Why Marriott Rewards Is Better Than It Was Before The Starwood Merger

I dunk on Marriott a lot for its failure to deliver on promised benefits, for its clueless customer service agents, and its broken IT. And Starwood members are generally unhappy with the Marriott Bonvoy program. To be fair, benefits aren’t received as consistently as they used to be for Starwood members. The credit card’s earning isn’t as rich. And top status is harder to earn, with a minimum spend requirement at the 100-night level to receive ‘Ambassador’ service that no longer includes an individual assigned Ambassador.

However, for Marriott Rewards program members the Starwood merger has surprisingly been a blessing and that’s really easy to forget.

  • Before the Starwood merger there was no guaranteed late checkout
  • There’s no breakfast at resorts and more brands as an elite benefit
  • The Marriott credit card has stronger earning for spending than it used to (basically meeting the Starwood Amex in the middle)
  • Before the Starwood merger suite upgrades weren’t promised if a suite was available at check-in, there was no advance suite upgrade program or 24-hour check-in for top elites, and no Ambassador program at all.

Marriott Rewards members don’t have quite as good an earn-burn value proposition than they used to, with hotels requiring more points than they used to (and a single Marriott point worth a bit less). However they also have access to much nicer hotel than before – the Starwood portfolio contains aspirational properties all over the world at which to spend points, while Marriott’s pre-merger portfolio was far more workmanlike overall.

What Marriott has lost is its sine qua non of consistency, and that’s hard for members and a completely fair criticism. And Marriott hasn’t kept its lofty promises to members made when Bonvoy launched. But that doesn’t change the fact that pre-merger Marriott Rewards members were made better off by the merger.

Starwood members on the other hand, who were loyal to the program for the elite experience, have reasonable grounds for complaint. Those benefits aren’t as easy to achieve or as consistently applied. The credit card is no longer such a rich source of points. There are some redemption values compared to Starwood pricing at top end hotels which were ‘beyond the award chart’ (charging double the points of a top category hotel – or more) and there are more places to redeem.

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. “Why my new wife who is an obese two-time divorcee I married at age 50 out of desperation and fear of dying alone is better than my ex-wife who I married at 22 after we met in corepower yoga class”

  2. Gary – I can understand long-time SPG elite members being upset since it certainly sounds like they may have gotten better, more consistent treatment pre merger (like many point out Hyatt does now which is a lot easier with a smaller footprint – to at least manage consistency). I, on the other hand was already lifetime Marriott top of the program (so they moved me to lifetime Titanium). The Marriott program had late checkout and a few of the other benefits you pointed out which may be new for SPG members but didn’t have the 50 and 75 night awards, suite upgrades and some other items. Again, this is from my perspective as a long time Marriott elite (was in SPG program but never got more than low level elite). Even with the inconsistency and lack of oversight of franchisees (which I do agree Marriott should better manage) I am much happier with the Bonvoy program than the old Marriott program pre merger.

  3. As a previously fervent SPG loyalist, I find Bonvoy to be sorely lacking and consistently getting worse. Arne and his replacement are completely clueless that a loyalty program is supposed to make people choose a program based on sentiment rather than numbers and the way to influence people that is by building fervent loyalty rather than inspiring indifference. In short, make it a great program and people will go out of their way to choose you. Win/win. Instead, Marriott has chosen to view customers as chumps or adversaries.

  4. As a senior SPG member you are right on little value on the current program and since the property can pick and chose what they want to accept like I tried to use my VALUABLE free stay on a Marriott resort which they denied and want to charge me 79 dollar a night for resort fee no thank you Hyatt program here I come !!!

  5. Breakfast, swell. Late check-out, swell. Suite upgrades? As I’ve mentioned in other replies, property owners resist granting (or simply won’t grant) suite upgrades even when abundantly available. Marriott knows this. It is a hollow benefit. One might argue that it was an easy benefit for Marriott to add knowing that each property has the discretion not to honor the benefit — as well as Suite Night Awards. Any property owner can say that they didn’t before and they’re not going to start now — no skin off their noses. In the end, it is what it is. It’s what happens when Bank of America is acquired by Nations Bank or Wells Fargo is acquired by Norwest. And, we all have choices to make. I’m not going away mad — I’m just going away. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YME4dzk-Viw

  6. Hyatt is easily the best program. I just wish they had a bigger footprint. It’s that reason and that reason alone I give Marriott so much business. I love being a Hyatt Globalist although once people start traveling again it will probably be tough to score upgrades as everyone and their brother/sister is Globalist now.

  7. @AC – can’t think of a single “benefit” that the SPG loyals didn’t have that Marriott brought to the table. Y’all made out great, and you can thank SPG for that.

    If SPGers wanted to be Marriott loyals, they would have been. But the hotels are mediocre and the loyalty program (aka rebate program) pretty much sucked.

  8. As a Lifetime Platinum with SPG, I was treated extremely well. Upgrades? Of course! Beautiful Breakfast Buffet? Got it. As a so- called Lifetime Plat with BonVoy, I’ve run into rude staff, especially at the desk. Breakfast and Club lounges? They’re either closed or have nothing but Oatmeal and fruit. I have yet to find a property where things were the same. I leave for a Luxury Hotel in Greece in a few weeks. They’ve always been my favorite social hotels. But I booked 2 rooms in this crazy BonVoy programs using points I’ve earned as an SPG. I’m going to think about switching to Hyatt after that. Marriott members got a lot with the change. SPG, however, did not.

  9. @P Ness nailed this. I get this blog post though. Sure it’s not all bad but it would be like if Wyndham bought out Marriott and you tell me it’s awesome because I can now redeem at more properties and Super 8’s have free breakfast for everyone. Don’t get me wrong I “like” Marriott and I “liked” SPG but Bonvoy is still just average overall.

  10. I’m pretty sure Marriott had an ambassador program before the merger.

    But, right now, the ambassador service is useless.

    I’m trying to make a 2-night points stay. The property has the lowest category room available for booking on points one night and cash on the second night. I can’t get a reservation on Marriott.com for both nights with points even though there is clearly availability. I’ve emailed the ambassador service and two days later no response.

  11. Also, before the merger, as a SPG platinum and Marriott platinum premier I almost always received a welcome amenity (without asking) of fruit, chocolate or wine (albeit cheap wine). As an ambassador, I may receive this once per year now. I think the big problem is there are too many elites. When everyone is an elite, nobody is an elite. Bonvoy platinum is the equivalent of pre-merger Rewards gold. I’ve stayed at non-resort hotels with 200 rooms where 75 guests were gold or platinum, another 20 were titanium and 2-3 were ambassador. That’s just crazy. Looking at 2022, the number of elites will be way inflated, which means overcrowded club lounges (if they ever reopen) and nonexistent upgrades. Ignoring a lot of legitimate complaints about breakfast benefits, etc., I think the biggest improvement would be clarifying the upgrade protocol. It should be like the airlines. Marriott ambassador status guests should have the highest priority for an upgrade. Right now, the upgrade benefit is so poorly defined that a mere platinum could grab the empty suite before an ambassador.

  12. Gary, I think you bring up many solid points.

    Since the late 70’s I have travel roughly 200 to 250 nights per year with the exception of 2008/09 (Great Recession) & during the recent COVID-19. During all these years I became the top level (Black) with Marriott’s original frequent traveler program, the Marriott Marquee program. Under Marriott Rewards, I because their Platinum Elite and some years made their “by invitation only” Platinum Premier (similar to Ambassador). I made Marriott Lifetime Platinum under the old harder rules. Pre-Starwood, I was at the top level of ITT Sheraton. When Starwood acquired Sheraton from ITT, they made me Platinum. In fact, my Starwood SPG account number was my old ITT Sheraton number. For multiple years I was Ambassador with Starwood and made Lifetime Platinum with Starwood. I also made Hilton Diamond early on and continue to today being Diamond. Off and on I was either the old Diamond or the new Globalist with Hyatt.

    After saying this, I realize that despite all my travels, it is still only a very narrow slice of pie experience. Still, my humble experience has been, that while the Starwood program was a very good program overall, I did not find any better overall than Marriott’s or Hilton’s. I did find Hyatt’s program better and more consistent than everyone else … up to when Hyatt went public around 2009. After that, at least to my limited experience, it seemed that the bean counters took over and Hyatt no longer really cared about long term loyalty but instead what profit they report to their shareholders each quarter. After that, Hyatt seems only slightly better than Hilton & Marriott today and sadly no longer much better.

    Still, I am happy overall with the services and benefits I receive from all of these hotel chains. Times change, and so do the hotel (and airline) frequent traveler programs. My philosophy is to appreciate what we are offered versus depressing ourselves over what we are not (or no longer) offered. Thanks again for your article!

  13. Seriously?

    Marriott Golds used to have free breakfast and lounge access. With or without taking Starwood into account, Marriott has become a poor, disorganized and much greedier shadow of its former self.

  14. Almost every JW doubled in price. Didn’t used to max out at 45k? Now they’re priced the same as Ritz, up to 100k on peak. Let’s not even talk about the Courtyards and Res. Inns pricing at 70k on peak. Who cares that the credit card earn rate has doubled? It’s a much worse program for people earning their points at properties

  15. I miss being able to make a points award with SPG when the hotel had a room available. Now I see plenty of rooms available but not on points.

  16. P Ness: Excellent comment and sentiment. Marriott Bonvoy like most other hotel “loyalty” programs are not as much fun and not as rewarding – IMO.

  17. @Andy Shuman = that’s not fair, Marriott Gold was the level that’s equal to Bonvoy Platinum and includes breakfast/lounge, just a change in nomenclature

  18. Andy nailed it. Since Bonvoy was created, MR Golds lost free breakfast. Anybody with an SPG Amex saw an immediate deval (2 points/$1 spend rather than 3 points/$1 rate when SPG converted). Chase 35k certs are pretty much worthless and Amex 50k are heading that direction. No daily housekeeping, no breakfasts due to COVID.

    From my perch I see nothing positive…

  19. One disappointing issue. I am a titanium elevate and I have accumulated quite a few Suite Night Awards but I consistently get denied them. I now put in a request for a SNA for every stay they are available since saving them for a special trip is useless. Unfortunately my strategy of requesting them on any stay has not worked. They still get denied every time.

  20. Marriott will eventually return to a more realistic point system for redemptions…..they will learn the lesson again. The consumer will be their teacher.People evolve, Hyatt rises
    They have only themselves to blame for being greedy.

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