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Last year I made the decision to take advantage of a Marriott Platinum challenge to gain said Platinum (now Titanium) status through 2020. It was easily doable through work travel that I had lined up, only requiring nine stays (SEE: Fast track status: how to sign up for a Marriott Platinum challenge). I completed eight of these over a few trips and the final night was at the Marriott near SFO (SEE: San Francisco Airport Marriott Waterfront Executive Studio Suite Review). That stay was even one where we scored an awesome upgrade. Based on that experience and being a fan of the old SPG program, I was hopeful that the new Marriott program would be one I could stick with.
Fast-forward a year, and I am on a track for earning status with Hyatt. The burst of enthusiasm for Marriott was short-lived. With the program merger, subsequent IT chaos, and new Bonvoy name, it is apparent to me that Marriott has really made a mess of both their loyalty program’s value and their customer base in general. It seems like there are almost no good experiences coming out of interaction with Marriott. But maybe the customers sampled are representative of the whole picture.
With the release of a post at Loyalty Lobby regarding over 100 million customer cases opened over the past months, it seems the issues with the merger run deeper than just the “noise around the edges” that Marriott’s head of loyalty makes them out to be. It seems they really don’t care about doing right by their customers.
Avoiding a phone call out of fear
Just before the merger last year I used my old Category 8 free night certificate to book a week at a Category 8 property in Switzerland. There really wasn’t anything on the calendar for the summer, and I figured that was as good of a choice as any, as it is a country I’ve been interested in visiting for a long time. I also did it because the property (and many other Swiss properties) would soon be converted to Category 6 in the new program, while my certificate could would be converted to only a Category 5.
Well…summer is coming up fast, and I don’t know whether to cancel the reservation and see if the certificate can still be converted. It’s a bit past the point where Marriott was offering this, although since it is a new certificate, they really should give me back 30,000 points and covert it to a new Category 5. I would also appreciate a 6-month extension if I do cancel the booking.
But…I’ve been dreading the phone call, based on all the reports of how bad Marriott representatives have been lately, not to mention the abysmal hold times. At best case, I would be able to cancel the booking accomplish the certificate conversion, and have it available for a trip later in the year. As a marginal case, I have to stick with the booking. At worst case, everything gets messed up, my booking gets canceled, and the certificate magically disappears forever. And I spend 5+ hours on the phone trying to solve the problem.
I might call in and see what it still possible. But I do not have high hopes.
Loyalty programs should develop loyalty, not frustration
Marriott is doing very little to engender customer loyalty. From playing games with award space at top-tier properties, to charging customers a ridiculous fee for a late arrival due to a delayed flight, there isn’t much to love about their program aside from certain properties (SEE: Renaissance Beijing Wangfujing Review) and their global footprint. If they were at least taking care of their members while they sort out the IT issues that have plagued them for months, things would be forgiveable. I could cut them slack, as Gary says we should. But given their treatment of loyalty, I have to disagree.
The frustration with the new Marriott Bonvoy program is so intense that one blogger started a site completely dedicated to collecting stories of terrible experiences with Marriott: bonvoyed.com. I first encountered the verb form of the new Marriott program in the Award Travel 101 Facebook group, at it wasn’t in a good context. Bonvoyed essentially means being given the typical awful treatment coming out of Marriott these days. Not able to apply a suite night award? You’ve been bonvoyed. No credit given for a recent stay? You’ve been bonvoyed. Didn’t get a suite upgrade as a top-tier Titanium or Ambassador member when lots of suites are showing available? Bonvoyed again.
The frustration with Marriott is causing people to walk away from the program. With the major blow to earning rates with the new cards and the new award tiers, I am not all that interested in investing in the program. I might do so opportunistically, a la Hilton and IHG, but my actual loyalty this year is going to Hyatt. Even with Titanium elite status for the entire year, I’m not planning more than 2 stays with them: the aforementioned 7-night certificate and using my remaining free night certificate.
What is the road ahead for Marriott Bonvoy?
Marriott is facing a program crisis. They have seasoned representatives walking out during their shifts, a huge backlog of issues to deal with, and chronic IT problems with their website and phone app. The tools are not their for the representatives they do have to really help many issues experienced by program members.
Marriott doesn’t seem to care. And that needs to change. Until they take care of their members, they will not be able to make forward progress as a loyalty program. If the Bonvoyed movement gains steam and deals are made with other chains for status matches and the like, it could begin to deal a blow to their business from their most valuable guests.