Marriott has become a toxic brand, needlessly alienating loyal elite members by not holding its franchises accountable, resulting in wildly different treatment for guests depending upon where you stay. This is the opposite of how loyalty should work. When the word “Bonvoy” has become a derogatory verb, you know you have a problem.
Marriott Alienates Loyal Elite Members
The value proposition of loyalty is simple: look beyond the transaction to a pattern of practice. A road warrior who spends 100+ nights on the road each year in Marriott hotels is more valuable to the Marriott brand than a leisure traveler who pays more for a room, but only for five nights.
Loyalty programs have spurred innovation and immense profits, but also mechanisms of accountability. Yet as Marriott has continued to grow, it has given far too much leeway to its franchises to run roughshod over not only reasonable customer expectations, but the very benefits it promises to offer in exchange for membership in the Marriott family.
- Credit card surcharges
- Bait-and-switch upgrades
- A steep devaluation of breakfast benefits
- Late-checkout games
And while Marriott is not alone in failing to hold its franchises accountable, it does have the largest footprint and is the most egregious violator.
At the end of 2019, Marriott worldwide portfolio consisted of:
- 7,300+ properties
- 1.38 million rooms
- Operations in 134 countries and territories
Marriott talks a great game about brand consistency and will reach out when there are egregious issues (like credit card surcharges at the Westin Fort Lauderdale Beach Resort), but doesn’t stop the Aegon Mykonos from selling suites in a wing of the hotel that is closed.
I wonder if the portfolio is too big meaningfully exercise control over its members?
Nope. I think we give Marriott far too much plausible deniability that it has no control over its rogue properties. It’s very simple, really: you play by Marriott rules or you are out.
If it were only that simple…
The Sad Reality: This Will Continue
I wish that was all – just a charge to Marriott to hold its franchises accountable and don’t think so short-sightedly about elite members.
But the sad reality is two-fold:
- Hotels are full
- Hotels can and will continue to get away with a whittling away of elite benefits
Being consistently inconsistent is nothing to boast about. But Marriott serves not only its guests, but its larger and more lucrative clients: those who pay to use its name. Don’t underestimate the length Marriott will go to continue its growth and maintain its market share.
Most travelers will just shut up and say nothing and that becomes a tool to perpetuate the status quo.
You can do your part in holding Marriott accountable by speaking up, not rolling over, when hotels staring engaging in funny business and particularly when they decline to honor published elite benefits.
As more and more people rip up their Bonvoy credit cards, perhaps the only entity that can actually hold Marriott accountable is American Express.
But this all seems so needless to me. If you confirm an upgrade, honor the upgrade. If suites are available, do not lie and say they are not. Breakfast is not a cup of coffee and bagel. 2:00pm checkout really means 2:00pm checkout.
Is that too much to ask for, especially when the majority of Marriott hotels do it so well?
Too big to care about loyalty, Marriott pays lip service and hopes that you won’t notice or complain
Marriott and their loyalty programs have moved from the path of comfortable mediocrity to viewing staff as worthless interchangeable cogs and customers as adversaries by Arne Sorensen, whose legacy of making Marriott vastly worse lives on as you’ve illustrated. In short, Marriott is actually trying to suck. It’s really rather sad.
Hotels aren’t full in Arizona. Of course it might get to 115F this week 🙂
I was just in a Hilton and things were fine. They even had individual contains of shampoo, conditioner, etc. Not sure about the cleaning service since we were only there overnight (staycation).
The hotel issue is just a growing problem in the US. Some companies, or maybe individual owners of hotels, restaurants, stores, etc. just don’t seem to think they should be held to promises or even written guarantees and are daring the government to hold them accountable. A sad but growing trend. The burden is pushed more and more onto the consumer.
US road warriors who spend the majority of their nights in Fairfields, Courtyards, and Spring Hills LOVE MARRIOTT. I don’t really get it, but it seems to be the default program of the uneducated traveler. For so many, easy lifetime platinum status makes them feel good for the 50 nights a year they spend at hotels that don’t offer up much in the way of benefits anyway. When it comes time to redeem you’ve got Aruba/Hawaii/Marco Island to choose from. As long as you get breakfast when you’re there with the wife, all is good. Marriott is great. These people have very likely never experienced a proper suite anyway.
It’s people like us who understand the program who really get burned. Ignorance is bliss for so many, and Marriott seems disinterested in really trying to capture business from people like us. Hyatt never lets us down, and Hilton is more dependable than Marriott.
I agree with EVERYTHING you said!
It’s sad that hotel guests/loyalty members have to police properties for Marriott Corporate.
Marriott seems to only care about selling franchises and keeping franchisees happy.
I’m at a Sheraton right now. It’s a beautiful, refurbished property. The environment is pleasant, staff have been cheerful. But when I asked about breakfast (as a Platinum)… “No, we don’t do that.” They are “building a new lounge,” the staff replied.
The pool is closed, the restaurant is closed, the lounge is closed. I would think that a token coffee and juice would at least recognize their shortcomings.
To me, it isn’t even the breakfast or the money. It’s that they spend every second thanking me for my loyalty, but $5 or $10 on breakfast? No way.
Matt I submit that the issue is two part one Marriott is no longer run as it once was with a Marriott thats long gone since the retirement of Bill, two “Marriott” owns about 2100 properties out of the approx 7600 worldwide the balance franchises. With equity capital firmly entrenched its all about “door count” ” bed count” the days of “the Marriott way” are for the most part gone. with that the consistency of service and quality. I grew up in the DC area families did business with each other, first hand it’s not Marriott anymore. Thats why you’re seeing the crap people are complaining about Laylow in Honolulu is a prefect example. Gone are the days that properties had to qualify for the flag.
Amen! It’s very clear to these hotels, it’s called ethics. I hope AmEx does hold them accountable, and I hope more people stop staying at hotels that don’t honor bonboy benefits.
@ Matthew — Why is everyone so slow? We have not and will not pay to stay at a Marriott since the Starwood merger. We transferred all of our points to airlines and closed all of our credit cards. This company does not exist in my world.
Very hard for the individual to know but word can get out, like in the case of Marriott. I abandoned Marriott a few years ago and stay at 4 kinds of hotels. 1) Hilton brands, 2) some Comfort brands, particularly if on a budget, 3) exceptional individual hotels or those with exceptional locations, 4) IHG as a back-up. I almost never have to go with Marriott brands unless they happen to fall in my category 3.
As an Ambassador, Diamond and Lifetime Globalist – and someone that spends 250 nights a year in hotels – I think I have a pretty good sense of how to navigate between the three.
1. If you can find a good deal, and are in a special spot, go Four Seasons and forget the points and status. FS offers such a superior product that nothing else matters. Peninsula and Mandarin are also in that category.
2. After that choose Hyatt properties. But they are far from perfect, albeit the best of the big three. The downside is that they just have a much smaller footprint and can not always offer decent choices where you are going.
3. Next for me is a Marriott property – but I do so with caution. I am now avoiding older hotels (I call them the Brown Age Properties) or even bothering with full service hotels (unless a fully operational RC, Edition, Autograph or St. Regis). Standard Marriotts, Renaissance, and Westins are, at this point, not even worth it with diluted offerings. Instead opt for Element or AC, both of which offer new, stylish, and comfortable rooms with a better overall value.
4. Independent properties that are unique, I know are good, and offer a nice stay even though without points. Actually, people tend to forget that LHW has a program and I will often look there as well, especially overseas.
5. Hilton. Really, for all the talk of Marriott, Hilton I find is the absolute worst of all of them. Doubletrees for some reason can be not too too bad in some places. Hampton Inn if in a small town and there is nothing else does the job. But Hilton as a whole manages to go a bit under radar of shenanigans and rogue properties – as I really think their customers are more trained in lower expectations. Marriott and SPG still has the majority of members who recall “the good ol’ days” of consistency of product. Hilton has always been sketchy and fairly worthless points wise, at least to me, hey never had too far to fall.
For those chasing status though and points are the thing. and you can only focus on one program, no doubt, Hyatt offers the best if you can reach Globalist. Ambassador status is hardly worth it other than when a property messes with you – in which I have found the Ambassador rep is quick to get things fixed.
Lastly, if you have a bad experience at any property, Marriott or otherwise, the best thing is to take note of the franchisee. It’s pretty much assured that all of their properties will be poorly run. An example is Atrium Hospitality (which bought out the bankrupt John Q Hammons) and run both Marriott and Hilton brands. Their properties are AWFUL and I know to never stay in any of them anywhere.
That is why I am not loyal to any hotel brand. I stay where it is most convenient for me when prices are comparable. Also, when outside the US, staying at local hotels owned by local families are much more pleasant than saying at US chains. They have their name and reputation as the most important asset so they won’t jeopardize that.
I have been an Ambassador member for several years with Bonvoy (former Starwood) and a Lifetime Titanium member. Since to consolidation to Bonvoy, I agree – the perks for Elite members are not the same. This was further accelerated with Covid which I believe is now being used as an excuse. Hotels are realizing they don’t need to open lounges, don’t need to offer breakfast and keep suites closed all while being sold out… I hope they reverse a lot of these changes to pre-pandemic scenarios. I also agree that different franchisees run their hotels differently – in some cases not recognizing an Elite member at all as I have personally experienced. What a shame…
@Stuart your analysis was pretty spot on, but I think you missed something crucial with Hilton…
I agree that I approach Hilton with lower expectations, and that’s because they promise me less. Late checkout isn’t guaranteed, neither are upgrades, and in Hilton’s defense, there is no mechanism to guarantee any of that. So since Hilton isn’t promising as much, they aren’t under-delivering. I can honestly attest; however, that I’ve never had a Hilton play breakfast shenanigans with me. Ever. Perhaps that will change in the USA with their new dollar credit system.
I am pretty much over Marriott as well. Alas, much like United, they are EVERYWHERE and when I travel for work to all the four corners of the earth, unfortunately the Marriott/United combo is frequently the most ubiquitous option for events and travel. But my heart belongs to Fairmont. Always had good experiences, never bad. They bend over backwards and frequently learn your name by day two. Like a less pricey Four Seasons.
Whether you’re writing a 5-paragraph essay or a 20-page research paper, you should not use your conclusion to introduce new ideas (i.e. American Express).
Also, shouldn’t Chase be held to the same standard?
What do expect? There’s so many fake “top elite” that obtain status through credit cards and other tricks. Marriott making it too easy for people to get it. Hotel owners are left to foot the bill for all these extra people.
I worked at a Starwood property prior to the Marriott merger and club lounge food cost was around 10K after the merger and Bonvoy it exploded to 30K. Not to mention the lounge was no packed and the experience was bad. People shouldn’t be surprised that hotels are starting to cut corners.
You just need to accept with Marriott that you get what you pay for, and that the elite benefits may or may not happen depending on the hotel. The biggest benefit with these programs are points for free rooms on vacation. Some Marriott hotels have in fact upgraded me, and others could not care less.
But as with a number of things, , it will adjust when the aftermath of Covid starts to subside. Right now, lots of people on the road to satisfy pent-up demand. Once that has worked itself out, hotels will have to be competitive again, and pay attention to their elites or see a negative impact on their bottom line.
I do have to say however that Hyatt clearly has the best executive lounges. Can’t really recall a Marriott or Hilton that can compete. Given the new popularity of airport lounges these days, it it logical to hope that Hotels will soon see they need to compote with that level if they want people to use their branded credit cards or be loyal to a particular brand.
I used to be exclusive to Marriott for many years just like i was exclusive with Hertz for car rental. Both went down hill back in 2018 and i have since moved loyalty to Hilton which is much better and car rental to National. Both recognized status match. Since i stay around 200+ nights in hotels throughout the year i’d rather stay at a property where the front desk at least greets with a smile and recognizes my status and offers upgrades always. I have found this with Hilton.
When Marriott bought Starwood they left behind a very large group of customers who DID care and were educated travelers… people who experienced proper suites, people who knew what a great loyalty program was. Sadly, ignorance is indeed bliss for so many of Marriott’s target customers (just look at their dumb-down website that offers little detail on rooms or rates – let alone a breakdown of how points were earned), and Marriott seems disinterested in really trying to capture business from people like us.
While it is possible that Marriott if too big to police, it could also be that with their spread of brands, and how multiple hotels owned by Marriott are available in a given location or sub location, they just dont give a damn about how the hotels are run.
They have consistently shown their lack of customer focus, (removing ndividual Ambasaador titanium(?) agents, etc).
You forgot the part where they only have to do housekeeping for their elite brands now. Yeah. Nope.
My view is coloured by very happy years of SPG, and even before that as Sheraton Club. Now I’m far less invested and spend almost as many nights in ACCOR, a program that’s the butt of many jokes and sneers, but actually delivers a reasonable product ( one with a cash value rather than necessarily in-kind perks).
If I ever feel totally screwed by a Marriott property…as undoubtedly Ben and Lucky were…I don’t hesitate to let them know: directly, through Marriott and via TA and elsewhere. There is no point in just taking it without direct and forceful complaint.
Just got off the line with the Bonvoy Elite line to fix a reservation that the online system would not let me fix. I spoke with Donna, a self-proclaimed supervisor in the call center. She said “my system won’t allow me to make the change”.
Me: OK, I say, call the hotel.
Her: Oh, my system won’t let me do that.
Me: Can you use your phone – call the hotel manager and figure it out?
Her: I can open a case number will that do?
Me: Is that all you can do? Because this Titanium for life can’t believe you’re not able to do what the last Bonvoy elite rep was able to do – call the hotel.
Her: Here is your case number sir
Me: Thank you?
If you need proof that hotels, hotel service and “special elite status dedicated support” have gone downhill, I present you exhibit A.
I appreciate that the blogging community is finally taking Marriott to task. Hopefully there will be an overdue roast about properties that stop serving breakfast “for Covid” as we move into a largely vaccinated summer season.
I realize the footer is an algorithm, but I find it slightly ironic to see the Amex Bonvoy Business sign up link under the article.
You mention the 2pm checkout. That’s a gold benefit and if you go to the site and read it, it says “based on availability”. It is not a guaranteed benefit. The 4pm checkout that platinum and higher get is guaranteed.
Over the years I have gotten something over 300K ‘bonus’ points for bad service, crappy rooms and abused promises. While it hasn’t fixed anything (sadly) at least I get something in return….granted not much, but it does force a conversation and an action on managements part
What a whiny article. As a Marriott Ambassador and Lifetime Titanium, calm down. If you don’t like it, change loyalty, but I don’t expect a company running in the red for the past year to give away everything. If you want a suite, pay for it. It’s a perk when available, not a right
You totally and completely miss my point. If they PROMISE you something in exchange for your loyalty and don’t deliver, it’s a bit different than wanting something for free, isn’t it?
I’m a lifetime titanium member that refuses to stay with Marriott. Everything mentioned in this post is true x100! I’m done with them!
I am one who has no problem with staying at RI and FI. Even there, I hold them to Marriott standards. Plus, the lower end hotels now serve hot breakfast. High end does not. Further, it is hard to switch to Hilton or Hyatt with 3 M points sitting in the accoint.
Free Breakfast is not a right when staying at hotels. I see not one of you owns a business or you would know why free breakfast is such a useless offering for a hotel. Do what you are good at and leave the food business to restaurants. But I guess something free is hard to give up for all you cheapos.
Speaking for me, breakfast assures my loyalty to Hyatt. It’s like a rebate, but Hyatt and it’s franchises still come out ahead.
I’m really laughing at those who think that expecting the services promised in exchange for loyalty stinks of entitlement and freeloading. It’s like you imagine that WE came up with the program. This is what Bonvoy promises. The rules of the program are clearly laid out. No one here demands a suite when there is not one available or are removed from inventory for various reasons. None of Matthew’s complaints are out of touch with reality and Ben at OMAAT had concrete and real issues that should have been addressed (despite that I think it got a bit dramatic).
@ME. You attack anyone with legitimate concerns regarding Bonvoy every day on the FB Bonvoy Insiders. Yes, I know who you are. These are not Karens complaining about thread count, many are very regular travelers who are tired of Bonvoy inconsistency and shenanigans and want them to police their franchisees better. Not because we take pleasure in attacking a company, but because we want to have drama free stays around the world. And a proper exchange as PROMISED for the loyalty we offer. You should learn to distinguish the complaints and consider the situation as being not a one off but happening for three years now routinely at properties all over the world. With Marriott doing little.
@NP Whether you care about breakfast or not (I don’t), many do. Many are on per diem’s and have given loyalty to a brand as breakfast is promised (or some form of compensation) which helps them to have a better lunch and dinner on their stipend. For some on tight per diem’s it is really important.
Marriott has become just another huge conglomerate that only cares about the bottom line. I’m a lifetime Titanium that was grandfathered in from Starwood lifetime Platinum and it’s so sad how Marriott obliterated the great Starwood service & product I enjoyed for many years of business travel. The Marriotts in Asia can be good but that seems to be it these days. In the US hotels, they act like you’re doing them a favor staying there…
Free breakfast is a right when it is a published benefit.
You act like the evil elites forced Marriott to offer free breakfast. No. Marriott chose to offer it to elites because the spreadsheet people figured it would drive traffic to Marriott and increase profits.
If they want to be like IHG and offer nothing to elites, that’s their right. But don’t offer something and then not deliver.
My wife and I were very impressed with the layout and decor in some of the newer Courtyard locations and decided to start staying at them more, moving some of our stays away from IHG where I am a Spire member. So, we got the Marriott AmEx card that gave us “gold” status with Bonvoy. On our first trip with the Marriott status, we stayed at the Fairfield Inn in Klamath Falls, Oregon. Upon arrival, we were told that we were upgraded.. Cool. It was the same room type, but with a lake view. Fine enough. When we checked out, they had changed the room rate to reflect this enhanced room. When I complained at check-out, we were told that only Platinum members don’t pay for upgrades…that gold get upgraded, but have to pay for the upgraded room type. Absurd. I demanded the charge be reversed to what I booked. They said it would appear as a credit on my card. It never did. Although Spire status with IHG doesn’t get the same level of perks as upper level Hyatt or (supposedly) Marriott, IHG properties have generally been honest. We look to earn Hyatt status instead for the rest of the year with their lowered requirements and I will cancel the Marriott AmEx when it comes up for renewal.