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Update: via PR statement to One Mile at a Time, Marriott is offering the 30k refund option to people in 6, 8, and Tier 1-3. Thanks to all those who encouraged Marriott to take this course. It would be nice to have the reciprocal buy up option, too! Note that various attempts by myself and others, the part in the Marriott statement that packages can now be attached to stays does not as yet appear to be correct.
Following the reactions on blogs and social media, there has been a surprising level of hating on people who booked Marriott Travel Packages prior to the August 18, 2018 and then were disappointed with the big unveil of Marriott’s mapping of those to new award categories.
“You were playing a game.”
“You were speculating.”
“You were exploiting a loophole.”
Plus the usual ‘I told you so’ snark.
Those who got it ‘right’ had their boasts.
Some major, influential sites were silent (to protect access to Marriott PR?) or more interested in self-congratulation than advocating for their readers/customers (updating that, like Marriott, sites can have a rethink to their stance).
I’ll consider the compulsion to hate on other points travelers in a separate post. Let’s stick here to Marriott.
Gaming vs Maximizing
A definition of ‘gaming’ a loyalty program is along the lines of: a deliberate action outside the intended use (defined by published terms and conditions) to cause an outcome unintended by the loyalty program.
A definition of ‘maximizing’ a loyalty program is along the lines of: a deliberate action within the intended use (defined by published terms and conditions) to maximize rewards from the loyalty program.
Where gaming violates the published terms and conditions, the loyalty program is within its rights to take punitive action according to its terms and conditions.
In contrast, maximizing may be beyond the spirit of what the loyalty program intends to award, or beyond the imagination of the loyalty program designers, yet is not a terms and condition violation so no punitive action should be taken. Changes to terms and conditions in response should only be forward-looking.
Gaming by Whom?
In the case of Marriott Travel Packages, if anyone was playing a game, I’d argue it it was Marriott, not its customers.
Let’s first understand Marriott Travel Packages as they were.
Marriott Travel Packages to August 17, 2018:
- Marriott Travel Packages were a published award redemption with pricing that was stable for multiple years
- Marriott ran occasional bonus miles offers on Travel Packages, most recently in November 2017
- Marriott allowed upgrade and downgrades of Travel packages for the published point difference so that customers could book preferred properties as their plans and/or specific hotel award categories changed
- Marriott allowed award stays at hotels to be book with or without sufficient points in the account, and to have a Travel Package later applied
- Marriott did not exclude any properties from Travel Booking (though some had limited availability for all types of awards)
- Marriott, upon request, frequently extended expiration of packages beyond the original one year.
Add airline miles to these attractive terms and you can see why Travel Packages were popular with Marriott Rewards members.
Travel Packages were a great deal for some. They were no loophole.
Now let’s recap the recent timeline.
Marriott-SPG Rewards Program Combination and Travel Packages:
- April 16, 2018 Marriott announces ‘unified’ loyalty program to take effect in August 2018
- July 5, 2018 Marriott publishes Maximize your points as our programs become one this August, which includes “Enjoy Travel Packages. Travel Packages now include all SPG hotels. Until now, SPG Nights & Flights applied only to SPG Category 3 and 4 hotels. Starting in August, Marriott Rewards and SPG members can redeem points for airline miles and hotel stays at any of the 6,500 participating hotels. This offer continues to be one of the richest offers among travel loyalty programs.”
- July 5, 2018 Marriott releases new Travel Package pricing, effective August 18, 2018, which continue the program though at increased point prices and reduced airline miles
- July 25, 2018 Marriott announces the combination date is August 18, 2018, with that the first day to book award stays at any SPG properties
- August 10, 2018 Marriott confirms various reports and PR statements that existing Travel Package mapping to new award categories will not be announced before August 18, 2018, and further, that from then to September 18, 2018 no unattached certificates can be applied to stays
- August 15, 2018 an official Marriott/SPG representative on FlyerTalk stated that existing packages will not be allowed to be upgraded or downgraded from August 18, 2018
- August 18, 2018 Marriott publishes mapping of existing Travel Packages, which shift categories down 1-3 levels and group certain categories so that people who paid different prices under the old scheme receive the same new category.
Many of these statements from Marriott have not been officially published on the Marriott main website, instead coming from Marriott PR representatives, Marriott representatives on the official Marriott Rewards Insider forum, and Marriott representatives on SPG.
Holders of travel packages have not received any official communication from Marriott since August 18, 2018, so are in the dark unless actively seeking information.
What a Game
Marriott knew the intense interest in Travel Packages by their customers, even touting it is a great award to take advantage of prior to August 18, 2018.
Marriott knew, but refused to make public, how the Travel Packages would be handled from August 18, 2018.
Anyone hoping to book a SPG property with a Travel Package, and the addition of SPG properties to Marriott is the headline benefit of the merger, had no option but to speculate what would be an applicable package.
My example is the Sheraton Grand Hiroshima that we want to stay at this winter. There is no legacy Marriott property in Hiroshima. Marriott published that this hotel would become a Category 5 under the new chart.
What Travel Package did I need to book to get it? 6? 7? 8? I booked a 6 and it turned out a I needed a 7.
Marriott had a good laugh on me and squeezed 30,000 points out of me for a Category 6 that is now worth no more than the Category 1-5.
I’d be happy to buy up at 30,000 points to get what I wanted. Or, to take a 30,000 point refund (small cost to Marriott) to see about using it for other plans. Funnily, this would have all be within the rules of the old game.
Am I really the one playing a ‘game’?