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Marriott is the largest hotelier in the world (by some distance) so it stands to reason that its Bonvoy rewards program has more members than any other hotel rewards program around. Sadly, size isn’t everything, and while a lot of Bonvoys deficiencies are well documented, I’ve just been given another reminder of just how bad some of Marriott Bonvoy’s policies can be…even if you hold top-tier status.
This summer, the family and I plan to be back in Los Angeles, and while Joanna and I can’t wait to be able to interact with city life once again (3 lockdowns have taken their toll) we’re also considering a short break at a resort (within driving distance) where we there’s no need to do anything but relax, read a few books and possibly even indulge in a bit of pampering.
Being based in Southern California means we’ll have a lot of options (there are plenty of great resorts properties within a driveable distance), but while we’re tempted with a trip to Laguna Beach, Santa Barbara, or even Big Sur, we’re probably going to go against convention and head to the desert around Palm Springs.
Yes, it will be super-hot, but it’s also guaranteed not to be crowded and if we don’t plan on doing very much for the short time we’ll be there do we really care that it will be over a hundred degrees. No, probably not.
Two resorts that look perfect for a couple who just want to lie back and indulge in some masterly inactivity are the Hyatt Regency Indian Wells and Marriott’s Renaissance Esmeralda Resort. The properties sit side by side and are surrounded by the same golf complex so as far as the location goes, there’s nothing to separate them.
As far as quality goes I can’t be sure how they compare as it’s been well over a decade since I last stayed at either of these properties, but I’m reasonably confident that either would suit us just fine.
I currently hold top-tier elite status with both Hyatt and Marriott so as far as benefits go I should be well taken care of at either property, but as I have some Marriott Suite Night Upgrades to use (they’ll expire long before my Hyatt suite upgrades), I was tempted to favor the Renaissance over the Hyatt.
A quick search on the Hyatt and Marriott websites quickly showed that the Renaissance was noticeably cheaper than the Hyatt for cash rate bookings ($225 + fees vs $152 + fees) and that while the Hyatt costs 20,000 points per night, the Renaissance costs 40,000 points per night (for the dates I was checking).
At this point, the Renaissance was looking promising as at $152 + fees, I would be happy to pay cash and save my Bonvoy Points for a more valuable redemption. A few moments later, the Renaissance stopped looking so promising.
When I priced up a stay at the Hyatt Regency Indian Wells and the Renaissance Esmeralda Resort one hugely annoying thing became clear all too quickly – both properties charge horrendous “resort fees”.
Resort fees are an abomination at the best of times, but to charge them during a season where occupancy rates are notoriously low and properties are less than a third full is ridiculous.
Still, both properties are charging these fees and the Hyatt Regency has the gall to charge more, so you may be wondering why the Renaissance is incurring my ire more than the Hyatt. The answer to that is simple, and it all comes down to the weakness of the Bonvoy program.
While there is no getting away from the horrendous resort fee at the Renaissance Esmeralda Resort, one of the great benefits of the World of Hyatt program is that all members (regardless of status level) have resort fees waived on award bookings.
If I try to book an award stay at the Renaissance Esmeralda Resort I still get charged the $36/night resort fee (and the taxes associated with that fee)…
…while if I book an award night at the Hyatt Regency Indian Wells, the resort fee disappears:
Moreover, not only will Hyatt waive resort fees for all World of Hyatt members who book an award stay, but it will also waive resort fees for all top-tier Globalist members who pay a regular cash rate too – I can book a cash rate at the Hyatt Regency and get the resort fee removed from my bill at check-out.
This is a colossal failure of the Marriott Bonvoy program because Hyatt isn’t the only hotel program to waive resort fees on award bookings – Hilton waives them too.
When Bonvoy is happy to charge its top-tier elites a fee that other major hotel rewards programs waive for all their members, you know that there’s something seriously rotten with the program.
Bad Move By Marriott
Clearly I will not be booking a stay at the Renaissance Esmeralda Resort as I have no intention of paying any property a resort fee if I can help it, and this leads me on to my second point of just how silly a policy this is for Marriott to maintain.
Leaving aside the lunacy of charging a resort fee during a season where properties struggle to attract guests, it’s utter stupidity to have a policy in place that encourages your more frequent visitors to look elsewhere.
When all Hyatt and Hilton award bookings come free of resort fees, why would anyone booking with points (and who has a choice) ever book at Marriott property that charges a resort fee?
This isn’t just a bad policy for Bonvoy members, it’s also a bad policy for Marriott because it can almost certainly lead to Marriott properties bringing in less money.
In my case, I’m looking to book a stay where I expect to be spending a disproportionate amount of my time at the resort itself, and that means that I’ll be spending more money than usual at the hotel’s restaurants, bars, and spa. This is spending that the Renaissance Esmeralda Resort is not going to see and as my daily resort spending will definitely exceed the $36/night resort fee that has pushed me away from the Renaissance, Marriott’s policy of not waiving resort fees on award bookings has just cost the Renaissance that income.
It’s well known that the Marriott Bonvoy program has some very poor policies, but in most cases those policies have been designed to ensure that Marriott and the properties under its umbrella make as much money as possible. In the case of resort fees, however, the Bonvoy policy is short-sighted and it gives guests every reason to explore their options elsewhere. That’s going to cost the hotels money and the last time I checked, that’s the exact opposite of what a hotel rewards program should be doing.