Marriott Introduces Mobile Check-in, When the Real Value is in Mobile Check-out

Marriott’s Marriott Hotels brand has rolled out a mobile check-in app at 31 hotels so far, and will be extending it to 325 Marriott-branded properties in the US and Canada.

All Marriott Rewards members can check-in after 4 pm the day before their arrival and will receive an automatic notification when their room is ready. Because credit card information is stored within their Marriott Rewards profiles, members simply walk up to the expedited mobile check-in desk where their pre-programmed key card will be waiting for them. The mobile check-in feature is part of the free Marriott mobile app available in the Apple iTunes Store and Google Play.

While I really like electronic check-out, at the end of most of my Hyatt stays I get a link in an email and can designate my checkout time. Then I just leave the hotel, and I get an email with my bill. That is a real innovation. I don’t really value the electronic check in. (Marriott is considering adding check-out to their mobile app in the future.)

Hyatt long ago introduced expedited check-in by phone (1-800-CHECK-IN). Several hotel chains introduced check-in kiosks, I even won 60,000 Starpoints in a contest to name the Sheraton kiosk (I was first-in with Sheraton SpeedCheck).

But this check-in terminals or apps never seemed like a big value add to me.

First, because there’s no reason why the traditional check-in process needs to take as long as it does. Marriott keeps your credit card on file in your profile, so they don’t need to swipe it when you use the mobile app. But if they can keep your card on file, why not eliminate the need to show and swipe the card at the front desk, too?

And as an aside, what is it about hotels outside the U.S. needing to see and swipe your card again at check out?

At US hotels I just let them know I’m leaving (as a courtesy, it usually works just fine to leave). When they close out my folio most properties automatically send me an email .pdf of my bill. Why can’t they just do this in Asia?

Elite rooms are generally pre-blocked at most hotels, and I rarely stay places where I lack status. So the pre-checkin isn’t really even causing my room to be pre-assigned when it wouldn’t otherwise be. Hotels even sometimes pre-make the keys as well.

But second, there are reasons why I will often want the in-person check-in.

  • I want to talk my way into an upgrade, rather than taking a room that the machine assigns to me.
  • I want to learn any nuances of hotel elite breakfast benefits… is breakfast taken in the restaurant? what are the hours for the club lounge? will they offer me complimentary room service?
  • Other benefits may bear explanation, am I supposed to bill internet to my room and have it taken off the bill or do they want me to use a special login for complimentary internet?

And I certainly wouldn’t mind the check-in experience at all if they would streamline it — by keeping my card on file.

When I first became an Intercontinental Royal Ambassador member in 2006, one of the published benefits was that they would have your card on file and not have to swipe it. They never once delivered on this promise, even when checking in at a club lounge or even in-room check-in.

There are innovations to be had here, check-in can certainly be streamlined, but so far no one has delivered the functionality through an app that I can get via the front desk — the negotiation, the nuance (that may vary from published rules or may be more specific) of elite benefits.

So for now the real gains are in the true transactional interaction — check out — which I’ll use as long as I don’t have a service issue to address with the front desk.

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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. I agree with your reasons for liking in person check in; it is always worth a chance to try to talk oneself into better treatment. However, your point regarding breakfast benefits highlights something that goes beyond just check in. That is, the uneven and unpredictable application of elite benefits across properties. Those benefits are, in theory, dictated by corporate. So why can’t corporate just make them clearly articulated and universally applied? I an a risk averse person who hates surprises, particularly negative ones. I would just rather know what i am going to get…breakfast or not, lounge access or not…before I get there, so i can incorporate it into my plans.

  2. I’ve always wondered whether there are different credit card processor rules in other countries re: card present (being swiped) vs not. And in many Asian countries, they still require an actual credit card slip being signed at check-out.

  3. I recently got upgraded to a suite at the Marriott at Camden Yards on Friday when the Yankees were in town on a cat 1-5 certificate stay. That certainly would not have happened via mobile check-in.

  4. @nick – That property is listed as a category 6 on the Marriott website. Recent change, typo, or what? Just curious. I have a couple of those 1-5 certificates sitting around being useless and a weekend in Baltimore would be better than nothing (or using them at an I-95 roadside motel).

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