|by Jason Steele|
I was never a huge fan of the X-Files, as it seemed to be a never ending string of revelations followed by the disclosure “that’s just what they want you to believe!”
I had a similar feeling last week, when I discussed the changes to the Marriott rewards program. At that time, I wrote: “they are eliminating blackout dates, although it is unclear if they are offering true last room availability like Starwood. ”
How Is It Unclear
In their press release, Marriott announces a nice sounding change; no blackout dates. Another clue seemed to be the web site address for promotion:
Last Room Available! Wow, just like Starwood’s program. Sounds great!
Then I failed to notice any reference to “Last Room Available” in the page itself, only the term “No Blackout Dates” Where have I heard this before? It was years ago when I had some Delta miles I was trying to redeem for an award trip to Florida several months in the future. Despite claiming that there were “no blackout dates,” for their awards, Delta had no award availability for flights from Denver to West Palm Beach, Fort Lauderdale, or Miami, changing planes in Atlanta, Cincinnati, or their old hub in Dallas for a two month period!
I then realized that “no blackout dates” only means that they only guarantee one award seat to be available on a single flight, on every day of the year. Realizing my miles were worthless, I switched programs.
The Devil Is In The Details
Over at Flyertalk, a Marriott spokesperson was proud to announce their new policy, however they offered a little more information about the changes than they did in the press release.
Specifically, they said: “While this does not mean you will never again have difficulty booking a redemption stay, it does mean these difficulties will be rare. Hotels will only be able to limit the number of rooms available for redemption on a very limited number of nights.”
Call me a pessimist on the subject of travel rewards, but in my experience, “a very limited number of nights” is usually limited to the nights I have off for vacation.
Tim Winship over at SmarterTravel.com goes a step further, “The answer is to be found on the Marriott website: “Hotels may limit the number of standard rooms available for redemption on a limited number of days.” In other words, capacity controls remain in place. And some Marriott, JW Marriott, and Marriott Conference Centers properties are exempt from the new policy altogether.” Hat Tip to Mark Ashley at UpgradeTravelBetter.
It Gets Worse
After my post, a reader, Dan, wrote :
“You need to do your homework before you get in bed with a vendor. This Marriott Rewards program “enhancement” is nothing of the kind. Most redemptions under the new program are going up, and not just a little. a 7 night stay in a Category 7 hotel used to cost 150,000 points, but now will cost 210,000 points, an increase of 40%! And that includes the fifth night free! Further, it instantly devalues ALL of the points that have been previously earned by its members (as of 1/15/09). The Marriott program members are livid over these changes in the program. Just go to Marriott’s own message board for this topic and read all the posts”
Yes, Dan, I can see how this would be very upsetting to see your hard earned points devalued. No, Dan, I am not “in bed with the vendor”. Don’t I wish! If they would like to offer me some free nights and convince me how great their program is, I’m all ears Unfortunately, I don’t know anyone at Marriott, and that hasn’t happened yet.
I am a bit cynical, and thus I realize that all programs are devalued over time, just like inflation does to our currency. The reward game has always been a use it or loose it proposition, and at least they are giving you a few months to redeem your rewards at the old rate. When the deal no longer makes sense to you, go to Starwood or Hilton, both of which offer “no blackout dates” and “no capacity controls”
Finally, by increasing Platinum Elite Bonuses from 30% to 50%, and offering the fifth night free, they have mitigated the loss amongst their most loyal supporters and those who redeem awards for long stays.
Yes it is a mixed bag, but many programs are heading down hill fast. The worst I can say for Marriott’s program is that it may be a bumpy road ahead.