The Brancatelli File By Joe Brancatelli
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Real Travelers Whacked by Marriott's Devaluation
Thursday, July 12, 2018 -- While most of us were doing real things--preparing for the Fourth of July, watching the World Cup, enjoying the summer--Marriott tried to slide its new award chart by us.

Regardless of what you may have read from bloggers intent on selling you a Marriott-branded credit card, the news is not great. Not Delta or Hilton rub-your-face-in-it-bad, you understand, but not good at all. And naturally it's an insult to anyone who believed Marriott's claims that it understood the power of loyalty and the importance of getting the Marriott Rewards-Starwood Preferred Guest combination right.

As you may recall, Marriott began this song-and-dance back in April by announcing only the earn side of the equation it was using to mash the two programs together. That was surely the tip-off that we were in for a devaluation far beyond what Marriott thought it could handle with a PR blitz and a massaging of the pliant blogging community.

When Marriott finally dumped the new award chart, the chattering class of bloggers was quick to sing its praises. Everyone gets a fair deal, many clucked. Travelers looking to score rooms at the most expensive/most desirable/most "aspirational" properties would be over the moon with the values they'd find.

Poppycock--and interjections stronger than that. Marriott isn't doing you any favors. With nearly 7,000 properties on the combined chart, Marriott can surely knead the numbers to support its claim that 70 percent remain at previous price levels. But it hopes against hope that you won't look too deep--and you'll somehow ignore the fact that 2019 brings peak/off-peak pricing with no way for us to know when a property will impose a high-season price.

I'm not dumb enough to suggest you can't be a "winner" with the 2019 award charts. Who knows for sure which of the bazillion properties now in the Marriott Family you want to claim? And in fairness, Marriott makes it easy to see where your preferred properties fall on the new chart. Its interactive matrix is good on current rate and does list the 2019 award category. But beware: It fudges on the 2019 prices by offering what seems to be the "average" price--not specific off-peak and peak prices. Rely on this chart instead for the fuller picture of what your preferred award properties will cost next year.

Allow me to present an alternate way to look at and assess the new Marriott structure. Immediately after Marriott rolled out the earning side of its new equation, I contacted four JoeSentMe members and asked them to pick their favorite redemption options. I added my own. My theory was simple: With so many hotels and so many different ways real people spend their points, the best way to analyze the new Marriott chart would be with genuine traveler input. How would four JoeSentMe members be affected by Marriott's overhaul of the lodging landscape?

As you can see from this chart of their selections, Marriott isn't doing right for us in the real world of redemptions:
    Of the 27 properties we chose, 11 are guaranteed to cost more, some by as much as 25,000 points per night.
    Only five of 27 properties are guaranteed to cost less or the same amount in 2019. No savings exceed 10,000 points and, depending on the peak/off-peak split, there could be no savings at all. Just a push.
    That leaves 11 properties--nearly half--in the strange Twilight Zone of Marriott's new peak/off-peak strategy. Maybe you'll pay more in 2019, maybe you'll pay less. Who knows? Only Marriott--and they're not telling.

The peak/off-peak arrangement--surely a precursor to matching Hilton's revenue-based award pricing--will determine exactly how severe the Marriott devaluation is.

Take JoeSentMe member Phil's choice of hotels, for example. He picked two properties that have been 30,000-point redemptions in Starwood Preferred Guest and, given the 3:1 Starwood-to-Marriott conversion rate, that equals 90,000 points. Marriott has placed both in Category 8 for 2019. That means the hotels will cost 70,000 points--or 100,000 points during peak periods. Anyone want to guess how often Phil--or you or me--will get a 70,000-point room at one of these Category 8 properties?

All of Sam's picks--ranging from a Courtyard in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, to a pair of Category 7 redemptions in London--are on the peak/off-peak treadmill. He already knows those London redemptions will cost him more next year. The others? Maybe a little less (5,000 points), maybe substantially more (15,000 points).

Bill and Jane can score some savings in Berlin or the California desert, but both face brutal devaluations elsewhere. Jane, a Washington lawyer who often comes to New York to see family, is partial to the JW Marriott Essex House on Central Park. She may be paying as much as 25,000 points more in 2019 for a night at that Category 7 property. Bill, a Canadian, faces the same hit--perhaps 25,000 point per night more--at his favorite London redemption, the Marriott County Hall.

I was the odd traveler out in this exercise. I was the only one to pick an Asian property, for instance, and the only one to pick relatively cheap (Category 3) hotels.

I'm guaranteed a small savings on a hotel not far from my office--I use it when the power goes out--but I'm sure to pay more at a hotel near Frankfurt Airport, where I often lay over. And heaven forfend I go back to Hawaii. Marriott's jacking the rate on its resort in the Wailea Resort on Maui by as much as 20,000 points. My only hope? Figuring out when Marriott thinks it's off-peak so I can score a room next year for the same price as this year.

This column is Copyright 2018 by Joe Brancatelli. JoeSentMe.com is Copyright 2018 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved. All of the opinions and material in this column are the sole property and responsibility of Joe Brancatelli. This material may not be reproduced in any form without his express written permission.