No Notice: Marriott Stops Giving Elite Benefits For Online Travel Agency Reservations

Nearly 15 years ago hotel chains stopped awarding elite stay credit for guests who booked through third party websites like Expedia and Priceline. Chains wanted their frequent guests to ‘book direct’ long before the phrase became fashionable.

In addition to refusing elite status credit, some chains like Hilton wouldn’t even give points on a stay booked through a third party.

Starwood, Hilton, and IHG refused to honor elite status benefits for the guest during their stay when booking through an online travel agency. Marriott and Hyatt still honored elite benefits, even though they didn’t count the stay for elite accrual and room rates didn’t earn points.

When Hyatt rolled out their new ‘World of Hyatt’ program last year they eliminated elite benefits on stays booked through online travel agencies. That left Marriott as the last chain that still did so. I’ve never had a problem getting benefits from Marriott on a third party booking.

Back in April I talked with Marriott’s Senior Vice President of Loyalty David Flueck and he assured me that the new Marriott program would continue to do this. I wrote at the time,

Elite benefits apply whether you book directly with Marriott or not. After Hyatt eliminated this last year, Marriott is now the only chain that officially honors elite benefits even on third party bookings. You don’t earn points or stay credit, but you’re still a valued customer. And this will roll out to legacy Starwood properties too.


Battle House Renaissance, Mobile Alabama

Marriott’s new terms and conditions were consistent with this, as well. It was a real improvement over how Starwood treated elites whose rooms were booked through online travel agencies. And it lasted for all of two weeks. This week the terms and conditions. The bolded words appear to have been added some time on Tuesday:

2.1.f Non-Qualifying Rates. A “Non-Qualifying Rate” is a rate a Member pays for a Stay in a guest room at a Participating Property which does not qualify to earn Points or Miles, as well as membership tier benefits. Non-Qualifying Rates are those booked using the following methods:

i. The guest room was booked through a tour operator, online travel channel or other third-party channel including, without limitation, expedia.com, hotwire.com, priceline.com, orbitz.com, booking.com, travelocity.com; or

ii. The guest room was booked at a group rate as part of an event, meeting, conference or organized tour, and the Member does not directly pay the Participating Property for such room; or

iii. The guest room was booked at a tour operator, wholesaler, or crew room rate or package including, without limitation, Fam-Tastic® rates, Plan-Tastic® rates, travel industry rates and organized tours or package bookings; or

iv. The guest room was booked at the Company employee or friends and family rate or the Company business rate; or

v. The guest room was complimentary; or

vi. A voucher or third-party award was redeemed for the guest room.


W New York Times Square

A Marriott spokesperson offers, “We do provide elite benefits for members who book through third parties on qualifying rates such as GDS, United Airlines, etc. OTAs do not fall under qualifying rates. I am sorry for the confusion we may have caused.”

Marriott has imposed new status requirements, like having to spend $20,000 in addition to spending 100 nights in their hotels for an Ambassador and for 24 hour check-in (which had been a 75 night privilege with Starwood). Once customers achieve that level of loyalty, whether or not they matter to Marriott on a given stay depends on how they’ve reserved it.

The elite member may not even be the one to book their stay. They tell their client, assistant, or vendor to book them into the Marriott property and don’t control how the booking was made. All of a sudden that 100 night guests walks into the property and gets the room over the HVAC.

Sometimes third party sites are the only way to book the Marriott hotel you want to stay at, and you’re going out of your way to make that booking because you’re loyal to Marriott. And sometimes those third party sites have cheaper rates that Marriott’s Look No Further best rate guarantee won’t match.

The best expression of what’s wrong with denying benefits to elites who have earned their status but are staying on ‘ineligible rates’ came from Flyertalk member PremEx in 2003, when Starwood made this very same change.

Welcome to the Starwood Preferred Rate® Program. You are no longer a Preferred Guest.

Forget about the 25 or 50 or 75 stays you had on normal rates, that earned you Platinum. Walk in the door on Jan 1, 2004 on an occasional Priceline or other third party booking…and magically and mystically you’ve somehow become a Non-Preferred Guest!

And now that that fundamental change in the program has kicked-off and that wall has been shattered to pieces, where will it end?

Only property elite benefits when staying on Rack Rates? That also would certainly improve elite benefits too…on only those times that you were staying on Rack Rates!

Slippery slope, my friend.

I don’t know about you, but I prefer to be a Preferred Guest. As long as I’m at a Starwood property, I prefer and expect to get the recognition I earned. And I earned that status all on qualifying rates.

Because I’m a Platinum Preferred Guest. I am not my rate.

Programs destroy the goodwill they create when a loyal member walks into a property and is treated less well because of how they booked their stay. They no longer feel like an honored guest. Either the person is important to the chain or they aren’t.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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Comments

  1. Marriott was an outlier. To think that Marriott was going to continue to be such was naive since we’ve already seen changes in other areas to what Flueck stated would occur.

    Either Flueck doesn’t completely understand his own loyalty program or he really has no authority. It’s a shame one is unable to rely on an executive with his title.

  2. Perhaps, Marriott thinks they have too many “preferred” guests beating down the doors to stay with them regardless of rate plan. That illusion could be quickly shattered by those guests who feel that Marriott doesn’t want them anymore.

    The provided on site benefits do not usually generate major additional costs when the guest is already on property because many are subject to revenue demand.

    A bold competitive move by another major chain would be to restore those types of benefits to “preferred” members.

  3. David Flueck is emblematic of what an utter cluster this merger has become.

    I mean, has he said *anything* about this merger that has turned out to be accurate? Seriously, a single thing?

    At this point, it’d be a safer bet to assume the exact opposite of what he states. Had we all done that, we could have telegraphed exactly how this merger would have turned out.

    99% of executives that made as many consistently inaccurate representations as he has would be out of a job by now. The fact that he’s not is both miraculous and… considering this merger, completely expected.

  4. I’m so angry. I was actively trying to requalify for Plat this year based on the guarantee that next year, I could book Marriott rooms through the Chase UR portal and still have my status recognized. This is crap.

  5. 3 questions –
    1. Would a room booked through AmEx Fine Hotels and Resorts be a qualifying rate ?
    2. What about reservations booked prior to the change in the terms and conditions
    3. Is the inclusion of complimentary rooms meant to include award nights ?

    It is a shame we can’t rely on statements made executives during the new Program rollout.
    So , if a hotel were to comp you a future night as a service recovery then , as I read it , you would not be entitled to benefits .

  6. Some hotel loyalty programs may still grant elite status benefits regardless of booking channel, but Hyatt’s and Marriott’s programs now join a longer list of hotel loyalty programs that have decided to encourage hotels to treat customers like this: “you are just your rate this time”.

  7. I m all for OPM booked rates being not eligible.
    If your clinet/vendor is paying for the room, you should not be getting stay credit or benefits.

  8. Am embarking on a trip to China using the AMEX FHR program for many Starwood/Marriott reservations our elite platinum status will not be recognized?

  9. Will Citi Prestige 4th night free bookings still qualify, if the booking is made with the concierge over the phone?

  10. Even with as poor a program as WOH is I sure am glad I stayed loyal to it…I’m almost ready to abandon hotel loyalty like I did airline loyalty a few years ago…

  11. I love that sites like this persuade people that they are the masters of any given loyalty program. Changes like this highlight that’s a fiction and that it is the loyalty programs which condition behavior.

    And make no mistake. Loyalty programs care only about spending patterns, not people.

  12. @Jeepie – yes, if you use Citi’s 4th night via phone or email to Concierge. Did the fews times already with stays in Sheratoon, Marriott, and JW. I have not tried if the same thing happens if I book thru Concierge online.

  13. I don’t think it is unreasonable/unexpected for this to happen. MRR was an outlier after all and we know what happens those.

    But the real story here is YOU CANNOT RELY ON WHAT MRR TELL YOU. Time after time they say one thing about the new program, and then deliver something totally different. Now we have entered the world of no-notice program changes. This is quickly becoming the worst managed loyalty merger ever in terms of communications. They will destroy all the goodwill they had previously built up during the first 18 months of the merger process.

  14. Random thoughts…

    First of all, this *rarely* affects me, as the overwhelming percentage of our hotel bookings are indeed made online through the websites of SPG/Marriott, Hilton, Hyatt, etc. BUT @Jeepie raises an interesting point: what about 4th Night Free stays through the Citi Prestige concierge?

    Secondly, in the 21st century, “customer service” is all-too-often tied to the rate (i.e.: how much you paid for your room) than one’s status. Leaving aside the merits of this concept (though I certainly view this as a change for the worse, but in line with what is regrettably becoming standard in the travel industry), having elite status is still better (IMHO) than not having it, IMHO. But I’m also shortly turning 65. Maybe I’m simply too stuck in my ways, but were I in my 20s-30s, I’d probably be booking through something like hotels.com with a Capital One card, racking up points and free nights regardless of any loyalty program. (And maybe I’d be flying Spirit in their Big Seat Upfront, or whatever it is they call it, but even the thought of that — of Allegiant or Frontier — still gives me shivers.)

    Third, regarding mergers and rollouts generally, has there EVER been one that happened smoothly, and kept all their promises? I mean on a major scale. I can’t really think of one…maybe Southwest’s take over of AirTran? I don’t know, as I never flew Airtran, so for me in California, the effects were pretty much non-existent. I mean, certainly within the hotel industry, nothing has ever been as big as the “Marriwood” merger — but looking at AA+USAir, or UA+Continental, or even DL+Northwest, has anything ever gone completely as planned. I don’t think so… But in this case, Marriott reminds me of Alaska in re: Virgin America. Pre-merger, everything seemed like it was being handled well, they treated the “loyalists” of SPG (and VX) well, and it seemed they were going out of their way to allay any fears of the “mergees” into the “merged.” Once it was time for the actual merger to be fully realized, and the old programs/companies/structures to disappear, however, a lot of the promises and benefits seem to disappear.

    For me, this is making Hilton more and more attractive. They were already my #2 preferred hotel chain, after SPG but before Marriott. Since I am Diamond (top tier) status with them through the Amex Aspire card…why not make the switch? I don’t yet know the answer to my own question, but I suspect I will in 2019.

  15. The next recession is closing in quickly as a result of excessive borrowing, restrictive tariffs and xenophobia. Business travel demand will continue to fall.

    The travel industry response will be interesting or are we already seeing it as the airlines start reducing premium pricing across the board?

    Marriott may have scale but it does not control demand.

  16. As I commented in a previous post, it also destroys loyalty when the most loyal customers who have achieved the top lifetime status are denied benefits that are available to everyone who meets the minimum requirements for that status on an annual basis. Specifically, LPPs get no gift option or SNAs that are available to every annual PP and Platinum. In the SPG program lifetime platinums got all of the benefits available to entry level platinum. (There were four levels of SPG Platinum.) There are two tiers of PP under the Marriott program. LPP should not necessarily be entitled to the same benefits as both tiers but should have all of the benefits of the lowest tier. Without that then LPP is not getting status equal to PP. Marriott can do that, just don’t claim it is giving lifetime PP status. What’s next to be “decoupled” from”status” and tied strictly to annual nights?

  17. John – stop making stuff up. In the SPG program LT Plats did NOT get SNAs. They only got them if they stayed 50 nights, just like every other Plat50.

  18. Sorry Gary,

    Much ado about nothing…..

    All the Frequent Traveler need do is advise his/her secretary/administrative assistant/corporate travel agent to make sure they book their hotel on the web site of the hotel company… that’s all and what I and my wife do all the time.

    End of Gary’s rant…..

  19. well let’s just hope that they don’t make their Best Rate Guarantee a joke like Hyatt has….. then we won’t have to resort to booking using OTAs.
    Now about fixing the lifetime Elite years count….

  20. @UA -NYC read and understand. I did not say SPG Lifetime Plats got SNAs.
    I said they got all entry level SPG Platinum benefits which were earned with stays not nights. Lifetime PP under Marriott do not get the same as entry level PP. No SNAs and no gift option for LPPs.

    Breaking it down in grade school math. LPP benefits = X. Annual P benefits = Y. X < Y. Therefore LPP not equal the lowest level PP and should not be called PP. Get it?

  21. So John, what was your pre-merger status? You sound like a bitter Marriott loyal who is now LTPP but isn’t getting SNAs/a gift and thus feels like you have a lesser status. Don’t forget all the amazing benefits you are getting with this new & enhanced PP level compared to what a similar 75 night Marriott Plat got – you all made out like bandits.

    I have 1,000+ LT nights (over 800 SPG) and I am totally fine with SNAs only coming with 50/75 nights/year. It was brilliant for Starwood at the time to incentivize SPG Plats with staying more after 25 stays / 50 nights vs. defecting to other chains.

  22. BTW here is the PP benefits page: https://www.marriott.com/loyalty/member-benefits/platinum-premier.mi

    Note that as a LTPP you get 16 of the 17 listed benefits (the only ones you don’t are the SNAs), though I respect the ones on the left are more of the “hard benefits”. Fair trade-off to me!

    (and BTW with Starwood I probably got suite upgrades ~1/2 of the time not even using my SNAs…it’s not like “no SNAs = never see the inside of a suite”)

  23. Presumably, then, a Marriott hotel booked as part of an AA Vacations package *would* qualify for elite benefits as this is a GDS covered by the “etc. part of the spokesman’s quote?

    Cheers.

  24. Maybe it’s just me but even at Hiltons haven’t had issues getting elite benefits offered when booking through Priceline, etc.

  25. Gary, I hope you call out Marriott for this PR misinformation BS like you did a few months ago (I think it was Hyatt then). They knew what the program would be, and blatantly lied to you and your readers.

  26. Good. OTAs are the worst. They charge huge cOmissions to the hotels. If you want to book through them, you don’t deserve benefits

  27. This has been the effect of the new T&C since they were released; the “new” language just clarifies what was already in there. See the FT thread, where I made this point weeks ago.

    The bloggers all missed this – you were all too busy telling us how great this merger was.

  28. @UA-NYC, You continue to make unfounded assumptions and accusations and jump to irrelevant conclusions. I have no idea why you persist.

    The fact is X < Y. LPP status is not equal to annual PP status.

    Even stingy Delta offers its Lifetime Platinums all of the benefits of annual Platinum status. It does not have the gall to say Lifetime Platinums have Platinum status except they must fly 75,000 miles each year and spend $12,000 each year to earn choice benefits like Regional Upgrades. (RUs are roughly the equivalent of SNAs . They create a higher priority for upgrades Platinums are already entitled to.) If Delta did such a thing, then Delta LPs would surely recognize that they were not getting Platinum status for life.

    Similarly, by not including in LPP status the SNAs and gift options every Platinum Premier is entitled to, Marriott is not offering Platinum Premier status for life. It is offering something less. Marriott has the right to do so, just don't insult our intelligence and say it is.

    Denying benefits to elites without notice who book on OTAs is yet another Marriott poke in the eye with a sharp stick.

  29. @John – airlines are not hotels. Different industries and models entirely.

    Again – do you have ANY Starwood or Marriott status? Or are you just giving your opinion without any dog in the fight, just for the hell of it, for the sake of criticizing.

  30. Really, this just pushes you to actually quantify how much you value elite benefits. Would you forego elite recognition for a rate that’s $25 cheaper? $50? Of course, the answer probably depends on whether you are paying for the hotel yourself or if an employer/ client pays. Let’s call this what it is: a way to enlist elite members in a conspiracy to extract more money from third party payers. What you buy on OTAs is essentially the “basic economy” of the hotel world.

  31. Hillarious entitlements… hotels lay out the terms, you choose where you stay and how you book. Stop the whining!

  32. This hasn’t started yet. My company just booked a Marriott for me through an agent, and all I had to do was call their 800 number and add my rewards number. The reservation is now listed under MY TRIPS and the lady assured me I would get full credit.

  33. @Jim, that’s good. But I’m not clear on your agent vs. an OTA. I assume your agent isn’t Expedia or Priceline, etc.? Cheers.

  34. Sounds like a good reason to just use hotels.com and get 10% back. You can buy whatever benefit you want with cash.

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