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. These are exactly the same issues I face as a lifetime platinum. I give the front desk one opportunity to fix the issue and then I trash the hotel in an online review. sometines they care and I get the benefits I earned on the next stay

  2. I have requested my “years platinum” be corrected by 1 at least 4 times now.

    They don’t even send anything after the canned response.

    Hilton, IHG, Hyatt, are all earning more and more of my business.

  3. So Marriott Bonvoy is really Marriott Malvoy?

    Side: The dumbest program name I have encountered. I am already heartily sick of their advert that is thrust down my throat on every AA flight.

  4. Thank You for sharing what is clearly the worst part of being a Marriott customer at present
    I don’t trust them and scared to book a reservation unless I know the property personally
    A complete breakdown of customer service in every department
    Its as if Spirit Airlines or American Airlines is running Marriott customer service perhaps worse!
    The regular current consumer channels are unacceptable in how Marriott is handling everything from Consumer Relations (there is none in fact)
    Answering Bonvoy questions, competent agents who can book or modify.
    I go travel agents the service is so bad on the so called elite line
    Hope they will get their act together over time but sadly I doubt it.The company is in a free fall
    not believing in quality human resources, training and brand and program assurance
    For today Ive upped my business with Hilton and Hyatt as I don’t see any light at the end of the tunnel.Corporate has lost complete control of the programs and their hotels
    Breakfast upgrades it a complete mess no consistency and meeting or exceeding expectations appropriately as they should

  5. Marriott thinks they can ex communicate their members and we’ll beg to come back.

  6. Good article, Gary. I just returned from Germany, having stayed first at the Sheraton in Nuremberg and then the Marriott in Hamburg. The Sheraton folks are still friendly and try to please and followed the rules on the upgrade. The Marriott folks did not want to please, broke the upgrade rules, even when I pointed out a chart of Membership Benefits to them, and they didn’t care. “At our hotel, we don’t upgrade to suites. You booked an Executive Room and that is as high as you can go.” (There were Junior Suites available. The irony is the Sheraton was a Level 4 and the Marriott was a Level 6, yet the Sheraton was head and shoulders above the Marriott in any category I could think of. Go figure. It is possible that Marriott has created a monster, like the New York Central and the Pennsylvania Railroad did when they merged. The Penn-Central failed.

  7. “It’s all just noise around the edges.” But it may also be the sound of foot steps of those leaving…

  8. Just got done with a one night stay at the Marriott Grand Flora in Rome at the end of our trip and spent 20min at checkin arguing for a suite upgrade (lifetime Titanium here). They were insistent that they were sold out but they seemed confused when I pulled up the app showing that they had multiple room types for sale including suites. After going back and forth with the manager they reluctantly agreed to move us into a high floor superior room, but still not the suite that was showing available. When I asked what would happen if I booked the suite that I could see they kept saying it wasn’t available.

  9. Vote with your feet. Easy Hilton Diamond status mixed in with Hyatt and the occasional airbnb or booking is my strategy.

  10. Thank you for this post. Before the merger, Marriott did have an office of the president where one could lodge a complaint and from my past experience, it was very good. That number is now out of service… go figure!

  11. Lifetime Platinum before merger, now life time Titanium. Stay at the same Marriott property in Zurich for many years. They were much accommodating before the merger.

  12. There are two additional routes of appeal for US companies.
    1) The legal department. If they become aware of their onerously written terms and conditions being violated, by customers or franchisees or, even worse, corporate owned properties, they may quickly settle the matter in your favor.
    2) Board of Directors. Once BoD becomes aware of intentional violations of contracts with customers, they may choose to act. They cannot choose to say they were not aware.
    Practically, these desk encounters will need much more written and photographic documentation, from the hotels denying service. Without that, you only have an argument easily explained away as a misunderstanding or miscommunication.
    Front desk staff will be blamed, later, for managers actions.
    I already blame the program for not providing or offering a standard 6sigma level form that the hotel can provide the customer that states what the customer requested and why the hotel denied it. Since that form is not offered to the customer, we can all assume that the customers versions of these events are correct.

  13. The Marriott website sucks compared to what SPG had for making reservations in any city with more than 5 properties.

    My top complaint is that it is extremely slow to load. Simple things like looking at the map view to see which properties are located in which areas – hovering takes too load the name of the property. Zooming takes too long. It randomly zooms back out. The problem is exacerbated if you want to check multiple rates like AAA or points or a corporate code – there is no efficient way to compare multiple rates on multiple properties.

    Literally I am often just booking at Hyatt without making the effort to compare Marriott because it is too much PITA (and because I value requalifying at HY more given the mediocre Marriott Bonvoy experiences.)

  14. Great post and point. There is something systemically wrong with the program. Like many, I’ve had numerous issued related to mistakes on the IT side or ignoring their own terms (for example refusing to honor their guarantee compensation-after several months and numerous phone calls I was told by an agent that the case tickets were still open but it will probably stay like that forever if the hotel doesn’t want to give the compensation that their rules outlined-I had corporate give me points to compensate for some of it). An eye opening conversation with one customer service rep may have indicated the structural problems. She seemed much more knowledgeable than most. She mentioned that she was Sherwood pre-merger and that they had authority on the frontline to fix a lot of these little things (status mistake, etc.). But after the merger all of that authority was taken away and centralized at corporate (which is the exact opposite of what more successful companies do). So, now there is a backlog of issues at the central clearing area and no authority to fix things at the front lines.

    For what it’s worth, I still use Marriott and have good experiences (mostly at Ritz which is like a separate program thankfully and Sheratons), but find myself definitely looking modest Hilton and Hyatt more (and I am typing this from a room in the Intercontinental Wharf in DC right now-highly recommended new hotel and development).

  15. Another example; no blackout dates at majority of SPG legacy brands with limited exclusions and the terms explicitly detailing what the exclusions are (and nowhere saying there are other exclusions).

    Yet, hotels per a supervisor I was referred to after calling my ambassador indicated that hotels were allowed to limit standard room types available on points. E.g. only make standard doubles available and exclude standard king and queens. Happened to me recently. No standard two queen rooms available on points, despite being clearly available if I wanted to pay for them. I was compensated with additional points as a courtesy… but my loyalty continues to be severely tested!

  16. I have to say: I find it surprising that more haven’t left yet. I’m already at 37 nights for Hyatt this year.

  17. Side note: and I’m writing this from GH Atlanta, where I was updated to a suite.

  18. For anyone who made Starwood work before size-wise – Hyatt can work just as well. 40 nights and counting for me. I miss Starwood but Marriott killed off that magic.

    7,000 properties or whatever sounds great in theory but Marriott can’t get its S in order.

  19. I am a 20+ year Platinum through Starwood/Sheraton i.e. Platinum for Life

    After my Marriott experiences, I only stay with my old Sheraton’s or associated hotels. Still great service and the benefits I always had. I have also stayed at non-Marriott named hotels. I found they were gracious and honored the status. But NO named Marriott,s.

  20. Hilton looks better than Marriott, when you are staying at a Marriott. I’m a Hilton Diamond and a Marriott lifetime Titanium. I’m currently staying at the Drake in Chicago, a Hilton property. I reserved a basic King bed room, and got a basic King bed room. No upgrade, and a view of the building across the side street. Oh, well.

  21. They’ve got a lot more problems than that. The program is ridiculously complicated; trying to figure out which properties give you a breakfast is bad enough, let alone an upgrade. In addition, they almost never have best in class hotels in their price range. Every property I look at is overpriced compared to the competition and has reviews about being dumpy. The points earning on credit card spend dropped to a pathetic level, so spending for Platinum isn’t worth it. But you don’t even get breakfast with Gold status. So I stopped caring about Marriott.

  22. I had an issue and reached out on facebook. I was told that they would happy to document the issue but could do nothing to sort it out with the hotel. I’m just a lowly platnium, but why bother with that even?

  23. I spent 3 months to add 2 missing stays, but they told me I didn’t registered on plantinum status challenge. Who want spent another 3 months deal with customer service. I moved to other hotel chain.

  24. As a lifetime Titanium…earned at SPG…I first thought that the merger was great because it gave me a much wider choice of hotels. I now try to stay at only formerly SPG hotels. With the new destination charges, the bill is always wrong. I feel sorry for the people at the front desk who have to sort all of this out at check-out. I usually make some comment about how much I miss SPG, and I often get a knowing, sad nod in response.

    SPG was good while it lasted……..

  25. Glad to read this article…just experienced this with the Sheraton in Bali, Indonesia. We were told that no upgrades were available when there were clearly plenty of suites for purchase on the website. Very disappointing. However, at the Marriott in Yogyakarta, we were treated like royalty. Upgraded at check in and given all the perks!

  26. Has anyone realized that Marriott really prefers one not to call them? Their new Bonvoy cards have no phone numbers in the back…..and I am one of those elite members with an ambassador!

  27. I reserved a room at the Times Square Marriott on points through the Marriott customer service number. I am a lifetime Platinum member and had a suite upgrade bonus. Marriott Times Square e-mailed me and thanked me for my direct reservation with them and stated the final charge would be $156.++. I called Marriott back and they got the charge dropped but that is very sneaky on the part of the hotel staff and they should get a slap on the wrist from Marriott. We did not get the suite upgrade either. It’s kind of what I’ve come to expect in the NYC world.

  28. Marriott didn’t deliver on a small number of points for me. The part that bothers me is Customer Service just not caring.

  29. There are so many changes with the way I have been treated as a Lifetime Titanium Elite from the old Starwood program that I am going to start using my million points and go elsewhere. It’s not worth the frustration. The final straw was the change in the way customer service just does not care because they are so big now you do not matter as much as you use to. They have taken away the no blackout on free rooms which was a great perk for Starwood. Also almost every hotel in their chain now charges money to park your car (even a courtyard). I am going to take my loyalty 75-8- nights a year somewhere else.

  30. The merger has been such a mess for me as a frequent traveler and I desperately miss Starwood and its customer service. I can’t even get the app to acknowledge my points, so i’m forced to go online to book hotels, which is often an inconvenient challenge.

  31. I was basseyto the City of Hope for liver cancer surgery and stayed one night at a Marriott close to the hospital. The first night a Tuesday they had happy hour and a free breakfast in the morning. I had to stay another night at a higher rate and no free breakfast. I was told only for higher paid guests I pointed out I paid more but they didn’t care. Moved to Embassey suites for the duration of our stay in the area.

    My Marriott number is very very low like 4 digits

  32. I think the issue is the Marriott became too big too quick. They simply can’t handle what’s going on. I would guesstimate that there are at least 500,000 lifetime titanium Elite members, all clamoring for their upgrade or their special privileges. Gary, do you have any idea how many lifetime titanium members there are with Marriott? Certainly, I think it’s too many for them to handle. I’m one of their lifetime titanium Elites and I’ve just started going to Hyatt. I already have status with Hyatt and I’m going for Lifetime with them. They are much nicer, almost always upgrade me without me asking, and are pleasant if I have an issue. Though, Hyatt seems to be on a buying spree, and all of this may change! Soon, we’ll all have the privilege of being treated like dirt from every hotel chain!

  33. I can not even get the GM or the Director of Operations at Renaissance Chicago O’Hare to call me back after leaving them multiple messages and after contacting Customer Service who told me they would for sure call me back. And this had nothing to do with upgrade. It was about the front desk telling me that Fed EX makes daily stops at the hotel, therefor I did not need to call them. As a result the material for my meeting did not get there until 3 days after the meeting.
    They really do not care. They just give lip service. If they treat their best customers ( I spent 101 nights at Marriott last year) this badly I can not imagine how they treat a once in awhile guest. Hilton and Hyatt would love to have our business.

  34. I am a Marriott Titanium Elite member, and have stayed with Marriott properties way more than 1000 nights in my lifetime. When I dial the number for Titanium Elite members, I encounter the most difficult “phone tree” that I have ever encountered with any company. It requires answering multiple questions (each one leads to the next question), and in the end the phone system tries to solve my problem. Listen, I know how to adjust/change/make/cancel reservations easily. The only reason that I call their 800 number is that I have a problem/need (often very urgent) that I need help with. I rarely call. The last thing that I need is a nearly impossible to navigate phone system. Very very poor customer service for their top customers, I think.

  35. 15 Year former Marriott PT employee. Their “guarantees” are a joke, have been denied every time I applied. Used points at a highwayFairfield. The next day I get a call from accounting saying that their property(Fairfield) is Category 4 and I didnt have enough points.
    I used to try to stay at Marriott over loyalty but that is only reciprocated one way.
    Customer service is a joke. But they beg for the Freddie referrals.
    Rule #1 Business goes where invited and stays where well treated.

  36. Marriott used to like to tout their success at the Freddies so that is where I directed my disappointment with the BonVoy program. From the recent Freddie results it looks like I was one of the few who took the BonVoy performance into account when voting. I am not sure if they do really care but if Marriott takes a nose dive in next years Freddies I am guessing they might start to listen to their elites.

    Agree with the comment on BonVoy being the dumbest name ever. Someone must have thought cutting the term short was cute but I just cringe every time I see it.

  37. Marriott does not acknowledge or upgrade and I never ask. SPG was way nicer, so I continue t stay at non-Marriott hotels. They kept getting my credit nights wrong, each time I call my account has been updated and again its wrong, so I gave up. Last month when I stayed at a Courtyard by Marriott, I booked 2 rooms then cancelled 1 way in advanced, at check-in I was asked if I have booked 2 rooms and I said 1 has been cancelled. I was charged a no show. I have to produce the cancellation email as proof otherwise they won’t refund me the money and now I have to wait at least 6 weeks for the refund. I have started to stay with Hyatt and IHG as my first option and then SPG hotels

  38. I have had good luck with my Ambassador helping me. The Renaissance Times Square kept my upgrade certificate even though they told me that I didn’t get the up grade and it would be redeposited. Then they said I did get an upgrade– to a high floor. But my Ambassador fixed it in 5 minutes.

  39. I’m a 25 year Lifetime Titanium. I’ve been or have been top tier at other hotel chains- Hilton, IHG, Starwood back in the day, etc. I’ve learned that none of them seem to realy do better than another. It’s at least a part-time job in keeping up with points and stays, and ensuring the credit lands in the account, fighting over promised bonus points. When checkin in, if there are bonus points involved, I have to ask to make sure they put those in, because If I don’t, they won’t show up. Here it is May, and I’m still going back and forth with those buffoons over a 5000 point bonus from last AUGUST. I keep hearing things about Hyatt, but they are few are far between. I left Hilton 10 years ago, gave them back my Diamond status over a constant battle in getting promised/earned points. I give up.

  40. I used to alway be recognized as a Platinum member and now Titanium member but now I am surprised if they give me a bottle of water. We have used Marriott as our corporate hotel chain for more than 20 years but are now considering other chains because of not only service but costs. I have had two recent clients complain about the nightly costs. When a Pasadena, CA. Residence Inn is over $400- a night, I can understand the clients pain. We recently stayed at the Marriott at Heathrow and we had terrific service and a very nice upgraded room.

  41. Article is spot on! Currently trying to get night credits for two previous stays, nobody cares. Getting to the point were I don’t either and won’t stay at their properties anymore…

  42. Lots of obvious issues with the merger. Bonvoy is a bad name. Not sure they did marketing research on that one. I have yet to talk to anyone who likes it. Secondly, as this is a new merger I am trying to be patient with them but in the short term switching to Hilton (highest level with both Hilton and Marriott) until billing, credit cards, upgrades, customer service etc get cleaned up. Usually a drop off in business and increase in complaints corrects poor service over time. Hopefully they are not too big to care, but that often happens in these mergers. Currently, it is so bad you would think they brought in a Delta Airlines consultant to help them.

  43. Just a couple of weeks ago I encountered a breach of Marriott policy in Italy, which was rationalized by “The rules are different with the resorts”. A series of calls to the Platinum Desk did not produce free breakfasts — a trivial cost to the property, but the ill will generated will not be forgotten. Hyatt and Hilton never play those cheap games.
    Marriott’s current attitude of not caring is reminiscent of PanAm during its decline. The customer service reps were arrogant and would do nothing to rectify obvious problems. During the last year of PanAm’s existence, the attitude changed markedly for the better, but it was too late. The freefall trajectory was too powerful to reverse.

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