Why I’m Walking Away from the Marriott Platinum Challenge

I’ve never been a big fan of the Marriott Rewards program. It’s huge, and it’s popular, it’s been the biggest hotel program winner the past two years at the Frequent Traveler awards. They certainly have loyal members.

But from the perspective of someone that values hotel elite benefits most in choice of program, it’s never especially appealed — largely because the terms and conditions of their program specifically excludes suites from the upgrade benefit, despite the program having the highest bar (75 nights) for earning top tier of any of the major hotel loyalty programs.

Still, you can’t always control where you’re going to stay, and I was looking at a bunch of upcoming Marriott bookings. So I decided to go for an elite challenge with them. In fact, with a few incremental nights I could satisfy a Platinum challenge, that seemed intriguing enough so I decided to give that a try.

With a phone call to Marriott Rewards (shocked by the hold times for a general member), I got myself signed up — I had the remainder of the current month and then 3 additional months to stay 18 nights and earn Platinum status through the end of the membership year, and I was given Platinum status for he duration of the challenge (which updated in Marriott’s system overnight).

I’m just coming off my first Marriott stay during this period, and I’m underwhelmed. But this isn’t really the story of one particular stay, every chain has some properties that don’t treat elites well. It’s really the story of how my experiences at one property highlight how the Marriott program works, and how it led me to finally dig into the nitty gritty details of the program (beyond knowing that suites weren’t a published benefit of the program) and discover that it comes up even more lacking than I had thought.

I was booked into the JW Marriott Desert Ridge resort for a conference I was speaking at. The hotel looked nice enough, though huge, it’s a 950 room conference facility. The place certainly gets great reviews on TripAdvisor (currently “Ranked #11 of 176 hotels in Phoenix”) though I don’t ever put much stock in that.

Reading up on the property in advance, I noted that the health facility was accessible with a charge (not included in the resort fee!). That’s ok, I figured, I’m a Platinum Guest! But reading over Marriott Rewards Platinum benefits I realized that complimentary health club access is not a benefit of Marriott’s elite program, top tier members do not receive it even when the hotel gym is owned and operated by the hotel. Most properties don’t charge for access, of course, but I’ve never paid to access those that do at a chain where I had status.

And late checkout? Fortunately I wouldn’t be needing it. Hyatt guarantees 4pm late checkout for their Diamond members. Starwood guarantees 4pm for both Platinums and Golds. Both make it ‘subject to availability’ at resorts, and this is property I’d be staying at first is considered a resort.

But even at non-resorts, Marriott’s Platinum late checkout benefit is subject to availability, on request on the day of departure, and it’s not even offered at resorts.

Priority Late Checkout
Call the front desk the morning of your check out, and let us know your planned departure time. Late checkout is based on availability and offered at all participating Marriott hotels, except resorts and Marriott Vacation Club.

Fortunately I wouldn’t be needing a late checkout on this trip, and my additional locked-in Marriott stays wouldn’t be at resorts!

I didn’t arrive at the property until a bit after 11pm on a Thursday evening. I was tired and looking forward to sleep in a comfortable bed. But I was hit with a bit of a surprise.

Clerk: I see that you’ve requested a King bed, but we don’t have any available this evening, we’re completely full, so I’ve assigned you to a room with two doubles.

Ummm.. excuse me?

  • If there’s one thing I do know about the Marriott Rewards program is that Golds and Platinums are guaranteed their bed type preference.

    Guaranteed Room TypeWhen making a reservation, be sure to note both your Marriott Rewards membership number and room/bed preferences. At locations throughout the U.S. and Canada, we’ll always honor your bed type request.

  • And in any case, they’re seriously not honoring the bed type request for a Platinum member?

Ok, maybe I’m not a ‘real’ platinum in some sense, but for the purposes of this stay and the next few months I certainly am. But I’m really just interested here in learning the ins and outs of the program.

The desk clerk went to get a manager, who looked at my reservation and for available rooms and said there was just nothing that could be done.

I then asked about the Marriott Rewards guarantee — aren’t they supposed to provide cash compensation when they fail to honor a Platinum member’s room type?

The manager explained that I had requested a King bed, but that because my room was part of a conference block it wasn’t technically a reservation for a King bed. And so no guarantee applied.

Again, guarantee aside, they really don’t work to honor room type preferences for Platinums? I asked whether any benefits accrued here?

I would have figured I’d at least get lounge access, but I had done the research in advance, this property has a club that doesn’t count as a lounge for elite access.

I’d have figured I would get free breakfast, but I did the research on that in advance, too:

  • Free breakfast when there’s no lounge access applies only Monday through Friday
  • And it doesn’t apply at resorts, in any case.

That gives Marriott a weaker breakfast benefit than Starwood, Hyatt, or Hilton. Starwood gives a checkin amenity choice of Continental breakfast on every stay. At Hyatt it’s full breakfast. Hilton even gives breakfast to Gold members.

So I knew I’d get no lounge, no breakfast.

The manager explained that I would receive free internet, free health club access (not required by the program’s terms and conditions!), and a check-in amenity. That was what I could expect as a Platinum at this property.

Except… they never returned to the issue of check-in amenity, never offered it or provided it. And that’s guaranteed, too, supposedly backed by cash!

The Marriott Insiders forum recently offered an explanation of how the guarantee works:

As you know, our hotels aim for 100% delivery of the Platinum Arrival Gift – whether for a food/beverage amenity or bonus points — however there are some rare cases where the hotel is unable to deliver the gift or there is a delay in the bonus points posting process. If a hotel does not offer a Platinum member a choice of arrival gift, or if the hotel fails to deliver a food/beverage amenity (if selected) during the member’s stay then the hotel will compensate that guest $100 for the inconvenience. As for the bonus points option — since bonus points can always be “delivered” to a member’s account, there is no monetary compensation for “not delivering” Arrival Gift bonus points. If for some reason members do not see Arrival Gift bonus points in their accounts, we ask that they contact the Platinum Elite Guest Services desk at 800-321-7396, and they will gladly post the Platinum Arrival Gift points for that stay. Arrival Gift bonus points should be posted within several days of the member’s check-out, along with other earned points for that stay

So if you aren’t offered the amenity, or if you opt for food and beverage and it isn’t delivered, you’re supposed to get $100.

That’s what happened to me, it was never offered.

If you opt for points, they can always deliver points, even late — so no payment applies.

I’m posting this before the points for the stay posts, so if someone at the hotel has a Google Alert set for their property name, they could presumably post the points to my account and I would have a hard time arguing that I didn’t select points since they were never offered. I have no idea whether I’d have chosen the 500 points or the food and beverage amenity, not having been offered the choice I never asked what the food and beverage option consisted of.

So I figure I’ll follow up on this in a week, after I’ve seen whether they post the points without having given me that option. But most reports I’ve seen of the $100 guarantee are that it’s not easy to get.

On the second day of the stay I went downstairs at 1pm to see about changing rooms. They were supposed to call me when a new room was ready, I didn’t figure that would happen at all (those calls don’t usually come quickly on their own) and since it was before check-in time and I was less tired I figured I was in better shape to specify what I hoped to get in a new room.

The clerk at the desk found a room with a king bed that didn’t overlook the hotel’s entrance. Good enough, he promised I’d get a call when the room was ready, he though that would be in an hour or so but certainly by check-in time.

At 6pm, when hadn’t heard anything I went down to the desk and spoke to the same clerk. He seemed shocked no one had called me. Really? I wasn’t shocked at all! They gave me keys to the new room and I switched.

The hotel was fine, large, good for upscale but not luxury conferences. I wouldn’t stay here on my own, I certainly don’t think it was worth the $330++ per night he conference was paying let alone the $500++ that rooms were going for on the Marriott website shortly before the stay.

But it was a great education in Marriott Rewards, in the Platinum program, and independently of the specific treatment here I think what I’ve internalized about the Marriott Rewards program is:

  • The highest threshold to earn top tier status
  • Suites specifically excluded from the upgrade benefit
    A weaker breakfast benefit than Hyatt, Hilton, and Starwood
  • A weaker late checkout benefit than Hyatt and Starwood

  • No complimentary fitness club benefit

And in too limited an experience to generalize from, not a ton of effort to accommodate either.

So I’ve decided that Marriott Platinum just isn’t worth it, and I’m not going to stretch and direct incremental stays over to Marriott to retain the status. I’ve decided to abandon the Platinum challenge. Although hopefully with the remaining Marriott nights I can’t weasel out of I’ll receive some benefit.

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. @Interested Party – I covered the change in t&c when it happened, this was accurate when written, and there is still no suite upgrade benefit .. suites are just no longer explicitly precluded in the t&c (big whoop)

  2. I have tried for 2 business days now to book a 25 person conference, on hold forever on the regular booking line, finally rude rude customer service agent transfers my call and I get cut off again. Excellent customer prevention dept I see, and thank you for posting your review of hotel ammenities, I’m sure there are many other upscale resorts in Palm Springs

  3. Rules says:

    If the Member attends a convention or group meeting and individually pays the hotel directly for the room, he/she will be eligible to receive Points and elite night credits for the stay. However, contract rooms, rooms reserved by corporations on an ongoing basis, master-billed rooms are not eligible to earn points or elite night credit.

    If you didn’t pay (as you mentioned it was paid by the conference) no points nor elite night would be offered.

  4. Marriott hotels are just a convenience to me at this point. There is a Marriott everywhere I go and I’m close to life time gold…so why not get it. I’ll try some other properties then. But I have never received a suite upgrade even when I ask for it and I’ve been a platinum elite consistently for 4 years now…the front desk always says “we’re booked solid” or something like that. I think they’ve been instructed to lie.

    That is my biggest pet peeve about Marriott…not treating the platinum properly. But then again, I wonder since it is such a popular program, are most people also platinum level and so it’s not worth much anymore??? Maybe it just boils down to the rate you are paying. The higher the rate, the more likely you will get upgraded….or if you have to get chumy with the hotel manager. I’ve known a few people who do get upgrades consistently and they are very outgoing and act like old college room mates with the hotel manager.

  5. As an employee of Marriott do us all a favor and update your rewards account to your preferred bed type or at least call in and let us know. Also, bed type at almost any resort is not guaranteed, especially at convention resorts, keep in mind that when you put the REQUEST in it is only a REQUEST. We do our best on an hourly basis to make sure our guests are satisfied. Do you know how it feels to have people constantly knock down your hard work? Probably not because all you had to do was stay at a couple resorts and then complain about them later. The amount of benefits you can receive from Marriott rewards is unlimited and the best part is, they NEVER expire. 10 points for every dollar you spend, better then our competitors times a million. I have worked for Starwood hotels and resorts and let me tell you, you won’t nearly get the benefits that Marriott will provide for their elite members as well as bed type guarantee. Your article is a joke, and I’m knocking it down because you knocked my job down. Reports get done every hour just to make sure we can satisfy you. Feel free to join another rewards program, but remember, when your points expire or you can’t use your points towards miles your going to regret leaving the best rewards program at any hotel/resort.

  6. I have little doubt the Marriott employee who wrote that response was written up or let go. It is sad, though, the front desk staff really get a lot of abuse by guests. It takes an iron heart to not let it get them down. Those who can take it become great hotel managers. Sometimes, front desk agents can only take so much and they vent and let it all out.

    Also consider, this, guests, especially reward members learn, how valuable they are to Marriott’s revenue. Marriott does not want to loose a loyal member, so when a complaint is made, Marriott does all it can to satisfy the complaint and make it right. The member is essentially awarded for the complaint and becomes conditioned to do it again, and again and again. How different is this than teaching a dog a new trick. The dog is rewarded each time it does its trick or task.

    Sad as well, is the front desk agents are usually young college age students or interns. They are paid $10 to $12 an hour. It is not worth the abuse they have to take. So, when the heat is too high, they let it out and walk off the job. How do I know this? I’ve been there! I’ve told a few Platinum elite members off. These particular elite members were no different than a spoiled child. The message came across loud and clear. They acknowledge they were woken up. But I did get written up twice and the third time, would have been termination so I just walked off the job that very instant. It was worth it!

  7. Could not agree more! I’m Platinum Marriott and lifetime Diamond Hyatt. I think the Diamond is far superior to Marriott in every way. I intend to let my Platinum lapse.

  8. This is my first year as a platinum elite and I must say I am very impressed by the service I have received at almost all the Marriott’s I have stayed at ..Most of the time I don’t even have to ask for the upgrade at all and they automatically do it for me. The Kansas City Airport Marriott even once upgraded me to their presidential suite and I had no clue they were doing it. All the concierge staff I have encountered throughout my travels have been very professional and friendly. The bottom line is if people wake up looking to find dirt on the ground then they are going to keep looking down all day to find it, instead of just walking straight head and smiling …Marriott, just like any other hotel chain, has problems I am sure, but I believe their loyalty program is 100x better than anyone else simply on points alone. I have had most of my requests honored all the time this past year, and when they weren’t I was offered points or breakfast accommodations when they didn’t have a lounge (i.e. courtyard etc) …It’s really about how you talk to people , treat people, and realizing that basically shit happens….I have found that being nice and professional when shit happens goes a hell of a long way farther than being rude and a complete jerk…which I have heard and seen people do. Can you imagine you working at a job trying to constantly satisfy hundreds of different personalities on a daily basis?? I sure as hek can’t! ….We all have our own unique horror stories I am sure from staying at any hotel , not just Marriott , but that is the nature of the beast , especially with the seasoned traveler. I just ask that Marriottt make sure they have fresh coffee in morning haha …God Bless

    Marriott Lifer

  9. I have been a lifetime status platinum premier for 17 years. There may be better reward programs (doubtful), but there are no better choices for nice properties.

    You did not have platinum status even though they said you did. You had not yet paid the dues and the folks at the hotels understand this. I have always (99.9999%) of the time been suite upgraded and I stay on average 225 nights per year and have for 17 years.

    I get whatever checkout time I want within reason – 4 is not reasonable for any hotel and places a burden on the house keeping staff – shame on you for expecting that.

    If you were a true platinum you would understand that the other programs fall woefully short, but since you were an impostor you got treated fairly, but like any other non status member. In my opinion the golds and silvers did have more status than you – they earned it by staying nights.

    So go on back to your roadway inn or wherever you stay and leave the true reward programs for those that are real travelers.

  10. I don’t understand the comments that other programs are worse than marriott. I am spg lifetime gold and have great experiences with free breakfast, upgrades to suites, and welcome amenities. I have never had a problem getting a stay credit for co fence rates and spg had some of the best redemption and airline transfer bonuses. The employee above mentions that others do not have this but spg does. Also earning 10 points per dollar is not exciting when redemptions are 2-10times as much. I also get upgrades and breakfast as gold member with hilton – easy to earn. So although Marriott may have a good program it certainly is not the best. Noe property wise it may have an advantage but that’s a different story. I also worry about what Marriott does to spg – hopefully not what united did to continental.

  11. Marriott rewards is not only a scam, but a joke. Garbage, garbage, garbage. REad the fine points very carefully, you could rack up serious charges when booking \ paying in points. However, if something goes awry with a reservation paid with points (ex. a no show, dispute, other reservation violation, which seem to change at the whim of whoever runs this program), you can be charged actual cash instead, with non warning or notice. Very sneaky – typical American company in this day and age of Americans ripping off Americans. You’re not a Platinum or Gold, or even a rewards member with Marriott. You are a number, and a stream of revenue. That’s it. There are better venues and programs with much better guest and member treatment. Hyatt comes to mind first.

  12. Tardy to the party, but I was looking up this property and came across this post.

    Firstly, sorry you had a poor experience. It can happen in a hotel chain, an airline, or even Neiman Marcus or Tiffany or a store or customer service of any sort. I’ve had some bad experiences as a top tier in loyalty programs on huge spend, and wonderful experiences as a non-elite spending little, and everything in between, no matter the vendor. If you chose to dump Marriott after one challenge stay at a resort, that’s fine. But bad stays/flights/whatever can happen anywhere, and unfortunately, convention stays often are a locus for those bad experiences, no matter the flag.

    For business and some personal, I choose Marriott where it is logical. I am not going to spend an extra two hours driving to the customer if there is another brand family closer, and not all of my personal trips fall within Marriott footprint due to location or other persons on the travel. But by and large, yes, after many years, I do prefer Marriott for the bulk of my stays. I am Platinum, but this particular year, I have worked up from 0 to 180+ nights, all backside in beds, and all on my own dime, so please, none of the OPM comments.

    I think that many of the road warriors, and certainly I, will tell you that one of the things we highly value about Marriott is consistency within the brand standards. Yes. there will be outliers, and yes, some markets have different policies, but by and large, I know what my experience will be like before I get there, which, particularly for generally a 50 week traveler, is what I want. I cannot say that for Hilton, for my locations. Yes, SPG has many wonderful points, but their footprint pre-merger with Marriott is not wide enough for work stays, nor is Hyatt, though certainly they both have attractive properties.

    This piece was written awhile ago, and much has changed in the industry as well as within brands and certainly loyalty programs. I’d be curious, @Gary, to see your stance more contemporaneously.

    To the quasi-rabid alleged Marriott employees: clearly it is time for you to step away from this type of service-related industry, whether you’ve had one jerk too many at a property that specialises in them, or that you work for a GM who does not cover his staff.

    To the people who have gotten less than knowledgeable FD staff: sometimes someone is new, or your particular circumstance has not come up for them when they were alone yet, or a lot of other things. Or maybe one of you was a jerk. Or not. Even airline travel and rules often depend on who you run into and how they might be implemented.

    To the folks who are quick to dump MArriott for one reason or another: great– go. It’s a big world out there. I’m confident you can find something that meets your combination of needs and desires and patterns. Try them out until you find one that does.

    To the people complaining about category changes: these adjustments also run in favour of customers on many occasions. This year, many (a huge amount) were downgraded in Category based on data. Certs are always a hot button issue, but I can always find a way to use mine, whether positioning for something, or similar. They are not aspirational, nor are they intended to be. They are ‘free’ and I’m glad for them. If you can’t find a way to use yours, that’s regrettable for you.

    To Gary: I’m surprised with all of your travel you did not know more about Marriott prior, even anecdotally. Resorts have separate rules, and they are clearly spelled out in the T&C just like other properties and other brands. While I would not wish a poor experience on anyone, and it is unfortunate that you had one for your first (and only?) Marriott stay, this is akin to flying DL one time and deciding you will never fly it again.

    Ultimately I wish these comments were not so combative and vituperative in the name of having a pleasant stay at a hotel of one’s choosing and being accorded rights and privileges due to status. The McNastys are out there, whether behind the desk, in front of it, next to you on the plane, taking your boarding pass. So are the McNices. Some people are less able to deal with the former and there are too few of the latter.

    I hope all are able to find a program that works for them, including the folks who churn, MS, and so on. But consider that SPG, with its constant giveaways of upgrades, was ripe for the plucking by Marriott, so perhaps not so sustainable of a model. We shall see what happens with the merger.

    As for the property causing all of this kerfuffle: I’m planning to stay.

    Insert Coffee

  13. I’ve been a platinum for 10 years and have stayed, long term, in all levels/Brands of Marriotts across the USA. Glad to say that 90% of the time I’ve gotten upgrades and late checkouts to 2 and 3pm when I asked, sometimes even later. My situation is a little different because I stay in a Hotel for 5 months or longer, so the staff becomes my friends and family away home. I have enjoyed my Elite status and been upgraded to some “baller level” suites that I would have never been able to comfortably afford. So, that is just my 2 cents on being a Platnium Member with Marriott and I have been treated graciously more times than not!

    My biggest complaint is that when I do have a complaint there is no real department to take that complaint and guarantee a time in which they will get back with you. You can send a complaint to the customer service email and never hear back! That is something that definitely needs to be corrected.

  14. I have been a platinum member of Marriott for years. Very disappointed. My last job, staying at a Marriott was required. I’m now staying at Hilton. As a newbie to Hilton, I am finding that I am being treated better than a platinum member of Marriott. Marriott has lost a very valuable customer. I stay in hotel rooms over 200 nights a year.

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