Last year while skiing at Beaver Creek, CO, we admired the ski-in/ski-out Ritz-Carlton Bachelor Gulch from afar. Knowing I am far too frugal to pay for a stay–the cash price is around $1k per night–we set out to travel hack our way into a free stay. Luckily for us, the The Points Guy had a timely tip that many Marriott category seven hotels, including this Ritz, would be bumped up to category eight. We used the Bonvoy points advance to lock in a category 7 redemption before the deadline. It was a no-brainer because the rate would change from 60k points/night to 85k (or more) points/night; over our three night stay, that amounts to at least 75k points, which is equivalent to opening one additional Marriott credit card. After briefly celebrating another excellent travel hack, I put this reservation on the back burner while we opened another Marriott credit card to fill in our points balance. After receiving the minimum spend bonus, I logged in to apply my points to the points advance. I quickly noticed two potential problems.
Problem #1 – it auto updated to 85k points/ night
Marriott changed the redemption to 85k points/night instead of the 60k listed at the time of booking. I foresaw this issue thanks again to the same post from The Points Guy, so at the time of booking I took a screenshot to document the 60k redemption. I contacted Marriott via secure email and they credited me 75k points (three nights x 25k points/night) and then fulfilled the points advance. Problem #1 averted.
Problem #2 – the cancellation policy sucks
The second problem was the strict cancellation policy. I didn’t foresee this issue–probably because I was busy patting myself on the back instead of reading the fine print. The cancellation policy reads as follows:
Please note – Bonvoy awards redemption policy-If cancelled within the cancellation policy, a penalty equal to the dollar amount of the full reservation will be applied. Points will be refunded .
You may cancel your reservation for no charge until MM/DD/YY (30 day[s] before arrival)
Yikes. If we have to cancel within 30 days of the trip, I am on the hook for approximately $3k. That is scarier than skiing down Beaver Creek’s Grouse Mountain! (Check out the feature image for a view from the top).
The fix – use the right credit card to secure the reservation
At the time of booking, I didn’t have my Chase Sapphire Preferred (CSP) card with me (and I didn’t have the card stored in LastPass), so I just secured the room with a card I had on hand. That was the wrong choice, because that particular card does not have trip insurance. I tried to manually change the credit card to the CSP–since it offers $10k worth of trip insurance–but Marriott’s website wasn’t having that. Luckily Marriott customer service was able to quickly make the change. Now if we have to bail within 30 days for a reason covered by CSP trip insurance, we are off the hook.
If you also booked a room using points before the category change, I recommend checking your cancellation policy and verifying that you used a card with trip insurance. If you used the Bonvoy points advance like I did, you might want to square away the points/night issue before changing the credit card. It’s probably safer to guarantee the better redemption before rocking the boat by changing the card.
One additional thought – don’t cancel a CSP card early
This endeavor reinforces the benefit of using a Chase Sapphire (or similar) card when booking travel on points. One thing I hadn’t considered was that I will eventually want to close my CSP so that I can re-harvest the signup bonus. It would be a potential disaster to secure a trip with the CSP and then inadvertently cancel the card before taking the trip. I have since done two things to avoid this situation:
- Store my CSP card in LastPass so that I can use it to secure future trips. Previously we only stored the credit card with an active minimum send requirement.
- Record any trips secured with the CSP in the LastPass credit card notes section. This way I can verify that it isn’t tied to any future trips before canceling it.
Hopefully this info helps someone in a similar situation.
Just after discovering this issue, I also found a post from The Points Guy discussing the strict Bonvoy cancellation policy. The one bright side is the Ritz-Carlton Bachelor Gulch only has a 30 day cancellation period. Some other properties apparently have up to 61 days!