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Make no mistake, hotel loyalty programs are not in existence to make guests happy or to thank frequent visitors for their continued loyalty. They exist purely to make hotels chains money and to encourage travelers to make irrational decisions by offering benefits that guests aspire to have.
Hotel loyalty programs are nothing more than (relatively) clever marketing programs designed to persuade travelers to spend as many nights (and as much cash) with a given hotel chain and they come into their own when they successfully persuade travelers to overlook other hotels/chains even when those other options may make more sense (e.g are cheaper, better located, etc…).
Hotel loyalty programs are at their best when they modify a traveler’s behavior in favor of the hotel chain they represent.
With that in mind, I can’t help but wonder if Marriott actually really cares about the Bonvoy program because, in a number of ways, the program doesn’t appear to be fit for purpose.
The Illogicality Of Marriott’s Ambassador Elite Status
The top tier status of the Marriott Bonvoy program is called ‘Ambassador Elite‘ (more info here) and to reach the dizzying heights of Ambassador Elite a traveler needs to stay 100 nights at Marriott properties (85 nights if they get 15 elite nights credit from one of the Bonvoy credit cards) and needs to spend a minimum of $20,000 with Marriott in a calendar year.
100 nights at Marriott properties (that’s over a quarter of the year) and $20,000 of spending is a lot to ask of most travelers so it wouldn’t be unfair to expect the benefits associated with Ambassador Elite status to be among the best in the business…but they’re not.
Marriott’s Ambassador Elite status entitles the status holder to all the benefits of Titanium Elite status (more info here) plus two further benefits:
- An Ambassador within the Bonvoy program (described as “[y]our personal point of contact [who] is always at your service for every stay”)
- Your24 – a benefit that allows a guest to choose their time of check-out based on their time of check-in (e.g. if a guest checks in at 10pm they’re then entitled to a 10pm check-out).
While both these additional benefits may have their uses, the inescapable fact remains that a guest staying 25 fewer nights and spending as little as they can get away with will earn Bonvoy Titanium status and will have access to almost all of the benefits that an Ambassador Elite status member has access to (remember, there’s no minimum spend criteria for Titanium Elite status).
Where’s the big incentive for anyone to go out of their way to earn Ambassador Elite status?
If we assume that the average Bonvoy member spends approximately $200/night when they stay at Marriott properties (a reasonable assumption to my mind), a member spending 75 nights with Marriott (and earning Titanium Elite status) will spend approximately $15,000 doing so.
Does anyone really believe that the 2 additional benefits that come with Ambassador Elite status are really worth a further $5,000 in spending across a further 25 nights?
For most travelers, there is absolutely no value in pushing past the 75-night mark with Marriott so the Bonvoy program is failing to fulfill a key part of its reason for existing – it’s failing to tempt some of Marriott’s most loyal members to spend more money with the chain.
Bonvoy Continues To Fail To Incentivize Lifetime Elites
This is a subject I’ve mentioned before (here) but I think it’s worth repeating as a recent decision I took proved just how the Bonvoy program is failing.
I hold Lifetime Titanium Elite status which means that I get most of the benefits of Titanium status regardless of how many nights a year I spend with Marriott. The only benefits I don’t automatically get are the annual choice benefits which Bonvoy members receive when they cross the 50-night and 75-night thresholds.
This year the overwhelming majority of the nights I stayed with Marriott were Reward nights and nights spent at Marriott Vacation Club properties so my spending at Marriott hotels was low.
Still, by the beginning of December I had 74 elite nights posted to my account and that left me one short of the number of nights needed to trigger the second set of annual choice benefits.
I had already been given one set of annual choice benefits when I earned 50 elite nights earlier in the year…
…and I had taken the 5 suite night awards option that was on offer.
With no further hotel stays planned for 2019 I was left with the choice of doing a mattress run to get the one elite night I still needed to earn the second set of elite choice benefits, or I could leave things as they were and settle for what I already had.
I chose to settle.
A mattress run to a local low-category Marriott would probably have cost me no more than $80 (including taxes) but given that the second set of Bonvoy elite choices would be these…
- Five Elite Night Credits
- 40% off your favorite hotel bed
- Gift Gold Elite status to a friend or family member
- $100 donation to UNICEF
- Five Suite Night Awards
- One Free Nights Award (Valued at up to 40,000 points)
…I found it hard to motivate myself to bother with a mattress run.
The two benefits on offer that may have given me some value are the free night award and the Suite Night awards but, given that Suite Night Awards (SNAs) aren’t all that easy to use (I let two of ten SNAs expire in 2019) and the fact that I doubt that I would have got more than $130 of value out of the free night award, it was hard to justify a mattress run.
I found myself with very little incentive to give Marriott any more money than I already had.
In my case this is probably no big deal because, let’s face it, Marriott wasn’t really going to make any profit out of me had it given me a real incentive to stay one more night….but what about other lifetime elites?
The problem with the Bonvoy program is that the elite choice benefits on offer for guests staying 75 nights are so weak that there’s no real incentive for those with Lifetime Titanium status to make an effort to pass the 75-night mark.
These elites get almost as much by spending just 50 nights a year with Marriott.
By definition, travelers with Lifetime Titanium elite status spend a lot of nights in hotels so these are people that Marriott and the Bonvoy program should be targetting to ensure that they’re incentivized to spend as many of those nights as possible at Marriott properties….but that’s not what’s happening.
To a degree, the other benefits of Titanium status help to keep a good number of these elites coming back to Marriott but, with top-tier and mid-tier Hilton Honors status now on offer to anyone who takes out an appropriate co-branded credit card, there’s no real reason for Marriott’s Lifetime Elites to go the extra mile to stay loyal to Marriott when a Hilton property will do just as well (or better)….and that’s what the Bonvoy program should be making sure happens. But it isn’t.
If I can see that there are areas of the Bonvoy program which are simply not doing what the program was designed to do then I’m sure those responsible at Marriott Corporate can see it too…but I’m not sure that they care.
You’ve heard of “too big to fail” well, now we seem to have “too big to care” and this isn’t going to change any time soon.
Marriott is now such a colossally big entity and its reach is so huge that it doesn’t appear to think that it needs to make much of an effort with its loyalty program anymore.
We see this in the truly woeful quarterly promotions, in the award chart devaluations, in the fact that various brands and properties are allowed to opt-out of the parts of the Bonvoy program that don’t suit them (the elite breakfast situation is a joke), in the fact that the Silver and Gold statuses are mostly meaningless and in the fact that the Bonvoy program as a whole is failing to incentivize some of the guests it should be most trying to incentivize.
The lack of care is clear to see.
If you take a look at how Marriott is running the Bonvoy program it’s not hard to reach the conclusion that the program is now only in place to gather data for Marriott and to give the appearance that the corporation cares about rewarding its guests when the facts would appear to indicate otherwise.
The reality is that the Bonvoy program really isn’t very good at all and Marriott has very little reason to make it any better.