I’ve heard from a number of Marriott Bonvoy Platinum and Ambassador members who have shared that they aren’t getting upgraded like they’re used to. That seems surprising at first. With the hotel industry in an unprecedented crisis of low occupancy, an upgrade should be easier than ever to come by!
- Marriott offers top elites not just upgrades on arrival if available, but also “Suite Night Awards” where a limited number of nights each year the member can request priority for their upgrade. If it’s available within 5 days of arrival, it will be confirmed by Marriott out of published inventory for the hotel.
- At the beginning of the year I took a deep dive into How Suite Night Awards work, what games hotels play with them, and why they don’t always clear.
Fewer elites traveling mean fewer Suite Night Awards should be requested. Fewer people traveling should mean fewer suites booked for cash. In other words, less competition for more rooms. Yet that’s not the impression I’m getting from members, who seem to feel their requests are being denied even more than usual (and the frequency with which members succeed in using these awards has been a complaint dating back to their introduction as part of the Starwood Preferred Guest program).
In some cases I thought, perhaps, that hotels may be taking entire floors out of inventory when they’re empty to save on costs, and if those floors are the ones with the suite types eligible for upgrade … if a room isn’t for sale it isn’t for upgrade either. That doesn’t seem to be what’s happening though.
I asked Marriott about this, and a spokesperson confirmed that members aren’t being upgraded more frequently this year – but they’re also not having their requests denied more often either. They offered instead that “[t]he percentage of [Suite Night Awards] fulfilled this year is nearly identical to last year.”
So what’s preventing members from getting upgrades more often during the global pandemic? According to Marriott, what travel there is is concentrated in domestic leisure destinations, and people are booking paid suites there at a higher clip than normal.
While travel and occupancy are down, it is not universal. Properties located at leisure destinations (beaches, now ski, for example) have much higher occupancy than urban destinations and are receiving significant SNA requests. In addition, at these same properties we also experiencing higher volumes of guests booking upgraded rooms. We believe that because people are spending less on travel but still have great desire to getaway when they can, they are more willing to book upgraded rooms at these sought-after properties rather than change their travel plans.
Westin Napa Verasa Suite Living Room
In other words, the number of hotels people want to use their Suite Night Awards is smaller than usual, and while there may be fewer elites traveling there are also many of the rooms those elites might get upgraded into being paid for by other guests.