Marriott has extended its lead in a hospitality race to the bottom.
New Marriott CEO Comments
New Marriott CEO, Anthony Capuano, was applauded this week by Ben Schlappig of One Mile At A Time for his candor. There’s some merit to that, but like Lucky, I am more than disappointed to hear management’s approach:
“I think we’ve made terrific progress. The integration of Marriott Rewards and SPG was a monumental task. And it’s quite interesting. You hear SPG loyalists say, ‘My goodness, what have you done to our program?’ The program was very guest-friendly. It was less owner-friendly. What some of those SPG loyalists may have lost, a bit, in terms of the richness of the program, we hope that breadth of choice, whether it be brands or geography, is a bit of a mitigating factor.”
Marriott really has two customers, the travelers that stay in their hotels and the hotel investment companies that manage their properties and choose to stay within the brand or convert to another. It’s hard to reach out to both, but Capuano has clearly chosen which customer he wishes to endear.
More Fairfields and Fewer Upgrades
In more news this week, Suite Night Upgrades, a perk for top-tier loyalists is no longer available at all-inclusive properties. Imagine spending 250 nights/year on the road in busted Courtyards to redeem free nights for your family only to discover that the Cancun resort with the huge buffet doesn’t qualify for a little bit bigger room despite living in Marriott hotels all year.
Capuano stated that where SPG loyalists traded “richness” for breadth, he was really saying “upscale” for “anywhere.” There is a valid point to that argument. The sole criticism of Hyatt is a lack of properties, and SPG had just a few hundred that weren’t either beat up Sheratons or Four Points by Sheraton. As it stands today, the great Marriott brands that come to mind: St. Regis, JW Marriott, Ritz-Carlton, account for relatively few of the properties in the brand (about 4%.) Of the 7,000 properties under the Marriott flag, almost 40% are Courtyard, Fairfield, or Four Points brands.
However, that trade doesn’t seem even to me. I don’t want more Fairfields in exchange for fewer benefits.
Marriott Has Lost Control of its Properties
The real problem with the Marriott Bonvoy program and its affiliate hotels is that the brand is too large to hold any control over the product and keep participating hotels within the reigns of its own terms and conditions.
I have expounded over the last couple of years on the decoder ring loyal Bonvoyers need to take with them to their hotels just to know what benefits they should (but likely are not) receiving. Top Tier Ambassadors and Platinum members receive free breakfast at these properties but not those, upgrades are honored here but not there.
In just the last week, yet another property added an energy charge of 4%. As Gary Leff aptly pointed out, this is a room charge increase outside of the bounds of a standard rate increase. I’d go further. The reason why airlines like Spirit, Allegiant, and Frontier can charge a fee (and pay fewer taxes on the revenue) is that it is optional and not part of the fare – there has to be a way to avoid paying it to qualify like my favorite Spirit Airlines trick. Unlike the optionality of where and how you book your hotel room or even method of payment surcharges, an energy charge is unavoidable and patently absurd.
As a customer (now Gold, formerly Platinum for several years) I have no idea what I will get when I check into a hotel. I have so little faith in the Marriott Bonvoy program and its leadership’s ability to deliver a consistent product that despite huge credit card signup bonus points, I simply have no desire to earn and redeem points in the program. I love some of the brands (mostly SPG) but won’t even look at their properties anymore.
Hilton has stated it will permanently change its housekeeping policy to limit visits to the room. In the current environment that seems permissible due to COVID and worker shortages despite record levels of open jobs and higher wages for those jobs. There was a change to its free continental breakfast benefit for Gold and Diamond guests which in a way is more flexible (doesn’t have to be used for breakfast) but falls short (allotments are not enough to offset the cost of a single meal.)
IHG, in an effort to maintain its superiority as the worst possible value for hotel points, jacked-up prices during the pandemic. Just a couple of years ago, its top-level redemption was 50,000 points, but the brand tested 120,000 before backing back down.
Hyatt remains a loser in the race to the bottom which makes them a winner to me.
It’s not just rogue hotels that are dragging Marriott down, it’s the message from management. If the Marriott team thinks the way to recruit and maintain consistent top-tier travelers is by watering down benefits and adding more Fairfields, they are sorely mistaken.
What do you think? Is Marriott winning a race to the bottom? Do you hold hope for the brand?