Odd: Marriott Says They’re Fulfilling Suite Upgrade Requests At The Same Rate As Last Year

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!

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.

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. I guess that makes sense. Probably a combination not just of unspent travel budget but also a desire to have more room at the hotel knowing you may be spending more time in the room if things like bars or certain types of attractions are closed.

    On some routes I’ve been flying (ie JFK-LAX) I’m anecdotally seeing a lot more paid J amongst non business flyers as of late as well- again, probably due to a desire for more social distancing on the plane + unspent travel budget + more affordable premium cabin fares currently

  2. What’s the point of booking a suite when Marriott still can’t figure out a consistent breakfast benefit? You have no idea what to expect. In fact, most limited-service brands like Fairfield are offering a more consistent breakfast across all properties than purported full-service branded properties with closed restaurants and no club lounges.

  3. @FNT Delta – does your life and travel planning really focus on breakfast?! SMH – people skip breakfast or go get a piece of fruit. You will feel better and your waistline (and health) will thank you.

    On upgrades I can only speak for myself but I am lifetime Titanium and have been upgraded to the best available room (almost always a suite) at every Marriott property I’ve stayed in since March! Saving my suite night awards for a trip booked to Lisbon in late April (optimistic I will be able to go)

  4. I’m titanium w/Marriott, and my wife and I have been taking long weekend vacations all during the pandemic in rental cars from our NYC base. Based on a terrific suggestion from another reader of this blog, I’m now in the habit of checking on the Marriott app for available suites while sitting in the parked car before walking in to register at the front desk. If a suite is available on the app for the duration of our stay, and if the clerk then says none are available (and this is surprisingly common), I lay out the facts (I’m Titanium, a suite is available, so please process the upgrade). So far every time, we get our suite upgrade (if one is available on the app). A few times I needed to call the 800 line to get the clerk in the right frame of mind, but that’s what I have done and it works very well in my experience. By the way, I just reached 77 nights with our trip to Poughkeepsie (featuring hiking at Minnewaska State Park) last weekend – so we’re set for next year!

  5. “More smaller?”

    C’mon Gary, your grammar was always better than this.

    Mrs. Smith
    Your 8th Grade English Teacher

  6. How can I use my anniversary yearly free nights award category 5 for staying at a category 6 hotel. Moab utah.

  7. I’m Titanium … that group in the middle that wasn’t mentioned. Marriott is ldefinitely NOT upgrading like they used to. In the current reservation I have they actually tried to lie to me to avoid upgrading me by saying that during the dates I had requested that the type of suite I had requested was sold out but that there was a slight chance in the middle of my 5-day stay that one of the suites might open up.
    I had an SNA request pending but every once in a blue moon if I just inquired through the chat after app check-in or just call them directly they will upgrade me anyway sometimes upgrade me if the SNA request hasn’t officially gone through yet so I will sometimes get an upgrade and I don’t have to use my SNA. However, at my current hotel “magically” the next day after inquiring about my pending SNA request all of a sudden 3 of that same Suite opened up. And no it wasn’t just as simply as all three of those people suddenly just give up their reservations. They are actively not trying to upgrade many people and in some cases are flat out lying to people. But because of the pandemic they are using the reasoning pretty excessively imo at this point that staff is low and that it takes a crazy amount of work to clean certain suites.

  8. Imagine that. Someone actually paying for the room type they want rather than demanding it or feeling entitled to it.

  9. Upgrades will be impossible once normal travel resumes because there are too many platinums and titanium right now what with all the status-matches, status-challenges, and credit cards that come with status. I can’t even begin to imagine how many platinums and titaniums there will be in certain club lounges.

  10. I’m Marriott platinum. At Ritz Carlton Half Moon Bay a few weeks ago used my 50,000 point cert for one night and was upgraded to a top floor ocean view over the patio.

    But a few weeks earlier stayed at a Springhill Suites (all rooms are pretty much the same I guess) but got no points, no gift and a view of the parking lot.

  11. I work at a hotel in reservations and we have been selling out of our suites to locals looking for a staycation, so many times suites are not available for upgrades. Also, our restaurant and ballrooms are closed now and the only thing we have left to sell are the suites. All you Marriott Bonvoy guests should feel ashamed since hotel industry has been devastated by pandemic!!!

  12. Not buying it for a second. Many properties have been very clear to me that suite upgrades are not happening due to Covid and the additional cleaning required, reduced housekeepers, and time involved in readying a suite. They are fine to let people pay for it, but they are not giving them away given the reasons mentioned.

  13. Ever since the SPG merger, nothing surprises me about Marriott. No suite upgrades for elites during historically low demand? Quelle surprise! More reason to avoid them…as if we needed one.

  14. Gary, I’m sure you know that Marriott increasingly now has high floor rooms, slightly larger rooms, better view rooms, etc. as part of the SNA pool. A “successful” SNA no longer means a suite w/Marriott.

    I wouldn’t trust a single thing they say. No credibility.

  15. I use my SNA’S for when I go to Hawaii to get that ocean view when you actually want it. Usually not a suite just a room with a better view.

  16. Not true!! I have requested three different times and during slow times for 2020 and I am a Ambassador

    Honestly over Marriott ways! Good luck marriott in the recovering of loyal clients!

  17. I think the story you are underselling is that all Elite benefits have been suspended by orders from corporate. That essentially makes the whole program meaningless.

  18. Well done Mr. Leff. You explained this perfectly. This is completely true. Working in the hotel industry, I can say that Resort and higher Category properties are operating as normal if not busier than before the global pandemic. Certain benefits or compensations have been suspended but you can view the terms and conditions of the Marriott policies on their public website. Members that call the properties to bully agents and front desk employees into upgrading their rooms before arrival are just entitled bullies. Yes. They may upgrade you, after you harass multiple people to get your way, but they aren’t obligated to, upgrades are based upon availability and the computer algorithm. Breakfast benefits per property can also be viewed online. If you have an actual problem, if a human forgets to compensate you, or there is a system error, please be understanding an know that mistakes can be made and be kind in your request to correct the error. Entitlement looks ugly on everyone. Thank you for explaining this.

  19. @Jade: Actually, you are almost 100% wrong. Marriott Bonvoy’s terms and conditions have NOT been updated to reflect changes to benefits, including suspension of some benefits because of coronavirus. Admittedly I haven’t looked for a few weeks, but they weren’t updated the last time I checked in late September or early October. Additionally, many if not most properties have NOT updated their property page on Marriott.com to explain what is and isn’t open. This includes the “what to expect” information. A minority of properties have done this, but certainly not all properties. Especially at full-service brands.

    @Stvr: As I understand it, Marriott reimburses properties a certain amount of money per guest for the breakfast benefit in a restaurant. This would explain why properties have no club lounge or restaurant open for breakfast. Corporate does not want to spend any money right now unless it absolutely has to do so. I would know that some of the full-service branded properties in Europe and China have returned to normal with club lounges, restaurants, etc. But domestically in North America, I don’t think I have heard of or read of a full-service property providing anything. However, some limited-service properties at brands in which every guest gets a free breakfast regardless of status are providing a normal breakfast because presumably there is no cost to corporate.

  20. @FNT Delta The terms were last updated in March 2020. They still plan to honor their terms in the long run, they have TEMPORARILY suspended some benefits and compensations. And yes, the website does list information on Dining options. If you don’t see am option for food/breakfast on their website, it’s because they most likely do not offer it at this time. Here is are 2 examples: https://www.marriott.com/hotels/hotel-information/restaurant/satsw-fairfield-inn-and-suites-san-antonio-seaworld-westover-hills/
    *this shows they can’t serve food, due to local order

    *This is the main page of a hotel, it show a Hotel Menu with Dining info listed. ALSO, why are you still wanting to travel during a pandemic.

  21. I’m a Titanium Elite. I’m at 80 nights so far in 2020. Very few upgrades, if any, and rarely a suite upgrade.

  22. Unbelievable that many are complaining about getting a free upgrade during a pandemic that has devastated the hospitality industry and caused massive unemployment. All just entitled brats that demand their points, suites, breakfast and concierge access from a free program. There may be 20+ Ambassadors checking in on any given day and each think they should get it. Having to make a point that you are a Titanium, Platinum, Elite whatever is a douche move….especially if earned by stays your company paid for.

  23. @mm: Its not a “free” program. The quid pro quo is that I did backflips last year (and every year I’ve been Titanium) to stay in Marriott properties including on business trips paying the difference above federal per diem out of my own pocket and traveling to/from a venue much further than otherwise. And for non per diem business travel, it IS my company, as in last year while earning this year’s Titanium I was the majority shareholder. Yes, despite the pandemic, an agreement is an agreement, and I have zero shame in expecting the Marriott corporation to stand by the t’s&c’s of their agreement. If a room better than what I reserved is being offered for sale when I check in, then I should be offered it. QED.

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