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There are a number of serious issues with the Marriott Bonvoy program and a lot of them are a result of Marriott allowing various brands and individual properties to plow their own furrow and to pick and choose what aspects of the Bonvoy program they want to adopt.
Because most of these issues are well-known (some are even written into the Bonvoy terms and conditions), they’re annoying but they usually don’t lead to disappointment or anger because they are what they are.
Most people know, for example, that the rules surrounding complimentary breakfasts for Platinum and Titanium members are more convoluted and complicated than quantum physics but because the rules are written down in black and white, they’re not usually something that causes an issue in the days leading up to a stay or during a stay. Guest know ahead of time what they’re facing.
We also know, for example, that Marriott allows quite a few of its properties to opt out of honoring Suite Night awards and while the list of properties allowed to do this is nowhere to be found, a Bonvoy member can tell within seconds of making a reservation whether or not they’ll be allowed to apply a Suite Night upgrade to their booking and can then decide whether the reservation is worth keeping. It’s annoying but it’s also something that can be addressed at the time of booking.
The key thing with issues like these is that although they can be irritating, their nature means that Bonvoy member expectations are kept in check and guests know ahead of time (more or less) what benefits to expect during their stay.
Where things really start to fall down is when properties claim to offer certain Bonvoy benefits and then don’t deliver on those benefits when the mood suits them. This is happening more and more right now and it’s happening because Marriott is allowing properties to get away with this kind of behavior.
Essentially, Marriott cares a lot more about keeping the owners of the hotels happy than it does about keeping the members of its Bonvoy program happy.
A recent trip to the St. Pancras Renaissance Hotel in London gave me a very good example of what I’m discussing here.
Before making my booking, I already knew that the St Pancras Renaissance likes to play a little loose with the Bonvoy rules because although it says that it allows guests to use Suite Night Awards, it doesn’t offer guests the option to use these awards to upgrade to a full suite. A Junior Suite is the best that you can hope for.
Still, I knew that when I booked so that wasn’t an issue.
When requesting the Suite Night upgrades, I was given a choice of three rooms to which I could ask to be upgraded and I selected just the top option.
My thinking here was that as a Titanium Elite member I probably had a pretty good chance of getting upgraded to a Premier King Bedroom (the bottom option) without using any Suite Night Awards and I didn’t want to give the hotel an excuse not to give me a Grand Junior Suite by suggesting that I’d be happy with a Chambers Junior Suite.
Properties only begin to consider Suite Night Award requests in the 5 days leading up to arrival so on each of the 5 days leading up to the day of my arrival I checked to see what rooms the St Pancras Renaissance was selling.
On all 5 days, a Grand Junior Suite was available for all 3 nights that I would be staying at the property (I had made three back-to-back 1-night bookings) but there was no news on my upgrade request until the day before I was due to arrive.
On the day before I was due to arrive, I received an email from Marriott to tell me that “despite [their] best efforts” my Suite Night Award request could not be fulfilled.
That email was sent at 14:25.
At 18:05 the same day (approximately 3.5 hours later), the St. Pancras Renaissance was still happy to sell me a Grand Junior Suite for all 3 nights of my stay.
In fact, as late as 11:49 on the day of my arrival, I could still have booked a Grand Junior Suite for all 3 nights of my stay.
So why wasn’t my Suite Night Award request fulfilled? My upgrade choice was very clearly available in the window during which these awards are supposed to be processed and yet no upgrade was forthcoming.
By the time I got to the property later that day, neither a Grand Junior Suite nor a Chambers Juinor suite was showing on the Bonvoy app and at check-in, the desk agent was about to assign me an upgrade to a 2nd tier room (one up from the entry-level room) until I pointed out that the Bonvoy app was showing that the property was still selling considerably better rooms – the Premier King Larger Room in the Barlow Wing.
One of the key benefits of Bonvoy Titanium Elite status is that holders of that status are entitled (per Bonvoy rules) to an upgrade to the best room available at check-in (up to and including entry-level suites)…so why did I have to ask for that upgrade?
Eventually, after the desk agent had gone into a back office to talk to the room allocations manager (I think that’s what she said his title was), I was given the Premier King Larger Room that I should have been given by default.
At no point during any of this did I let my annoyance with the property show to the desk agent (none of this was her fault) but I did ask for a manager’s contact details and despite having emailed that manager a week ago with a briefer version of events, I have yet to hear back…and I doubt I ever will.
Now, before I have a bunch of keyboard warriors launching into various versions of “you entitled ******” in the comments section, allow me to be very clear about what really annoyed me here because that’s pretty important.
I don’t like the fact that Marriott allows properties and brands to pick and choose what Bonvoy rules they follow (I think every property and every brand should stick to the same rules) but I appreciate that there are exceptions to the rules and because I know about these exceptions in advance, I can work around them.
What really, really, annoys me is when we get properties claiming to offer certain elite benefits and then choosing to ignore them whenever they feel like it.
Remember, these are rules set out by Marriott, not me, and they’re written in plain English for everyone to see so there’s no ambiguity here.
It’s Marriott’s rule that says that my Suite Night Award should be processed if there’s availability in the days leading up to my stay, not mine.
It’s Marriott’s rule that says that Titanium Elites should be upgraded to the best available room at check-in, not mine.
There is no entitlement here. At least not in the derogatory sense in which that word is often used.
The deal with Marriott is simple – we Bonvoy members have to credit a certain number of elite nights to our accounts in a year to earn status and in exchange, Marriott says that we then get access to a series of benefits as set out in the Bonvoy rules. The rules say that we are entitled to those benefits. They do not say that we may or may not get those benefits.
Based on the fact that Marriott writes the rules and expects us to adhere to them, the very least that we should expect in return is that Marriott upholds those rules too. But it doesn’t. There is no sign that Marriott takes any action against properties that go rogue.
Put bluntly, this is BS, and until Marriott changes the way it behaves and starts to make the Bonvoy rules apply as intended, the Bonvoy program is going to continue to be viewed as a series of comic memes on social media and “Bonvoyed” will continue to be a word that hangs like an albatross around the program’s neck.