Marriott Rewards and Starwood Preferred Guest were the two big winners at the Freddie Awards last week.
Starwood actually did the best of any airline or hotel with 8 trophies on the night. Marriott earned 5.
They were evenly matched, however, outside of the promotions arena where Starwood picked up 3 awards. Starwood certainly (and in my mind indisputably) had the richest earning promotion in the market for 2011, Free Resort Nights.
Marriott took home the biggest hotel trophy haul in in the Americas, Starwood did especially well elsewhere in the world
These two programs represent two very different competing philosophies for rewards and loyalty recognition.
Marriott is everywhere, the most common word used to describe them and also their loyalty program is “consistency.” They don’t promise a lot but they deliver well across the board.
Starwood’s philosophy seems to have crystalized over the past year into customizing the experience, every guest is different and the program wants to tailor their interactions with members to best understand and meet individual needs.
Starwood’s changes announced in February and which began in March were huge, a major revamp of the program.
- Platinums choose if they want breakfast, if it’s something they’re expensing they can take the points. (Of course offering continental breakfast and offering it in lieu of the points checkin amenity also saves costs, but Starwood would probably say why invest in something a member doesn’t value on a given stay?)
- ‘Confirmed’ upgrades are available to Platinums staying 50 nights or more, in reality they get to express a preference for when they get upgraded rather than having their upgrades on stays they don’t value suites. Of course it’s not confirmed at booking, so it’s about jumping to the front of the queue, but philosophically it’s about members raising their hands about when they most value a benefit. (Although this is also about standardization, the program rather than the hotel runs the advance upgrade procedure based on a hotel’s available inventory, removing the vagaries of properties which don’t like complying with upgrades and also the vagaries of the check-in clerk.)
- Starwood 75 night Platinums get to choose checkin and checkout times with much greater flexibility than any other program. in contrast Marriott doesn’t even guarantee late checkout.
- Starwood 100 night Platinums get a dedicated person to help customize their stays
I wonder if the recency of the improvements, announced just before the Freddies voting began and rolled out right in the middle of voting, gave the program a major boost. Certainly recent feelings and experiences loom large, even when ostensibly honoring a program’s achievements during the previous calendar year.
In my mind SPG was already second best (behind Hyatt Gold Passport) and even after these substantial improvements they remain second best (largely because Hyatt’s confirmed at booking suite upgrades up to 28 nights a year trump Starwood’s upgrade priority requests close-in to stays for top tier elites, and because the Hyatt Diamond breakfast benefit is much more robust than Starwood’s new Platinum breakfast offering).
The 1.3 million frequent travelers who participated in the Freddies voting process spoke clearly… both philosophies are valued and valuable. Sadly I’m only one vote, because I far prefer the tailored and also variable experience that Starwood offers.
Several years ago SPG seemed taken with six sigma, trying to iron out variance in their customer experiences. Contra the program’s terms and conditions, there were some European properties that stopped offering upgrades to the ‘best available room at check-in’ and instead were offering consistent one or two category upgrades to top elites, period. The idea was never to give too much that customers might expect it in the future, but to offer just a little bit that could be relied upon all the time. I think the last U.S. President called that “the soft bigotry of low expectations.” And I’m truly thrilled to see Starwood moving full throttle in the other direction.
Now, I love customization, which is why I think their new promotion is brilliant in allowing members to select their earning period and also what they earn for their stays. But it’s complicated and the performance of Marriott Rewards shows that members often like uncomplicated. The promotion isn’t especially lucrative, either, compared to what they’ve offered in the past, my sense is that Starwood had to rein back the value of what they were offering in order to fund the promotion themselves and prevent hotels from opting out of participation. I’d rather have hotels opt out and have richer promotions than have standardization. So hopefully Starwood takes its customization approach even more seriously in the future.
But that’s my wish for a program, members often feel differently, no program is as decorated over time at the Freddies as Marriott Rewards.