3 Things We Just Learned from Marriott’s CEO About Their Plans Now That They’ve Acquired Starwood

On day 1 when Marriott’s acquisition of Starwood closed it became possible to status match and move points back and forth between accounts at will. Here are 19 tricks you should know about Marriott Rewards.

Marriott Boca Raton

I’ve argued that if Marriott really wanted they could make their loyalty program the best in the world. While it remains to be seen what path they choose, we learned three things that should be relevant to consumers from this week’s quarterly earnings call:

  • Marriott isn’t getting rid of (any?) of their 30 brands now that they’ve acquired Starwood. Remember that more brands mean having more hotels in the same market. That grows revenue. CEO Arne Sorenson doesn’t think brands even need separate identities – he says the biggest cost for brands would be distinct marketing, but they don’t really do brand-specific marketing, marketing is through the loyalty program and customers booking at Marriott.com.

  • Improving the loyalty program does matter for such a big chain. Sorenson told me that in March and I was skeptical but it continues to be their mantra.

    They see upside from the Starwood acquisition as a result of their scale. It’s not just about better bargaining leverage with online travel agencies and suppliers, but also giving customers the option to stick with one chain and one loyalty program whereas Starwood members didn’t have the option to do that before especially traveling to many markets where limited-service hotels abound. That’s the driver of improvements to the program, capturing greater wallet share.

    Marriott may not need to be as aggressive as a smaller hotel program to capture stays since their hotels are everywhere (it doesn’t take as much work to be loyal to Marriott) but their scale gives them an opportunity to compete for every stay, and of course Hilton, IHG, and Accor are large players too.

    No doubt we’ll see a competitive response from Hilton, and IHG appears to be beginning to think about what loyalty means if the event invitation I received for later this month is any indication.

  • I think we can expect real suite upgrades from Marriott Rewards. Back in April Marriott introduced 4pm elite checkout along with its own version of SPG Moments (experiential redemption) and a test of an Ambassador program. Sorenson said they did 4pm checkout and suite upgrades and gave suites as an example more than once about what’s important to elite members.

    It seems likely when the Marriott Rewards team presents a plan for upgrades, suites will be an easy sell considering their CEO already thinks the chain added them this year.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. And you are on your high horse because he merely mentioned your blog. Get over yourself already.

  2. Ha! Sure, they SAY that they want it to improve…just like every single program devaluation comes with much buzz from the airline/hotel that they are “improving” the program, making it “more rewarding”, “listening to what our customers wanted most”, etc.!! If you believe Marriott’s BS then I’ve got a bridge to sell you!

    Well Hyatt has shown that even a smaller chain doesn’t seem to feel the need to be aggressive anymore. I’m sure Marriott will take the hint.

  3. As an SPG Platinum, there are TWO things Marriott must do if they expect to keep my loyalty: FIRST, they must offer a suite upgrade system similar to SPG or (even better) similar to World of Hyatt. SECOND, they MUST offer the same elite treatment at Ritz Carlton properties. I have no interest in being loyal to a program that refuses to recognize that loyalty at their aspirational properties.

  4. @Gary — Rather than make up something and claim it to be the gospel truth, why not just put side by side the two programs’ policies and do a simple syntactic/lexical analysis on them, and show us how they are different? You did make the same claim recently and I showed you the text (“best room available, including suites”) is exactly the same as for HH and MR programs. Are there any hidden clauses in the SPG [r.i.p] T&C that only you are aware of?

    There is truly nothing like claiming benefits more expansive than even the programs offering them know about! HGP suite upgrades are not capacity controlled…yeah, right.


  5. FWIW, I’m a SPG Plat and with my new Marriott Plat status I received an upgrade to an Executive Suite at the JW Marriott Marquis Miami on both stays there in the past month. Frankly, that’s more consistency I’ve seen from Marriott on suite upgrades than what I had experienced with SPG over the past six months.

  6. @DCS I can compare both terms and practice. Marriott’s program offers upgrades which may include suites at the discretion of the hotel (the hotel is not forbidden from upgrading a member to suites). Starwood’s program offers the best available room at check-in, including standard suites. in the former case a hotel has done nothing wrong if a standard suite is available and it goes empty while a platinum member gets a lesser room. in the latter case a hotel has violated the program rules if a standard suite is available and it is not given to the platinum member.

    Marriott’s terms say “Upgrades may include rooms with desirable views, rooms on high floors, corner rooms, rooms with special amenities, rooms on Executive Floors, or suites. All upgrades are granted on a space-available basis, as determined at the time of check-in. Upgrades are subject to availability and identified by each hotel.”

    All of those myriad things constitute upgrades, each satisfying the requirements the hotel has, and always as identified by the hotel.

    This doesn’t even get into Starwood’s Suite Night Awards where allocations are managed centrally by SPG out of published room inventory — not by the hotel.

  7. IHG will be competitive. They sent me a great Ambassador 15% off merchandise offer yesterday , where for only 1,475,000 IHG points I can get a $3400 coffee maker.

    It looks pretty snazzy and I do love a cup cup of Joe.

  8. Gary – you can’t argue with someone who lacks any rational logic. Most sane people would generally think having written guarantees into a program are a good thing…occasionally there is an outlier (like on this board) who likes to think that having zero guarantees means “unlimited/best of everything/uncapped”. Even though we of course all know in reality it just means you have a crappy program with nothing promised and everything at a hotel’s discretion.

  9. This is CHECKMATE.

    @Gary — The interpretation of the differences is yours and yours alone, because, as always, you would come up with interpretations that make your preferred programs seem better than they are. You make stuff up. There is NO material difference between SPG, MR and HH policies on suite upgrades in TERMS OR PRACTICE. You ignore what people tell you about their experiences with other programs and keep repeating the same bogus claims about your favorite programs (e.g., @John above; and I am tired of providing the link to where I document my sky-high suite upgrades success rate).

    Over the past couple of years, I have stayed at Marriott hotels 6-7 times, and I got upgraded to a suite as a “lowly” MR Gold 4 times, the very first time being at Ritz-Carlton Carlton Georgetown (DC), and I reported it at the time on discussion board for which I can provide a link to. Gotta know how to play the game!!!

    Speaking of which and of “TERMS AND PRACTICES”, you MUST READ the following from a long-time SPG Plat (Ambassador, even) and HOST OF @OMAAT, who revealed how SPG suite upgrades work in PRACTICE [link to original post in the next post] [CAPS below mine]


    How do Starwood Platinum suite upgrades work?

    Starwood Platinum members receive the best available room at check-in, including standard suites.

    The way this SHOULD work is that when you check-in, the front office associate will look at room inventory and assign you the best available room up to a standard suite. Of course THEORY and PRACTICE are sometimes two different things.

    Let me start by saying that Platinum treatment can differ greatly based on what part of the world you’re in (which is true of most hotel chains). Ultimately Starwood Platinum members are “competing” for suites, so expect more benefits at hotels with fewer Platinum members. Here’s my general experience with suite upgrades in Starwood’s three biggest regions:

    — Platinum suite upgrades are proactive and plentiful in Asia, where Platinum members are treated extremely well
    — In the US it’s hit or miss; at business hotels in the biggest cities, don’t expect a suite upgrade, while at less “popular” hotels or hotels in secondary markets, you’re more likely to get a suite upgrade
    — Europe is a mixed bag, with some hotels being generous and proactive with suite upgrades, while others will do everything they can to avoid giving these benefits

    [@DCS’s note: and what’s the strategy for getting suite upgrades as a SPG Platinum? That’s provided too!]:

    In general here’s what I’d recommend as far as a strategy goes:

    — Before the stay, check your reservation to see if you’ve proactively been upgraded to a suite, and also take a lot at general suite inventory, including how many standard suites they’re still selling
    — If you haven’t been upgraded in advance, at check-in I’d let the associate do what they usually do, and when they get to the part where they talk about your room, say “do you by chance have any Platinum suite upgrades available tonight?”
    — Assuming they do, hopefully they’ll respond in the affirmative and assign you the suite
    — They may say “no, sorry, we don’t have any available,” and at that point you can decide how far you want to take it; it can’t hurt to gently nudge them and say “oh, I see you’re still selling X number of suites online, that’s strange”

    There you have it!

    I will just conclude here with what my take on the above was when it was posted overt at OMAAT:

    “[T]his may be the first truly honest post I have seen on the SPG program from within. It gives a peek behind the curtain, and what it reveals is a program that is just like any major other, from what to expect about elite room/suite upgrades to complimentary breakfast and onsite amenities. No talks of “guarantees” or “entitlements” here.

    For instance, the “technique” described here for trying for suite upgrades is eerily similar to the one that I have used for years with great success [in fact, it was published on this very blog] to get suite upgrades at Hilton hotels as a HH Diamond (>90% since 2012) and at Marriott hotels as a “lowly” MR Gold (67% on 6 stays).

    I said the suite upgrade “technique” is similar but not identical, and that’s because my approach differs on the part about “go[ing] to battle over suite upgrades all the time”, which one would do only if one believes that one is “entitled” to suite upgrades, but is precisely the wrong thing to do and is seldom done when one KNOWS that room/suite upgrades are COMPLIMENTARY. Being aware of this allows one to “do a better job of managing one’s expectations” from the git-go 🙂
    A MR platinum elite who knows how to play the game would feel right at home as a SPG elite [I feel at home in every program 😉 ] , because there are no substantive differences between the programs, other than for those that have been artificially created or inflated.”

    BOTTOM LINE: Stop making the bogus claims, @Gary, because someone who KNOWS SPG because he practically lives there gave the away and you look silly pretending that things are otherwise or you know better.

    I’ll keep the link to this comment and will cut and paste it every time you make the bogus claim about how SPG suite upgrades are in a different world.


  10. “…because someone who KNOWS SPG because he practically lives there gave the ‘SECRET’ away…”

  11. @Doc – he thinks he does, but he is manic and delusional.

    The only person who ever agrees with DCS…is DCS. And Hilton FDCs especially love him as he likes to wave his laminated copy of the Hilton T&Cs in their face, and berate them when things don’t go his way. He is a sad individual.

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