For many people, earning 100,000 points can take a lifetime, or at the very least, years. For all the work involved to get there, Marriott once offered a “Free Night” at virtually any of their hotels for 100,000 points, or less.

In recent years, the company decided to move the goal posts, to make it harder for people to earn enough points for its best hotels. You’ll typically need far greater than 100,000 points for a “free” night at a top tier Marriott brand, like Ritz Carlton or JW or St. Regis, and even then, you’ll likely pay a resort fee on top.

Marriott’s CEO regularly pontificates that its program is too generous to members and should find more ways to cut costs for the investors that own Marriott branded hotels.

And now, the piece de resistance in the Marriott Bonvoy cap — changing the terms and conditions of a prized “free night” to no longer call it a free night. Why? Because these “free nights” are very rarely free these days.

Marriott Changes To “Award Redemption Stays”

What were once “free night awards” are often no longer free, and now they’re no longer called “free night awards” either.

Marriott changed the terms and conditions of the new, dynamically priced Marriott Bonvoy rewards program today and made a few key changes to keep the company out of legal jeopardy, as it continues its assault on loyalty.

Henceforth, “Award Redemption Stays” are the new term for what were once “Free Night Awards”, in hopes of removing any confusion that all that work to earn points and show loyalty actually resulted in something “free”.

Once Marriott branded hotels, from Fairfield Inns to Ritz Carlton properties started adding resort fees, destination fees and breakfast co-pays, even for top tier guests, the term “free” became a very loose definition anyway. Now, it’s simply been removed.

Things like resort fees can add $50 or more per night to a “free” reservation made with points, so it’s an appropriate change. It’s worth noting that other programs, such as Hilton and Hyatt both waive these fees on points stays. World Of Hyatt even provides free parking on points stays from time to time, to help create the feeling of a “win”.

The Floodgates Are Open For Negative Changes

Is this a pedantic change? Sure. But now, the floodgates are open. A so called “award redemption stay” has no implicit notion that it’s free. Marriott can now add restrictive terms or bring more fees in to these “awards” when members redeem their points.

What’s next? No free breakfast for 100 night a year guests when using points?

With dynamically priced awards, dependable returns on loyalty are now gone, too. Prior to March 29th, 2022, a simple and effective chart could show anyone how many points they’d need for a given hotel, for any date.

Now, no one knows how many points they’ll need for given dates until they search. And if they search today, but aren’t ready to book until tomorrow, the points price can change dramatically overnight. It’s dynamic like cash, rather than a true reward.

Any previous “goal posts” to help people plan and earn Marriott Bonvoy Points are now gone, and whatever the computer says is what you’ll pay.

If someone asks, “hey, how many points do I need to earn for a free night at X hotel”, it’s impossible to say. You could give a loose range, at least for this year, but even that may be wrong. That was-not-the-case before the current regime.

Ritz Carlton Hong Kong View

The Best Rebate For Hotel Bookings

Unless you’re a top tier guest, credit card issuers are now beating hotels at their own game. So is Hotels.com. Most hotels offer points that equate to a rebate under 10%, yet booking competitors are offering more, without pledging loyalty.

Credit cards like the Capital One Venture X offer 10X points on hotels when you book through Capital One Travel. Chase offers the same 10X points when you book hotels via Chase Travel, for Sapphire Reserve Members.

In contrast, a general Marriott Bonvoy member earns lower than an 8% rebate, and Marriott Bonvoy Points are now far less valuable than those earned with either Capital One or Chase.

If you’re not glued to the regularly diminishing loyalty perks offered by Marriott, the greater rebate from booking Marriott Hotels via credit card companies makes more sense. You can still stay at Marriott branded hotels — many are truly lovely — but you can earn better return by not being brand loyal.

It’s why I’ve long argued hotels are playing a dumb game which they will lose, and why Marriott is making me look more intelligent by the day. That’s no easy feat in normal times.

Gilbert Ott

Gilbert Ott is an ever curious traveler and one of the world's leading travel experts. His adventures take him all over the globe, often spanning over 200,000 miles a year and his travel exploits are regularly...

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15 Comments

  1. You get nothin free any way.everything is so high priced at the hotel its a joke.they got nerve.20 $ for a chicken sandwich 14 $ for a drink.ive been a member for years hotel is over priced.

  2. Right on, Gilbert. I have three Marriott cards, but I’m phasing them out because Bonvoy free nights have
    pretty much stunk. Also not impressed with their properties compared to Hyatt. We’re staying at the Waldorf Astoria
    Rome right now, courtesy of the Amex Fine Hotels Platinum benefit. Now, that’s a hotel booking you can get behind!

  3. Quit the drama. Terminology change is reasonable and in line with other hotel chains and airlines. Almost none use the word “free”. Also I get it – you hate the changes at Marriott but even Hyatt (who bloggers must be getting a kickback from given the love they give them) has devalued their program. It was inevitable w rushing room rates and the inflated number of point outstanding due to the sign on bonuses and other promotions the last couple of years.

    If you don’t like it don’t stay at Marriott. 99.5% of their business could care less about changes like this. You are preaching to a very small choir. Personally I appreciate using my points/miles. Sure it was nice when you got more but the points and miles were basically “free” (result of spend you would likely do anyway) so enjoy what you get and don’t be so bitter

    1. Look, this is a free market, competitive world. The remit of my blog, as I see it, is to present the best information to people who are going down the path of points and miles. In that pursuit, people are instantly presented with a series of forks in the road. They could earn a variety of different hotel points, a variety of different credit card points, airline miles and so forth.

      When a company displays uncompetitive, lazy incumbent behavior which has only the interests of share price involved, which makes life worse for customers, I see it as important to note that. Actions have consequences. If Marriott manages to keep 99.999% of corporate contracts and co-brand sales in these times, there’s an element of truth to what you’re saying.

      The brands you mention have resisted adding fees to “free nights” so it’s actually quite fair for them to still call them free nights, unlike Marriott.

      But if they push too far, and make their loyalty program entirely unrewarding, regardless of loyalty, people will go elsewhere. People have had time during the pandemic to reflect on their loyalty and on what matters. Is it really staying in the wrong part of town, or missing out on a hotel they’ve heard rave reviews about just for the chance of an upgrade?

      Is it worth foregoing points from Chase, Amex, Capital One or Citi to earn Marriott Points? My personal strategy is no. That’s based on open eyes, common sense valuations and higher earn rates from these other options.

      1. I like when a blogger criticizes a program as it shows independence. It isn’t hard to rehash the press release and PR bs from the hotels and airlines. Keep up the good work

  4. I am fully on your side. The devaluation continues to punish loyal customers and reward owners for complaining about their losses during the pandemic when customers couldn’t travel. This latest change may well push me toward always using points to give myself a discount on an expensive stay since I know that no level of points would make it free (especially if breakfast pricing continues to nickel and dime us to death). I have Bonvoy lifetime Platinum status. As bad as Marriott’s move is, though, I still could do you one better. The National Car loyalty program awards free days based on rental volume. Yes, the word “free” is featured prominently in the phrasing. It is net of taxes. Since I almost always pick up at airport locations and have an aggressive corporate rate which pretty much smokes the competition, my “free” day is about a 40% discount when all of the taxes and airport surcharges are added. The situation has been like this since I started renting from National in 2012 (I have Emerald Elite status) with no adjustment to the language. The moral of the story? There’s “free” and there’s “free, free”. Grrr!

  5. Marriott Titanium and Hilton Diamond here.
    You are 100% correct. Marriott gets worse every time they make a change.

    In the last four months:
    My last Hilton points stay in Oahu was awesome.
    My last Marriott stays in Kuaui and Oahu had zero benefits for Titaniums.
    My future stays in Hawaii will either be with Hilton or Airbnb.

  6. Not surprisingly, it has been a nosedive for me ever since Marriott took over my beloved Starwood.

  7. I did a points redemption night recently and saw that that they are now doing like hotels.com does when redeeming a ‘free” night and charge a 5.00 fee. Which I was cool with cause eh. 5.00 compared to a 200+/night room ain’t terrible. But my biggest issue with recent changes is no longer posting incidental charge rates just parking. So I have to call each property to see what it is. Get this- a Fairfield property in Columbia SC tells.me it waived the incidental since I was redeeming points and it should be free. Okay cool. Had my debit card turned off and saw they tried charging my card 6 times with DIFFERENT rates going from 10, 20, and 40. (40 was the established rate).
    A Twelve property in Atlanta Ga, called and was told in incidental was 75.00. moved 75 and the 5.00 fee to the card I used for hotels. Asked again when. I got there, guy said 75. Card declined. I cancel the night and see he was trying to charge my card for 90.00. of course no response from location after contacting Marriott corporate. I’m losing trust in my favorite brand. And it’s getting easier to just book and stay at a sketchy Red roof . At least they are straight forward with pricing.

  8. I have 200,000 Amex Membership Rewards that I was considering transferring to Bonvoy, as I am Platinum Elite with Marriott. I have been loyal to Marriott longer than I can remember and have had some great stays at luxury hotels around the world, often with the fifth night “free”. But I have been aware of all of the negative changes over the past 18 months and have been considering a switch to Hilton. A welcome bonus on an Amex Hilton card plus my 200,000 Membership Rewards will make the switch easy. It is such a shame that current leadership at Marriott is dragging the company down. Yes, shareholders are important and must be kept happy, but the balance has been greatly upset. Loyalty works in two directions. Just as in any sport where the team owners try to negotiate the most they can get out of the players, those owners realize that their teams are worthless without the players. So too will be the case with Marriott. They are nothing without customers dedicated to their brand. A better balance may return, but all of the negative changes came in with the new and current leadership at Marriott. So we may have to see a leadership change at the top before people return their loyalty to Marriott. I see no reason to stay.

  9. Wait – it gets worse! When is Marriott’s ‘SUITE NITE UPGRADE’ not a suite nite upgrade? This is a maddening situation I found myself in. I wanted to use a Suite Nite upgrade on a stay with check in on June 30. I had a Suite Nite Upgrade that expires on June 30. So – naturally you think – hey this works fine!! Not so fast. In Marriott’s alternative universe, the Suite Nite upgrade must be valid on the day of CHECKOUT (not checkin) – and since the check out of my stay would be July 1, the Suite Nite Upgrade for June 30 was NOT ACTUALLY VALID for a night in a suite on June 30. Doesn’t anyone at Marriott actually read the awards they are providing to members?

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