriott, they will continue to tighten the rewards program.”

 But, we want to hear your opinion. Let us know how you feel about Marriott’s changes in the comments section.


View Comments (12)


  1. edgewood49

    February 11, 2020 at 11:17 am

    This is a slippery slope its the classic he did no he did. I remember when Eastern Airlines gave out free upgrades to it’s FF, all you had to do was day of flight check in at the airport and they would put you on the list, then people figured out they could go to the airport in the morning “register” then go home coming back for evening flights. I remember having blank tickets, walk up write out the ticket and get on. Many of these early programs were targeted and one had to either fly with paid tickets or stay in a hotel. I have been with Marriott since 1984. Fast forward to now and these programs have spawned a whole new cottage industry of hackers, “experts on travel” websites such as FT many well meaning.

    Now that the vast majority of hotels are owned by equity capital, reits or other multiple ownership groups the drive to the bottom is paramount, witness most of the hotels in Hawaii.

    Personally I would prefer to see all the programs dismantled reverting back to the former days using all that money used to promote pay for these programs to reduce rates and service.

    Just saying.

  2. Bowgie

    February 11, 2020 at 7:38 pm

    I’m a latecomer to Marriott motivated by a couple of years with Amex’s $95 annual fee card. Free night, yes, but in my next two trips (Berlin and Madrid), there was nothing good available for 35k points. IHG (spire status) and Hilton (gold) treat me better. I think Marriott’s market is the domestic US business traveler, and overseas it does not compete well — if it ever did.

  3. roelb

    February 12, 2020 at 4:26 am

    I moved over to Hilton halfway 2018 due to Marriott’s sudden devaluation of Gold. I actually cancelled future stays at Marriott properties because of that. I had and have Marriott Gold due to the Amex platinum agreement. That same agreement also gives me Hilton Gold. That is a nice baseline to have and it does influence my hotel decisions (+- 70 nights a year all over the world). But since Marriott removed breakfast and lounge access from the gold benefits it no longer makes any sense to book their properties as I will need to start off from scratch and attempt to get status.

    In both 2018 and 2019, I did get up to Diamond with Hilton on (mostly paid) stays. And will probably repeat that this year. That is money going to Hilton, where it could have gone to Marriott. I would probably have spent a large number of those nights in Marriott properties if they would not have degraded gold back in 2018. For me, just getting those baseline loyalty benefits matter.

    I’ld like to think that customers that spend over $750 a year just on a premium credit card are customers a hotel chain would like to keep. But not Marriott. Even centurion card holders get no more than Gold (which is actually what kept me from accepting the Centurion invitiation and paying up for that).

  4. ConnieDee

    February 12, 2020 at 6:43 am

    As someone who was slowly gaining Marriott points over the years with leisure travel, I think I was ended up wasting money by choosing the Marriott over something cheaper after a desk clerk once said “One more stay and you get a free night” – and then it never happened. I felt betrayed since I never got the memo about all their changes. And now there are two hotels next to the light rail stop at PDX where I often stay the night before an early flight: so there, Marriott!

  5. williasp

    February 12, 2020 at 6:50 am

    Do away with the credit card enticements. They are no longer worth the effort. I used to carry an IHG card for the free night I could use at the Boston Intercontinental. With the recent changes, you can no longer use the free night at any decent hotels. I have no interest in staying at a Holiday Inn. Same deal with Hyatt. I kept the card for the free anniversary night. Suddenly, this year the free night is not useable at the Boston Hyatt Regency downtown. I’m not interested in staying at the airport. I gave up on airline points long ago. Impossible to get decent flights to where I want to go when I want to go.
    I generally prefer a cash back card and use it for all purchases. At least I have the flexibility to use the cash back wherever I choose. Sometimes the most expensive thing you get is “free.”

  6. jrpallante

    February 12, 2020 at 6:51 am

    May father always said “If you set your expectations low enough, you will never be disappointed.” He would have been a model Bonvoy member.

  7. PepeBorja

    February 12, 2020 at 7:04 am

    Days of Entitlement… First World problems. This is what preocupies our minds? I wish I could share the emotions and distress but I just can’t. Happy travels.

  8. dliesse

    February 12, 2020 at 10:39 am

    First world problems, maybe, but we live in the first world. For us (collectively) they are problems.

    I haven’t ever used the Marriott program much, simply because Hilton’s program was so much better (collecting airline AND hotel points for the same stay). I think the bulk of the current problem, though, is because there are so many ways to gain points/miles/whatever — in any program — in ways that have nothing to do with the company in question. This seems to be limited to mostly the travel industry (plus some cross-over gasoline credits; shop at the right store and get discounts at Shell).

    I don’t get Barnes & Noble credit for shopping at Walgreens, I don’t get Amazon credits for shopping at Fred Meyer, etc. (Some stores do give you benefits for having their own credit card, but most of them that I see are the same deals you get for the loyalty card; they’re just built into the card instead of having to show both.) Perhaps the travel programs need to revert to giving credit for actually using their products and nothing more.

    I don’t see it as members taking advantage of offerings if the companies are offering them of their free will in the first place!

  9. troyintn

    February 12, 2020 at 1:00 pm

    Every one is talking Credit Cards, but I think this has more to do with the huge amount of members Marriott now has post Sheraton merger. Even as an Ambassador at most Large Metro Hotels they have tons of ambassadors staying. let alone the other levels. As someone earlier mentioned gold is pretty much useless these days,

  10. Robert Leach

    February 12, 2020 at 1:16 pm

    I really don’t redeem free nights much at all. What has irked me since Starwood was assimilated by Marriott, other than the switch to Pepsi, is the obliteration of meaningful upgrades. An “upgrade” to a corner room just doesn’t cut it. At all.

    The upgrades that we used to enjoy at Starwood have largely disappeared in the U.S. market. Not as bad — yet — in Europe.

    I am giving Hyatt a try this year. As a nobody member with five stays so far this year, the overall experience hasn’t been bad at all.

  11. WebTraveler

    February 15, 2020 at 6:45 am

    This is all BS. Marriott, on one end, hawks the card like there is no tomorrow; then on the back end realizes there are too many redemptions. That’s faulty logic.

    I am sure there is a game being played by people opening/closing accounts and manipulating the fee night.

    At the same time there are plenty of customers who stay at Marriott for that free night, but never quite get it.

    I personally gave up on Marriott’s program years ago; when I stay there now I just shoot the points off to airline miles. There;s no point in even trying.

    I mostly stay at Hilton,and most years I earn gold;l a few I have not and the the Amex helps me out there. But I am loyal and I stay with this brand. I do get rewards – and the system has gotten harder in recent years. But consolidation does get me some perks here – basically the free breakfasts – this alone keeps me coming back. The room rewards are meh, unless you want an off peak award or you want it at a Hampton Inn. Many of the rewards at the full service Hiltons and Doubletrees are premium awards now and those are a rip off.

    Choice has a program that works for me in the smaller towns I sometimes have to go. It never gets me much though. If I have to stay somewhere else I might as well book with, in the end I get something.

  12. GrayAnderson

    February 16, 2020 at 8:42 am

    I think that at least some of what happened was a side-effect of the merger with Starwood pushing the company to a certain threshold. With that being said, if there’s a problem with the points or certificates, Marriott really only has themselves to blame for pumping WAY too many points out with CC enticements and the like. This is particularly the case with the CC free night awards (I’d take a slow increase in the CC fee in exchange for guaranteed utility since those are “Crap, my flight got cancelled” get-out-of-jail-free nights).

    With that being said, Marriott probably needs to also take a harder line with some of their franchisees. I won’t lie, I’d happily trade every “upgrade” ever (half of which are, to me, downgrades…given the choice between a suite with a king at the end of the hall or a two-double/two-queen basic room by the elevator, I’ll take every element of the latter over the former almost every day) for a guarantee that I won’t be stuck playing stupid games with “resort fees” and their cousins and a stable breakfast option that guarantees either meat and cheese (cold) or bacon and eggs (hot). If the only option is a carb bomb (pastries or cereal) then I would rather simply take $5 off the cost of the room and to hell with the breakfast.

    Anyhow…I think you can make a case that Marriott botched the CC side of things. That’s fair, though I’d rather see the CC fees go up by a few bucks and preserve availability at most airport hotels. You can make a case that they misjudged the value proposition on the underlying program, but that’s really their fault 100% and whether it’s them “making the program bad” or “it was too good to begin with and they’re bringing it back to an equilibrium”, the screwup is on their end.

    And to be clear, it isn’t like we’re talking about a bungled promotion (e.g. Hyatt’s old FFN promo) or something that was done in response to an economic panic to drag business in. We’re really talking about the core of a large program that is not new.

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