St. Regis Chicago Thought It Found A Loophole To Skirt The Marriott Bonvoy Program. It Didn’t.

One Mile at a Time writes that the new St. Regis Chicago thought it had found an ‘elite breakfast loophole’ allowing them to avoid providing breakfast to Marriott Bonvoy Platinum members and above. But they didn’t.

The Bulkhead Seat reported that elite breakfast was not being honored there because “they do not own the restaurant (it’s operated by Lettuce Entertain You).” But this is wrong.

The Marriott Bonvoy breakfast benefit at St. Regis hotels is an elite member’s choice of benefits as follows:

1,000 Points per Stay or amenity per Stay or breakfast in restaurant per night of Stay for Member +1 (including Resorts)

The terms and conditions contain no exception for situations where “the restaurant at the hotel is operated by a third party.”

One unique element of the Marriott program that’s positive for consumers, a throwback to an earlier era (I claimed this benefit over a decade ago), is that denial of elite benefits entitles the member to cash compensation – the terms of conditions say failure to deliver the elite welcome benefit choice at a St. Regis hotel, that includes a breakfast option, is worth $100. However to claim the $100 guest has to invoke the benefits guarantee while still on property, or else they forfeit it. Not knowing they’re getting hosed until later means the hotel doesn’t have to pay.

Now, the terms and conditions of the program do still contain a Covid exception for providing breakfast, allowing the hotel to offer an “alternative for the benefit” (not no benefit). This was meant for hotels under local rules that limited the ability to provide food service, or limited indoor gathering sizes, and for hotels that had not yet fully restored operations (as opposed to brand new luxury hotels!).

As One Mile at a Time points out, hotel owners want loyal customers from a hotel chain (what they sometimes call ‘leads’) but don’t want to deliver on the expectations the chain has created to build that loyalty. Marriott has been allowing hotels to get away with this, focused more on owner costs than protecting their brand. They’ll often enforce brand standards when called out, though.

That’s a short-term mindset, because in the asset light model where hotel chains tend not to own their properties, all they have is their brand. They’re afraid of antagonizing owners in a way that costs them revenue in the short term, but that risks sacrificing even more revenue in the long term.

Fortunately the attention this policy garnered generated a change and the St. Regis will honor Platinum (and above) elite breakfast. They will not, apparently, provide compensation to those guests that have already been shortchanged.

Normally I’d have suggested anyone with Marriott Bonvoy elite status should avoid the St. Regis Chicago – since elites were being made to feel unwelcome. However the right approach in this situation, I think, would have been to invoke the $100 guarantee.

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. What amazes me is how many people confuse Marriott’s breakfast benefit, including One Mile at a Time.

    The infamous “continental breakfast” is actually the benefit for a closed lounge at certain legacy Marriott brands without a resort designation whereas certain legacy Starwood brands, such as St. Regis, have a wholly separate breakfast benefit that is actually a restaurant breakfast. In the case of the St. Regis, the correct and compliant choice at check-in would have been points, breakfast or an amenity.

    It would be interesting to know (a) who owns the new St. Regis in Chicago and (b) who manages/operates the property.

    I say that because the other Marriott luxury property in Chicago, the Ritz-Carlton, is actually licensed. It’s one of just two or three franchised/licensed Ritz-Carlton properties.

    While Marriott franchises most of its brands these days, the company still manages Edition, W, all but two or three Ritz-Carlton properties and, unless the new St. Regis is franchised or licensed, every St. Regis.

  2. @FNT Delta Diamond – owners are Gencom, GD Holdings, and Magellan Group (which was the developer but cashed out much of its stake about a week ago).

    Management team –

    Lettuce Entertain You is a great choice as F&B operator; they’re Chicago-based and everything they run is very operationally sound. But Marriott’s general attitude towards on-property dining stinginess is terrible; in addition to the trick they’re trying to play here, they’ll also deny points earning on spend at restaurants operated by an outside partner (such as a restaurant group).

  3. Unless I’m missing something in their program rule, the St. Regis brand is excluded from requiring lounge access and if lounge access isn’t offered, they aren’t required the breakfast.
    Under section I’ve: Guaranteed lounge access:
    Lounge Access is not offered at the following brands: The Ritz-Carlton, Ritz-Carlton Reserve, St. Regis, EDITION, The Luxury Collection, W Hotels, Design Hotels, Tribute Portfolio, Gaylord Hotels, Four Points, SpringHill Suites, Protea Hotels, Fairfield, AC Hotels, Aloft, Moxy Hotels, Residence Inn, TownePlace Suites, Element, Marriott Vacation Club, Marriott Grand Residence Club, Sheraton Vacation Club, Westin Vacation Club, and at The Phoenician Residences, a Luxury Collection Residence Club, Scottsdale.

    Then under section A, which talks about the breakfast offering it says “This benefit applies to the following brands (resort properties excluded): JW Marriott, Marriott Hotels, Delta Hotels, Autograph Collection, and Renaissance Hotels”

    If I’m missing a section please let me know, but I’m showing that St.Regis is excluded from lounge access and as such, the breakfast isn’t required since it’s only required if there is no lounge

  4. @818Pilot, you’re missing a section. 4.3.c which discusses Platinum and above Elite level benefits: Under Elite Welcome Gift: “St. Regis, The Luxury Collection, W Hotels, Sheraton, Le Méridien, Westin, Tribute Portfolio — 1,000 Points per Stay or amenity per Stay or breakfast in restaurant per night of Stay for Member +1 (including Resorts)”

    The choice is the guest’s choice.

  5. @818Pilot

    You confuse the lounge benefit with the breakfast benefit at some legacy Starwood branded properties and some resort-designated legacy Marriott branded property. They’re two completely different things. In fact, you could collect $200 for a failure to provide BOTH benefits at applicable properties.

  6. Why do I need to bring a BS meter to check into any Marriott hotel I’m being scammed at?
    Please bring back Starwood!
    Also for those that been shortchanged it seems to me some compensation points or other
    are reasonable expectations.If not offered I would open an official case with the Marriott Bonvoid folks if I was in their shoes

  7. This story is misleading at best. According to the initial post from Bulkhead – he had a problem during the first few days of opening with the front desk not offering him the breakfast option. This was picked up on several well-known blogs – and the speculation ran wild.

    The next day, Bulkhead confirmed that the St. Regis Chicago policy is to offer breakfast to Elite members and several elite members who actually have stayed there have confirmed this to be the case.

    Assuming this is a “loophole” or scheme of some sort, without actual evidence is an unfortunate, if not false, opinion of some of the bloggers who did not bother to independently verify if there was a policy decision or simple oversite due to new staff. We can do better.

  8. @David Andretti – that misrepresents the Bulkhead Seat story which attributes the change to the broad attention the hotel’s faulty position received

  9. @Gary Leff

    Thanks for the reply. My point is simply that this issue has triggered a number of blog headlines that may be false or at least misleading, and that there should be some attempt to verify information before making such significant assumptions.

    You are correct, after reading Bulkhead Dan’s individual experience a reader of his blog “Traveler Dan” called the hotel and confirmed that their policy was to offer the elite benefit. However he never mentioned any change in policy. This is what he said: I spoke with Tamara at the number above and she confirmed that the elite breakfast for Platinum, Titanium, and Ambassador Elite members is now served in Miru.

    My issue with this is that there was never any independent efforts from the widely followed travel bloggers as to why went wrong – instead assuming the worst, that this was a “Pathetic game” as OMAT called it, or rather (what seems now more likely) a problem with the staff training on the second day the hotel was opened.

    Normally, this would not be a big deal, and I’m certain that all of the attention brought the issue to the forefront of the staff. But what has happened now are a number of phony 1 star google and ta reviews based on this reporting from people who never stayed there but pissed off that Marriott was engage in such a scheme. This, in my humble opinion, erodes the credibility of all of the good work of the blogs. Journalism 101.

  10. @David Andretti – what *I* wrote was always – from the get-go – an accurate chronology of events. And the 1* reviews on TripAdvisor predated my post on the matter. I don’t see how I can be criticized for what others have written on the matter.

  11. Semi-related question: I (Platinum status) stayed in the Park City St .Regis last year, where the Welcome Gift was either 1k points or $20 each for breakfast for me and a +1 in one of their restaurants, where it was next to impossible to get coffee and any breakfast item for $20.

    I don’t suspect Marriott would be any help here, but I’m curious if anybody has talked to the Bonvoy folks and confirmed whether providing ~2/3 of a breakfast satisfies Marriott’s “1,000 Points per Stay or amenity per Stay or breakfast in restaurant per night of Stay for Member +1 (including Resorts)” promise.

  12. @J

    It doesn’t. I’ve pushed back and filed a compensation request and received it in circumstances where a property didn’t provide a breakfast benefit that actually covered breakfast.

  13. @FNT Delta Diamond- Good info, thanks! How did you go about that? Notify Bonvoy during the stay, then submit receipt(s) showing the difference you had to pay in cash?

  14. All these elite programs are nothing more than playing three card Monte on 8th Avenue in NYC and that includes airlines too
    They are all a big joke anymore

  15. @David Andretti: Gary can’t even proofread his posts before making them, and you think he’s going to actually VERIFY HIS INFORMATION first? Good luck with that.

    @Gary: That’s a copout and you know it. “But the very same blog that made the original unverified accusation said the policy changed due to coverage!” is a total dodge to a criticism that “Blogs are incorrect because they are not verifying this information beyond one anecdotal story.”

    Of course the blog that just ran off and accused the hotel of a grand scheme to defraud elites is going to claim their attention saved everyone, rather than they were just wrong from the get-go.

    Either way, you’re pretty consistent about just blindly reposting things, and in some cases, even reposting things with headlines that make them seem true when they’re OBVIOUSLY completely fake (See: Woman saran wrapping her row, which was obviously fake, you posted as real, and then admitted yourself last sentence of the post that you were lying the whole time!)

  16. As a grad of the Cornell Hotel School I was well advised by other Alums to avoid Marriott for a variety of excellent reasons. The manner which Marriott has actively acted to screw elite patrons at the St Regis fully underscores the option to avoid a Marriott whenever possible as J.Willard turns over in his grave.

  17. agree with Spence Roman — avoiding Marriott is at this point, sadly, the best practice. It has fallen so far, so fast, jacking prices up and reducing service at all levels. Most recently, I stayed at a Residence Inn where the internet censors were at it, blocking the sites of alcohol (Absolut) and tobacco (Rocky Patel) companies. The manager told me this was an inadvertent effect of a corporate internet blocking edict handed down in April gone amok. She was helpful and managed to fix it, which took about 12 hours.

  18. I am a Lifetime Platinum but never stay at Marriott any longer. I got tired of having to fight for benefits and upgrades. I get treated far better at competitiors with little or no status.

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