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.
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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?
Why would you let the points rot? Cash out for airline miles if you want to be done with the program.
There’s no reason to believe they’ll eliminate transfers or change the transfer rate with no prior warning, so it’s best to keep them flexible. While you have them, check periodically if you can get decent value from their intended use – might find a unicorn. Even if you don’t, you can provide valuable information to your readers, which is exactly what Kyle’s done here.
Knee-jerk reactions such as the one you suggest only hurt the participant.
To have a redemption where points have a negative value is the height of insanity. And that the rep on the phone would try to explain this away shows just how poor things have clearly become at Bonvoy.
Since they don’t seem to value you at all why redeem at a Marriott property? Convert your points into Miles on United. Then at least you’ll get some value from them.
Note to self. Cancel Bonvoy Amex ASAP.
Yea, transfer to United to use for flights.
Transfer is a great idea, but United wouldn’t be my first choice as a redemption partner.
Honestly, Kyle I’m trying to understand and help you,but first you need to explain what the problem is. 🙂
Rates offered for cash are listed as the full charge. Redemptions are listed the same way but then sometimes are full the full cost of the room and sometimes are not, in some cases, using points actually costs you more cash and points than if you simply paid out of pocket. That’s an industry first as far as I know.
I dealt w/this in Rome for a Sept stay, posted about it on FT at the Naiadi – it’s just another example of Marriott behaving unethically and/or stupidly (too hard to keep count at this point).
The rot starts at the top.
Of course it’s deceptive ( and deliberate). I looked at Palazzo Naiadi for a paid stay, found a rate that seemed good @ €200 IIRC. Too good to be true because when hitting the ‘book now’ button, a whole raft of extra taxes/charges appeared ( not only the known and mandated city tax @€5 per day, or so…but extra ones, making it prohibitively expensive ).
I looked at Westin: but the fact that Barberini Metro is still closed ( eight months and counting to fix an escalator) makes getting around just a bit more difficult ( Repubblica , adjacent to Palazzo Naiadi has just reopened after more than 9 months, the same issue)
Le Meridien , across the river in Prati , is not a bad choice…but the rooms are small and could be difficult with a small child ( plus it’s a conference/meetings hotel, so rates can be sky high or cheap depending on activity)
Hyatt would blow Marriott out of the water with a Grand and a Park.
I agree with you but I would say that Hyatt’s website does a similar thing with rates…
When you see a list of Hyatt properties you’ll see rates starting at x$ but then click thru to find that that rate is the cash and points rate.
Not exactly the same but it does make it seem deceptively low.
Pete, not in the search window. When it pops up properties it gives the standard price and then clicking through there are at least three tabs (if Cash and Points is an option for their availability) one of which is normalized full redemption price, then cash and points and finally a cash rate (if not more offered.)
You’re redeeming for upgraded rooms, of course the amount will be more than a standard room? If the standard room is $400 and upgraded room is $600, it’s charging you the standard room point value and the cash upgrade fee. This is not new.
Incorrect Randy, only upgraded rooms were offered and I agree that, of course, it would not be the same price as a standard redemption. What is new is a negative Bonvoy point value as shown, any advice on that?
You haven’t provided a clear picture of what you are comparing.
You say the cash rate is 2132. This appears to be the starting from prepaid cost at 553 per night for 4 nights, but you don’t actually show an image of the cash rates view. Does the 553 rate apply to the Santa Chiara suite or is it for a Classic or otherwise lower category room?
It’s a bait and switch – Marriott shows you the points price (note that they won’t in the search when it’s NOT available), but at properties like these, often times that base level points room isn’t available, and instead the only points room has a big cash co-pay.
I’ve seen this at other Marriott Hotels and cities and thought “Bonvoy has found another way to screw their elites. Marriott points are definitely worth a lot less to me. Been trying out other chains. Dusit in Asia for example is quite interesting. So many great Hotels out there that aren’t in Bonvoy land.
I’m not sure I am following – all of the rooms you showed are upgraded, non standard rooms. I just did a dummy booking in Rome for next weekend and saw plenty of availability at St Regis Rome for just points (though with rates at 352 Euro pretax, a paid cash stay may be better).
This is shocking… I really don’t care how many points, but 1000 EUR as fee/co-pay? WHAT IS THAT? Isn’t the room like 272 Euro/night? The fee is 3.5 times the room rate? WHAT KIND OF FEES ARE THESE?????
Sorry, I am just shocked.
This makes BA looks positively benign.
You are showing upgraded rooms and not standard rooms which if available, would cost just the points part and not the extra cash. I agree that the proposition is not good, but it is not deceptive. Many hotels have this extra cash for upgraded rooms. If available you can opt for the standard room with no extra cash, and then hope for an upgrade if you have status.
I called in as well, this is the only option available and the points portion doesn’t mention the required cash co-pay. That’s deceptive.