Marriott Says They Won’t Let Hotels Ignore Suite Upgrade Rules (Crack Down on JW Marriott Guanacaste Resort)

First reported by joseror, the JW Marriott Guanacaste Resort published a policy that they would not upgrade Marriott Platinum members to suites despite terms and conditions of the program saying Platinums are entitled to suite upgrades if available.

There are always going to be hotels that are more generous than others with respect to elite benefits. However this wasn’t just a non-compliant hotel, their policy not to comply was explicitly outlined on the Marriott website and in the Marriott app.

Please note – Marriott Rewards upgrades based on availability at check-in. Upgrades are granted to next room category not to suite.

While Marriott’s terms say that “Suite upgrades are excluded for Gold Elite Members” for Platinum members the terms say the upgrade is “to the best available room” and that “includes suites.” There are exclusions, but they do not include J.W. Marriott hotels generally or this resort specifically.

Platinum Elite Members receive a complimentary upgrade to the best available room subject to availability for the entire length of stay at the time of check-in. Complimentary upgrade includes suites, rooms with desirable views, rooms on high floors, corner rooms, rooms with special amenities or rooms on Executive Floors. At The Ritz-Carlton, suites are only included for Platinum Premier Members and rooms with direct Club access are excluded. Enhanced Room Upgrades are subject to availability and are identified by each Participating Property. The Complimentary Enhanced Room Upgrade for Platinum Elite Members is available at all Participating Brands except at Marriott Vacation Club, Marriott Grand Residence Club, Aloft, Element and participating Vistana properties.

JW Marriott Guanacaste Resort, credit: Marriott

Customer service on Facebook though confirms this hotel doesn’t upgrade to suites, “We have checked and this hotel do not offer Suite upgrades” And a Flyertalk member posted his twitter exchange confirming the hotel’s policy with Marriott — and being told that Platinum benefits do not require hotels to upgrade to suites.

Just as I reported Marriott customer service making stuff up about travel packages last week, I knew this couldn’t be right. So I held off reporting it, reached out to Marriott on December 31st (knowing it would take a little bit of time with the New Year).

And a Marriott spokesperson tells me that “JW Marriott Guanacaste is removing the sign about suite upgrades. We have reinforced the policy with them.”

Marriott is huge, on a path towards 7000 hotels, there are going to be properties that skirt program terms and as members we shouldn’t patronize those hotels. It can be hard to address hotels that ignore member benefits in any given instance. In the case of the JW Marriott Guanacaste they were so bold (and honest) as to say so, making it actionable. Now we’ll have to see if they actually honor program terms in practice.

Marriott’s customer service representatives don’t seem to know program rules unfortunately. They often make up information or repeat inaccurate rumors.

There is nothing new about this stemming from the new program or the integration with Starwood. There are just a lot of (legacy Starwood) customers who aren’t used to this, just like they aren’t used to waiting on hold for an agent.

If you don’t get an answer you like — or you’re told information that conflicts with what you think you know about the program or that seems new — it’s important to verify the information. That’s true with any loyalty program, and even any large company but it’s extra true with Marriott.

Towards that end, I’m told that Marriott is going to “make sure the[ social team] understand[s] that this is not our policy.” Platinum members are entitled to suite upgrades when available except where specifically excluded by the program terms.

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. Good job not reporting that response from customer service until you had the official word. I’ve found their service to be abysmal compared to SPG, and that’s starting to be a real deterrent.

  2. FWIW, I called Marriott customer service on the 31st to see if they could cut a day off a stay later this week at my current rate without me having to, essentially, rebook online for a higher rate for the two remaining days. I am currently a Plat Prem and a Lifetime Plat. Given all the complaints here and elsewhere, I was girded for battle.

    I called the supposed Plat number and got a human being within a minute. She greeted me by name, understood my request, and proceeded to call the hotel directly and got them to change the reservation to a day later at the same rate. Absolutely perfect customer service.

    Again, FWIW.

  3. That JW will probably still not give anyone a suite. They will just say there aren’t any available. Lord knows many a Marriott has told me that to my face while I hold my phone up showing suites still for sale for that night at 4pm as I am checking in. Even after going into the back office to “double check the availability” of the suite I show them on my phone, the best I have ever gotten in that situation is an apology that the website is showing the availability of a suite “in error.”

  4. Who should I email at Marriott to report a suite issue? My specific issue is that my SNA’s were accepted and I was confirmed via mobile check-in to a top-tier suite at a specific location. Upon arrival, I picked up my key at the desk and I was downgraded to a standard room, and my SNA’s were not returned to my account.

    I escalated the issue with the property manager who messaged “corporate” to return my SNA’s, but feel that this was completely inappropriate overall.


  5. Nice that there was someone who was satisfied with Marriott customer service(sic). In my few contacts with them, I’ve found them to be woefully uninformed and equally unhelpful.

    The arrogance of Marriott management is unbelievable and intolerable, but let’s hear from the apologists.

  6. What I’ve heard happens sometimes is the SNA upgrades clear but then after arrival at the property you find the upgrade not quite as good as what was supposedly confirmed by the SNA’s. And then it’s basically impossible getting the SNA’s back…

  7. @Patrick – contact a Starwood Lurker on Flyertalk. If you don’t have an Ambassador, that is the only way you will get any CS from Marriott these days.

  8. Did Marriott have crummy CS pre-merger? Genuinely asking since I was SPG before the merger. Is there any hope that they’ll get it together, both from a CS and IT perspective, or is this the new normal?

  9. Any general manager who wants to cheat will just cite a much-ignored provision of the Marriott loyalty program terms and conditions that allowed “local policy” to override any benefit or aspect of the loyalty program. There’s no requirement that the “local policy” has to be posted or disclosed.

  10. Individual property owners will continue to exercise significant control over their properties despite Marriott’s efforts at “enforcement.” This directly from property owners I know.

  11. Thank you for reporting this. Bloggers like you help keep these companies honest.

    You are correct that Elite Guests from the Starwood side are not used to this blatant flaunting of the terms by properties nor are we accustomed to frequent misinformation from Customer Service. Marriott has IMHO done a lot of things right so far and they have an opportunity to create the type of program Sorenson touted when they announced the merger. But to be successful and win the hearts (and dollars) of the SPG members they spent so much to acquire they need to consistently enforce their terms. (And invest in IT that works !)

    Let’s hope things improve in 2019!

  12. I have had the website is showing suites that aren’t really available lie told to me a few times. I even said what if I were to book it right now, what would you do – the answer was apologize and offer to put you in a regular room. I even called Marriott and they said the person responsible for inventory control “loaded too many rooms to the website”.

    Also, I haven’t had much luck getting 4pm late checkout – Guaranteed? If available?

  13. “In the case of the JW Marriott Guanacaste they were so bold (and honest) as to say so, making it actionable. Now we’ll have to see if they actually honor program terms in practice.” – They will barely honor it. Meaning they will pay lip service to it and may do it for a plat guest on a one or two night stay, but if someone is booking a week long award or just booking an award when the hotel is pretty full I’m pretty sure they will just deny them the upgrade. Its clear some property owners don’t want to abide by this policy. Its one thing to get a hotel to take down a sign. Its quite another to get them to consistent upgrade plats to suites.

  14. Bottom line is this: There are too many Platinums now. Too many Lifetimes. And it keeps growing. I checked into the Ritz Carlton in Vienna tonight and two Platinums were in front of me all complaining about upgrades. No doubt though that the experiences of the past with SPG and Marriott when they were separate were very different. Everything now feels like a factory. I’m gaining more and more respect for Hyatt and missing the days when real brand competition meant actual love.

  15. @Rob—you are a fearmongering complainer who will do yourself and the rest of us a huge favor by avoiding all Marriott properties for the coming year. You’re so sure that it’s a systemic conspiracy, so there’s no reason to bother, right? First, you shouldn’t stay at the offending JW Guanacaste. Pretty easy for most of us. Second, since you’re so sure it’s a conspiracy, you’re best to just switch to Hilton. Enjoy.

  16. I am one more year of status from Lifetime Platinum and that will be all that keeps me at Marriott this year (that and I have a great relationship with the hotel I frequent the most).

    Well, at least I thought that would be enough to keep me there – I just stayed at the Grand Hyatt DFW for one night on a certificate from earning enough nights for Explorist this past year (currently a Globalist) and on that completely free stay I got upgraded to a suite, walked in to find a bottle of red wine, AND was given $35 per person for in-room breakfast the next morning. At an airport hotel on a category 1-4 free night certificate? Wow.

    Meanwhile I go and spend $200-300 per night at a higher tier Marriott property and never see so much as an extra water bottle. Even when they call me to tell me I was their “most frequent guest of the year” at this particular property.

    So, a huge part of me may be saying screw you Marriott this year – we will see. They said they wanted to maintain the SPG level of service and they need to figure out how to do that this year if they expect to keep us – even with their huge footprint.

  17. The Marriott Ko’Olina Beach Club doesn’t explicitly honor elite benefits like late check out and room upgrades. Hopefully that will
    also change.

  18. Re: late check-out…people, it is widely known that neither 1) resorts nor 2) convention center properties have to grant a 4pm time. And this was the same for legacy Starwood. This is similar for Hyatt and other chains too I believe (except Hilton which of course doesn’t guarantee it to anyone).

    Doesn’t mean that you can’t still ask…I have gotten late checkouts at Starwood resorts and 6pm check-outs at regular hotels.

    Focus your energies on where Marriott properties are NOT in compliance…

  19. I’m worried about the fact that it took someone like yourself to get Marriott to take this seriously. What are you supposed to do, be the Marriott upgrade vigilante?

    I sense that Marriott and the owners of the hotels are going to come to a new arrangement in the new program: no upgrades to suites for 50-night platinums. I just get the feeling that Marriott corporate is going to lose this battle given how resistant so many of the owners are (and the sheer number of platinum members out there). It wouldn’t shock me if we returned to a system closer to the old gold/platinum divide: free breakfast/lounge access to 50-night people and suite upgrades for 75-night people and above. But we’ll see, I suppose…

  20. It was just too easy to get Platinum this year so the Marriott ecosystem is flooded. Any United Gold which could be achieved via match got Marriott Platinum. If they actually want to deliver on the promise the SNA’s should only be given after 50 & 75 actual heads on pillows nights not credit card, meetings, events & promotional nights which is currently the case.

  21. SFO-FF. Do you really believe every Hyatt will have a bottle of wine waiting in your room, upgrade you to a suite and give you a breakfast coupon? It happens every blue moon so don’t count on it again.

  22. @Nick, I agree with you on all accounts but one…meetings. As a small business owner that books meetings and small trade shows across the U.S. the meeting planner incentives are key for me. I spend a ton of my budget on sales and catering which is, in reality, the bread and butter for most hotels. They would get massacred by Hyatt and Hilton on this if they removed it. I, for one, would never book another meeting at a Marriott brand.

    I think the suggestions here of making Platinum more exclusive and difficult to attain is the answer though. Raise the bar and give us breakfast and actual REAL upgrades in return.

  23. Now, if they would do something about another group that seems to negotiate the fact that they won’t comply: Vistiana managed properties. If you want to see how much your loyalty doesn’t matter, go to a Vistiana managed property. Grrr.

  24. @SFO-FF, I’m with you. I’m close to Lifetime Plat and after I get that, I’m going Hyatt/free agent.

  25. I’m sorry any of you bother with the loyalty thing. I’ve given up on everyone and will just buy the seat I want and the hotel room I want.

    Starwood was terrible about this….why should Marriott be any better.

    IHG Ambassador , for which you pay $200 and get more than $200 in benefits yields upgrades more often than most loyalty programs where you have to stay a specific number of nights.

  26. We are lifetime Platinum Elite with Marriott and sometime book with points. Twice we have been told now that when one uses points, upgrades are not available.
    Anyone else encounter this or know the policy regarding this?
    thank you

  27. I just hope for more consistency. To be honest we are not talking about all their hotels. Many brands don’t have suites. But tbh if you were the hotel owner would you want to give away your top revenue rooms every night when they have a reasonable chance of being rented? Middle ground here possibly.

  28. Happened to me again this morning at the Ritz Carlton Cancún – “we only upgrade one category level.” I had to remind the staff that is the old rules, not the new rules. They quickly adjusted (because they were trying to pull a fast one), but said we can only provide a Ocean “View” Suite, not Ocean “Front,” because you only booked an ocean view room not an ocean front room. Each property keeps making up new rules as they go along…

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