Marriott’s new Bonvoy program has not been the success CEO Arne Sorenson has suggested it is. Bonvoy’s award redemption nights don’t just deceive members, they also frustrate and annoy them.
Bonvoyed, Alienated, Disregarded
Marriott’s acquisition of Starwood hotels came with their beloved Starwood Preferred Guest (SPG) loyalty program and its devoted members. The chain combined its three programs (Marriott Rewards, SPG, and Ritz-Carlton) to create the world’s worst titled loyalty program: Bonvoy.
Bonvoy has become a dirty word amongst members with a site where members could describe the program’s failings. SPG members who routinely voted the program as the best in the business and were incredibly loyal have felt alienated by the new program. Members need a decoder ring to decipher which benefits apply where.
Their concerns have been disregarded as “noise around the edges” and among the minority of members (just 12.5%) that prefer SPG or Marriott Rewards to Bonvoy.
I mentioned in this Audrey Hepburn post that we would head to Rome soon. As my Bonvoy Titanium status comes to a close this trip would be an optimal time to redeem my remaining points. I found several good options… or so I thought.
But when I clicked to view the hotels and complete my booking, here’s what I found instead.
Hold up, it’s not just 220,000 points but it’s also €1000-2500? I tried another property because perhaps this was an error, these indicate they are redemptions with cash upgrades which some hotels charge after the sale. I searched for just a redemption without the “cash upgrade” at another property:
The problem persists. What’s even more alarming is that Bonvoy points have a negative value at this property. The four nights I planned on booking would cost €2,132 in cash or if I spent a stockpile of points, I’d be penalized and pay even more €118. That’s a Bonvoy point value of €-.006/point.
Many brands offer the ability to spend a combination of points and cash at some sort of variable rate. With Hilton, a sliding scale can offset point redemptions with cash but a full redemption is always the option. IHG (who hates their elites) offers something similar on a fixed basis allowing guests to essentially buy points for less than $.005/point though in fixed blocks. Hyatt, through their SLH partnership, offers redemptions at a few desirable properties:
What’s deceptive is that Marriott is showing “pricing from” and then the number of points required for only a partial redemption. Not all rooms will be available from that rate, that’s fine, but a redemption without additional co-pay should be. The full price per night is advertised in the cash rate, but in the redemption pricing, it’s only partial. That’s deceptive.
The other deception is that Bonvoy points hold any value at all. Keep in mind that I didn’t search for only upgraded rooms, I was simply most often offered the redemption plus cash upgrade option.
Marriott hasn’t Bonvoyed all of their redemptions in Rome. Some redemptions deliver the quoted rate with a small co-pay for taxes (which some other brands do as well.)
I understand that redemptions “from” can always include just a starting price that involves the expenditure of points, however, the cash price that listed a “from” rate was not otherwise conditional. Other redemptions offered were also not conditional outside of taxes. It’s not illegal but certainly deceptive.
I contacted customer support to resolve whether this was an error on the website or something else. He found the same redemption rates and cash contributions that I found so it was, in his determination, not an error. He then made a comment that I found incredibly insulting:
“That’s just how hotels are in Rome.”
He was implying that rates are high because it’s Rome and that I was unaware of the high costs because I was used to US hotel rates. The irony is that while he thought I was uninformed about the market and hotel redemptions in the area, it was he who was out of the loop. I had shopped Hyatt, Hilton, and IHG (even though they hate their elites) among other options and can confirm that this is unique to Marriott. In fact, it was he who knew little about the Rome hotel market.
He had no answer for why Bonvoy points were a penalty and booking without applying any points at all would result in a cheaper rate.
Bonvoy thinks so very little of their points that they penalize their use. They think so little of their guests that they price their room redemptions deceptively. I’ve been happy at Hyatt and Hilton enough to let my Bonvoy Titanium status die on the vine without a single night in 2019 and no plans for 2020, but with prices and practices like this, I might let my stockpile of points rot too.
What do you think? Is this pricing deceptive? Would you call it an outright lie, misleading or accurate instead? Are you one of the happy Marriott Bonvoy customers that see no issue with this?