Marriott Bonvoy Has One Big Problem. There’s a Simple Solution.

A month ago I wrote that while Marriott’s website often has problems, making it difficult at times to find and book hotels, the vast majority of individual account problems that accompanied the launch of the Bonvoy program have been solved.

That leaves plenty of member frustrations. The program is so far flung with about 7000 hotels that individual properties seem to go rogue, either making up their own rules or stretching the rules of the program, and it seems like there’s little that Marriott can do about it. That’s a stark contrast to Starwood. While Starwood hotels might improperly deny upgrades, the chain had tools to compensate customers and fine properties and often did so.

And when things go wrong, either because a hotel doesn’t deliver promised benefits or because something doesn’t work right on the back end with an account, it’s almost impossible to get swift any resolution from the program. Customer service is a problem.

They have the guts of a very strong program, it delivers more value to members than Marriott Rewards did more often than it doesn’t, and Marriott Rewards itself had plenty of fans. But they are vocal complaints from passionate members — frequent guests, top elites who should be the program’s biggest fans — because when things don’t work as intended members find themselves in a sort of purgatory.

This tweet from Mommy Points is typical.

I’ve recently had members share stories of properties that tell them they do not upgrade members to suites even when their base suite is available.

One recent report was for the J.W. Marriott Orlando (“Marriott training says to upgrade one room category, not to suites”). Another was the Times Square EDITION which put in writing that suite upgrades are not offered at “our property due to limited availability of suites.”

I asked Marriott over Twitter what a member is supposed to do when a hotel doesn’t follow the program’s rules?

I was told that a member should check their privilege check the terms of the program. Umm..?

I pointed out this wasn’t very helpful, and was told to ‘contact customer service.’

That hasn’t been super helpful in my experience. I’m still waiting on a response to an email to customer service I sent in September.

What happens when you do hear back? This week another reader shared Marriott’s response over twitter saying that hotels can upgrade members to suites, but aren’t required to do so (that was the rules under the old program, prior to August 18, 2018).

I asked Marriott for their official advice on what to do when a hotel doesn’t follow program rules and was told that the member “should ask to speak with the manager of duty if they believe they are not receiving the benefits as outlined in the program T&Cs.”

It’s often the manager on duty, though, that’s the one explaining the hotel’s policy not to upgrade Platinums to available suites. So I followed up and asked, “to be clear there’s no one at corporate, at Bonvoy, who should hear or can help then?” I did not receive a reply.

Ultimately in a chain with 7000 hotels there’s going to be variance and deviation from standards. Starwood was a strong six sigma culture. Marriott historically has been good at delivering consistency, but Marriott Rewards customer service was never very good or consistent. Now with new program rules, variance has magnified.

The frustration here is that when the Marriott website doesn’t work, when the wrong points post or don’t post, when stay credits don’t post — or when a hotel elects not to follow program rules — there’s just no avenue for a member to get resolution. What Marriott needs is a simple four point approach.

  1. Continue to reach out to hotels and provide training
  2. Respond to customer concerns with empathy
  3. Refer difficult or confusing situations to an account specialist, provide a timeline for response, and meet the deadline with a reasoned and well-informed follow up
  4. Apologize when a hotel fails to deliver promised benefits and put teeth behind the apology by crediting the member with bonus points. Bill the hotel back for the points.

When things go smoothly – as they do the majority of the time – Marriott has, in my opinion, a better program than Hilton or IHG. But when they fail the issues are magnified because these failures are primarily happening to their highest volume most loyal members and because there’s no mechanism to fix the issue. That’s a problem, but it’s one that can be fixed.

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, 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. There is supposed to be an article entitled “The American airline that I am intentionally avoiding”. Every time that I click on this article I get this article on the Marriot hotels.

  2. As a Titanium Elete member I was surprised on May 5, 2019 when trying to book a room on-line at the Marriott Hotel in Monterey for June 6 – 10.. Yes they had a room, etc. but the cancellation date was May 6 or payment in full for the four night stay. I called the Titanium Elete number and yes they could help me but the cancellation date remained at May 6 or payment in full. I did not book the room. I have stayed in this hotel many times and I highly recommend you look at the cancellation policy for each reservation you make.

  3. I’m slightly off topic except to say I’m so disappointed & outraged by this new Marriott Bonvoy. Because of an article you or The Points Guy wrote last summer 2018, I booked a travel package (air & hotel) with Marriott 2 days before Marriott bought Starwood. I have purchased these pkgs at least 5 times in the past 18 years, great value, and I upgrade to Business/1st class with my own miles. The article made me aware that Bonvoy was going to double the amount of points to purchase this same package after Aug 18, 2018. So I bought the travel pkg for 360,000 MR points = 110K miles & 7 nights in a category 8 hotel. Marriott promised me they would honor this package even after they merged with Starwood. I called back 4 months later and spoke with the Marriott Loyalty Desk to confirm my travel pkg was still in tact and being honored. The agent reassured me it was and then walked me thru their terms & conditions online and we read it together…”any travel package purchased would be honored at the value it was purchased at” to paraphrase. My miles made it into my account as per usual, but when I went to reserve my Category 8 hotel in March 2019, Bonvoy told me my hotel certificate for this travel package was now downgraded to a Category 5 hotel, basically a Courtyard level ARGGGH!. After many phone calls and emails later I was finally escalated to 2 supervisors who basically kept reading from a script, “…because you didn’t attach the hotel certificate to a property it had been downgraded to a Category 5 as of Feb 2019 and the “system” will not allow us to make any exceptions or changes.” They also said there was no one else to escalate my issue to, they were the final stop, no exceptions. Surprisingly, I received a call from a Bonvoy person who apologized for my unfortunate downgrade, and offered to cancel my hotel certificate all together and gave me some of my points back to use however I’d like. Basically the value of the returned points in the new and not so improved Marriott Bonvoy system will get me 4 nights in a Cat 7 hotel, vs what I had, 7 nights in a Cat 8 hotel. Do I feel cheated…ABSOLUTELY! The old Marriott never treated or cheated me like this. Now, my husband and I want to sell our 2 weeks of timeshare that we convert to points every year since 2002 because the value of the converted timeshare points in this new Bonvoy system has us staying in Courtyard type hotels for 7 days vs the nicer higher end hotels we are used to like the JW Hong Kong, Marriott Scrub Island, Marriott Wailea, etc. It was a nice ride…Bonvoyage Marriott.

  4. I wrote earlier about the Times Square Marriott trying to charge an upgrade on a points room. When the Marriott customer service rep “fixed” it he evidently cancelled the first res and make a new one. Since we were inside the cancellation time I got a $426.++ charge on my credit card with no email or explanation. Marriott was able to fix it but it just proves my earlier point about NYC. You have to watch them all the time or you will get taken.

  5. I am upset that Marriott Vacation Club converts vacation club points for $80,000 hotel points using the old conversion rate. Vistania uses the new points system and gives 240,000 points. Marriott Bonvoy needs to change this system.

  6. Hi,
    Good article and comments.
    I’m now a Titanium for life vs a 10 year Platinum for life. I’m finding the suite upgrades don’t happen as often except at properties where I have stayed often over the years. I get a minimal room upgrade, often with the attitude that they think this really is an upgrade. Marriott ‘s new room design architecture is even more troublesome. Gone are many hotel unique rooms and quality construction. New rooms are pretty minimalist and bland. Try getting a bathroom with a tub and a king room or suite? Many are just gone. There isn’t a tub in the JW by the convention center in DC. By needing a tub, I have lost most opportunities to even get a king bed much less an upgrade. I travel for pleasure now, so I can be pretty selective on where I stay. Still staying at a lot of favorite properties, but seeing their ability gone to provide rooms I like with the bathroom I want gone.

    Suite night certificates. Have not been able to apply one at any property where I wanted to use it. I see this as an unusable benefit.

    Tried to reserve a room at one JW the other day. It showed no availability 6 months out. Called and asked about the 48 hour room guarantee and was told to wait until 48 hours and ask then. If they won’t load a reservation 6 months out my confidence in getting one 2 days out is zero.

    Last year there were a lot of properties adjusted in the system to cat 2 and 3. In March, most rolled up one category to a 3 or 4. No change in the quality of the hotel, just a loss in value if using points.

    Wonder how many millions were spent rebranding all this without any value to the customer.

  7. I agree Terry Magnin…our 2 Marriott timeshares used to get us a lot of value when we converted them to MR points each year. Now with the new Bonvoy, they’ve really increased the points costs of their hotels but didn’t increase the points value of our Marriott timeshares AT ALL… What a rip off for us owners. The best value for our timeshare now is to use your home resort or exchange it thru the Interval International system and wait, and hope, ugh. We’re considering selling ours because the maintenance cost is a value factor when converting to points now puts us into a Courtyard accommodations. With what we pay in maintenance fees I could find better & cheaper accommodations with cash. And waiting for a timeshare exchange confirmation is dreadful for a planner like me. Bonvoy wake up or your biggest fans will be sailing away!

  8. My most recent stay, booked on Marriott’s website, didn’t post automatically.
    The website doesn’t work properly. Even basic stuff like logging in takes me to a screen saying that the page doesn’t exist. It’s a clusterf***
    The website is horrid for making reservations, especially if you want to consider multiple properties or rates.
    I don’t understand why they cannot get the basics right. It appears truly tone deaf

  9. After being a Platinum Member for 20 years and now a Titanium Elite I am ready to walk away from Marriott. The web site is terrible! You cannot modify a reservations without problems. In the past 2 weeks Had to call the 800 Titanium number (which also does not work if my assistant calls the number) to modify 2 different reservations – both times the one was not cancelled and I am now dealing with the hotel and the other was not modified! I am now dealing with getting a refund as I am in a hotel in London and also because it was not modified a hotel in Israel. I was told by a customer service agent that I have to deal with the hotel on this now. Customer service agents are not knowledgeable on hotels as Marriott used to be.

  10. In my opinion….comparing the former SPG to Marriott is like comparing a Michelin-starred restaurant to a fast-food chain. Customer service and hotel desk “clerks” come across like an indifferent HR department. I’m never made to feel like a guest at any Marriott property; more like a low level staff member. The behemoth that Marriott has become has diluted their sense of hospitality to that of a Motel 6. How sad. I currently have them in a 12 month “time-out.” I may give them a try in 2024, but expect no significant improvements. Spending more nights at Hyatt and Hilton.

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