You Expect Way Too Much From Marriott, Cut Them Some Slack

One thing I think is underappreciated in the frustration some members have with Marriott’s loyalty program is that while there have been implementation problems — with Marriott’s website, customer service, accounts integration, and getting hotels to implement the program correctly — some of what a legacy Starwood Preferred Guest member may be experiencing is just adjusting to how things actually work on the Marriott side of the fence.

You see, when it comes to customer service legacy Marriott members have just come to accept what the second President Bush once called “the soft bigotry of low expectations.” Starwood customers used to getting phones answered on the first ring and agents – by phone or email – who fixed problems can’t understand why Marriott isn’t doing it yet. What they miss is that Marriott didn’t do that before, either. And so holding them to that standard misses the point.

A reader emailed Marriott for help with transferring points to airline miles. After a wait they received this non-sequitur of a reply:

The reader didn’t reply. Then six days later they got another response as though the first one hand’t been sent. It’s apparently not possible to transfer Marriott points to miles online.

My point is this: many Starwood customers simply aren’t used to Marriott customer service, and they think what they’re experiencing is something wrong with the program. Marriott, for its part, doesn’t see as much wrong as customers do because they are delivering normal service.

This is, in my experience, fairly common for interactions with Marriott. I’m still waiting for a response to an email from back in September, by the way.

When you have a frustrating interaction dealing with Marriott over a simple matter you may think you’re getting Bonvoyed when really you’re just dealing with Marriott.

For a contrary take though Loyalty Lobby suggests that Marriott has gutted its customer service centers.

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, 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. A lot of what they do is sheer incompetence. That’s why I and many SPGers stayed away from this bloat over the years – just a big company full of limited service, mediocre properties.

    But there seems to be a new selection of anti-consumer, unethical behaviors and stances too.

    This has to be one of the most tone deaf consumer-facing companies in the marketplace.

  2. MY new credit card from them is on it’s way with a “healthy” line of credit. Guess who’s doing the transformation work out of inspiration or desperation? L 😛 L

  3. Sorry Gary, agree with LL on this. This wasn’t “normal” at Marriott either.
    They attempted a massive IT and business project at the same time as the complex integration.of Starwood – ant they botched it. They are past the point of no return and will need months/years to fix it…

  4. I think you are probably much smarter than I have given you credit for.
    I realize now you get a lot of clicks by writing your stupid points.

  5. I mostly agree with the article. Starwood and Marriott were my no.1 and no.2 brands b4 they merged. I loved them being separate. Starwood hotels made me excited and had great customer service. Marriott had the footprint but skimped on the elite benefits. Customer service was not comparable between the two. I found Marriott to be too nonchalant at times. Also if you call after hours (~8-5 EST) you will find reps that have very little knowledge about the Loyalty program and it’s pretty much not worth your time. Marriott has always been a master of cutting costs while being strict with hoteliers on brand consistency. So I do feel for the SPG loyalists but I agree with Gary that you will have to taper expectations a bit with Marriott moving forward.
    My biggest problem is that I used to be Gold on both Marriott and Starwood and found the statuses to be quite rewarding and easier to achieve with the credit cards from both programs (SPG $35K spend, Ritz $10K spend or about 25nights with Rollover nights). However now since the merger I feel the mid tier status Gold has been basically gutted. You have to work harder to make Platinum which is the old Gold re-badged now harder to achieve with credit cards and no more rollover nights. They added SNA but they’re not as rewarding because it is not a guaranteed benefit and it’s only 5 nights. I am Titanium but won’t maintain past this year as I’ve shifted stays to other chains. I wish the merger had been blocked. I missed the old Marriott and the old Starwood as separate programs!!!

  6. Service on the Marriott side is MUCH worse than it was pre-merger. There are widely documented reasons for this, and they all boil down to two things: cost-cutting and terrible management.

    This dumpster fire of a “hospitality” company deserves no slack at all.

  7. Here are some data points from the ambassador side:

    Before merger, according to an ambasssdor I spoke with, they each handles 70-100 ambassadors, which allowed them to roughly know their clients. After the merger, they were up to 500 per guest, which as she called it made them barely reactive and completely useless since they can’t follow up with properties.

    Here’s an email from Marriott in response to a request to help me make a friend’s anniversary with his wife a bit more special (he himself is a platinum spending about $1k a night for 50 nights with SPG at Regis/chateau level properties)—

    After a 4 day delay I received back this note from the generic service:

    Please have them reach out to our Elite Services at 888-709-2856 to request special amenities to celebrate their special occasion because we will need the reservation information to process their request.

    If you have any further question, feel fee to contact the number above.

    Then my personal ambassador replied after 8 days:

    Thank you for your email. It is nice to hear from you.

    I am so sorry, as I am not able to do anything. I know this isn’t what you were hoping to hear.

    Please let me know if there is anything else I can do.

    Hence my signing a corporate contract with HYATT. Sure you may have to stay at a Marriott from time to time, but it makes your stays st HYATT when available that much more special.

  8. you can tell the phone rep is just different now at SPG. Used to get efficient rep totally understanding what you are trying to do & get it done fast. Now i can tell from the first “Hello” the rep is young and foreign, had to explain a lot to get help or an answer. Nowadays I just hang up right away until I get a somewhat “familiar” voice on the other end.

  9. Reminds me of the Continental & United merger. UA Milieage Plus Members were used to quick efficient answers when calling…then the Continental Customer Service disaster happened….

    Re: The Ambassador program – it’s so funny. Been an SPG Ambassador since it was started, now after the merger in August and February – my ambassador apologizes because she can’t do anything that she used to be able to do for me prior. What on earth is an Ambassador supposed to do differently in Marriott’s eyes?? Marriott is touting the wonderful benefits of Ambassador and they can’t even give their ambassadors any power to do anything. You can tell an SPG Ambassador from a Marriott Ambassador – the SPG ones have a nice voicemail…the Marriott side is simply their name. Sad.

  10. This is the funniest article I’ve read in weeks! You should start submitting articles to The Onion.

  11. Gary – Is this one of your two part posts where you come back tomorrow and tell us how you really feel? You know, as well as anyone, that not only was the merger a shambles, but the post-acquisition service levels for Marriott are a shitshow. Whether you were previously a Marriott or SPG traveler, the customer service currently is inadequate to warrant loyalty.

    This year, I’m conpletely freelancing. I don’t care about status anymore. I will accidentally get Accor Platinum, because I’m spending a week at a Fairmont resort, but everything else is just based on credit cards. I’m certainly not targeting Marriott.

  12. So even if the typical customer service response was always this bad (and I think it’s worse), it’s far more problematic now, because there are so many many more issues that require resolution. If a regular customer only had to call once a year, a slow response may be just an annoyance, but when you’re contacting them constantly, it’s a very real problem.

  13. Totally agree with the Loyalty Lobby article (read the comments to that article as well, which were quite interesting). I understand that there are many crying former SPG people but there are also many crying Marriott pre-merger people as well (I am one of them). Marriott didn’t always get everything right, but they were quick to fix mistakes and the customer service reps really tried (and were fairly competent as well). I trusted Marriott to do right by me, and they always did. One year when I was four nights short of “old Gold”, the answer was a quick “sure, I’ll extend you for a year.” When I knew I was going to be a no-show, I asked a Marriott waive the fee, and they gladly did. In another case, I messed up and booked a Marriott for a day earlier. When I showed up the next day, they said “we figured something came up so we just cancelled your stay after midnight when we didn’t hear from you so you wouldn’t incur a no-show charge”. Within the past two years, everything fell apart. Customer service reps became absolutely clueless. They would even state they had no power to fix things (whether true or not–in many cases, I suspect not).

    Please don’t assume former Marriott people pre-merger just put up with this. We didn’t. We were OK with the program. Many of us actually liked it. Remember we had a choice–no one was making most of us stay at Marriotts instead of Starwoods. Besides, many of those city Sheratons were so, so tired looking, and the Marriott footprint was so much better than Starwood..

    Lifetime Titanium here. 90% of stays were on the Marriott side. I really believe your article is somewhat condescending and definitely wrong. We were not stupid. What exists today is not the old Marriott. We would gladly take it back. When we read articles about crazy no-show cash charges on points stays, we think back to the old days and wonder why we invested so much time and energy in a program that does this kind of stuff now.

  14. Sorry I have held top status with Marriott for years and I have noticed a significant decline in customer service post merger. This article is nonsense. I’m moving my business away from Marriott, because things have just gotten soo bad.

  15. I call BS. The above comments are correct. Marriott has taken on a highly antagonistic approach to their loyal customers. There’s a reason that Bonvoyed is a thing. Personally, I could have dealt with the IT catastrophes and the massive drop off in customer service from SPG if only Marriott had listened and not lied. They did neither.

  16. Am Exp says I have 107,000 Starwood points that they have awarded me. Marriott does not see the account, despite being given the account number from Am Exp.
    After holding 30 minutes an agent put me on hold to look into this and after holding 15 minutes I was disconnected. Called Am Exp and they insist there is 107k pts but there’s nothing they can do except send an email inquiry to Marriott.
    Looks like this will never be resolved

  17. Why should I cut them ANY slack? They don’t deserve any. At every opportunity they de-value my points, and take awaymy loyalty benefits. I wish I had not placed my confidence in them decades ago. Marriott’s management are turds at best.

  18. Actually this one thing that I was calling them about is worse than the old Marriott. I have my free night scheduled for the Hong Kong airport in September. I have a nice paper saying that no points were used and a big 0 for the cost.
    I booked my husband’s free night in Massachusetts for June, and all they can give me is a sheet saying that it cost 17,500 points. I did book it with a points room, so both say they cost 17,500 points each. I’ve called them twice, and they say that it really is a free night, but they don’t have any way of stating it. I asked about my receipt for the Hong Kong room, and they said that their system won’t do that anymore. So, it is worse than the old Marriott.

  19. NOT TRUE. I was Marriott Plat Premier, SPG Plat Ambassador, and Hyatt Diamond (now Globalist) at the same time before the merger. Marriott customer service used to be VERY good, often times at par compared to the other programs. Their phone agents picked up after 2-3 min short waits, were very knowledgeable and responsive, and were differentiated in how articulate they were in their communication skills. After earning the convenience of just emailing my SPG Ambassador, I at first dreaded having to call Marriott by phone but remember walking away impressed each time. But now, Bonvoy service is TERRIBLE. Not just a complete joke, but ACTIVELY inaccurate and frustrating. I’ve moved all 200 nights a year of my travel to Hyatt.

  20. I have had low expectations for some months but my SPG ambassador has been prompt and helpful, even though I didn’t expect it. She even had an assistant to expedite things at the end of last year. My 7-night certificate got lost in a shuffle but she located it, and issued me 30,000 points for the inconvenience. She got my 2018 stays and points in order so I re-qualified And has helped me with some tricky bookings. There was a couple months of MIA after August but I waited it out because I was reading about their new workloads and I figured she was pretty stressed. Anyway, I’m not bonvoy apologist but that’s my data points and maybe there are others like me out there.

  21. I find most of your posts to be fairly solid and fact based. But, wow, Gary, you are way off base here.

    Marriott a few years ago, compared to now, was a totally different company. The ghost of J.W. and the past leadership of Bill created a level of respect and decency that was truly an inspiring story in the business world. They really cared.

    No, their properties were not cutting edge or in any way stylish. But they delivered consistency. That is if you checked in, called, emailed…whatever…there was always a solid response and genuine care. They were one of the most respected and honored companies in the world because of this. Not that they innovated heavenly beds or had Maldives resorts….but that they actually had a connection with their guests that felt real.

    I’m not buying into your spin at all. I call bullcrap. This company is a mess now and the level of transparency and control of brand quality is abysmal. Tell me you are not selling out to the system like TPG. Please.

  22. I hate saying that I’m a lifetime plat w each program as well as current year plat w each one. But I am. The only way I have found to get service is to use the Marriott insiders website. Maybe head over there. And please join me in the use of the hashtag #MarriottHatesMe.

  23. Mexico City call centers have uneven language skills, inexperience and incompetence and or poor training.Which isn”t helping maters
    Def worse than pre merger
    Marriott has lost so much control over the company I’m not sure if they will ever recover fully
    with all the cost cutting simultaneously
    Downgrading call centers and outsourcing them to regions where the skills are lesser wasn’t a good move when the company is trying to get back on solid footing
    I won the jackpot the other night getting a former SPG agent but even she couldn’t fix all that is broke with Marriott
    Where do I even begin……………..Avoid as much as possible.
    Former landscapers & truck drivers must be manning the call centers I am convinced.The Flight attendants are flying the plane etc I’ve been using 3rd party sites and travel agents to minimize bad information and mistakes

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