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).
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.
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,
- Develop stronger enforcement of benefits over its hotels
- Treat members fairly on redemptions
- Invest in its best customers
- 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?