Where Marriott Bonvoy Stands Today

I think that Marriott has done a better job with their program than many give them credit for. Marriott Rewards never offered suite upgrades. They’ve increased the number of brands that have a breakfast benefit. Since the Starwood merger late checkout became a guarantee. And they’ve introduced 24 hour check-in and Ambassador services at the top end of the program.

At the same time they’ve had incredible challenges over the past year. Taking my own account and experiences only,

  • My account was missing 8 years of lifetime platinum, which was finally sorted over six months into the new program.

  • I’ve consistently been unable to find award space at some properties — sometimes one night at a time would be available, but it’s impossible to combine those nights into a longer booking, sometimes the award calendar shows no availability, ever, and sometimes it works.

  • I’ve tried to fix issues by calling (getting little help) and emailing (I’m still waiting on a response to an email from September).

Readers have had many more problems than I have, and I’ve assisted in sorting through things like elite status where customers have earned a tier but are still told they haven’t (and are cited incorrect rules in support of the incorrect status).

Nonetheless there’s been progress. Award booking is better than it was. Account issuers are fewer in number (they finally fixed my years of Platinum!).

There are still IT challenges, even booking rooms at times at Marriott.com. There are huge challenges getting a sprawling network of 7000 hotels to consistently deliver on points and benefits promised by the program.

I think many people forget the games that some Starwood hotels used to play. And this involves more change for more properties, and with seemingly less of a club for the loyalty program to work with to force hotels into compliance. There’s probably not enough proactive monitoring going on, though.

Ultimately the biggest problem Marriott is facing, I think, is offering customer service to members when things don’t go well.

  • Marriott customer service channels, even when quick to respond, often seem to offer incorrect information.

  • They don’t have the capability to understand a problem.

  • And there’s really nowhere that members can go to escalate things to get problems with their account, with a stay, or a property sorted out.

Marriott needs some sort of executive resolution team that understands the program, communicates (listens) well, and is empowered to fix things. The challenge with this, of course, is that if they too were overwhelmed by a deluge of requests they wouldn’t work through expeditiously then it wouldn’t really be an improvement.

Where I think Marriott needs to work is:

  1. To get their booking systems working properly. That means being able to search for the hotel you want, and the rate plan you want (including award nights) accurately every time.

  2. To get hotels into compliance with the program. Too many hotels don’t upgrade elites, take a cheap approach to breakfast, and don’t post points from stays promptly.

  3. Deliver customer service to fix problems when the usual processes break down.

I think the public tone at Marriott has been a mistake, whether it’s Arne Sorenson downplaying the real problems experienced every day by members as mere ‘noise around the edges’. And I think a celebratory rebrand of the program as ‘Bonvoy’ was a mistake. We don’t know how many millions of dollars they invested, all told could it have been $100 million they budgeted not just for TV and website collateral but new materials across 7000 hotels? All to declare ‘a new language of travel’ when customer service was having such a difficult time communicating the old language.

They set expectations pretty high. They didn’t deliver against those. They raised the bar again with their celebratory rebrand, all while their CEO tells members their concerns are immaterial. That’s a PR failure in my view that’s compounded the technical challenges faced.

And it’s meant that they get a lot more flack than they even deserve, fully recognizing that they deserve some flack. It’s meant the delivering suite upgrades, late check-out, more breakfast and a decent earn and burn proposition across a very large footprint of hotels has gotten drowned out by members who have had problems that have been exacerbated by the lack of a good mechanism for solving those problems.

Put another way they’ve largely self-pwned here. But they have the guts of a very strong program, it delivers more value to members than Marriott Rewards did more often than it doesn’t, and Marriott Rewards itself had plenty of fans. So odds on they’ll improve, it’ll just take some sort of significant symbolic rapprochement for members to recognize it.

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. […] Marriott has done a better job with their program than many give them credit for. Marriott Rewards never offered suite upgrades. They’ve increased the number of brands that have a breakfast benefit. Since the Starwood merger late checkout became a guarantee. And they’ve introduced 24 hour check-in and Ambassador services at the top end of the program. Read more here. […]

Comments

  1. Thank You Gary for helping to resolve my Bonvoy challenges. Because of you I have multiple stays booked not just for me but coworkers i plan travel for. This business would have gone elsewhere. So far at least 40 additional nights have been booked.

  2. I still have to double-check to ensure that I’ve been given credit for stays, but the response time for restoring credit is much better. Not fixed but improving. Still find some properties that will sell me a suite upgrade but won’t give it to me even though I’m Platinum.

  3. You started off with ” Marriott Rewards never offered suite upgrades” and that’s just not true. I can’t count the number of suite upgrades my husband received over the years as a Platinum member. Some were “junior” suites (which were usually very nice, large, view rooms) but often they were full 1BR suites. Whether the program *required* hotels to offer the suites to elite members doesn’t matter – in practice, many hotels did offer them.

  4. Another big problem are the Travel packages: the lack of transparency (misleading information?) with conversion, and the major devaluation of the new packages

  5. I agree with the need for better resolution when people experience issues. Even clicking “The issue was not resolved” in the post stay survey does nothing.

  6. The Kauai Marriott Resort preemptively reached out to me (as in without me asking about the policy) and told me that platinum members cannot be upgraded to suites without paying extra. Not sure that everything’s all that great in the hotel compliance area…

  7. @Allison – Marriott Rewards ALLOWED hotels to upgrade to suites, they did not promise that if a suite was available it would be given to a member.

  8. If Marriott were a Japanese or South Korean company Mr Marriott or Mr Sorenson would have at least made a public apology if not committed seppuku on themselves. The lying (breakfast benefit), the customer service problems, and the false information provided by customer service to say nothing of the CEO’s public tone wouldn’t be tolerated if they were headquartered in Japan or South Korea. The more I watch this the more I realize the problem. It is Sorenson. There is nobody to speak truth to power. Everyone below him knows they have problems but he doesn’t care or doesn’t care to know. It is only made worse by an executive chairman (Mr Marriott) who is well past retirement and probably doesn’t have any idea what happens on a daily basis. The same for the board. Even investors have criticized the current board saying they aren’t doing a good job.

  9. You forget that Marriott’s award pricing can’t be trusted. They have changed the chart at least three times in 16 months. That’s absurd.

  10. I switched to Hyatt for a few months, and ended up coming back to Marriott. While Bonvoy has issues, I had to work so much harder to stay at Hyatt’s and never felt like I got much from their mid- tier status. 40 nights at Hyatt and I was just exporist. At least at Marriott (with 15 nights from CC) I’m platinum with lounge access and breakfast.

    All in all, I agree with you Gary. Marriott has a lot of room to improve, but I don’t think they get enough credit given the magnatide of adding Starwood.

  11. I’ve had zero problems with it. All my data transferred over right, including my lifetime status, and all my bookings between both merged together just fine. Guess I’m in the minority

  12. Whole program sounds like a horror story. I gave up early last year when no one picked up the phone on the plat line when’s I watned to book 10 revenue nights for a trip. No time in my life for their disfunction.

  13. Great article and agree Gary! I’ve been working with Marriott since January trying to get my lifetime years corrected (they didn’t increment it when I requalified for 2018 Platinum). They are researching it and won’t give a commitment on when it will be resolved and told me to just check my account periodically…pretty bad answer for Customer Service in any industry. Any ideas how to get this resolved before the end of 2019 lol?Thinking about going back to Hyatt as they seemed to be most similar to SPG

  14. As someone who recently retired after 39 years in IT (including as CIO of 2 different national companies) I don’t think people fully understand the impact of change involved in integrating all the systems at Marriott and Starwood. That being said it is definitely time those issues were resolved (and it sounds from your story that they are being resolved). On your complaints/suggestions while I certainly agree that points should be posted in a timely manner I disagree with the premise that any elite (and I’m lifetime Titanium) should get an upgrade if available. It isn’t the hotel’s job to hand out all the upgrades. They have systems that project potential future booking based on historical trends and are perfectly fine not giving away upgrades if they feel the room may reasonably be booked for revenue during the stay. People act like they have a god given right to an upgrade. I don’t ever expect an upgrade and am appreciative when I get one (and I outrank many of the whiners on here). Regardless of how many times you quote the upgrade policy there is nothing in there that would EVER require a hotel to give away all their upgraded rooms – that is just not going to happen.

    On breakfast, another whining point. Do people really need another 1000 calories to start the day on top of what they otherwise eat? If hot breakfast is advertised they should deliver but it is to their minimum standards, based on hotel policy, competition with other near-by properties, etc, and not to meet your expectations.

    As for consistency in program treatment I do agree that should be done. Understand the vast majority of the hotels are franchised and, outside of the franchise agreement, the companies don’t have leverage. They can always follow up on complaints and hotel the franchise holders’ hands to the fire but that doesn’t mean people won’t encounter problems (at any hotel). Also, hotel turnover is high and wages are low so the level of service is inconsistent. Personally, I can’t remember having a bad experience with any Marriott/Starwood staff but I typically treat them with respect, am courteous and thank them for whatever they can do for me as opposed to acting like an entitled child which I’m afraid many of you sound like.

  15. Still being denied a year of platinum I clearly earned. And shifting paid business because of it as it fundamentally goes to long term Marriott usage for us.

    Have asked 6 times for this to be fixed. It’s easy to research and prove. They’re useless

  16. @Alan C “I disagree with the premise that any elite (and I’m lifetime Titanium) should get an upgrade if available. It isn’t the hotel’s job to hand out all the upgrades.”

    Except that the program promises members this, so yes they should deliver it.

  17. Gary,

    You write extremely well but I have to disagree with you on this one. They are getting exactly as much flack as they deserve. Many people, including myself, are not comparing Marriotts behavior to the “high expectations” Marriott set but how they are treated by other large hotel chains, including the former Starwood. There seems to be a focus on PR and profit and not on just treating the customer right. Clearly, your status with Marriott and in the blog-sphere would result in a different treatment than the average person gets trying to work through problems with them. I think their new motto should be: “the customer is always wrong”. That is certainly the feeling I got after they would not honor something two of their employees assured me was “all set” with award travel. They are shooting themselves in the foot with how they treat customers, not just by “falling short of the high PR bar they set for themselves”. It feels like their focus is on their own profit-based annual bonuses and not on having people saying good things about how Marriott treated them. Shame on them.

  18. I have to agree with @Dirk Woods. Things are much different for regular people than the preferred service that is always granted to a blogger. I mean, look at the very first comment…you are helping with Bonvoy issues? Just an example of the special treatment you get and how the average customer needs this type of intervention with Marriott.

    Maybe the real issue with Bonvoy is so many customers remember how everything with Starwood just clicked. We were rabid fans because even when we didn’t get what we wanted, we were treated fairly. We knew what to expect and that was always what we received. If we received more it was fantastic, but they were always consistent. Now, we never know what we are getting from one stay to the next.

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