The 4 Major Things Wrong With Marriott Bonvoy

The Marriott Bonvoy program is, on paper at least, head and shoulders above the Hilton Honors and IHG Rewards offerings. Those other two don’t even guarantee late check-out, let alone promise that suite upgrades will be provided when a standard suite is available.

In practice, though, Bonvoy doesn’t live up to its promises. Marriott has gone from a chain that doesn’t promise much but always delivers what it promises every time to one that promises a lot and fails to deliver. I actually believe the Bonvoy program is better than Hilton Honors or IHG Rewards, but because of the expectations gap it creates it disappoints customers far more often.

Customer Service Is Like An Abbott and Costello Routine

Instead of starting a twitter thread with a question, “Wrong answers only please!” just contact Marriott customer service. If a hotel isn’t following program rules for elite status members, they’ll come up with a justification for the hotel rather than helping the member, giving out incorrect information in the process (like that Marriott upgrades do not include suites).

There is no one to escalate to in the face of wrong information, even when the answers you receive are absurd or gibberish.

I’ve recently been told it’s impossible to gift points to another member, even though it’s a feature of the program. I’ve requested missing folios that hotels have failed to provide even with followup, and the most they’ll do is ask the hotel to send it (folios often don’t display properly on their website). So when I report missing points from a stay I first have to obtain the bill from the hotel to provide to Marriott, something that should be seamless behind the scenes.

Perhaps most frustrating is the process to gift an award stay. It’s not possible to book an award for someone else on the Marriott website. I used to make an award and then ask the twitter team to update the guest name. This is no longer possible, and Marriott requires that gifted awards have the correct guest name at time of issuance. Who’s on first?

You have to call, and play agent roulette. I recently made an award reservation over the phone for my wife. The agent checked and cross-checked to make sure it was being done correctly. Still, I didn’t trust her work so I contacted the hotel directly who let me know that the reservation is in my name, with my wife’s nowhere on it. What’s on second?

I contacted Marriott for help and was told there was nothing they could do, that I should call and make a new reservation because reservations can’t be changed after they’re made. I don’t know who’s on third?

I worked directly with the hotel to make sure my wife would be able to check in with our daughter. Mess with me all you want, but don’t give my wife and daughter grief checking into a hotel after a long travel day. Third base!

Award Pricing Is Ridiculous

The single biggest devaluation of Marriott points was the introduction of peak and off peak pricing at each category level. Peak is supposed to price hotels at high season rates during… high season, when the program pays the hotel more because it’s full. Yet prices change all the time and Marriott prices hotels at peak when they’re clearly going to be empty.

Peak season pricing is the way the program charges more points when they expect a hotel to be full, and they have to pay far more to the property for the room. But Marriott seems to use it to charge members more points because they can.

Indeed, for October they ran a promotion called week of wonders where you could actually redeem about half of Marriott hotels for off-peak prices, as long as you stayed in the upcoming weeks only. Wonders never cease!

The program went from incredibly valuable at launch, to much lower value, with the introduction of a new higher redemption tier and the imposition of peak pricing levels at each category. Since the start of the Bonvoy program, which represented the integration of Starwood into Marriott, they’ve added a new highest category 8 pricing tier. Combined with peak pricing that means the most expensive points hotels went from 60,000 to 100,000 points per night. And they’ve continued to push hotels into higher and higher tiers.

Oh and they even devalued points during the pandemic when nearly all hotels should have gone down in category but didn’t.

And they’ve just announced the real “hold my beer” that award charts are going away entirely starting in March, so there will no longer be real commitments for how much a room redemption will cost.

Expect More From Customers, While Delivering Less

Marriott took some of the best elite benefits of the Starwood Preferred Guest program and implemented those at higher stay levels than were needed in the Starwood program. For instance, “24 hour check-in” is a great benefit after an overnight flight to Europe or a middle of the night arrival in India. That used to be available to Starwood elites after 75 nights in a year. It now requires 100 night status with Marriott – and $20,000 in spend ($14,000 this year only).

What really set Starwood apart was its Ambassador program. While the quality of individual Ambassadors varied, having one who would ensure connecting rooms, send gifts, or arrange suites made a huge difference in experience for best customers. Now that requires a spend level that’s impossible for many – 100 nights at an average cost of $200 per night doesn’t work out for people staying in small towns in the middle of the country or for customers taking advantage of Marriott’s growing Asia presence.

Nonetheless, Marriott decided they didn’t value the business of customers staying with them constantly throughout the year but generating less than $20,000 in revenue. But they also decided they didn’t value the business of those who do spend $20,000 or more a year because they got rid of the program to assign specific Ambassadors to members and turned it into a priority reservations team.

In theory the ‘Ambassador team’ is supposed to at least respond to customers, but they don’t. One Ambassador member who has spent $40,000 so far this year recently contacted me about waiting several days for a reply on a simple question about booking a $650 per night hotel.

To be fair Marriott at least seems to realize they’ve made a mess of the Ambassador program.

Hotels Don’t Deliver Benefits

Marriott properties have continued ignore elite breakfast benefits blaming the pandemic, despite the chain promising that these benefits are back (and never having taken the benefit off its website). Where they do provide breakfast they make up their own rules about what the benefit is.

Even before the pandemic I described understanding the Marriott breakfast rules as “like something out of a Fellini film.”

One of the best benefits of the program is supposed to be the ability for 50+ night elites to confirm upgrades starting 5 days prior to check-in but those upgrades rarely clear whether because of games the hotels play with inventory or the capacity controls on premium rooms that Marriott allows properties to put in place, and because there are simply too many upgrade requests at popular properties.

Even as hotels emptied out during the pandemic, though, the rate of successful elite upgrades did not increase. And some hotels just blatantly declare they won’t do upgrades despite the promises made by the program. It seems that inconsistent implementation of program benefits is more common than it isn’t.

Yet Legacy Marriott Members Are Better Off Since The Merger

The funny thing is that Marriott Rewards members have a better elite program than they did before the merger, award pricing is higher but they have access to nicer hotels. Starwood members have seen a degradation of elite benefits through higher requirements and less consistent implementation – but redemption prices for top hotels in many cases aren’t worse than they used to be.

There’s no program with greater potential to be better than it is today than Marriott Bonvoy. The rules of program promise benefits that go beyond those of large competitors. If you want better benefits you have to go with Hyatt and its smaller – though growing – footprint. What Marriott needs is to,

  1. Develop stronger enforcement of benefits over its hotels
  2. Treat members fairly on redemptions
  3. Invest in its best customers
  4. Deliver better customer response by phone and on twitter, or at least allow for escalation to an executive response team to fix the front line’s mistakes.

What do you see as the best and worst parts of Marriott Bonvoy?

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. They also turned their back on customers who spend the $20,000 but don’t spend 100 nights. Unlike all other major programs , absolutely no way to higher status via high spend .

  2. I’m at a Hyatt right now having stayed the previous two nights at a Courtyard Marriott. I’m Lifetime Titanium with Marriott and Globalist with Hyatt. Bonvoy put me in a room facing a brick wall and part of an alley under construction with insufficient heat and lukewarm shower water. I don’t believe this was the case with all the rooms in the hotel. They gave me a $10 coupon for food, but only when I pressed after first being told at checkin I was getting 500pts for my loyalty. I was also told to “check back on my last day” to see about late checkout. In contrast, Hyatt put me in an oversized room with a beautiful view over the city and gave me “anything you want” from the restaurant menu for breakfast. We didn’t eat much, but appreciated the gesture. And that 4pm checkout for my evening flight? No problem.

    It’s on part the expectation unrealized, but I expect little from Bonvoy. They tend to underperform even that.

  3. Gary, you can send this to Bonvoy executives, and then interview them for a response. Preferably in a podcast or Youtube format. I know they did a lot of interviews at the cutover to Bonvoy.

  4. Marriott manages less than 30% of its hotels — the percentage is far lower if you only include full-service brands.

    Marriott is no longer a hotel company. It is a booking platform for hotels that choose it.

    Marriott’s real customers aren’t guests, but the owners. The guests are the product Marriott sells its customers, the owners.

    When you don’t manage your hotels or even a majority of hotels, it is impossible to police the more than 70% of properties operated by owners or a third-party company, like Aimbridge.

    Then there is the fact that Marriott even before the pandemic did not force dumpy old Marriott, Sheraton and Renaissance properties with North America to fully renovate, change brands to Delta, or get deflagged. At least IHG and Best Western deflagged their oldest and worst properties. Their are dozens of properties that were overdue for a renovation in 2010 or 2012 and still, in 2021, haven’t renovated besides the lobby or new TVs.

  5. Had the exact same response as Susan with both the Hyatt and Marriott in Georgetown a few weeks ago. Marriott, Meh. Hyatt awesome!

  6. There are two things I personally value in a “loyalty” program, and Marriott has become a disappointment on both. First is the ability to use the points I earn on business trips for vacation redemptions, preferably on aspirational properties. With the recent devaluations and category creep, Marriott is MUCH worse than Hilton or Hyatt. To add insult to injury, their aspirational resort properties charge obscene resort fees while redeeming points. They don’t honor the much-touted benefits at these resort properties either (No lounge access or late checkouts for Platinums at Ritz Carletons or JWs).

    The other thing I value is perks that make business travel a bit nicer: Lounge access and late checkouts. This past year, every Marriott I’ve stayed in has either closed its lounges, limited hours, or limited “offerings” to bottled water and pretzels. I’ve only been granted a late checkout once out of 5 attempts. And I have not been able to use my big pile of suite night awards at all, even at hotels that are nearly empty and show plenty of suite availability. My Marriott Platinum status has proven to be worth far less than my meager Hilton Gold or Hyatt Discoverist: At least both have given me plenty of good redemption opportunities and a couple of bottles of water.

    While the top-tier status levels are probably equally nice across the board, Marriott really doesn’t do much anymore for people who spend 40-60 nights a year like me. The other two programs at least seem to be trying.

  7. @Gary – just curious , did you get any official comment regarding the rooms being sold via AirBnB ?

  8. Does anyone truly think that the ongoing series of customer-unfriendly moves by Marriott is some kind of mistake or coincidence? According to Marriott, engaged loyalty members are simply “noise around the edges”. The new CEO was specifically chosen to be just as miserable to loyalty members as the last CEO. When a company works as hard as Marriott has to alter the culture to viewing the customer as the enemy, eventually they’ll have some success. Hell, Marriott can’t even count elite years correctly. I have 7-8 years (Marriott shows 6) towards lifetime platinum but at the alarming rate that Marriott is devaluing the program, it’s now highly dubious whether lifetime platinum will even be worth anything in a few years. Maybe I missed the class in college that explained how pissing off your most engaged customers is a prudent idea but for Marriott that’s gospel.

  9. I agree with the bulk of the comments above – especially that status (explicitly a result of brand loyalty) means nothing with room assignment and that, of the several times we traveled during the pandemic, staying in nearly empty hotels, somehow the Suite Nights never cleared. Everyone knows the whole suite floor was empty but there is “no availability.”

  10. How dare you criticize the 2021 TPG Award winner for best hotel loyalty program AND best hotel elite status? The people have spoken!

  11. @Texan@heart

    With all due respect, everyone is a platinum or higher, thanks to two years of status extensions, credit card offers, and lower qualification thresholds.

    Sure, there may not be 20 platinums at the Sioux Falls Courtyard on a Tuesday night, but I’ve been at the Renaissance in Toledo, Ohio, with 20 platinums on a Sunday night or the Cadillac, Autograph Collection in Miami, in December 2020 with 50 platinums, a dozen titaniums, and one ambassador.

  12. A person does not need to be told the results of a lie detector test. The person already knows whether he / she was telling the truth or not.

    And, management at Marriott already knows what’s going on with its loyalty program and with its property owners. They are like Rick’s pal Renault in the movie Casablanca:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SjbPi00k_ME

    What would the purpose be in asking them anything?

  13. I can fly my own plane to avoid crappy airlines, but I can’t build my own hotel in every city.
    Best I can do is ditch the Marriott credit card when the restaurant benefit runs out at the end of the year.

    I used up my accumulated points and nights and will not return unless it’s with an Amex credit

  14. To Paul R Gormley,

    What’s worse is when they admit that there is suite availability and the manager says, “We’re simply not going to give you an upgrade to a suite.” But, the upgrade is available if paid.

    When this happens to a person MULTIPLE times at multiple properties, one realizes that these folks are crooks and are playing loyalty program members for fools. After reading all of the articles about the crap that these guys pull, anyone who still has an expectation regarding benefits is a fool.

  15. Reno Joe, you’re right. That is much worse. Based on the original story and the comments here, Marriott can step up and do something – but we all know they won’t – or start moving our business elsewhere. I know I carry a Hilton Amex card for that very reason. I own several weeks of timeshare through the Marriott Vacation Club side but they’ve made it sufficiently difficult to use the time that the value in that proposition is fading, too.

  16. Totally concur.

    When Marriott Rewards (with acct #) was changed to Bonvoy (required new acct #) and I received instructions on how to migrate data and accrued points to Bonvoy it started a multi-year “where did my points go?” inquiry. To this day my points have never been fully recovered.

    And, to the author’s point, calling the Bonvoy Customer Service IS an exercise in “”who you get determines what you get”. A real circus! Bottom line is that Bonvoy finally advised, “we’re sorry, but there is simply nothing we can do – you [me] MUST have done something wrong in the account migration process”.

    On top of that, we wanted to use some points for a one-night stay (while on a road trip) in a Marriott Courtyard in a not necessarily highly traveled area and were advised it would be 80,000 points/night. So, we stayed at a competitor location for about $150.

    Bonvoy s * * * s!

  17. I am not questioning Reno Joe’s experience. I have had it happen to me since repeated times since 2017 as a legacy Marriott Rewards platinum-premier and then as a Marriott Bonvoy ambassador. However, it’s typically been resolved in my favor.

    With that said, I have found the minority of properties managed by Marriott are good. Unfortunately, that means 70% of properties are unreliable. Thankfully, it isn’t that difficult to determine who owns and/or operates the bad properties. I generally go out of my way, if possible, to avoid their own properties.

    For example, Aimbridge properties are notoriously poorly maintained. Not necessarily cheating elite status benefits but just not maintained. White Lodging is another big owner-operator. They’re notoriously cheap about elite status benefits; mostly breakfast. The worst is problem the Kessler hotels. They literally claim an English muffin with coffee is a compliant breakfast benefit offering.

  18. My take is that Marriott created a program that simply has too many benefits that are sometimes impossible for hotels to deliver. It’s better to promise less and deliver more than falling short.

  19. Two months ago, I got walked from a Towne Place Suites. I called the hotel to confirm, and my resevation got moved over to a Staybridge. After checking out, I got a bill for the Staybridge (which was more expensive than the TPS). I contact Marriott and asked about the Ultimate Guarantee. Nice lady explained it just as it reads on their website. As a 27 year Lifetime Titanium Elite, I’m owed $100.00, 90,000 points and TPS pays for my Staybridge Suite stay, and I pay the rate I made a reservation for directly to TPS. After 3 follow up calls and two months later, I have received 5000 points. Must be in the fine print that the Ultimate Guarantee doesn’t say WHEN they honor it.

  20. Here’s a thought. The hotel refuses to honor the free breakfast. Pay for breakfast, charge the entire stay to your credit card and then dispute the entire bill. Your proof that you’re right is on their own website. Most cards will back you up and make them have to fight to get paid. Heck, I’m willing to pay for the room but I expect the breakfast benefit I’ve earned. Let me also say I have not done this and have done almost no traveling the last two years. Just curious what Gary and others think about this.

  21. Re TPG awards, ROFLOL. Wonder how much TPG got paid to award it.
    @Tim Keep persisting about the Ultimate Guarantee
    Completely agree with all the other thoughts shared. I’m LFT Titanium. And switched over to Hyatt post-merger because I was “noise around the edge”
    My pain point is not just the redemption rates, but also the habit (that IHG also has) of charging more points for a redemption (or making me pay cash) when I have three people (2 adults, 1 child) in a room x-US. Never had that problem with SPG. With Marriott, it’s almost the total opposite

  22. FNT Delta Diamond, hello yet again.

    I have another for you.

    I had a confirmed reservation for a suite at a Category 8 hotel — still have the email. The day before, I called the property to confirm everything. The front desk said it was putting me in a regular room and would not explain why. I forwarded my confirmation to the manager — who said he was confused, that I was getting a regular room, and that he was not going to “upgrade” me to a suite. I reminded him that it was not an upgrade to a suite but a confirmed reservation for a suite. I then said that if he was going to put me into a regular room, fine, but I should only have to pay the daily rate for a regular room. The manager said “oh, no, your reservation shows what your room rate is.” This jerk wanted me to still pay the daily rate for a suite.

    My Marriott Ambassador saw the confirmed suite reservation on her side and didn’t understand what was going on with the property . . . but, that I would have to work it out with the property directly. She would not step in.

    That was the last straw.

    I was able to cancel prior to the cutoff and moved to another hotel.

    To me, Marriott and all of these programs are shams and nothing more than point redemptions.

  23. FNT Delta Diamond:

    You are right, unfortunately. Platinum isn’t worth much when there are so many of them– some of whom haven’t set foot in a hotel since 2019 but keep getting extensions. Hilton’s Gold and Diamond are equally easy to get: They don’t promise as much, but at least they deliver what they say. Same with the lower tiers of Hyatt.

  24. Marriott’s recent changes devalue having a premium card.

    I get a 50K free night certificate that I CAN’T add 15,000 points to to get a better category yet those with a lesser card and a 35K FNA can add 15,000 points in account

  25. @Steven
    I say try the same thing when they want to charge you for a upgrade, what can they answer someone?

  26. I am really surprised that the credit card portfolio stays successful given everything that has gone on at Marriott in the last few years. I cannot see why anyone would use these cards. The free night certificates have become borderline useless and there’s no way I’m going to put a dollar of spend on any of these cards for anything other than hotel stays.

  27. In Canada we are super screwed. Marriott and IHG control most of the hotel chain landscape here, with Fairmont (Accor) doing ok for the luxury ones. IHG has no credit card here. Hyatt/Hilton are too few and far between. At least pre-merger you had a choice of SPG or Marriott. Kinda like Canadian Airlines and Air Canada with airlines, not much choice here except getting screwed!

  28. I stayed at a convention Center Marriott this weekend and the only option for coffee and hot breakfast was a Starbucks with a one-hour wait. Our “titanium-elite” breakfast was an unusable $10 voucher to said Starbucks. We walked to a coffee shop elsewhere. Also, for some reason there was a communal microwave next to the elevators, like a freshman college dorm?

  29. @Esquiar: File a compensation claim with Marriott. When they don’t respond, file a small claims court lawsuit. Chances are they’ll default.

  30. Just stayed at two Marriotts recently. At a courtyard, a one bedroom suite was available for both nights of my two night stay. When I asked about an upgrade I was told that the hotel only upgrades into one of the two and holds the other open in case it sells. That’s of course nowhere in the t&c. For breakfast, I got a $20 credit *for the room* for my family of four.

    At an Autograph collection hotel they similarly had a suite available at check in for the one night of my stay. The guy said I had “already been upgraded” (to a larger room I guess) so their policy was not to upgrade further. He said all of the suites that would be used for suite upgrades had been taken by other elite members before I checked in – mind you, I checked in for a 1 night stay around 5 pm. The odds of them selling the suites that were still available was basically nil. At least the autograph collection hotel gave us $27 per person for breakfast (up to 2 people).

  31. Marriott and Bonvoy have been dead to me for (approaching) two years, so whenever I see these articles, I have to smile and think “There but for the grace of God go I.”

    It’s all Hyatt (with small side orders of Hilton) for me, baby.

  32. In the past, this said select or standard suites. They added premium rooms in the past couple of years (and in the wrong place in the sentence). Now a lot of hotels put “nicer” rooms out there instead of suites even when all of the suites are available. It makes the suite night awards much less valuable. I am an ambassador and lifetime titanium. The downgrading of the program, and the suite nights in particular, means there is no point in my giving them my stays. If I cannot use suite night awards to get something better than I would get just showing up, then why put my stays with Marriott. Bonvoyed.

    “A. Suite Night Awards may be redeemed for advance confirmable upgrades for select, premium rooms or standard suites on a per room, per night basis, subject to availability and the applicable terms and conditions set forth below for Suite Night Awards:”

  33. Marriott Bonvoy is the best hotel loyalty program
    They are multi year winner of the TPG Awards
    They extend status provided extra nights to help reach choice benefits
    They take care of their Bonvoy members
    Also voted best hotel elite status was Titanium Elite by Marriott Bonvoy

  34. @Brutus
    Amen to that seriously the people have spoken that voted for Marriott Bonvoy and Titanium Elite
    @Jorge Paez
    Yes,
    I always had some amazing experiences with them being a titanium elite member

  35. @khatl
    You really think they paid for that
    TPG reputation shouldn’t be questioned

    Also, Marriott Bonvoy is an amazing program

  36. @Ltl Come on. You have no standing to complain about a Courtyard breakfast benefit since it is one the brands in which there is no breakfast benefit. You get a $10 per person (maximum $20) F&B credit. So, they gave you exactly what you’re entitled to at this brand. If you value breakfast, pick a Holiday Inn Express or Fairfield over Courtyard.

  37. Having been in the customer care “business” in the telecomm and cable industries as CSR (customer service rep), shift lead and then customer care management, I can tell you that we’re always asked to do more with less. We’re not a profit center. We’re almost always in the first group asked to cut bodies. The push now is more scripts, more non phone support (like chat, email), phone trees that pick off easy items, etc.

    I’m sure Marriott whacked many of it’s CSR’s during the pandemic to save costs. CSR’s have high turnover rates (65%) in the best of times. Few people view it as a “career”. We’re always training the next batch or updating the skills of those that stick around. Or we’ve totally been forced to outsource to offshore companies that have even higher turnover rates and less retention, not to mention the lack of soft skills and regional accents. It’s all in the name of saving money on customer care costs.

    Looking at Gary’s list, I see no chance of item 1 succeeding. The franchisees run the show now. Marriott is no more than a branding name. The owner of the hotel wants high PAYING occupancy customers. It doesn’t help them that you stayed 100+ nights at somebody else’s hotel. You’re just a freeloader to them. There’s no profit sharing among Marriott franchise holders. There are far too many titanium people.

    My advice is always do as much online as possible & fight for customer experience at the hotel. If you stay somewhere frequently get to know the GM and the people who check you in regularly. Their often just as frustrated with their systems, policies, etc. Accept that some of customer care or front desk people are just not rocket scientists. Sorry to say sometimes you just need to hang up and play again or wait to get through to a shift lead/manager.

    Lastly, accept that the SPG days are over and done. Move on to other chains that have more control over the product or if that elite programs are anything but elite.

  38. State AGs or Travelers United should sue Marriott and offending hotels for deceptive business practices and for false and misleading Informaiton being provided to customers. They were sued for deceptive practices/false advertising when they were charging for “resort fees” (Marriott in DC, Hilton in Nebraska, MGM hotel/casino sued by Travelers United (https://www.travelersunited.org/accomplishments-2/). Take the info there and try and get action through activism, not just blog post comments.

  39. On July 20 Gary wrote: “… just the mental model Capuano seems to apply across the board, since owners are his customers.” I keep this in mind a lot: The Marriott CEO thinks that his “customers” are his franchisees, not his guests.

  40. Marriott no longer owns hotels. The family trust has 7 properties including (I have been told but not sure) the Long Beach Courtyard.

    They now manage the franchisees and the money flow. If a customer pushes a complaint it will be taken to OCA-office complaint enforcement arm of corporate.

    Ambassador is a worthless program Excuse after excuse.

  41. Stayed at a Marriott Bonvoy in Baltimore end of October for 2 nights. Breakfast was appalling. Had to ask for basics, such as blow dryer. Have been a Hilton member for years. When I experienced a problem at one of there hotels, they were always responsive. Many times offered additional points and refunded portion of stay. Will stick with them.

  42. While planning a trip to Kauai for the same house on the same dates:

    Bonvoy- $4,800 + 600,000 points

    VRBO- $5,000

    When I emailed Bonvoy, with contempt, I received a very polite response explaining how I could choose any website I wanted to book. Thank you Bonvoy!!

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