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.