Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Marriott's free room certificates just became a lot less valuable

    I've repeatedly touted the Marriott Rewards program as the best for the occasional traveler because of their Megabonus program, which offers a free room certificate for every two stays. This is on top of regular point earnings.
    The only drawback to the certificates is that they can only be used for a Catagory 1-4 hotel. This suited us just fine, as I said last October:
For New Orleans, that means the Canal Street Marriotts are out, but the Residence Inn and Springhill Suites a few blocks away in the Warehouse District are in. This is just fine for our family, as these rooms are great for families and our certificates save us about $150 per night. Last year we had a great New Year's Eve vacation at very low cost thanks to free Marriott certificates.
    It looks like our days of free New Orleans hotel rooms are numbered. Marriott just announced a major devaluation of its loyalty program, in which 1,312 hotels are moving up in category and thus point cost while 46 hotels are moving down in category. Most important for me is the fact that 370 hotels are moving from Category 4 to Category 5, thus making them off limits for Megabonus certificates. Marriott has a pdf file available showing the hotels affected by the changes.
    All three New Orleans Warehouse District properties -- Courtyard, Springhill, and Residence Inn -- are going from Category 4 to 5. The Downtown Memphis and Little Rock Courtyards are going from 4 to 5. Jinny and I went to the Ole Miss-Arkansas game this year; I doubt we would have gone without the free room at the Courtyard. Staying at some Fairfield Inn out on the interstate just isn't the same. To use our free room certificates in New Orleans we will now have to stay in Metairie. No thank you.
    The airline and hotel programs are all the same. In order to encourage loyalty to their programs they offer generous rewards. The public responds by patronizing their business. They then realize they have perhaps been a bit too generous and try to find ways to devalue the awards that they've issued.
    While many good hotels have effectively been put out of free-room reach, there are still plenty out there. The downtown Memphis Springhill Suites and Residence Inn remain Cat 4. We're still happy to have the certificates, but there is now a chance that some might actually expire unused. I hope not.
    There are a few bits of good news with the changes. They don't take effect until May 15, 2013, and customers may book 50 weeks in advance. The free night certificates are good for a year, so at least there is one last chance to book these hotels before they go away forever.
    Oh, and the other bit of good news. Although 370 hotels went from Cat 4 to 5, three dropped from 5 to 4, including the Cairo Marriott and the Bahrain Residence Inn. Why waste time on New Orleans when we can visit the Middle East, right?

h/t: Loyalty Lobby

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