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.