Marriott Has A Gap Between Promises And Reality, And The Gap Is Growing

Before the pandemic there was no greater loyalty program with a gap between what it promised and what it delivered than Marriott Bonvoy. On paper it took the best features of Starwood Preferred Guest with the scale of properties of Marriott and merged them together. And yet – even ignoring all of the IT and customers service problems that persisted for months after the rollout – the program has simply failed to deliver elite benefits consistently at the property level.

The irony of course is that before acquiring Starwood, Marriott Rewards wasn’t very generous with elites but they were consistent. The Marriott brand across the board was consistency. Now they’re the Forrest Gump of loyalty: you never know what you’re going to get until check-in. This has only gotten worse.

  • Marriott appears to be clearing fewer upgrade requests during the pandemic and they even admit their rate hasn’t gone up even with hotels empty as a result of Covid-19.

  • Marriott has suspended its elite benefits guarantee due to the pandemic, hotels don’t have to compensate you if they don’t provide the ‘guaranteed’ elite welcome amenity. @Kalbozey points out that Marriott still advertises the cash compensation on its website. They don’t tell members their guarantee benefits are suspended.

  • Marriott hotels are ignoring elite benefits left and right. For instance the Marriott Key West hasn’t been offering breakfast to Platinum members. An Ambassador member first flagged to me that the hotel would sell them breakfast but wouldn’t provide it complimentary and then I received a note from a Platinum as well. They have both an indoor and an outdoor restaurant open for dining.

    I called the hotel myself and asked and was told they weren’t honoring elite breakfast, despite having their outdoor restaurant open at 100% capacity. I asked Marriott Bonvoy for an explanation but after several exchanges haven’t gotten a response in a month.

  • They pitched keyless room entry as a contactless, safe way to stay during Covid-19 while delaying the requirement for owners to make this investment.

Several times Marriott has changed program terms without notice. they’ve devalued points, and laid off the staff who take care of their best customers.

Like Vince Offer pitching the slap chop their view seems to be that they can chop, chop, chop elite member experience to a better life.

This strikes me as inadvisable when they need to convince their best customers to come back and fill rooms more than ever. However it’s fair enough as a business strategy if that’s what they’ve chosen to pursue – if they’d be straightforward about what guests can expect. It’s the disconnect between promises and product delivery that’s become a Marriott hallmark the past three years.

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. Gary, you missed the real headline too – it’s 2021, yet Marriott can’t be bothered to confirm or update what its 2021 qualifying requirements are, falling well behind its competitors.

    IMO no loyalty program despises its customers more in the T&L space.

  2. @ Gary — And again, I am so thankful that I do not do business with Marriott. How long before Marriott is financially impacted by screwing customers? I guess we won’t know for years since the pandemic has been such a wrecking ball for hotels.

  3. I am titanium. I haven’t been offered complimentary breakfast or a room upgrade during the entire pandemic! I just stayed at the Marriott Hutchinson island and was given the worst room in my booked category (it literally overlooked a garbage dumpster!) When checking in, they told me that there was no complimentary breakfast and then followed it up with the fact that I could buy breakfast in their restaurant. I am not planning on chasing status next year.

  4. Marriott are the con man of the hospitality industry, they over promise and under deliver. Latest example is getting “platinum” status with applying for a credit card. Other chains do this, but manage to deliver on their less defined benefits. Marriott has a wide range of benefits, but fails to deliver even to those who stayed the required nights to earn it.

    Of course, if everyone is “platinum”, no one is because Marriott can choose from a variety of excuses for not delivering the promised benefits. Status without the benefits are empty promises and someone should remind Marriott that business is built on trust and they continue to squander it.

  5. Gary, and this is after spending $6,400 at an Bonvoy property for a 15-nights government-required ASQ quarantine! Could have quarantined with Hyatt or IHG!

  6. I don’t know why the Marriott members are such sheep? If you tell the front desk you aren’t leaving unless they provide the benefit they have two choices:
    1. Give you the benefit; or
    2. Call law enforcement to have you removed which may cause a scene, and which might also have the hotel make the news.

    A good practical example is the Key West you mention not providing complimentary breakfast but selling breakfast. I would tell them I’m not leaving the front desk unless they give me my complimentary breakfast.

    If members force the hand of these hotels, I don’t think they’ll opt for a scene of 4 police cars and a major scene at the front desk.

    But members so stupidly just take whatever they are told!

  7. I personally know the agency that ran SPG and now Bonvoy (I even know who came up with that questionable name), but the fault is with Marriott. Almost all of the SPG leaders left soon after the Bonvoy launch and many of the agency ideas which made SPG great are suppressed by Marriott. In the end a great agency partner who gets loyalty and built the original SPG program has been relegated to sending emails and offers.

    Note that Verizon took a number of SPG loyalty leaders and is now winning awards for their program (same agency helping BTW). Marriott wanted Starwood for their program and hotels in China. The have destroyed the program and how’s that China strategy working out?

    I have too many SPG. . I mean Bonvoy points to switch at the moment, but Hilton, Hyatt, etc. are looking better and better.

  8. I have fond memories of my last high-category travel package a few years ago.

    My last 60k points recently became airline miles. I’m done.

  9. Marriott making IHG a reasonable proposition. IHG doesn’t really promise you anything, so everything is above and beyond.

  10. This is just society overall, right now. People aren’t being punished for their actions. The scamming and hacking is off the charts. When fed or state governments aren’t enforcing the laws and punishing people for violations, everyone thinks they can do what they want.

    What company has been severely punished for violating rules/laws?

    I just saw Ticketmaster admitting to hacking their competitor (they hired an employee from that company) and all they got was a $10M fine which is nothing to a company that size. The employee didn’t even seem to get arrested or anything.

    It is a big mess out there.

  11. I would simply dispute the breakfast charge on my credit card. If it says complimentary breakfast for elites at time of booking and I am an elite at time of stay and I have breakfast then I’m not paying for it. Harder to do with room choice etc but in the case of “we aren’t honoring free but you can pay for the exact same thing” when still winning business based on false advertising, I won’t tolerate it.

  12. As a Hilton Diamond and IHG Platinum, I recently jumped on-board the recent Marriott Platinum challenge where I was given status for 90 days to see what the Marriott experience was like. Let me say, I’ve only had the status for a week, but after staying at three hotels now, the only thing the status match has taught me is how terrible the experience is as a Marriott elite. Not one property offered me a welcome gift. After asking about it, I then had to wait forever while the desk worker, clearly annoyed, had to wait for a manager, who wasn’t available, so I gave up. Despite the properties being around 15% capacity, I wasn’t offered a single upgrade as a Platinum. When I asked, they lectured me on how they don’t upgrade because the other rooms cost more. You’re put it the position of literally having to fight and beg each time you stay at a Marriott hoping to maybe receive just one of the several promised benefits. It’s stressful. It’s insulting. It’s a borderline scam, where every check in experience is just a dreaded anticipation of how you’re going to be screwed this time. It makes you hate the brand. After hotel #3 of my Platinum challenge, I’ve cancelled the remainder of my Marriott stays, thankful I learned how terrible the experience is without too much cost.

  13. @sunviking82,
    Any idea on these new naming conventions? I don’t like names like World of Hyatt, Globalist, Bonvoy, etc. I much prefer names like Diamond, Marriott Rewards, Platinum, Hyatt Gold Passport, etc. Is there truly a segment of the population that really prefers and has affinity to these new naming conventions? Did they run focus groups and find people prefer the new names?

  14. Marriott Lifetime Plat here. I gave up on Bonvoy. Will be Hyatt Globalist in the next two weeks, not looking back. Adios Marriott!

  15. @RJB… how many of us are there? I have been a Marriott loyalist since 1990. 2020 is the year I finally gave up on Marriott and Hyatt here I come. In a month or so I should be Globalist and will only step into a Marriott as a last resort. Even Airbnb is looking better than Marriott.

  16. Gary, I have to applaud you for having the cojones to actually publish posts critical of Marriott, unlike your friend TPG. So thank you for being maybe the only major travel blogger left with an actual shred of integrity!

  17. @sunviking82 – sure, Lacek Group did good work with Starwood. Chris Holdren wound up at Caesars, Mark Vondrasek, Amy Weinberg and Gretchen Kloke at Hyatt, Stephanie Meltzer-Paul at Dunkin Donuts, Krystal Zell at Home Depot… Jonathan Nouri and his predecessor at Hilton had both come from SPG… there are many more.

  18. Never once in my life did I think I would see the day when IHG – IHG! – was more consistent than and offered better customer service than Marriott. And yet, here we are.

    I’ll admit, I was never top tier in Starwood, but the consistency was there, the properties were great, and my Gold benefits were honored. Marriott has managed to ruin everything, to the point that I cancelled my Amex Bonvoy even with a balance, just so I wouldn’t have to pay an annual fee for a program and card I refuse to use. I’m aiming for Hyatt status this year, and, once international travel opens up again, will use Accor as my backup (with the dollar’s collapse against the euro, Accor’s points have become surprisingly valuable). Goodbye Marriott – enjoy your descent to mediocrity.

  19. Based in Canada, SPG was my go-to for many years, had SPG Amex and loved it. Since Bonvoy took over it’s been one disaster over another. Unfortunately Hyatt isn’t well established here. Just did a Hilton status match though, so am out of Bonvoy this year after burning my last 100K points.

  20. I own a small business and we do about 300 nights of travel a year among all my employees (about 200 last year).

    After 3 horrible stays in a row with Marriott, the last one where we had to change rooms 4 times at the Sheraton Waikiki, I finally wrote a long email to some executives about how we would be moving ALL of our spend to Hyatt and Hilton.

    They offered me 10k points…

    I’m a globalist and said if they status matched me to Titanium I’d consider coming back in the future.

    They said they couldnt do this (a month before a status match promotion). So this year, we did about 175 nights at Hyatt, 25 at Hilton and EXACTLY ZERO at Marriott properties. This makes me really happy.

  21. Titanium Elite here…
    It used to be you would call the “Dedicated Elite Support” phone line and speak to a professional who knew their program and could get you answers when asked, usually without having to research it. They were empowered to make good on promises or award points on the spot to make up for any inconvenience.
    Now when I call my “Dedicated Elite Support” line more often than not I end up talking to someone who doesn’t know the specific benefits of each Bonvoy level and doesn’t have the answers I need…ineffective most of the time and frustrating.
    I won’t be going out of my way to stay at Bonvoy properties, there’s just no benefit

  22. Marriott is a making themselves a has been. Their growth led to arrogance and a disregard of those that made it possible. There is too much competition in the hospitality industry, for one company to get away with consistently making too many promises and fulfilling few.

    Marriott’s offers may get some to try them, but quickly chase them away with their continued contempt for their guests. Hospitality needs to be a shared experience.

  23. I worked for Marriott for four years. They have always been overpriced and overrated. All the points for everything along with online only have cheapened what travel used to be. It’s one frustrating ripoff after the other. I’ve been there. Will never use EVER again.

  24. Even with (or maybe because of..) Lifetime Titanium status, I pretty much gave up on Marriott several years ago and loving Hyatt. I probably have about 25 nights over the last 3 years and those were related to a lack of available Hyatt properties in the area.
    I believe Marriott’s footprint is the only real reason they have so many “loyal” members who keep putting up with the Marriott nonsense.

  25. “Best Marriott Amex Bonus Ever”

    “247 Reasons Why I Love the Marriott Amex Uranium Card”

    “LAST DAY Marriott Amex with Biggest Bonus EVER”

    Kinda like the Four Seasons Landscaping Co

  26. I’ll add to all that is disgusting about Marriott Bonjoy they give the lowest United status to top tier elites while Hyatt gave us Executive Platinum status with American
    Did I mention they doubled the points for a redemption from a year ago @ a Ritz Carlton with no breakfast ?
    I don’t even use my free night certificates form them I hate the company so much
    Use them only to transfer points to airline miles from my Amex spending
    almost never book a room with them as poor upgrades, bad or no breakfast and twice as expensive as almost any other competing brand
    Pathetic they are as bad as the pandemic

  27. I have some Marriott travel packages’ hotel stay portion left to use, but other than that my dealing with Marriott is now extremely limited. Marriott doesn’t really seem to care to deliver on exceeding customer expectations nowadays. Instead they seem more intent upon lowering what the hotels deliver to the customers and treating customers as if still easily replaced.

  28. The only consistent aspect of the Marriott travel experience is inconsistency, even for Lifetime Titanium. Tried Hyatt last year and found greater consistency, authentic customer service and elite benefits, even at lower-tier properties like Hyatt Place. Smaller footprint of properties than Marriott, but when there is a Hyatt option, my choice is now Hyatt.

    Vote with your feet and wallet.

  29. Seems that Marriott has closed off full sets of floors with upgraded rooms/suites. This was confirmed to me by the clerk at Renaissance Indy North. No doubt this is occuring at quite a few other properties as there have been zero upgrades for me this year. Lifetime Platinum

  30. As an Ambassador Elite, my experience since March has been hit and miss in terms of benefits. Every time hotels aren’t delivering, it’s “due to COVID”.

    At 1000 nights and 9 years as PLT or above, I will continue to stay with Marriott this year (personal travel only now) for one reason and one reason only: this year will get me LT Platinum status. Though who knows what that will mean based on Marriott’s poor track record of delivery.

    Hyatt is by far the better loyalty program, especially as a Globalist.

  31. A long time ago (started business travel in 1997, after grad school), I used to pick Marriotts simply because of their consistency. I knew I could walk into a Marriott property anywhere in the world, get a pretty good bed, a nice room, coffee and a newspaper in the morning, and usually a concierge lounge with helpful staff. I could also get 24 hour room service, and stagger in at 2am from an overnight flight, get something to eat, and go to bed.

    I remember hundreds of nights in the Marriott Orlando Lake Mary, where the staff knew me by sight, and I didn’t even need to show my credit card or ID when I checked in… On many occasions, they saw me coming in, and met me at the door with my room keys!

    I remember getting into the Renaissance Prague (that doesn’t exist anymore!) and going to the Biergarten on the ground floor for a beer and their delicious goulash… and then having breakfast on their gorgeous two-story concierge lounge…

    All that is just memory. The last few Marriott stays have been… less than memorable. I had a stay where I had asked for extra pillows in my room. I check in after a long day on a show floor, and not only are there no extra pillows, they have taken all of the pillows OUT of my room! I call the front desk and they say that they’ll send them right up. An hour later, I call down again, because they still aren’t there, only to be told that they have no ‘extra pillows’ and won’t be sending any up. I tell them that I have to have at least one pillow to sleep on, and they tell me that I must be mistaken that there are no pillows in my room. I tell them that they need to have the on-duty manager in my room in the next 10 minutes, or I’ll be checking out and claiming to corporate that they had no room for me, with pictures of the room… when the manager showed up (15 minutes later!), he was stunned that there were NO pillows at all in the room… I ended up not paying for that night, got a voucher for another free night at that hotel, and got 35k points…

    As was mentioned in the article, Marriott’s greatest consistency is now their inconsistency… and this is coming from someone who is a Lifetime Titanium…

  32. At this point, if the benefits from a hotel loyalty program are an important driver of your hotel spend, you are not a frequent Marriott customer. It’s simply foolish to complain about the inadequacies of the Marriott program. They will remain inadequate. Just move your business to those competitors who provide more benefits.

  33. I figured they would bring back Lifetime Titanium qualification as a carrot to keep some customers engaged while lacking promotions and other incentives. Just hit my Lifetime Platinum on the nose, 600 nights and my years will update from 9 to 10 at some point (in 2019 most updated in March; mine did not update until after I made an inquiry in May), and I am not seeing anything to motivate me to choose Marriott properties except when significantly cheaper among similar options.

    Lately I’ve been paying a $20/night premium for an Embassy Suites because it is a real suite, not some studio and no upgrade to a real suite, and an attempt at a real breakfast. Like others, various stays past few months, no upgrades anywhere and I’ve got an oversupply of granola bars.

  34. If we are being honest the biggest problem isn’t Marriott International or even Bonvoy. Rather, the biggest problem is the structure of the company. The vast majority of all hotels across all brands worldwide are NOT managed by Marriott. They are managed directly by franchisees or third-party management companies hired to operate a franchisee’s hotel. Marriott only managed a minority of its hotels — most of them are Ritz-Carlton, St. Regis and Bulgari. Even properties branded as J.W. Marriott are no longer exclusively managed by Marriott. Likewise, a growing number of Ritz-Carlton properties are managed by franchisees or their operators. This is arguably the biggest problem. Marriott is a marketing company now, not a hotelier. It can’t control the guest experience because of its size and lack of management over most properties. Add to this way too many brands with vastly different standards and a loyalty program that requires a flow chart to understand and you have a recipe for disaster.

  35. They will only respond to revenue losses. It is a great time to ask competitor hotels, airlines, car rental agencies to match status. Just show you are truly an elite traveler and have status and they will match that level. Then take your business elsewhere. Since Bonvoy has dropped in service, removed benefits, and not been loyal to those who are loyal to them you have to move the dollars away from them. Particularly when they don’t notify you they are making things worse. We could all understand “we are losing money, we have to take the following actions and we appreciate your loyalty’. They could even say we are offering something in the future for staying loyal during challenging times. But no communication and bad surprises is no way to keep consumers coming back.

  36. @DT – your experience breaks my heart…..and echos my own sentiment. I’m lifetime Titanium and Marriott today is unrecognizable from Marriott 7 years ago. I never stayed at an SPG property prior to the acquisition; I was very loyal to Marriott. Now, I find myself staying at Hilton properties because they treat me so much better. They work so much harder for my money. With Hilton, we always get a great room, always the advertised benefits, and that’s what I value. Marriott frustrates me because they have so many wonderful properties in their portfolio, but the lack of consistency and lack of corporate action to fix issues has made me switch the majority of revenue stays to Hilton over the last 3 years.

  37. All I can say as a “Lifetime Titanium” customer is that my last 5 stays have been satisfactory, but I agree with most of y’all that the upgrade room benefit has been lacking for all if my stays. I’ve seen backlots, rooftops, and even a nice highway in most of my upgrades. It’s obvious to me, that having a room next to a family of 7 with ages from baby to teen, whilst in Orlando wasn’t an upgrade … a mention to the desk that I had trouble sleeping for obvious reasons, didn’t even get a blink from a manager. In the past, at minimum, I’d have been offered a room change, free night, or comp of some kind… not anymore. To boot, my room size has been average at best; no suites, multi-room or corner spaces have been offered, which has been disappointing. However, in light of the economic impact on hotels in general, I’ve decided to try and cope hoping that the future will be better once the virus passes.
    Just one HUGE complaint though, as room service is discontinued in most places, when I order a $40 steak for dinner, getting a plastic knife and fork to eat it with, is an absolute insult. At minimum, a rollup with a real metal cutlery set is in order. Add that to the fact my meal was delivered in a foam takeout box with salad, meat and veggies all rolling around together, and I’d have to be an idiot to spend the money on any food order at this cost again. For this matter, the hotel DOES HAVE control over the presentation of their food, or lack thereof; proving a huge lack of service irregardless as to status…. a plain common sense plan to address this dysfunction in serving their most loyal customers needs to be addressed immediately before these customers find better service elsewhere.

  38. This will be my last year chasing status with Marriott (Titanium or equivalent for last 6 years straight) and will dedicate all of my spend to Hyatt, where available. Marriott could not possibly care less about the experience of its elite members. Empty hotels where Suite Night rewards don’t “clear,” inconsistent benefits (at best), hotels opting out of benefits entirely, atrocious promotions (look at Marriott v. Hilton v. Hyatt), devaluations, no communications on 2021 status. Marriott is a joke.

  39. This is why I switched to Hyatt. As a lifetime Titanium member, I have found Marriott does not really do much at all for me. Hyatt has fewer hotels, and some of them are not as good, but the consistency of delivering on their promises is MUCH better.

  40. I’m a lifetime titanium and the company has gone way downhill from the consistency and reliability of a decade ago.

    I never get upgraded, even at properties that are obviously empty due to Covid.

    I’m tired of this “commitment to clean” garbage and the fact that I’ve got to clean my own room now. it seems like the name is a bit of an oxymoron. I should at least be able to request daily housekeeping if necessary. And don’t get me started on all the concierge lounges being closed or the bars and restaurants that are shuttered—-but room rates certainly aren’t any lower.

    I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve had some sort of an issue with the room and they promised me extra points and they’ve never shown up my my account.

    I’m ready to try another chain at this point.

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