Is Marriott Devaluing Their Elite Upgrade Benefits Even More?

Regular readers know that I’m generally unimpressed with Marriott Rewards’ elite program. Their Platinum level is the most stringent top tier status to qualify for of any major hotel program requiring 75 nights in a year.  And yet:

  • Breakfast benefit only applies during the week (though some properties go above and beyond)
  • Late checkout on request only, day of departure
  • Suites are excluded from upgrades per terms and conditions
  • Free health club access isn’t a top tier benefit
  • Virtually no benefits on resort stays — late checkout (even based on availability) doesn’t apply, breakfast doesn’t even apply. And it’s those resort and leisure stays where I often care the most..

Several years ago Marriott added ‘excluding suites’ from the upgrade terms and conditions, the benefit once simply said best available room and there were often arguments over whether a suite was available and if so whether the top tier elite member was entitled to that room.

While Starwood and Hyatt and now even Hilton introduced the possibility of suite upgrades, Marriott went in the opposite direction by specifically excluding them.

Now it seems that Marriott has taken the exclusion even farther. Here’s the current upgrade language for Platinum elite members of Marriott Rewards:

Room Upgrade

For Platinum Elite members, the best way is up! So every time you check in, we’ll do our best to upgrade you – at no additional charge – to our best-available guest room in the next room category level. Suites are excluded. Not available at Marriott Vacation Club.

(Bolding is mine.)

The Gold level benefit, incidentally, is exactly the same:

Room Upgrade

For Gold Elite members, the best way is up! So every time you check in, we’ll do our best to upgrade you – at no additional charge – to our best-available guest room in the next room category level. Suites are excluded. Not available at Marriott Vacation Club.

What’s most interesting to me — aside from there being no differentiation at all in the terms of conditions of the program between upgrades for Gold and Platinum members — is the new language “in the next room category“.

Individual hotels will often go above and beyond the bare minimum required of them by the program. So this isn’t a post claiming that Marriott Platinums never see a suite, please don’t reply letting me know when you were treated well by a specific hotel or that properties in Asia are overall much more generous than in the U.S.

What’s striking here is what the program promises and requires of its hotels. And that appears now to be even less.

Whereas once the requirement was the best available non-suite room, the requirement now appears to be only a one-category room upgrade.

Plenty of properties only have a couple of non-suite room categories, but others have several, and Platinum (and Gold) elites no longer have a beef per the program’s terms and conditions if they aren’t upgraded to an otherwise-available room that’s more than one category above what they’ve booked though still less than a suite.

While it seems all the other major programs are moving in the direction of giving their elites a better experience, I’m continually surprised that Marriott doesn’t get nudged along and in fact finds ways to dial back their offerings — especially in terms of room upgrades, because a better room or even a suite that would otherwise go empty doesn’t actually cost a hotel anything. Confirmed upgrades might displace revenue by upgrades to an available room at checkin almost never will.

(HT: Reader Bill W.)

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  1. The worst devaluation of Gold and Platinum status is the take away of the BOGO nights. They kept on saying we’ll see them again at the beginning of 2012, but so far nothing.

  2. It’s their ubiquity – properties everywhere and thus probably a large ‘elite’ population – they feel they can get away with it. I’m sure that many people are like me in that they are forced in Marriott’s direction by corporate rate policy and/or location (i.e. no Hyatt, Hilton, Starwood nearby or in policy). Trust me, I used to be Hilton Diamond and prefer HHonors over Marriott, but Hilton raised our corporate rates so my choice is Marriott or some non-chain hotel. I love Hyatt and Starwood properties but they don’t have locations in most of the areas I visit on business.

  3. Concur 100% – Marriot is very disappointing at the Plat level, though to be fair I have received much better customer service since I made Plat and no trouble getting a better room when I return to the front desk. Still, I see no incentive to retain Marriot Plat next year.

    Any discussion should note however that other programs fare little better for lower level elites. Hyatt and SPG do not give me exec lounge access and the late checkout is an illusory benefit as I’ve never found it available past 2pm for resort stays.

  4. @Boraxo: SPG and Hyatt do guarantee excec lounge access for its Platinum and Diamond members. Hyatt even gives you extra points if the lounge is closed.

  5. Marriott doesn’t want its hotels upgrading as many Golds and Platinums to the club rooms (which include the benefit of some included food/beverage consumption)? Does this save/make Marriott more money to reduce the number of people granted upgrades to club rooms with lounge benefits?

    Not a welcome move for hotel guests.

  6. This doesn’t really affect me because I generally stay in Marriotts that only have two room categories – regular and suite. Concierge benefits apply regardless of room category, and that’s really where I make my money (so to say) as I save and keep my per diem.

    Anyway, @Erik hits the nail on the head – Marriotts are everywhere and lots and lots of people use them. There is no incentive for Marriott to get competitive with their elite program right now. It’s much better for them to configure the program to maximize non-elite revenue, which this seems to do by keeping open higher-rate rooms to the general public.

  7. I wonder whether other programs might use this as an opportunity to try to status match and poach Marriott platinums. SPG or Hyatt, if you do so, I’m yours.

  8. The market will hopefully speak on this. If enough Plats vote with their feet, Marriott will definitely notice the reduction in nights/revenue, do some research and figure out what the hell happened.

    Not only did the BOGO nights get yanked, but the BOGO dinners too.

    I agree with Brendan — I’ll re-marry if someone gives me some lovin!

  9. @Andy – My point was SPG Gold and Hyatt Plat do not have lounge access thereby making my point that mid-tier status is equiv to Marriott.

  10. I’m sure this post will be quite popular among the Marriott haters…

    But let’s be real – nobody stays @ Marriotts because of the upgrades. I’ve been a Marriott platinum for almost 6 years now, and I can count the number of suite upgrades I’ve gotten on one hand. The properties are notoriously bad with upgrades.

    Business travelers love Marriotts because there are club lounges in pretty much every business hotel. That club lounge includes free breakfast, appetizers, desserts, sodas throughout the day, etc. It’s great for a business traveler. Combine that with the fact that there’s a Marriott property in every darn city in the country… and also, Marriotts are nice, clean, and classy, but they typically don’t price quite as high as a Westin / Hyatt.

    The mileage runner / mattress runner type has very little to gain from Marriott Rewards, and clearly this isn’t changing.

    oh p.s. don’t get me wrong… i wish they would bring suite upgrades for platinums :-). but… i’m not holding my breath.

  11. @Boraxo: IMO that’s an unfair comparison. Marriott Gold requires 50 nights, which is same requirement for SPG and Hyatt top tier. Hilton Gold even get free breakfast/lounge access for only 16 stays/36 nights.

  12. I stay at Marriots because of the upgrades. Much more valuable than lounges IMHO, at least for me. I don’t need extra calories on the road.

  13. 1- for yrs Ive been told and shown a booklet by Hotels in Europe that show it was only an Upgrade to the next level Cat. And sometimes that meant only a room with a slightly better view and nothing to talk about.

    2- Just Love the value of the Plat Welcome gift 500 pts at FS Hotels or 200 pts at the rest. Some Gift

    3- till very recently Hilton was worse but Hilton has put back some things taht makes ita more valuable program then Marriott,imo and I hate Hiltons program

  14. You are right, I’m sitting in a beautiful newer suite in Beijing as a Platinum, but I have not had ONE Marriott stay in the last 6 years, SPG gets all my domestic business and Europe.

  15. At Marriott Hotels I expect to pay more aand receive less
    Thats why I rarely ever stay with them
    Overpriced frequently mediocre outdated properties on revenue or award
    I feel sorry for their elite members

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  17. @ GUWonder–

    Even if Marriott does no U/G a Gold or Platinum member to a Club/Concierge room which carries with it lounge access — when the lounge is open — such members do receive admission to the Club/Lounge based upon their status. If Marriott changes this, its Sayonara, but so far these terms have not been changed.

    Hilton, on the other hand, permits its hotels not to give Club/Lounge aceess to its Gold members who are not placed in a Club/Concierge/Executive level room — although they still are provided with a comp breakfast in the hotel’s restaurant.

  18. +1. The only difference between Marriott Plat and Gold benefits are the welcome amenity and the bonus point percentage. In fact, I’ve been upgraded more as a gold member than a plat.

  19. For an organization that used to be at the forefront of the travel industry, they sure have gone the opposite direction over the past few years.

    Not only have they scaled back their upgrade offerings, but they recently announced their second Rewards redemption devaluation.

    This is not a way to win over customers guys.

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