Does Marriott Have Too Many Ambassador Elites?

A reader writes in that he’s staying “at a no-name, forgettable Sheraton in a medium-sized city” where there are “3 full-service Marriott properties nearby.” A housekeeper “left her manifest.. out on her cart” and there are “3 ambassador elites on a single floor.” He thinks that says there’s something wrong.

Aside from Marriott’s secret Cobalt status Ambassador is the highest elite tier. It requires 100 nights and $20,000 spend to reach. And in addition to standard suite upgrades and breakfast benefits (and even watered-down 24 hour check-in privileges) members receive a dedicated Ambassador to take care of all of their needs with Marriott.

However there are rumors that some Ambassadors working for Marriott may be assigned as many as 300 top tier elite members, and there are reports of some Ambassador elites not hearing anything at all from their personal agent for months at a time.


W Doha

That leads my correspondent to wonder if the qualification threshold, rather than being too tough to meet, is actually too low? However there are four reasons I do not think that the qualification threshold is too low.

  1. $20,000 spend requirement on top of 100 nights is insanely tough. Program members outside of the US have a very hard time meeting it. Some of the chain’s greatest growth is in Asia, and China in particular, where it could take 300 nights to meet this level of spend (and Marriott no longer credits multiple rooms on a single stay towards status). At these limited-service hotels there really aren’t even opportunities to spend more.

  2. $20,000 spend and 100 night customers are really valuable. If Marriott isn’t servicing them well enough the problem isn’t too many good customers, the problem is on the service side. Don’t raise the qualification threshold, raise the bar on delivering service to great customers.

  3. The $20,000 spend requirement really hasn’t hit yet, there will be fewer top elites next year. The spending requirement kicks in for qualifying in 2019 for status in 2020. Right now you have customers with 100 or more nights who qualified without minimum spend. What’s more you have customers who combined their Marriott and Starwood nights who may have had double qualifying nights promotions and earned qualifying nights from credit cards on both sides of the house and under more generous credit card elite night accrual rules.

  4. The chain is goosing its elite numbers there have been targeted double qualifying night promotions this year, they’re saying they don’t have enough elites not that they have too many.


St. Regis Abu Dhabi

The Ambassador program was a mixed bag even under Starwood. Some members had excellent experiences with their Ambassadors (I certainly did when I stayed with Starwood enough to have one) and others found the program lackluster.

Marriott seems to have scaled the Ambassador program to a level closer to the number of ambassador members they expect going forward with new stricter criteria for earning status (minimum spend, fewer credit card nights) not for how many Ambassador members they have today.

I no longer have an Ambassador. I’m a Marriott Platinum these days, which is mid-tier, but I do have a Hyatt Concierge which is provided to Globalist members achieving status and I’ve been fortunate with the service there.

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. This is why I have given up on Marriott. I used to be top-tier SPG with lifetime status. Now, I am just “mid-tier” with no benefits. I really do miss my Dublin based SPG Concierge.

  2. I tweeted Too many Hilton Diamonds? And there are a lot. South Hill, VA Hampton Diamond parking spaces full. Clerk says several Diamonds staying. Definitely Butts in bed earned. Yet for last minute change got Best rooms in house for $120; less than original reserve for next night. Sweet
    Yet as a Diamond got Upgraded to Royal Suite at Narita Airport Hilton Also very sweet

  3. Many , including me, will leave the program next January. Although I’ll do 100+ nights, I’ll fall short of $20k, probably 15 or 16 K. The problem for Marriott ( and surely they know this): what incentive is there for the tens of thousands in my situation to bother with anything over 75 nights ( ie the threshold for the second tranche of SNAs)? There isn’t one, giving people the choice of maintaining top tier in a second program.

  4. It’s not about too many Ambassador Elites…it’s not enough Ambassadors serving them. This is Marriott…they don’t do extra touches / high end well.

    I get better/more responsive service from the Hyatt IM account (10 minutes) than I do from my Ambassador (over 24 hours).

  5. What is the point of ambassador? Outside of Ben at OMAT, I don’t think I’ve read of anyone regularly getting lavish welcome amenities or fancy bottles of wine. There are no real benefits; certainly nothing codified that is tangible like a higher upgrade priority or a real restaurant breakfast.

  6. Was LT Plat from SPG, currently Ambassador with LT Titan.
    *Didn’t hear from my Amb for 3 months.
    *My Amb keeps refers to me as LT Plat; because that’s what her screen says
    *I have to ask my Amb to msg hotels I”m booked at that I’m also LT Titanium. She asks why because I’m Amb. (Because Amb LT Titan helps with upgrades; if I can get one.
    *Going on weeks waiting on answers from Amb on basic questions.
    *Call the “Amb” line, answered by “Loyalty Line” reps that take calls from no-status-to-Amb. 90% answered by poorly trained reps with limited skills.
    *Called Amb line to let them know correct an error on a booking made by Amb; was told they update/fix reservation. Told me to call hotel.
    *Asked my Amb status of the old SPG and MR dining Rewards program; earning points at hotels that I’m not registered at. My Amb never heard of it and said I can earn dining points where I stay…

    Called Hyatt (basic 800 line, no status). Answered by a well trained, friendly, knowledgeable rep. He even acknowledged my past Plat status from years ago. It’s nice to remember what quality CS is like.

  7. I have been an Ambassador guest since the program was invitation only at Starwood. I routinely do 100+ PAID nights per year at Starriott but trying to hit USD20,000 when 90% of my travel is in Asia/Canada/Latin America is tough.

    Having said that, I find the Ambassador program inconsistent. My Ambassador is terrific and responds quickly despite what I suspect is a significantly increased workload post-merger. HOWEVER, properties are not obliged to do diddly for Ambassador guests DESPITE the program’s marketed benefits. Upgrades to “select suites”? Some Ambassador guests routinely get them even on redemption stays. Me? Nope. Amenities? Sometimes yes. Often no.

    Even with the new Marriott rules which removed Starwood’s night credit for up to three rooms per stay, I am set to hit over 100 PAID nights this year (total likely in the 140-150 range) but because of the strength of the USD, I likely will not hit the USD20K requirement (miss it by USD3-5K) so the question is whether I will go out of my way to spend that USD3-5K. If what my past experience is what Ambassador is like, then no. Just this past spring break, I had a truly horrible experience despite all the work my Ambassador put in — heck, the front desk associate thanked me for being a “Platinum guest” at check-in (a two tier demotion). I told her I was an “Ambassador guest” and she just shrugged. No amenity. No upgrade. Nothing.

    One note of warning to Marriott: with a USD20K price tag, the expectation for Ambassador guests that their stay experiences MEET the program’s marketed benefits will not only increase but Marriott better ensure properties like the W Fort Lauderdale, among many others, do a better job of policing properties.

  8. @UA-NYC
    It’s not just having more Ambassadors, but, having quality Ambassadors. After Marriott gutted SPGs top tier support programs and people, they shoveled in low-end Marriott reps and new hires. Just a few weeks on the Loyalty Line job and instant Ambassador rep.
    (P.S. the reason it takes 24+ hours for a reply; webbed fingers.)

    I’m with you on Hyatt.

  9. I am a one year old AMB elite and LT Titanium, got an introduction last year to my AMB, but i feel she is there to tell me no. I gave up emailing/ talking to her. I got better service from the standard number when she was on vacation! I will probably renew AMB again this year, but i am not going out of my way for it. My upgrade success rate is sporadic, but the Times Square Edition if finally starting to upgrade to suites- but it has to do with the number of times i am there a month versus anything my AMB is doing. I get better upgrade success to suites at M-life properties in Vegas where i have the lowest (pearl) level. I hear stories about AMB service, but have yet to experience any benefit. I am not sure if that means there are too many that qualify, or that there are too many assigned to one AMB, or if my brand loyalty means nothing to them.

  10. As an ambassador elite I can say it does nothing. The few times I really needed them (example checking into hotel with no power and trying to move to one with power) it was a waste of time. I have never gotten a thing because of the amb the few times I tried to get them make a special request (such as a specific room well in advance or early checkin time) I was either ignored or they said the property said “no” or even ignored their outreach to the property. I did get a welcome bottle of bubbles and cookies a few weeks ago but can’t tie that to amb and think it was part of the loyalty appreciation push at a 4* I stay at weekly. It’s absolutely not worth it. Btw, my ambassador isn’t proactive at all on my reservations but is really nice and my sense is 1. She’s got a ton of clients and 2. Has no power with properties and I get the vibe that some properties seem to really dislike the whole concept and are almost more adversarial to the amb making a request than a silver walking to the front desk and asking for the same thing.

    Just this year at checkin I’m more often referred to as just “elite” and in order after that: platinum, titanium, ambassador (I think twice now), gold (twice). It’s quite comical at this point. Either the systems are wrong, staff can’t read them, they don’t care. I’m going back to not picking a hotel based on flag and should make elite at least Hyatt and I’m doing more Indy’s while hitting at least 50 nights with Marriott.

  11. To be clear. The unicorn ambassador reports of lavish benefits seems to so much of an anomaly based on real world reports I suspect it’s more likely paid shills that are working for the Marriott PR team. The same team that “randomly” asks us to review our stays.

  12. I have been ambassador for 3 years now and only 615 or so lifetime nights, so not as much experience or history as many here, but I think that $20k is more than fair, as anyone that spends less than that is not a high revenue client and the whole point of the program is to create more profit for marriott and its hotels, right????. The idea that someone can just keep buying low margin cheap stuff and if they do it enough then they get to act like a customer marriott actually wants is not fair to those of us who actually benefit the hotels bottom line.

    Everyone in this game is quick to judge marriott for restricting program in a manner that makes it harder for unintended beneficiaries of the program to sign up for credit cards and stay 10 nights at a courtyard then get a free weekend at the st regis maldives, but maybe its worth thinking about how MS and this community has totally eff’d the people walking through the front door who actually deserve the benefits offered.

    Being a “real” earner of status that sonly really stays at st regis, w, ritz level properties, i can assure you that it is beyond frustrating to have the goal posts moved because of “travel hacking”

    I love this hobby and spend 15+ hours a week on it, but i think we could maybe be a little less cavalier when we collectively bitch about new restrictions that are put in place, when in fact it is us taking more from the system than we put into it.

    Anyway, just one persons view from the other side of loyalty…

  13. “$20,000 spend requirement on top of 100 nights is insanely tough.”

    Huh? It’s 200 bucks a night. I thought we were talking about high-value customers here? No, someone staying in a developing market or the middle of nowhere isn’t necessarily a high-value customer. And I don’t get all the references to Asia, LatAm, etc. – in the cities in those regions where business gets done, hotels are still plenty expensive. Not hard to hit that $200/night.

  14. @CW
    The point you miss ( or ignore) is that those frequent stayers in the developing world ( or “ the middle of nowhere”) are of critical value to those hotels, and to Marriott.
    Marriott would be well advised to pay greater attention on those members who have been in the program for many years, most with LT status: how to best incentivise them to continue to stay at a high frequency . As it stands there is no incentive.

  15. What’s so shortsighted by Marriott is the difference between Ambassador and “Titanium Elite” actually incentives customers to switch to other brands.

    For example, I’m working in a high cost city (ex: SF, NYC, Chicago, DC) with room rates around ~300-400+ a night. As I am already at 60ish nights for 2019, I moved 20 nights to Hyatt as a status match for Globalist to determine if I should move all of my spend to Hyatt.

    Now no matter what, I won’t make the 100 nights or 20k with Marriott but it doesn’t’ even matter as there are no tangible benefits. Instead I’ll be shifting spend to Hyatt on the margin to continue to experience their top status.

    Nice job, Marriott, nice job.

  16. @Paolo- You are correct that M should pay attention to members with LT. I agree with you; there is no incentive.

    What does $20k/100 nights get you as an Ambassador?
    *An Ambassador that may or may not be knowledgable or proactive. They can’t call hotels, but, can only message them.
    *An Ambassador phone line that is supported 16 hours a day by the Loyalty Line; taking calls for those with No status up to Ambassador. (Non Dedicated line for Ambassadors!)
    *Request 24/7 check-in, but, no guarantee you’ll get it.
    *Maybe a higher priority for upgrades, but, M doesn’t publish the criteria.
    *No guarantee of a suite even if available.
    *No guarantee of breakfast across all brands.
    *No access to lounge at Ritz Carltons.
    *No exemption from parking fees; even mandatory self-park.
    *No exemption from resort or destination fees.
    *No member coding for Ambassadors with LT Status. At check-in, hotels don’t know if an Ambassador is also LT.
    *Membership card (finally received in April), but, doesn’t list LT status.
    *e-Membership card in M app doesn’t list LT status, but, several swipes to display LT status.

  17. Maybe McKinsey had a team there ? That would be normal where everyone would easily be plat ambassadors already by May

  18. @CW —

    I can tell you this from personal experience, given the strength of the USD finding a property with corporate rates at USD200+ per night in Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines and China (where I travel most often in Asia) or even Canada, Mexico, Argentina and Chile (where I travel most often in the Americas) is not easy.

    The only places I travel where my spend is routinely >USD200 is Boston, Seattle, Chicago, San Francisco and Washington. For my travel in most of the Midwest (Columbus, St Louis, Omaha) or even Florida and Texas finding properties with corporate rates >USD200 is also a challenge.

    But I can tell you this, the properties I do stay at value my business (and their treatment of me shows that). If Marriott can only see value in customers who almost exclusively travel in the most expensive business markets of the US and Western Europe then that’s their prerogative. My sense is their properties outside those cities will wonder why they don’t matter.

  19. My ambassador told me that she has 260 people she has to accommodate. She’s chatty and said they are all overworked and they don’t have a lot of power to make things happen without red tape.

    She hasn’t done much for me, although she has been nice, but I’ll agree that I get better treatment when I check in or need something than with her. I got a bottle of champagne once but turns out, so did the other guy staying at the same place – so it’s likely the hotel, not the ambassador.

    My brother wants me to switch to Hyatt as he loves them, but with my job changing to one of much less travel, I may not have to worry about status anymore and too late for lifetime qualifications.

    I think I’m LT Plat Elite now, but sort of wish I chose loyalty with a different company years ago.

  20. Great article. Like you, my husband is Marriott Platinum so he doesn’t receive ambassador benefits. But, my husband is lifetime globalist with Hyatt and has yet to receive his ambassador with them. He keeps asking about it, and they try to say it’s a thing of the past. Even though they keep promoting it as one of their benefits for globalist.

  21. I find it amusing that people are deliberately booking l the most expensive hotels on their employer’s time so they can pocket the status. Talk about misaligned incentives!

    I used to work for a fortune 50 company that required employees to use points for company travel only. Marriott should watch it because if they force more employers to adopt that policy, they end up hurting themselves more.

    Abuse their market power too much, and some cheap companies might even force their employees to stay at Choice properties 🙂

  22. I am LT titanium and easily meet the Ambassador requirement. I had to ask multiple times who my Ambassador was before getting a name and contact info. They respond quickly only to find out they did not do the follow up. At some places they treat me like a goddess and others as if I am a pleb. On holiday with my family redeeming points I was addressed as Mr. even though clearly I am a woman. If I was Marriott platinum for 14 years, I have spent more nights with you than I have spent with my husband, hopefully you know my gender. I felt better treated as a platinum Marriott member than an Ambassador, but I really like all the options. SPG seems to have had better ski location options.

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