Back in the fall Marriott Rewards introduced 4 new features to their program. I broke the news on their plan for cash and points, points sharing, points advance, and reward nights counting towards status.
These were modest changes, they’re things offered by other programs, and hardly revolutionary. They’re the kind of marginal improvements we’re used to seeing from Marriott Rewards to go along with periodic devaluations.
But with Marriott acquiring Starwood hotels they were pretty shell shocked to see the customer reaction among Starwood’s elite members. It became clear they were going to need to offer Starwood’s customers the kind of treatment they’ve been used to in order to retain them.
St. Regis Bali
The major elite benefit issues for Starwood Preferred Guest members have been:
- Upgrades. Marriott doesn’t promise suites when available, and doesn’t confirm them in advance of arrival so that top tier members can prioritize when they receive upgrades.
- Late Checkout. Marriott hasn’t guaranteed late checkout, even for Platinums who have to stay 75 nights a year.
- 24 hour checkin. Starwood’s 75 night Platinums can arrange to check in any time and check out 24 hours later (and 9am checkins and later still are eligible for 4pm late checkout)
- Lifetime Gold and Platinum status. Starwood has a more generous lifetime status program and it’s unclear how that will be honored in Marriott Rewards.
- Breakfast. Marriott doesn’t offer breakfast at resorts, Courtyard hotels, or Ritz-Carlton properties.
- Ambassador. Starwood’s 100 night Platinums receive a designated ‘Ambassador’ to handle all things related to the chain and program for them.
Starwood Preferred Guest will remain in place at least through the end of 2017 and that gives Marriott time to address some of these issues.
In fact, they’re already beginning to.
Al Maha Desert Resort
Marriott (and Ritz-Carlton) Rewards is introducing 3 new features.
- An experiences marketplace along the lines of Starwood’s SPG Moments.
With the experiences marketplace, all Marriott Rewards and The Ritz-Carlton Rewards Members can pursue their passions by choosing from a wide array of curated special events and opportunities for discovery. Whether it’s tickets to one of the hottest shows on Broadway; a once-in-a-lifetime chance to hang out with your favorite sports team; or a private cooking lesson or wine tasting with a world-famous chef or sommelier, members can redeem Marriott Rewards or The Ritz-Carlton Rewards points to access a marketplace of unique experiences that allow them to explore their personal interests in the most meaningful and memorable ways. The experiences marketplace will be available globally to all members in late May.
- Guaranteed 4pm late checkout for Gold and Platinum members starting May 16. This benefit excludes resort, convention, and timeshare properties — consistent with how Starwood and Hyatt treat their late checkout benefit.
- Testing a Concierge Service similar to Starwood Ambassador.
An initial group of Elite members of Marriott Rewards will be invited to participate in a new Elite concierge service. By developing a relationship with the member, the concierge will be able to anticipate their unique needs, ensuring the member’s preferences are recognized and their desires are met before, during, and even after their stay. The concierge will be able to reserve on-property amenities like restaurants, spa treatments and golf, as well as make arrangements for special occasions. The service will launch in late May first for U.S. members of Marriott Rewards traveling worldwide and will continue to expand. Marriott Rewards will actively engage with this group of charter members and seek their feedback to refine the service.
Six weeks ago I reported the rumor of a Marriott Ambassador rollout and that turns out to be accurate.
Marriott’s CEO says loyalty becomes more important – rather than less important – for the chain going forward. These new benefits, without any simultaneous takeaways, is a start. They have a lot more work to do but I expect will see additional developments over the coming 18 months.