Whenever a hotel loyalty program releases its reward rate changes, it’s almost always bad news. This recent Marriott list is no exception. As of March 4, 2020, far more hotels are going up a category than down. Unless a hotel that you happened to have your eye on is moving to a lower category, the only positive is that you now have some relative certainty around which you can plan travel in the near future. I looked through the list to find some good prospects for a budget traveller.
I try to stretch my hotel points as far as I can, so I pretty much ignore hotels in the higher categories absent special circumstances. I like to make a trip out of as few points as possible. For Marriott, I’m mainly interested in Category 1 and 2 hotels, and I’d like to someday take advantage of the 5th night free policy when paying with points.
Category 1 in Canada
Hotels in the lowest category are 7500 points per night at the standard rate. On “off-peak” dates they drop to 5000 points and on “peak” dates they’re 10,000. I understand the peak and off-peak designation is adjusted on a monthly basis.
The following Canadian hotels dropped from Category 2 to 1:
Fairfield Inn & Suites Winnipeg
Four Points by Sheraton Edmonton South
Four Points by Sheraton Sherwood Park
Four Canadian Category 1 hotels moved up to Category 2 so a net loss of one hotel isn’t too bad.
Category 2 in Canada
Category 2 hotels are 12,500 points, (10,000 off-peak and 15,000 peak).
Nine Canadian Category 2 hotels went up to Category 3, many of which are in Ontario. The lone Maritime hotel was the Delta Saint John.
However, 17 hotels dropped from Category 3 to 2:
Aloft Calgary University
Courtyard Calgary Airport
Courtyard Cold Lake
Courtyard Edmonton Downtown
Courtyard Ottawa East
Delta Hotels Edmonton South Conference Centre
Element Calgary Airport
Fairfield Inn Toronto Oakville
Four Points by Sheraton Calgary Airport
Four Points by Sheraton Edmonton Gateway
Four Points by Sheraton Grande Prairie
Four Points by Sheraton Hotel & Conference Centre Gatineau – Ottawa
Four Points by Sheraton London
Four Points by Sheraton Moncton
Four Points by Sheraton Prince George
Four Points by Sheraton Toronto Mississauga
Residence Inn Calgary Airport
Now let’s take a look at a few of the hotels that have dropped from Category 3 to 2 in Europe. The airport hotels might be of interest to those Maritimers flying non-stop Halifax to Glasgow (WestJet) or Frankfurt (Condor) who need to spend a night near the airport before their flight home.
Aberdeen Marriott Hotel
Courtyard Glasgow Airport
Element Frankfurt Airport
Moxy Frankfurt Airport
Four Points by Sheraton Padova
Additionally, it’s always a relief to discover which hotels haven’t jumped a category. According to the Marriott Directory and filtering for Category 2, there are currently 83 hotels in Europe. (Strangely, it says 77 for Europe initially, but when you click through to the results, it shows 83). Some of these will be moving up to Category 3.
However, here are a sample few that will be remaining at Category 2 and look interesting to me.
Courtyard Oxford City Centre
AC Hotel Arezzo
AC Hotel Cordoba
AC Hotel Padova
AC Hotel Sevilla Forum
AC Hotel Sevilla Torneo
Four Points by Sheraton Siena
Obviously, flexibility plays a key role in planning a trip around standard or off-peak rates. Fortunately, the Marriott website has a convenient flexible date search so that helps a bit. And if you book at regular or peak rates, remember to check back to see if the rates have dropped. In that case, rebook to save some points.
For Canadian options, the two Ottawa hotels dropping to Category 2 are the standouts, in my opinion. You should definitely take a trip to the nation’s capital if you haven’t already.
The Four Points by Sheraton Hotel & Conference Centre Gatineau – Ottawa is located near the Canadian History Museum. The Courtyard Ottawa East is near the Via Rail station with public transit links to the city centre and parking is complimentary.
The Four Points by Sheraton Siena was already on my radar so I’m pleased that it didn’t move to a higher category. Siena is a popular destination in Italy and you can use it as a base to visit various Tuscan hill towns.
At the moment, most nights in April are 12,500 points per night – the regular reward rate. If you’re travelling in May though you’ll run into the dreaded peak rates on many dates.
Cordoba has one Category 2 hotel and Seville has two. If you don’t mind hot temps and have some Alaska miles, you can use them to fly Condor from Halifax to Jerez de la Frontera for only 25,000 miles each way. You can even include a free stopover in Germany.
Accumulating Marriott Bonvoy Points
You can acquire Marriott Bonvoy points in three main ways: earning base points from hotel stays, earning bonus points through promotions for which you must register, and from credit card spending and sign-up bonuses.
Marriott Bonvoy Amex
Regarding credit cards, the obvious choice is the Marriott Bonvoy Amex. The sign-up bonus is currently 50,000 points upon spending $1500 in the 90 days after approval. The annual fee is $120. You earn 2 points per dollar spent and 5 points at Marriott hotels. After your anniversary date you’ll receive a free night certificate worth 35,000 points.
If you applied for the Marriott Bonvoy Amex for the 50,000 point sign-up bonus, you could plan a trip around using those points at one of the Category 2 hotels noted above. As mentioned, the standard reward rate is 12,500 points per night at a Category 2 and the 5th night (the lowest of the 5 nights if there are varying rates) is free on a points stay. Therefore, the sign-up bonus can potentially get you a free 5 night stay.
Another good credit card is the Amex Cobalt which offers a bonus of 2500 Amex Membership Rewards points for each monthly billing period when you spend at least $500 in the first year, for a total of 30,000 Amex points. The annual fee is also billed monthly ($10/month). The nicest feature is the 5x earning rate for spending on “eats and drinks” which includes groceries, restaurants and food delivery. You can convert a minimum of 1000 Amex Membership Rewards points to Marriott Bonvoy points at a ratio of 5:6.
Both the Marriott and Cobalt cards have business versions as well.
Although the Marriott Bonvoy Amex has a modest rebate of $20 on Great Canadian Rebates, the Amex Cobalt currently has a very nice $100 rebate.
As an aside, if you shop at Sobeys here in the Maritimes, it’s a good idea to use an Amex that has a generous multiplier bonus like the Cobalt or the Scotiabank Gold Amex where you get 5x the points. And when the recurring promo comes around to get 100 Air Miles for buying a $200 Sobeys gift card, use those Sobeys gift cards at Shell and Lawtons for maximum points on your gas and drugstore purchases while adding to your Air Miles balance.
Devaluations in loyalty programs are annoying but inevitable. If you’re flexible and can plan around the sweet spots that remain, there are still great opportunities to put together a cheap trip. Marriott Bonvoy has not yet released a major promotion in 2020 so hopefully that will come out soon. If it happens to be a decent one, it might ease the pain of the category changes just a little.
Finally, I’ll add a little warning for anyone who is new to points and miles. These annual category adjustments do not preclude further unannounced changes throughout the year. Generally speaking, if you have a hotel in mind for certain dates and the points are sitting in your account, you might as well book it. I have been burned by procrastination in the past. At least with these hotels set to change category March 4th, a clandestine increase is rather unlikely in the meantime. Thus, you have a little time to lock in a reservation at the lower rate.