The creation of the Marriott Bonvoy program has caused headaches for consumers who used to be members of the Marriott Rewards and SPG loyalty programs. Many have reported canceled bookings, point grabs and poor customer service. Here’s what to do if you’ve been “Bonvoyed.”
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When behemoth hotel brand Marriott announced its impending merger with the Starwood Preferred Guest program, nobody expected the move to be smooth sailing from beginning to end.
After all, this amalgamation brought together over 5,700 hotels in more than 100 countries under one company and one new loyalty program.
Marriott Rewards not only erased the SPG program from existence, but it also rebranded to Marriott Bonvoy in the process. And, according to experts, this final phase of the merger is when everything started to go downhill – at least for former SPG and Marriott Rewards elite members. (Marriott Bonvoy representatives did not respond to requests for comment on consumers’ complaints about the program.)
There are thousands of details involved in a merger of this magnitude, and with loyalty at stake, most hotel rewards insiders knew there would be winners and losers in the end.
See related: Avoid these 7 hotel rewards mistakes
An SPG loyalist’s horror story
But that doesn’t mean everyone is willing to accept the new program at face value. Stacey S., a 45-year-old vice president of a software company from Charleston, South Carolina, is a regular business traveler who very quickly became disillusioned with the new Marriott Bonvoy program.
An SPG loyalist, Stacey enjoyed plenty of perks with her old Ambassador status – personalized sets of bathrobes and pool towels, a bedding set from W hotels and her favorite coffee waiting for her when she arrived at SPG hotels. She even received birthday presents from the old SPG program, and she says she was upgraded to suites or a premium room 98 percent of the time before the merger.
Since SPG became an integral part of Marriott Bonvoy, however, she is only upgraded around 50 percent of the time, she faced challenges getting all her points properly deposited into her account, and she had to turn to Marriott customer service to get the correct elite status applied based on her portfolio of paid stays.
“I had to email Marriott seven times and have three calls with them to get my account details corrected,” she said, noting that she is lucky she took screenshots of her account details before her old SPG account disappeared.
Stacey says her most recent Bonvoy disaster involves an upcoming trip to Hawaii.
Before the new Marriott Bonvoy points levels went into effect, she had booked five nights at a Marriott in Maui with 140,000 points (including a fifth night free) and paid $552 to upgrade to an ocean front room.
She didn’t have the points in her account, she said, but Marriott allows some customers to book stays and apply points earned later to their reservations.
“In March, I started to try to apply the points that I had earned to the reservation,” she said. “I tried for 35 days in a row to apply the points and would get the same error over and over.”
Marriott’s Twitter account and customer service told her to start her reservation over, she said, but the same hotel was no longer bookable at the same rate.
With her old reservation no longer valid, she could only book a standard room for the new rate of 420,000 points, she said. She ultimately had to find a different hotel and rebook all her travel plans, including her flights, to accommodate the last-minute changes.
See related: 6 ways to maximize hotel rewards
The birth of the ‘Bonvoyed’ movement
If you follow Marriott Bonvoy on social media or keep up on current trends in loyalty programs, you probably already know that Stacey is not the only consumer dealing with the aftermath of the Marriott and SPG merger. There has been an endless flow of gripes from regular customers as well as elite members, and the horror stories only seem to get worse.
That’s why Shubhayan Mukherjee decided to start a website – Bonvoyed.com – which serves as an ongoing record of complaints about the program and its treatment of elite members.
If you want to read intimate stories of canceled reservations, point grabs and poor customer service, you can skip over social media altogether and get all the details in one place.
Mukherjee says he started Bonvoyed.com to give loyal Marriott customers who have given their best travel years to Marriott a legitimate platform where they could vent and push for fixes to this mess.
“We wanted Marriott to see that these problems are not just noise around the edges,” he said.
Mukherjee says some of the main issues he’s seeing post-merger are problems regarding incorrect elite status, points advance booking debacles (like Stacey’s), missing stays, long wait times for customers who call in, misinformed customer service agents and “redemption games,” such as Marriott blocking availability for points reservations prior to the merger then opening up availability under new, higher rates.
Also, many elite members claim they aren’t getting the perks they are supposed to be afforded under the new program – benefits like free breakfast and room upgrades. Worse, there is not nearly enough consistency under the new program, as many hotels post-merger are choosing to opt out of offering certain perks and benefits elite members are counting on.
What to do if you’ve been ‘Bonvoyed’
If you’re on the losing end of the Marriott Bonvoy program as it stands now, you can head to the Bonvoyed website to submit a comment and make your problem known. But experts say you may need to do more if you want some relief in the long term.
Take to Twitter instead of calling Marriott
First, if you have a problem, you may want to just give up on calling Marriott directly to get it resolved. This tends to make issues even worse, says David Feldman, airline and hotel loyalty expert at New World Loyalty.
Feldman says tweeting the Marriott Bonvoy Assist handle @MBonvoyAssist will likely get you better – and faster – results.
Also try to keep documentation (screenshots, reservation emails, etc.) for all your dealings with the program. This proof may not help you avoid problems regarding missing points or disappointing elite status benefits, but it can help you begin creating a paper trail.
Vote with your wallet
Second, members should absolutely vote with their wallets, according to experts. That’s the only language that tone-deaf corporations understand, said Feldman.
By spending your hotel dollars elsewhere, you’re encouraging other brands to do more for their elite members while punishing Marriott Bonvoy for coming up short.
“Other chains are willing and able to show their hospitality credentials to unhappy Marriott members,” he says.
One major problem with that, however, is that the Marriott Bonvoy program is so large it’s become the obvious choice for business travelers who travel to many different destinations throughout the world each year.
The new program has over 5,700 hotels, whereas World of Hyatt has a much smaller footprint. IHG Rewards and Hilton Honors have comparable portfolios to Marriott Bonvoy, with over 5,500 hotels and over 5,700 properties respectively, but that may or may not be of help depending on where in the world you stay the most.
Still, loyalty expert Lee Huff of BaldThoughts.com says to remember that some loyalty programs will match your status from another program, so you could always try to “status match” with other hotel brands you’re willing to stay with in order to get better benefits and perhaps begin transitioning your loyalty to another program.
Spread your loyalty around
Also, consider earning points in multiple programs, Huff says. “Even without the recent issues that Bonvoy has had, there is power in the flexibility of having options when planning future vacations.”
For instance, the Chase Ultimate Rewards program is one of the best for consumers who want to earn points they can transfer to hotels when they need to top off their accounts for a specific redemption.
Chase points transfer 1:1 to an array of frequent flyer programs, but also to Marriott Bonvoy, IHG Rewards and World of Hyatt.
American Express Membership Rewards also lets you transfer points to Marriott Bonvoy and Choice Privileges at a 1:1 ratio, and to Hilton Honors at a 1:2 ratio.
Also note that Chase Ultimate Rewards, Amex Membership Rewards and the Citi ThankYou program all let you book any hotel from any brand through their portals, which might be a last resort for anyone who gets sick and tired of playing the loyalty game.