Marriott Rewards Launching Huge Marketing Campaign Worldwide, What it Means for Members

Marriott is launching a new ad campaign tonight during NFL football centered around its loyalty program and members. They’re not focusing on the features and benefits of members, but people who are members having experiences at their hotels. The campaign will run globally including in Canada, China, the U.K., Germany, Mexico, France, Brazil, and India.

There’s something meta about marketing your marketing program. But in some sense they’re marketing the Marriott brand as both global and personal, something that enriches lives, which is a great message as they pursue closure of their deal to acquire Starwood since they want to reassure Starwood members of the value in the program and because as a result of that deal they’re revisiting and enriching many elements of the program.

The messaging is “No matter where you go, you are here” and it’s supported by a dedicated website. Maybe it was too much Buckaroo Banzai but I always thought this was “No matter where you go, there you are.”

I’ve long thought that hotels especially could humanize their marketing. I talk in terms of calculations most of the time but programs create life experiences for people that they couldn’t have on their own. That’s true if you’re traveling more than you otherwise would, staying in nicer places than you otherwise could, and doubly true now that Marriott has introduced experiential redemptions modeled on Starwood’s SPG Moments which leverages a large company to gain access to things an individual member couldn’t likely arrange for themselves at just about any price.

Here though they seem to be focused on members having experiences, and in the initial spot at least failing to connect that to specific ways the program enhances the experience or how what the unique selling proposition of the program is compared to others.

“We are inspired by our Marriott Rewards member stories and are thrilled to showcase their joy of travel in our campaign,” said Karin Timpone, global marketing officer, Marriott International. “By having members tell their stories in their favorite locations, they bring our portfolio to life in an exciting way. From diving in the Caribbean, exploring the canals of Venice, and experiencing the natural beauty of South Africa, our members show the allure of travel.”

In the hotel space no one is better than Starwood at giving voice to members. Marriott probably runs hotel revenue forecasts better, but Starwood creates a sense of identity with its hotels and through its member stories. While Marriott will be taking over most functions at the corporate level, they’d be wise to retain Starwood’s (and especially SPG’s) branding capability.

Nonetheless, I love the signal that comes from highlighting their rewards program. It’s a major investment, even if it’s not an investment in benefits per se. And even if I’d rather then invest in telling me whether they’ll adopt the simple changes which would make them the best hotel loyalty program.

Marriott Rewards reportedly has 57 million members, which is huge for a hotel loyalty program, it’s about 3/4ths the size of American AAdvantage prior to its merger with US Airways. Fewer than 20% of AAdvantage members were also members of US Airways Dividend Miles, so the combination gave that program 100 million members (not 100 million active members, however). It will be interesting to see the overlap between Marriott Rewards and Starwood Preferred Guest.

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. As a lifetime platinum in both programs , count me unimpressed. The elimination of desks in many Marriots (and in my formerly go to place, Renaissance Boca Raton, dressers and night stands with drawers) to “appeal” to Millenials, has alienated me.

    The reward program was cheapened for many years in a row (elimination of BOGOs, dramatic cutback in Platinum amenity). If they were genuinely interested in improving there program, they could just reinstate those perks, whose loss caused much public anguish among their loyalists. I trust them as much as I trust AA.

  2. As a lifetime platinum in both programs , count me unimpressed. The elimination of desks in many Marriots (and in my formerly go to place, Renaissance Boca Raton, dressers and night stands with drawers) to “appeal” to Millenials, has alienated me.

    The reward program was cheapened for many years in a row (elimination of BOGOs, dramatic cutback in Platinum amenity). If they were genuinely interested in improving they would restore those cuts, which caused much public anguis among members. I trust them as much as AA.

  3. Why almost all Marriott hotels look exactly the one in the picture above. That pinkish building looks so dated and unappealing. I try not to stay at a Marriott if I can.

  4. Where’s the pokemon go player that they “sponsored?” There should be a clip of him catching rare pokemon at a Marriott property.

  5. In reward or loyalty schemes I prefer the saying: “If you’re not first you’re last” Sorry I couldn’t help it.

    I often wonder if companies like Marriott actually use focus groups to test some of the stuff they come up with. OR….if they do use focus groups are they using those survey victims at the local mall which is basically the weakest people that can’t manage to get away or say no. I wonder.

    I actually like Marriott but then again I typically stay in roadside motel level places like HIX or Fairfields. I would stay at Hampton’s but that is a whole other story as to why that is a waste of time if I actually want to earn enough points for free stays.

  6. @justlooking — I am certain that @stvr was being sarcastic.

    There is simply no value proposition and it is utterly silly to get a card, the Chase RC visa, with an AF of $450 just for the MR Gold status the first year and then to have to spend $10K yearly thereafter to maintain a status that won’t get you breakfast as often as the HHonors Gold status would for 1/5th the AF, not to mention getting a free night at any category Hilton hotel for spending $10K yearly…

    The demise of SPG is clearly causing the “thought leader in travel” to lose a few marbles 😉 His wishful thinking of late has been for MR to completely gut their stable and mature loyalty program by turning it into a SPG clone, not realizing that would make MR awards, which now cost about the same as HGP’s or HH’s, by far the most expensive in the business — like an order magnitude more expensive.

    I am quite confident that Marriott will not turn MR into a SPG clone. They can read customer satisfaction surveys and I am sure that they aware of reputable surveys that have consistently ranked MR top or near the top, while ranking SPG last or next to last.

  7. Airline *rewards* programs should be doing this kind of thing.

    IMHO, the marketing appeal is about what new experiences something like this can open me up to. A hotel gives me a bed. An airline cab take me anywhere in the world.

    Back in the day, AA could have pushed the hell out of the one world awards. That was a rather unique thing they could have made a great buzz off of. “Look what advantage can do for you!”


    I would expect one lacking relevant business experience to initially confuse loyalty program with the broader company as a whole…but keeping repeating such false claims smacks of desperation.

    Of course, when said person is crying out for years about how great HH is, and no one ever seems to listen, I could see how desperation emerges (google “Hilton Diamond Force” for a good laugh).

  9. I have stayed at many Marriotts as a Gold elite and in my experience have gotten upgrades to suites that were incredible. Hilton Gold which I am also pales by comparison. Starwood Gold which I have also is a crap shoot, but still not as good as Marriott. I hope that Marriott when they absorb Starwood keeps the Marriott perks.

  10. @Richard – of course Marriott Gold > SPG Gold, as the latter can be done easily in 10-15 nights, whereas the former takes 50. SPG Gold also had some better benefits over Marriott Gold, such as the guaranteed 4pm check-out.

    The SPG loyalty ethos has already started to percolate into the MR rewards one, and will likely be best in class ultimately, with an array of perks and *guarantees* that suckers doing 60 nights in Hilton properties can only dream of…

  11. I must repeat: I am an equal “opportunity opportunist”, who will book my personal or award travel/stays based on which loyalty programs give me the best value for my chosen itinerary or redemption plan. My redemptions always mix hotel chains and thus loyalty programs, in most of which I have status…

    I am a HH Diamond, earned the hard way. HH is my #1 program because it is by far the best run, the most stable and the most rewarding for people like me, who know how to play the game and can take full advantage of the program’s “wide open” rules. The dirty little secret, in fact, is that whenever a perk is “guaranteed”, it means that program wishes to intentionally RESTRICT it. “Guaranteed” 4 pm checkout means a property will deny a request for 6 pm checkout because 4pm is the OFFICIAL limit; 4 “guaranteed” suite upgrades mean that a property will deny a request for a complimentary suite upgrade because the T&C state that complimentary upgrades exclude SUITES. That, in short, is why find guaranteed perks to be a weakness and do not care to have my perks “guaranteed.” As a HH Diamond I have never been denied a late checkout request and have even been approved for checkout as late as 6pm (3 times in a row at Hilton EZE). That’s what I expect from a rewarding program. Not superfluous and perk-restricting “guarantees”, but to have a promised perk delivered when I need it…HH “Diamond Force” is a prime example of such perk.

    Like I said, I have status with most programs, which means that I benefit from REAL enhancements in any of these programs. In the unlikely event that I do not requalify for HH Diamond status, I will have HH Gold status through the HH AMEX Surpass or the AMEX Biz Plat. I have SPG Gold status through the AMEX Biz Plat, and Marriott Gold through RewardsPlus as a UA 1K, 1MM and lifetime UA*G. I also have the HGP Platinum status, but am embarrassed to even claim it when I stay at Hyatt properties 😉

    In short, it is a win-win for me because ultimately, I will just go with programs that give me the best value on personal travel — a disposition that allows me the luxury to be objective in my evaluation of various programs.


  12. “From diving in the Caribbean, exploring the canals of Venice, and experiencing the natural beauty of South Africa, ” You certainly don’t need Marriott Rewards for that. The really good experiences are auctioned which means they go for the highest price that anyone will pay and require an outrageous number of points.

    @GLeff I don’t know why a savvy traveler or one with access to credit card concierges would benefit much from SPG Ambassador status or maybe I’m using it improperly. SPG75 is the best level in that program.

  13. @john I have a Hyatt Private Line agent from back when any Diamond could request one (I’m grandfathered from like 7 years ago). I find it really convenient to email them to make reservations and search for availability that I can’t do online. That was super helpful before cash and points was on the hyatt website. But it’s especially helpful for combining bookings at different rates into a single reservation, setting up diamond suite upgrades, getting upgraded reservations repriced. Or adding a second guest name to a reservation. I hate the phone, I like emailing the agent and they’re pretty competent.

    Others get their agents to do a whole lot more for them, negotiating specific rooms with individual properties I’ve heard. If I have points missing from a stay, maybe a diamond amenity doesn’t post, I shoot off an email and forget about it because it’s handled.

    So how would I use a Starwood Ambassador? Not sure, I’ll find out since i’m at 90 SPG nights year-to-date… I’ll also find out if upgrades happen more frequently, they have to be prioritized among platinums somehow.

  14. Gary, it’s great to have a single point of contact for all your needs, it’s truly a differentiator vs. other top-tier status levels. And nice that it looks like MR will be including this benefit. Sometimes it takes a day for mine to respond, so if I want something done instantly, I just call and get someone from the Ambassador line.

    As I posted in another thread, I’m 17/31 in room upgrades this year in the US (jr. suites/suites…I don’t count “club floors” as an upgrade), where of course it’s much harder to get UGs generally relative to Asia where they are given out like candy. And that reflects zero badgering of any hotel FDCs, ha.

  15. It is nothing more than a glorified designation for your garden variety elite-dedicated point of contact…

  16. I see “guaranteed benefit” jealousy rearing it’s ugly head again (sniff) 🙁

    Just about all frequent travelers appreciate defined benefits being written into a program…but not all I guess.

  17. You cannot possibly be so stupid as to fail to understand the very basic fact that when a perk is “guaranteed” it is essentially restricted because it takes away other options. To suggest that I am envious because of something I see as a restriction is betrays brain fog so thick nothing edifying can get through.

    I appreciate benefits that are written into programs. However, I also recognize when a benefit is written into a program intentionally restricts it. For instance, while HGP “guarantees” 4 DSUs per year, the program also explicitly states that complimentary upgrades at check-in exclude suites. It does require rocket science to figure out that HGP’s intent is to restrict or limit how many suites upgrades they give away a year.

    Let me say this again so that you are clear: I view so-called “guaranteed” perks as a programmatic weakness and not a strength. You can choose to believe that or whatever you wish to believe, but you can pretend that my view on this is anything other than what I have stated it to be.


  18. Once again, your lack of business experience acumen is coming through. A guarantee sets a minimum FLOOR with a benefit…I’ve checked out at 10pm at night and at 8am in the morning, I’ve received 10+ Presidential suites the past 5 years…I even received an invitation to a Prince Harry event from my Ambassador (they do all sorts of great things you’ll never get to experience). I don’t think you’ll encounter too many other frequent travelers who would prefer that everything is subjective WRT benefits…that’s why most sane folks see the lack of differentiation between HH and Diamond. Want to check out after 12pm at a Hilton property, and they’re a bit full or they just don’t feel like it? Tough S, it’s not a benefit.

    It’s very Trumpian of you to insist it’s just some conspiracy that precludes any hotel from going above and beyond, which many do for SPG elites (once again, why true road warriors and those who appreciate truly unique properties love the brand). I’m sure there’s no shortage of Hyatt elites who have also received suites and better rooms when hotels want to go above and beyond.

    (and BTW, your Diamond Force raving was de-bunked by an ex-Hilton employee who posted in your IF thread…oops)

  19. LOL. The one who sounds ‘Trumpian’ is you peddling some half-backed notion of “business acumen” just as the buffoon does. “I know more about ISIS than the generals.” LOL.

    “Business acumen” has little to do with how one plays this game, which I am playing at a very high level, not only because it is tailor-made for folks like me, but because I critically weigh ALL my options, almost scientifically, to try to maximize value. Whether you can see the obvious or not, perks that are “guaranteed” are a programmatic weakness because the intent is to limit their benefit. Period.

    Maybe if you’d sold your notion of “business acumen” to SPG they would’ve survived and thrived. However, SPG is now gone because it was structurally a weak program, weeded out by the economic Darwinism. Hang onto your memories of SPG while you they last because the notion that MR will be turned into a SPG clone is a pipe dream…

    Now, go away…please.

  20. Holy Christ…you really don’t understand the concept of M&A activity. Not worth the time to explain it as it will fall on deaf, obstinate ears.

  21. M&A is how SPG stopped being SPG and became MR, but thanks for finally getting it and leaving me alone.

    Good luck!

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