Marriott Reveals It’s Stuck With the Name Bonvoy: “It Is What It Is.”

Rebranding a loyalty program just doesn’t make sense when you start with both a recognizable name and a good reputation. You wind up spending nine figures on advertising, merchandising, printing, and education — all to get back to where you started, at best, which is that the median consumer doesn’t even identify which brands are part of the program.

I believe it was the New York Times‘ Ron Leiber who asked a Marriott executive to name their brands and the executive couldn’t do it. The median hotel guest can’t tell you whether Protea is part of Marriott or Hilton.

Marriott created a new loyalty program after acquiring Starwood that was a devaluation of the old Marriott earn-and-burn, and a devaluation of the old Starwood elite recognition program. However it was an improvement on Starwood’s earn-and-burn and an improvement on Marriott’s elite benefits.

They could have just called it Marriott Rewards. If they wanted to make clear that this wasn’t just folding Starwood into Marriott Rewards, they could have reverted to the program’s original name, that helpfully sounds a lot like Starwood’s program name: Marriott Honored Guest.

Instead they made up a word, and effectively asked customers to fill in its meaning. Initially members called it Bonfire out of frustration, but as the program struggled to deliver benefits or a consistent experience to consumers (which Marriott CEO Arne Sorenson calls “noise around the edges”) “Bonvoyed” took on a new meaning. Whenever something went wrong with Marriott, you were Bonvoyed. Whenever you took it on the chin in life you were getting Bonvoyed.

At the time I suggested they were looking to Stringer Bell in The Wire.

Marriott had one of the biggest data hacks in history, they’ve had ongoing IT problems delivering member benefits and even getting accounts merged correctly, and members are frustrated with the program. So what are they gonna do? Just like Stringer Bell in The Wire they’re changing the name of the product.

Now Marriott’s Vice President of Global Creative and Content Marketing reveals their internal view on the Bonvoy rebrand, as reported by Ad Age.

  • Of course it was going to be mocked. In other words they’re dampening expectations, like a presidential front runner does before a debate. He says “he would have been surprised had there not been ‘negative reaction’ to the rollout of Bonvoy, an abbreviation of the phrase ‘bon voyage.'”

  • The name doesn’t actually matter. It’s about the benefits, which are an improvement for Marriott guests not used to Starwood-type treatment such as late checkout and suite upgrades (let alone 24 hour check-in and an Ambassador service) as well as the rest of the services the brand delivers.

    “For us, it comes down to filling that name with meaning,” he said. “At the end of the day, it’s about ‘What are those benefits that we are giving to our members?’” he said, citing Marriott’s new homes and villa program, its tours and activities and a new food and beverage offering on the horizon.

  • We’re stuck with it, so why look back? Sure it was a train wreck, but what else could they have done? Accept the damage and move on.

    “We have the name—it is what it is. We have people talking about it and we have to accept there’s negative reaction.”

It turns out that The Wire is the perfect metaphor for how Marriott’s own leading brand executives think about the Bonvoy name, because of the show’s use of tautology to express a sense of helplessness and pre-determination.

Marriott’s Vice President of Global Creative says about Bonvoy, “it is what it is” and that suggests people are mere players in a game that’s not of their own construction, they have to take the world (with all its flaws) as given, and react to it.

And once you get there, any negativity is just noise around the edges.

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. For me the change has distanced the “product” from the rewards brand name. Marriott Rewards or Starwood Preferred Guest let me know it was a benefit I got for a hotel brand and loyalty for where I choose to sleep. With that connection severed and the Bonvoy program having the hotels as “members” of the program along with all the other stuff I just don’t have it as top of mind re hotels now. One ad is restaurants, another is experiences, I already have a credit card that has a pan sector rewards program, I didn’t need another.

  2. I could not care less about the name. What frustrates me about the Marriott program is the lack of ability to use points for suites. Hyatt is the best in this regard. Hilton at least has the option. I’ve gotten killer suite upgrades as an Intercontinental Ambassador. I’m a Marriott loyalist because of the footprint, but there are way too many elites to get regular suite upgrades. And I don’t care as much about them when I’m traveling for business.

  3. We have become de-sensitived to devlautions in points/loyalty so that is just a given. What really ticks me off if when properties simply refuse to honor the benefits that are stated in the Terms and Conditions. IMO, they should just formalize the devaluation and say we “may” or “might”offer upgrades if we feel like it.

    “Suite upgrades, Sorry we don’t have any.”

    But its 11 pm and you have lots of suites and other upgraded room available FOR SALE on your web site. What do you mean we don’t have any?

    “Well actually this hotel doesn’t participate in that”

    What do you mean by that?

    “Dunno. I’m just told that we can’t offer upgrades for free”

  4. The changes in point redemptions are so high it silly. Sheraton Mexico City and other category 4, showing 50,000 but cash price of only $85. How does that make sense. The points rate is double what it has always been. Worse, this completely devalues the “one free night up to 35k” for renewing the credit card. Basically its worthless. This is the pure essence of being Bonvoyed. There are too many rewards cards out there, to continue using one that Bonvoys its loyalty.

  5. Actually so far, I’ve had a much different experience with the new Bonvoy program from the serial complainers like the ones making ludicrous comments on this post. As an Ambassador elite, my experience has been nothing but outstanding. All this complaining about the combined program simply demonstrates the short sighted, grass is greener on the other side, sour grapes attitude from entitled imbeciles.

  6. To be fair, I think the inability of folks to identify who Protea is attached to has more to do with it being a solely African chain (which I had to look up, to be fair) than any particular branding issues attached to Bonvoy per se…though that particular issue might also be down to Marriott having too damned many brands.

  7. Upgrades-yeah right. Haven’t been upgraded since new program started. LT + suite upgrades non existent. 10 to use by end of the year and keep getting denied. Front desk staff is good at telling you they value your titanium status.

    Oh well free breakfast works for me.

  8. I mainly value the M or concierge lounge benefits. All businesses are reevaluating their loyalty reward program. Starbucks raise the required points for drinks and charge even more for sandwiches ect. They risk losing good customers, I make press coffee at home for 50cents, I use to chase the points to get 70 shots of espresso to use for a few weeks(add water and heat), now the limit to 12 with online or 28 at the reg. I’m good. Bonvoy may go soon too for me.

  9. Will a real Ambassador Elite member step forward, please.
    We are and we have had one dilly of a time. The Ambassador program failed us big time after the Marriott merge.
    Last August, September 2018, these folks were not only changing over programs, their email system was changed, their internal communications system changed, their computers changed, their phone system changed. Our Ambassador could not function.
    They cannot call a hotel to help you now. They can only email their team in that location and they’ll get back to you.
    It was sad for us too, we did all that travelling over the years to earn lifetime (which apparently is a non-existent, non quality) to have at Bonvoyed, but earning Ambassador and having the service drop off like that is Marrioyed. Very sad indeed.
    Hopefully some new management will get on board and begin fixing these.

  10. Ever since acquiring Starwood, the Marriott brand has taken a noticeable turn for the worse. There are far more issues with room cleanliness, which seems to be a constant problem at what were once good brands (Residence Inn, Springhill Suites, Courtyard). The points required to redeem free nights has become an absolute joke. And yes, the name is horrible. Whoever signed off on paying a dime for that name change should be fired. I now know what marketing and branding company to never use.

  11. How many millions of dollars did area pay some Hotshot Ad Agency to come up with such a worthless name. It reminds me of when NBC had a new logo drawn for a couple of million dollars only to discover that it was already copyrighted by a high school art class in Nebraska

  12. I lost Ambassador status in March, but in all honesty the merger caused a downward trend. With SPG my ambassador responded almost immediately after the merger days would go by without a response. I had to rely on myself to get anything done. As I rarely travel for business, the $20K is steep especially in Asia where a category 5 might go for $65 US. Still, I’ve bought into the gamification and hoping to hit the target in October.

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