Marriott CEO: Your Frustrations are Just “Noise Around the Edges”

When Marriott acquired Starwood, Marriott Rewards leadership expected to adopt Starwood’s SPG IT platform. They weren’t happy with what Marriott had and were looking into new solutions. Why not just take Starwood’s, after all SPG was viewed as the better loyalty program?

Once they got into things they learned the limitations of the Starwood system. Starwood kept its members in active memory and a legacy Marriott executive tells me that — breakage accoutning aside — expiring accounts with inactivity was necessary as systems ran out of memory. That’s not the stable system that Marriott was looking for.

The transition from Starwood to Marriott didn’t go smoothly however. For weeks after Marriott’s launch of their new unified program, moving Starwood members onto Marriott’s IT platform and launching new rules for earning, redemption, and elite status things were anything but smooth.

There were issues with points crediting properly to accounts, to points transfers to miles, with incorrect account balances and years of lifetime elite status, and cancelled Starwood award reservations not crediting back properly to accounts — to name just a few.

Customer service levels from Marriott have also been a shock to Starwood members, who are used to having the phone answered immediately, used to getting responses from the social media team promptly, and used to having e-mails answered.


Former W Dubai Al Habtoor City

During a Mideast trip, Marriott CEO Arne Sorenson spoke about the loss of one-third of Starwood’s Dubai portfolio with the exit of Habtoor properties from the chain. Habtoor Group moved properties to Hilton which agreed to allow them to just franchise in exchange for lower fees.

Meanwhile Marriott’s regional director spoke about the importance of their growth in both the UAE and in Saudi Arabia, something which in the current climate they probably wouldn’t be as open about here in the U.S.

Sorenson was asked about the Starwood Preferred Guest – Marriott Rewards integration. He describes it as “probably a little but more bumpy” than expected, and that “the bulk of the chatter has really been around that.”

Marriott’s CEO, though, calls complaints about the transition “noise around the edges” — some might even consider him to be describing it as fake news.

[M]ore importantly, he said, was how Marriott had done with the substance of the rules.
“By and large I think we’ve navigated that pretty well,” Sorenson said.

“Among 110 to 115 million loyalty members, there’ll be some noise around the edges.”

Now that we’re two months in, how are you feeling about the new Starwood-Marriott joint program transition?

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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  1. […] announced transition to the Marriott program (Aug 18th). Gary Leff of View from the Wing tells us: Marriott CEO: Your Frustrations are Just “Noise Around the Edges”. Love Hyatt? Richard Kerr, founder of Award Travel 101 and Senior Contributor at The Points Guy […]

Comments

  1. the integration has been a joke. the last time I tried calling, I was on hold for over an hour and I am a lifetime Platinum Premier. I can’t imagine what someone who seldom uses Marriott has to put up with.

  2. `Worst IT integration I’ve ever experienced as a customer, and that includes the notorious United-Continental merger. Too many problems for me to detail, but they include trouble logging into my account, modifying reservations, finding reservations, tracking the number of stays to date, reports of system “temporarily being down,” phone agents shuffling me back and forth between Marriott and SPG because one can’t see or manage the other’s systems, etc. And lousy phone service as well, in terms of frequent delays in getting through and the customer service agents not understanding basic details of the combined program.

    If the CEO thinks that the integration is going well, he’s living in a dream world that makes me question his basic competence as a manager.

  3. @ Marc —> It took me THREE phone calls of 20+ minutes each to finally get a real, live human being on the phone. (At least I think they were human.) Every question I asked — even the most simple — he put me back on hold while he looked up the answer(s), and kept telling me I could find the answers on line. When I asked where, where on the website was this information, he poked around and said, “Oh, it’s not here.” Duh… Both SPG and pre-merger Marriott were really good at responding quickly via Twitter DM, usually in about 30 minutes. Now it takes at least 48 hours, and all I get in an apology and a suggestion to try calling on the phone…

    @GAM —> I think we ALL miss SPG….

    @Gary Leff —> I’m going to fat ONE NIGHT SHORT of Platinum Elite, and — yes — I *will* do a mattress run, but I also have Diamond Status w/Hilton (Aspire). SPG was my go-to hotel chain, with Hilton in 2nd place. 2019 will see if I stay with “Marriwood” or switch the majority of my business to Hilton.

    @Arne Sorenson —> You want to keep my business? Stop referring to us as “noise,” and get your company’s Customer Service operation working properly. If it takes an hour to get through, you may want to consider hiring (and properly training) more people!

  4. It is a shame what has transpired and I am particularly irked by the devaluation of the Rewards program. I will be very picky in choosing stays going forward with Marriott.

  5. I have 143 nights this year, Lifetime Platinum Premier with 1711 nights and 14 years. I am not sure how much higher I can go. I just hit $20K spend 2 weeks ago. Nothing from Marriott – not even an email acknowledging my Lifetime Platinum Premier status since the merger or making Ambassador level.

    I have had an Ambassador with SPG and it was NOT like this.

    I have yet to hear anything from my so called Marriott “Ambassador”. And when I sent an email 5 days ago, no one has yet to respond. As far as I’m concerned my Ambassador is a phantom person.

    For the past 2 stays in the last 2 weeks, I haven’t gotten my points.

    I would love to complain to someone but I’m afraid no one is listening. It is as if I don’t exist at Marriott.

  6. Kept it in memory? I’m in the IT space and don’t know what the means. I doubt they kept this type of information stored in RAM. Besides being expensive, all the information would be lost if a local server reboot. I assume they kept information stored on disk. I don’t see how holding an integer value would move the needle on disk space. It’s not like they deleted the account, just the point value.

  7. My team and I will be spending less nights and money In Marriott/SPG propertied in 2019, and I have corporate travel worth 500+ nights a year on my team.

    SPG was the best but I’m over this joint program

  8. Unfortunately, I have another year with Marriott until I lock in my lifetime status. That being said, once that is done I am done providing my loyalty. If it makes sense to book Marriott I will, but otherwise I will also consider Hyatt and Hilton.

  9. The problems of Marriott are echoed in the tone deaf remarks of the Ceo. As more and more people seek to avoid the confusion, their problems will compound. No company is too big to fail.

  10. Marriott is a joke. As soon as I burn my half million points I’m out. I’m not waiting for category 8 or peak award pricing either. So far the last and only cash I’ve given them, AMEX has paid me back via the $300 resort credit on the Lux card I’ll be cancelling. Earn, burn, dump. They deserve it.
    I will miss the SPG’s unique properties though. Thankfully Hyatt just came with an answer to that. Hiltons are looking like my go to business travel brand.
    No money will be spent at a marriott moving forward. Only burning points.
    The integration was one of the worst executed in travel history. I think it gives United’s a run for it’s money. Arne should be…well, I won’t say but let’s say it involves a donkey and rope. The IT team leadership lined up and …well there you have it.

  11. Marriott’s disregard for the customer experience is appalling, and the problem evidently comes from the top down.

    I will clear 75 Marriott/SPG nights within the next 15 days. But I – and I suspect many others – will be exploring alternative options next year.

  12. Biggest screw up ever. My SPG account….now merged STILL does not have correct stay information. You have to call and talk to a supervisor to find out anything. Reservations just disappear. When I arrived at my hotel last week…..luckily I had a hard copy of my email confirmation. The reservation had just disappeared from the system.
    They still cannot tell me how many nights I have this year….unless I phone.
    They are giving SPGers little bonuses to stay in Marriotts. So far, not one has lived up to comparable SPG properties…..microwaved breakfasts vs fresh, that sort of thing. And so far, not one upgraded room. But thanks yous for being a Platinum guest.

  13. Gary

    Enough with the SPG centric view of the world … when you keep the focus on that whining, you miss the actual issues.

    I have a really complicated account with thousands of lifetime nights over both programs and over 125 nights already this year. There were a couple of weeks of hiccups and it has been all fixed since then. So, the few people of don’t have their accounts straight is noise around the edges. And the whining about the fewer points on MAGC or rewarding events nights are whining. So, when someone tells Arne about that or he reads about it, he thinks whining, noise at the edges, or fake news.

    But … there are still ongoing issues which are getting lost in the SPG centric complaints:

    1. The reservation system has obvious serious problems. It doesn’t pull up properties in a given area and is often down.
    2. Properties just haven’t bought into the new system and Marriott doesn’t seem to care. SPG properties can’t see the difference between a Plat and a Plat Premier or know what to do. The Cosmo refuses to comply with the breakfast benefit. SPG and MR properties don’t follow the upgrade rules. What good are new program rules and benefits if you don’t follow or enforce them ….

  14. F this guy. He is clueless.

    Losing my Ambassador for good next year. But as a soon to be LTPP I no longer have any massive incentive to keep staying with Marriott. I’m sure I will still (I like service & property quality at legacy Starwood options) to some degree but no need to push at the margins.

    Marriott is a joke.

  15. Your frustrations are just noise around my multi million dollar parachute
    You will soon be back for your upgrade to club floor in one of my bland soulless properties or our recently purchased Starwood properties
    As soon as you see our award nights nights are priced at 150 k per night and up you will be begging us to make you a booking and participate in our world crass program
    Come enjoy our rotten IT and hour hold times to speak to our untrained agents we picked up for a few pesos so we could profit off everyone at their expense
    Thanks for your loyalty and eventually we might get things right

  16. Marriott has a long history of running a successful hospitality business without being generous in their loyalty program. They will obviously lose some SPG customers who think they are entitled to better service. Is that a financial mistake? Only time will tell. From a personal standpoint, if the “new Marriott” is not meeting your lodging needs, stay elsewhere.

  17. It’s beyond terrible. Marriott’s management is clueless. Spend 5 minutes reading a travel site or blog and anyone with a brain can see that most of Marriott’s most frequent customers are complaining. Marriott can’t post stays on time, can’t post award points correctly and can’t do bunch of other things right. The customer service is absolutely beyond terrible. Long hold times to reach a human on the phone and then when you do the person is often unable to help. Marriott’s CS via social media channels take days to respond and even then it takes multiple messages to resolve simple issues, and that’s if you’re lucky to get the issues resolved at all. It’s really pathetic. My guess is Marriott thinks its too big to fail and simply doesn’t care about upsetting its loyal customers because they figure those customers can’t/won’t go elsewhere, or Marriott simply doesn’t care to lose some customers.

  18. The new Starriott is not meeting my lodging expectations. I am amazed that people continue to put themselves through this abuse, excuse me, noise, then moan about it online. Between Marriott and Starwood I had almost 100 nights this year, before August. I cancelled my Marriott CC and I have not had one night since.

    Before the merger, I hated Marriott’s unwillingness to enforce its own rules on its franchisees. I loved SPG’s franchisees, but I hated SPG’s IT and its BS rules. SPG manually reversed a purchase of mine, 6 months later, because they were too lazy to just ask me about it.

    Now, Starriott will have to beg me pretty darn hard to get me back. I’m sure their hotels are full w/o me, full of Priceline guests.

  19. @ Gary — I hated SPG and Marriott before the merger and still do. Glad they merged with each other. Hyatt and IHG are the best value programs, followed by back-up Hilton. SPG and Marriott over-promise and under-deliver.

  20. Where to begin?
    SPG lifetime Platinum status (over 1,500 nights) and platinum with Ambassador pre -integration. Post integration I’m now lifetime platinum premier elite and have platinum premier elite +Ambassador.

    The night before the IT integration I took screenshots of all my account pages just in case. Thank the Lord I did that. Because to this day I am still missing five Suite Night awards. I have discussed this at length with my SPG ambassador and she keeps telling me that they know about it, others have the same problem and that Marriott is working on it! The new SPG Marriott rewards app is a total joke. The former SPG have had my ambassador name and contact information on the app. The new one yad The new SPG Marriott rewards app is a total joke. Performer SPG app had my ambassador name contact information on the app. The new one Nada. When I log into my SPG account online… There is no information about who might ambassador is or how to contact them. You would think it from the new programs highest level this information would be available readily. On a recent stay at a Renaissance property they only credited my account for the food and beverage dollars not to stay dollars. That was 3 1/2 weeks ago. I have submitted a copy of the hotel bill to start with SPG and my ambassador in both claimed that Maria is still working on it.
    What a friggin joke

  21. Cancelled a stay in Aigust using a free night certificate. The certificate has never been credited back to my husbands account. Messaged them 3 times, only received auto acknowledgement with case number. Called, lady said give them 5 business days to resolve it – still nothing.

  22. Except for the initial switchover I have not experience problems. The account is accurate. No problems logging in. NO problems with phone contact. REPEAT no problems with Marriott operators. I have had to call a few times and only waited a few minitus at the most.
    Get over it. Marriott bought SPG and I think you’re lucky they just didn’t say oh well and had all SPG people start out from zero.

  23. I have very few stays on record but, I really liked transferring SPG to Alaska Airlines . Now that SPG points are cut by a third it leaves a sour feeling about Marriott .

  24. This merger should never have been allowed to happen. Marriott very clearly knows that they are too big to fail and are understaffing customer service, cheaping out on IT integration, and screwing over customers with devaluations of the award chart, travel packages, and elite benefits because they know they can. They’re the biggeat hotel company in the world now and business customers are not price sensitive so they’ll just continue making everything worse. Please everyone, just dump Marriott.

  25. Marriott has no concept of customer service. I had several terrible experiences st Renaissance properties in Europe and wrote to customer service. I’m “only” (that’s what the desk says when I check in) gold elite so I’ve lost most of my benefits. I was promised replies in 3-5 days. Then they sent my complaint ms to the hotel managers who did nothing. The hotels were dirty (can you say caked toothpaste on the sink and toiletry tray, mold in the shower). I wrote CS back and was told I’d hear in 3-5 days. Radio silence. I wrote weekly but heard nothing. I finally called and demanded one nights points back on several stays and after a month of wrangling finally got that but it too so much of my time it was hardly worth it. I miss SPG! And now with the increased points for hotels, it’s hardly worth it.

  26. The integration, and customer service, has been appalling. I have been involved in many integrations as a leader and customer, and hands down this is the worst experience. Even my Ambassador, who has been a support during this process, has said how poorly this was managed, how frustrating it is for employees, and that she has the same problems as her customers. It took a few months to get my 2018 nights right (although still off by a few, but at this point I am not going to bother with fixing it), and my lifetime nights are significantly different than what they should be.
    The CEO’s comment you reference makes sense given the failure of this integration – he/his organization simply does not care about his customers. even his (formerly) most loyal ones. It’s a shame, as I like many SPG/Marriott properties, but like others mentioned here I will be taking my business where I feel welcomed/valued.

  27. Its been a HUGE turn for the worse, again customers get dumped on by big companies looking to increase profitability while forgetting what made them profitable in the first place. If you call Marriott customer service be prepared to wait well over an hour on the phone EVERY time you call

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