Two Simple Things Marriott Could Do To Improve Its Bonvoy Loyalty Program


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Ok, let’s get one thing very clear before I continue: I know full well that there’s a LOT wrong with Marriott Bonvoy right now but this post isn’t about fixing the whole program in one go (that’s not actually possible) – this is about a couple of changes which should be possible to implement and which would make Bonvoy a noticeably better program overnight.

JW Marriott Kuala Lumpur

The most realistic way to compare loyalty programs is to compare programs that are on a reasonably equal footing so, for example, there’s absolutely no point in comparing the World of Hyatt to Marriott Bonvoy.

Those of us who like the World of Hyatt program can shout about guaranteed suite upgrades at the time of booking and good value award redemptions as much as we like, but the fact is that Hyatt has to offer better value than Marriott because Hyatt’s considerably smaller footprint makes it a lot harder to be loyal to its program.

With that in mind, the most logical loyalty program comparison in the hotel world is the comparison between Marriott Bonvoy and Hilton Honors – you’re almost as likely to find a Hilton property as you are to find one of Marriott’s hotels in any location you choose.

Change 1 – Elite Breakfast Benefit

The Hilton Honors program gives Gold and higher elites complimentary breakfast at all of its properties worldwide. With Marriott Bonvoy, Platinum and higher elites get complimentary breakfast at select properties and because Marriott allows its various brands to pick and choose what benefits they offer, you’ll probably need a few hours to take in the rules which govern where breakfast is provided and where it isn’t.

Marriott’s system is utterly shambolic.

Courtyard Seoul Namdaemun
Breakfast in the lounge at the Courtyard Seoul Namdaemun

When you add to all this the fact that Marriott Bonvoy Platinum Elite requires a minimum of 35 nights at Marriott properties in a year (50 if you don’t have a Marriott co-branded credit card which offers 15 elite nights/year) while Hilton’s Gold Elite status comes with the $95/year Hilon Honors Surpass credit card from American Express (or a minimum of 20 nights if you don’t have access to that credit card), you’ll see just how mean the Marriott Bonvoy program actually is.

For $95/year a very large proportion of Hilton Honors members can enjoy complimentary breakfast at all Hilton properties worldwide while top-tier Marriott Bonvoy members (those who spend a minimum of 60 nights per year with Marriott) do not a get anything at brands like EDITION & Ritz-Carlton (amongst others).

There’s absolutely no excuse for this and Marriott should be more than a little embarrassed…but it could put this right if it wanted to.

The Marriott Bonvoy program would automatically get better overnight (although it would still not be quite as good as Hilton Honors in this respect) if Marriott ordered all of its affiliated properties to provide breakfast to all elites with Platinum status or higher.

Yes, some properties may well rebel, claim that this goes against their current agreement with Marriott and leave the chain…but ultimately Marriott holds the power here so most properties would almost certainly come to heel.

No complimentary breakfast for elites at Ritz-Carlton properties

Change 2 – Suite Night Upgrades

If I was feeling particularly ambitious (and a little delusional) I could suggest that Marriott should adopt a suite upgrade system similar to the one that Hyatt currently uses (where upgrades can be confirmed at the time of booking)…but I’m not going to do that.

I’m going to stick to making suggestions that should be well within Marriott’s ability to deliver upon.

As things stand, Marriott Bonvoy Platinum Elites can earn 5 Suite Night awards and Titanium Elites can earn up to 10 Suite Night awards every year, but these awards are far from the fantastic benefit that a lot of us were hoping for.

Not only do you need one suite night award for every night you want to upgrade (as you did with the old SPG suite night awards), but there’s also no way of knowing in advance if your upgrade will clear or which hotels will actually allow you to even attempt to upgrade.

An Opera House View suite at the Sydney Harbour Marriott at Circular Quay

As is typical with Marriott, various hotels and chains have been allowed to choose to opt out of participating in the Suite Night award benefit and, with no obvious published list of which properties these are, there’s no easy way of knowing which properties will allow guests to apply Suite Night awards to their reservations before making a booking – guests have to call hotels individually and, if my experiences are anything to go by, even then a definitive answer may not be available.

I’m getting more than a little bored of seeing messages like these on my reservations:

This is what you see when you click on the “learn more” link seen in the image above

There are two things Marriott could do here to make things better.

At the very least Marriott should publish a list of properties that will allow guests to apply a suite night award to their reservations – no guest should be guessing if they will be able to apply an award before they make a booking.

To make a real improvement to the Bonvoy program Marriott should not allow any properties to opt out of offering Suite Night award upgrades.

It’s bordering on the farcical that, technically, a guest could spend 75 nights at the London EDITION (for example) and from those 75 nights earn 10 Suite Night Awards but then not be allowed to use any of those awards at the property at which they were earned!

Who thinks up this nonsense?

Ok, yes, I started off this post saying that we should probably be comparing Marriott Bonvoy with Hilton Honors and, as things stand, Marriott is the more generous of the two when it comes to official upgrade instruments….but that probably won’t be the case for much longer.

Hilton had been trialing its own suite upgrade program since early this year and I’m willing to predict that whatever version of suite upgrades it finally releases it will apply to all hotels in its portfolio.

Unlike Marriott, Hilton is very good at making sure that there’s a good deal of uniformity in its offering across its portfolio (it’s why we very rarely see any properties opting out of Hilton’s quarterly promotions) so when official suite upgrades come to Hilton Honors I fully expect all Hilton properties to offer the benefit – Marriott could learn a lot from this.

Marriott’s Kauai Lagoons

Bottom Line

Marriott Bonvoy has done itself no favors in 2019 (even the program name was turned into a negative verb!) and it has a long way to go to restore some of the faith that has been lost by long-time Marriott loyalists….but there are things that Marriott could do to get itself on the road to redemption.

The two things I’ve mentioned in this post are neither beyond Marriott’s powers nor are they particularly big things to ask for, and yet if Marriott were to act on these suggestions it would generate a lot of goodwill from a significant number of Marriott’s customers.

Sure, all the damage that Bonvoy has done up until now would certainly not be wiped away…but it would be a start and perhaps people may start believing that Marriott really does want to offer a half-decent loyalty program after all.

7 COMMENTS

  1. You make some great points. I just don’t think that Marriott will do these things to benefit the customer. Marriott views the customer as the enemy, and every negative change that they’ve made to the program has been completely intentional. VFTW even posted about how property owners are griping despite Bonvoy costing them less than ever. This perspective on Marriott’s part is what will drop me from a titanium to less than 50 nights this year, with a lot less next year. I’m sure glad I kept my globalist status, and Hilton makes a fine backup as a gold member. Now I’ll just need to burn a half million Marriott points, which shouldn’t prove too tough.

    • That shows that VFTW is wrong. Marriott pays pennies for reward nights. Even if the rest of the program is costing less, the cheap reimbursement rates draw complaints.

  2. I haven’t been in a Marriott since August 2018. I also cancelled my credit cards. The new Marriott Gold (old silver) is useless except for a few extra points. I have the cards which provide me with Diamond status but I also achieve the status with over 40 stays a year. Most all my stays are now in Hilton properties. Even if Marriott comes to its senses and did the things you suggest, I will probably not go back. I also like some of the IHG Intercontinental and Kimpton properties as a Spire Ambassador and have received room upgrades a few times without asking including a lounge upgrade on an award stay in Cleveland.
    Marriott has a lot of mending to do.

  3. The problem is the confusion, not the benefits.

    No breakfast at some hotels? I have no problem with that. The labyrinthine rules, so I’m not sure if I get breakfast? Ridiculous.

    Limited suite upgrades? Doesn’t bother me. Not knowing what I’ll get before booking? Absolutely unacceptable. Simply reinstating the SPG system would fix that.

    I’ll tell you something else. Marriott isn’t fixing anything. The hotels are full, so they see no problem. The only thing that will fix Bonvoy is a recession. I’m a titanium, but I won’t be after this year.

  4. Actually, I think there are 2 more things they could do:

    3) Get rid of Arne

    4) Absent of doing that, divest the Starwood portfolio they acquired and give us SPG back.

  5. A big fat YES to everything you said in your post. I’m Marriott Platinum Elite, and will be giving Hilton all my business as of January 1, 2020.

    The suite night awards were a big disappointment due to the very facts that you stated. Further, every time I stay at a Marriott property, I have to consult a crazy-ass chart to figure out my benefits.

    And the whole no breakfast at certain Marriott properties, despite being Platinum Elite, is a let-down.

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