I Don’t Think Marriott Really Cares About Its Bonvoy Program


Some links to products and travel providers on this website will earn Traveling For Miles a commission that helps contribute to the running of the site. Traveling For Miles has partnered with CardRatings for our coverage of credit card products. Traveling For Miles and CardRatings may receive a commission from card issuers. Opinions, reviews, analyses & recommendations are the author’s alone and have not been reviewed, endorsed or approved by any of these entities. For more details please see the disclosures found at the bottom of every page.


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:

  1. An Ambassador within the Bonvoy program (described as “[y]our personal point of contact [who] is always at your service for every stay”)
  2. 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.

Bottom Line

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.

23 COMMENTS

  1. Wow, a refreshingly honest post from a “points blog”. Well written, no credit card pitches, I agree with your observations and conclusions. Subscribed to new posts. THANKS!

  2. Bonvoy has been a dumpster fire since it’s’ inception. The fact that Marriott doesn’t care about loyal customers is simply an extension of the fact that at best, Marriott doesn’t care about customers. If anything they have some contorted view that the customer is the enemy.

    • The only useful feature I see is early check-in and late checkout. I have been lifetime what is now titanium for years. I don’t even look at points or Bennie’s anymore. I do remember the one time I brought my family to Boston fisherman’s wharf for breakfast they rudely came over and wanted to charge me $20 for the young kids for vittles. It was embarrassing how they treated me. In any case I don’t even care and look for the cheapest hotel as they are all horrible now just like air travel.

      The best is when I use Priceline or the like to check in and they are like you don’t get points. I reply I saved $200 for two nights so who cares about the $5 in points.

  3. Spot on post. I’m in the same boat. 0 of 10 SNA’s cleared in 2019. Lifetime Platinum with no SNA’s and scant upgrades and crap breakfast means no more Marriott stays for me. moved to Hilton Jan 1.

  4. Same here. LTE and Zero of 10 usable SNAs. I got upgraded some and properties where I wanted a guaranteed upgrade wouldn’t take the SNA.
    As a LTE, none of the choice bennies are anything I care about. Hit about 135 nights this year and about 12K spend and I’m mostly retired.
    Points have had devaluations every year either due to category increases or just using the cost. I find that the rate I can book most hotels is below the Point value: 35K point redemption and the rate was about 235 USD.

    The finance guys are making the decisions.

  5. After 1800 nights in 20 years, 2019 was the first year where I started defaulting to consolidator websites for hotel options. I don’t start booking with Marriott.com, like I used to, despite LT-T status.

    Bonvoy has definitely incentivized a different behavior for me at the individual level, but the spreadsheet jockeys are handling revenue management at a broader scale, so individual loyalty no longer matters. The article is spot on.

    Just like the airlines, call it what it is, Bonvoy is a rebate program on hotel stays, where the point value is $0.005. As an informed traveller, I’ve learned that I get better rebates directing corporate spend elsewhere.

    I’ll be interested to see how this evolves over time. I did buy one of those funny Bonvoyed tshirts and I find myself explaining it to some people at the grocery story, but for others, I get more chuckles and high 5s. Funny how passionate people are about these programs.

  6. I also moved a portion of my business over to Hilton and use the Aspire card Diamond status to make it work. I find I am usually treated very nicely and “thanked for my loyalty”.

    I am also a Lifetime Titanium and never bother to be concerned about the second set of thank you awards. I can barely use the 5 upgrades I get at 50 nights. Like the earlier poster, I was “denied” an upgrade at which I am a repeat guest. They had suite categories available but told me “We would love to give it to you and have reached out to Marriott to no avail. Bottom line: The property gave us a deluxe suite upon arrival for no certificates. Who needs the bother!

  7. Bonvoy has encouraged me to not stay with Marriott but find better deals in boutique hotels and AirBnB options. I will stay in Marriott if it is the best option but I won’t go out of my way like I did for SPG. There is little of interest to be found at Marriott.

  8. As an Ambassador who earned it the hard way I couldn’t agree more with these comments. I have Lifetime Titanium and have no plans to try to requal for Ambassador. Hyatt and Fairmont will get my business. As mentioned in the comment feed using the SNA is a joke- Never get it even when they are avail. The breakfast comment is spot on too. Poor quality in most properties. It’s sad that someone who spent $28k and 134 nights in ‘19 feels this way. Vote with your wallet!

  9. I am a titanium elite member and you get way better treatment booking with an Amex platinum card. My brother in law never stayed at the Ritz and was given his guaranteed 4 pm check out and I stay at this particular hotel 20 nights at year only had my check out extended to 1 PM and no upgrade. It’s useless and I will try and support Hilton from now on.

  10. Ambassador elite does have preferences for upgrades and at higher end properties this traveler will always get the upgrade over a Titanium …I saw it recently at the St Regis Maldives. Probably there is also less need to negotiate especially with the help of an Ambassador.

    I agree that the breakfast benefit needs to be fixed, standardized and made less subject to utter confusion; that’s not so hard. The SNAs have so many propertIes that aren’t included (why not Ritz) but sometimes are useful.

  11. I couldn’t agree more. I’m now Platinum Elite and the last 4 stays didn’t even get recognized by Marriott staff as such not once. Their whole corporate mindset is “we don’t care – sucker” and that flows right down to the front desk staff. What a waste!

  12. Great post. Even after reaching your status and choosing suite nights as a benefit, we have never received it. It’s a joke and then they expire. Breakfast is a joke. Most hotels even with the titanium status give us $10 off . In 2018 we spent 90 nights and 2019 35 night and got 15 from the credit card. This year we are not even going to bother. One more thing that attitude that staff had about treating elite members has disappeared. Upgrade to club floor with the status is like they are doing a huge favour. Hilton is great so far any time we have a choice between the two I would go for Hilton. Great article. Pointguy and other places are getting incentives to write the article and that why they are able to get suites in Dubai. Not regular Titanium members

  13. SPG was far better / Marriott bonvoy is a loosing program .
    Unable to use my suite night credits as a Titanium Elite member for last 5 years . Missed Ambassador for few dollars last year inspite of achieving 100 nights . Travelling all over the world – seldom get recognised as a Titanium elite member . 6 nights at Sheraton Grande Tokyo – was refused 20 % discount on food bills – the hotel said this is peak season and no discounts ??!! Breakfast coupons was given only for 2 nights inspite of paying a fortune for the standard rooms and never got a decent room

    Another 6 nights at Sheraton Miyako Osaka from 29 th December 2019 to 4 th January 2020 – the worst rooms – the worst sheraton club lounge – breakfast with coupons a disaster with long queues ?!!

    My Earlier sheraton Singapore was also a disaster !!

    Parallel I have started other programs

  14. SPG was far better / Marriott bonvoy is a loosing program .
    Unable to use my suite night credits as a Titanium Elite member for last 5 years . Missed Ambassador for few dollars last year inspite of achieving 100 nights . Travelling all over the world – seldom get recognised as a Titanium elite member . 6 nights at Sheraton Grande Tokyo – was refused 20 % discount on food bills – the hotel said this is peak season and no discounts ??!! Breakfast coupons was given only for 2 nights inspite of paying a fortune for the standard rooms and never got a decent room

    Another 6 nights at Sheraton Miyako Osaka from 29 th December 2019 to 4 th January 2020 – the worst rooms – the worst sheraton club lounge – breakfast with coupons and long queues

    Parallel I have started other programs

  15. Unable to use my suite night credits as a Titanium Elite member for last 5 years . Missed Ambassador for few dollars last year inspite of achieving 100 nights . Travelling all over the world – seldom get recognised as a Titanium elite member . 6 nights at Sheraton Grande Tokyo – was refused 20 % discount on food bills – the hotel said this is peak season and no discounts ??!! Breakfast coupons was given only for 2 nights inspite of paying a fortune for the standard rooms and never got a decent room

    Another 6 nights at Sheraton Miyako Osaka from 29 th December 2019 to 4 th January 2020 – the worst rooms – the worst sheraton club lounge – breakfast with coupons and long queues

    Parallel I have started other programs

  16. Are we talking USA hotels here, because in South East Asia the perks are real and the welcome is genuine when you return.
    You just have to pick you hotels carefully to suit yourself
    OK being a Sheraton SPG boy it’s reduced some benefits and suite upgrades are harder to get but most of the time its due to no suites vacant. Then you get an apology from checkin
    Hilton hotels are too noisy full of mainland tour parties

  17. First world problems. I seems to have a different experience. Most Marriotts I go to they go above and beyond to recognize the stats to the point where I don’t want that much attention. Suite nights work just have to use it at the right time. Food is hotel food there is good and bad, but most of it is fine. Maybe I just got lucky for the past 9 years.

  18. Well I have had a completely different experience. As a former SPG platinum and now Bonvoy Titanium I have been treated amazingly everywhere I go. From Panama to Crete, from Israel to Peru, from Colombia to Chicago, from Hong Kong to Bangkok, from Aruba to Paris, this program has let me travel world for a fraction of what it would really would have cost. 80% of the times breakfast is a full buffet (I avoid courtyards and rarely go to Ritz Carltons) , and many many times a I get suites. I have been to places and hotels that I could have never imagined I’ll ever could afford. Yes, there is trouble with the SNAs and Marriott should fix the system (a la Hyatt) to assure that you get your suite at time of reservation but this year I had my 10 cleared to rooms that retailed for way over $1000. Sure, after many experiences some trouble sometimes arises, but nothing that cannot be fixed by talking (nicely) to a manager. I think the writer made a mistake by not staying the extra night and getting the 40000 night certificate. If you are getting only a $130 room for 40000 points you are not using the program the right way. For example, next week in San Francisco I will use 30000 points (low season cat 5) points to stay in a hotel that retails that night for more than $350. Also, many category 6 hotels in low season retail for 40000 points. I am really not sure why so many complaints. Yes there is competition and other programs also make sense, specially globalist with Hyatt which I combine with Bonvoy for the best of both worlds.

  19. Working for Marriott in a call center this is my opinion:
    Marriott does not care about their employees or guests.
    I agree the Bonboy program is mostly a way to gather data. It makes it faster for us to book you because all your information pops up with your call and we don’t have to ask you 20 questions.
    Since handle time and conversion are huge for Marriott I do appreciate every call from a member.
    Benefits have been so badly diluted that even Titanium isn’t worth beans anymore. I silently laugh when people call me in December and worry they won’t make Platinum or Titanium for the year. Why bother?
    What I don’t understand: why do people come back to Marriott time after time when they had bad experiences, have to call multiple times to get nights credited, get treated like a nuisance,….
    Vote with your feet and your wallet!

  20. I travel a ton for work. I’m a Titanium (still feels weird saying that) and a LT Plat. I honestly could care less about any sort of benefits at a business hotel during the week. Don’t need a Suite. Breakfast is nice, but I’m on an expense report so who really cares, etc. I need a clean, quiet room, with fast internet and minimal hassle during check-in or check-out. But when I take a vacation I’d like to know I’m going to get a Suite if I want one, not get burdened with insane resort fees that provide any value, get breakfast comped at a resort (without needing to send off to NASA to figure out if it’s a benefit or not). And most importantly I want to use my points when and where I want. The games that hotels play with restricting room types are absurd and flagrantly obvious.

    I don’t get any of those benefits with Marriott. When I surpassed 75 nights last year I didn’t even make a selection on an award because they’re all so heavily restricted I could care less what’s awarded.

    Marriott does not inspire loyalty; in fact it’s done the opposite. Now that I see there’s no incremental value in Titanium and I already have LT Plat I’m shifting more and more stays over to boutique hotels and Hyatts.

    Someone at Marriott needs to look in the mirror and realize that their loyalty program has incentivized people to stop being loyal. It’s a failure on every level. Your guests are smart and have figured this out. And when the CEO stands up and cites mythical surveys about how happy customers are you incentivize those customers to prove how wrong you are by shifting spend elsewhere.

    If I owned a Marriott property I’d be crying bloody murder.

  21. As a very happy Ambassador elite for the last 7 years, I’d like to thank you for not sharing what the actual benefits are for our status: being at the very front of the line for any and all upgrades and other special amenities and treatment relative to whatever type of hotel at which we stay. That may not have so much value to you, but it sure seems to be pretty important to the reams of whiners who allegedly left Marriott for Hyatt! I’ve not had a suite upgrade at a hotel only a few times out of all my 100+ nights, including at some properties that were sold out and including every luxury property where I traveled with my spouse. That also includes upgrades beyond the “standard” suite entry suite categories at even the most celebrated properties in the incredible Bonvoy portfolio. That also includes upgrades at Edition and Ritz-Carlton properties that are supposedly not as interested in elite recognition to all the bloggers who love to create drama and clickbait.

    So those who complain endlessly are lying or clueless? Nope. But they too often are fools who expect average hotels to invent suites out of thin air or are too entitled to realize that their own choices for hotels and the times they stay are as or more responsible for their own unhappiness. That is doubly true for those who whine about SNAs.

    So flock to Hyatt and most will be back in a year or two as they realize the hotels they need and want don’t exist where they want them—and it’s tough to get upgraded or get free parking when there’s no hotel in the first place! So flock to Hilton and most will be back as they realize the hotels aren’t actually as good overall, and certainly not nearly as aspirational for awards.

    Flock away! We Ambassadors who know better will stay and enjoy any less competition that we can get lol.

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here