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7 ways Marriott Bonvoy should improve its loyalty program

July 29, 2022
13 min read
Marriott Le Meridien Maldives
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Until 2019, my husband and I relied on the Marriott Bonvoy Gold Elite status that comes as a perk of The Platinum Card® from American Express. However, we ended up staying with Marriott brands enough in 2019 for him to earn Marriott Bonvoy Platinum Elite status, and later Titanium Elite status.

Once he earned these higher levels of Marriott Bonvoy elite status, we quickly discovered the value of Marriott's elite perks. From complimentary breakfast at most brands to guaranteed 4 p.m. late checkout at most properties, we decided at least one of us should maintain Marriott Bonvoy Platinum Elite status or higher for the foreseeable future.

Last year, we stayed with Marriott Bonvoy enough for both of us to earn Titanium Elite status. And we'll both likely requalify for Titanium Elite status this year. But the program is far from perfect, with many inconsistent or lackluster benefits. Plus, since I also have World of Hyatt Globalist status, IHG One Rewards Diamond Elite status and Hilton Honors Diamond status, it's easy for me to compare and contrast high-tier status across the programs.

In this guide I'll discuss several ways I'd like to see the Marriott Bonvoy program improve in the future.

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Simplify the breakfast benefit

Breakfast at Le Meridien Maldives Resort & Spa. (Photo by Katie Genter/The Points Guy)

Before I check in to a Marriott hotel, I look at TPG's guide to Marriott elite breakfast benefits.

After all, it's difficult to remember that I can choose breakfast as a welcome amenity choice at Sheraton and Westin properties but that my breakfast benefit depends on the property's location and whether it's classified as a resort if I'm staying at a Renaissance or Marriott.

In short, Marriott's high-tier elite members shouldn't need a flow chart to determine their breakfast benefit (or lack thereof). And it's a poor member experience for high-tier elite members to not get any breakfast benefit at some high-end brands like Design, Edition and Ritz-Carlton.

So, I'd like Marriott to simplify (and improve) this perk for Platinum Elite and members and higher by guaranteeing a hot breakfast for two guests (or preferably for all guests registered to the room) on all qualifying stays. Individual hotels could decide how to offer this perk, but Platinum Elite members and higher would know they'd get breakfast daily on every qualifying stay.

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Related: Which hotel has the best free breakfast? TPG ate 10 meals to find the winner

Improve the Suite Night Award experience

A bilevel Wow suite at the W Algarve in Portugal. (Photo by Tyler Chapin/The Points Guy)

Compared to many TPG readers, I've faced relatively few issues using the Suite Night Awards that Bonvoy members can choose as an annual Choice Benefit after reaching 50 and 75 elite nights in a calendar year. But I still believe Marriott Bonvoy could improve its Suite Night Award benefit.

First off, there are a lot of Marriott Bonvoy brands that don't participate in Suite Night Awards, including Ritz-Carlton, Ritz-Carlton Reserve, Ritz-Carlton Destination Club, Ritz-Carlton Residences, Edition, Protea, Aloft, Element, Design, all-suite hotels, Marriott Executive Apartments, Marriott Vacation Club, Marriott Grand Residence Club, Vistana and all-inclusive resorts. I'd like to see more brands participate in Suite Night Awards, even if some properties exclude select upgraded room categories.

On top of these non-participating brands, not all properties within participating brands participate. And you can't tell whether a property participates in Suite Night Awards unless you either call Marriott customer service or make a qualifying booking and then attempt to request a Suite Night Award.

Of course, I'd like to see more properties participate in Suite Night Awards. That said, being able to see if a property processes Suite Night upgrades during the booking process would be a great start.

Finally, the Suite Night Award approval process should be transparent to Bonvoy members. The Marriott Bonvoy terms note the following:

Suite Night Award use is based upon availability of the requested suite or Premium Room. Checking for availability begins five (5) days before arrival. If availability is not confirmed five (5) days before arrival, availability is checked each day before arrival up to 2 p.m. local time of the Participating Property one (1) day prior to arrival. If at that time Suite Night Awards cannot be confirmed, the Suite Night Awards are credited back to the Member's account.

However, I've had some Suite Night Award requests where the hotel was still selling the requested room or suite but my Suite Night Award didn't clear. And based on reader emails, I'm not alone. I'd like Marriott Bonvoy to process Suite Night Awards if there's availability still being sold for a requested room type five days before arrival. Or, if Marriott is going to hold back suites and elevated rooms it still hopes to sell, the terms should be transparent about this.

Finally, several readers and I have experienced situations where a Suite Night Award has cleared, but the hotel offered a downgraded room at check-in. I've had luck getting re-upgraded into the room confirmed by a Suite Night Award by asking for a manager at check-in and showing my Suite Night Award confirmation email. But Marriott Bonvoy should improve the Suite Night experience by blocking hotels from downgrading approved Suite Night Awards.

Related: How I plan to use 23 Marriott Suite Night Awards this year

Don't exclude resorts from the 4 pm late checkout benefit

View from a room at the JW Marriott Phu Quoc Emerald Bay Resort & Spa. (Photo by Kathryn Romeyn/The Points Guy)

One of the perks I enjoy most from Marriott Bonvoy Platinum and higher elite status is guaranteed 4 p.m. late checkout. However, if you read the Marriott Bonvoy terms, you'll find the following:

Platinum Elite Members and above may check out as late as 4 p.m. local time of the Participating Property. Members can request late checkout when making a reservation through central reservations, at check-in, via the mobile app (where available) or at any time during their stay. This benefit is guaranteed at all Participating Properties, except at resort and convention hotels and Design Hotels, where it is based upon availability. Marriott Vacation Club, Marriott Grand Residence Club, Vistana properties, and Ritz-Carlton Reserve are excluded from this benefit.

In short, Marriott offers this benefit based on availability at resorts, convention hotels and Design Hotels properties. But, as resorts are where many Platinum Elite and higher members might most wish to use their late checkout perk, I'd like to see Marriott Bonvoy include this hotel type. Granted, I've yet to be rejected for 4 p.m. late checkout at a resort as a Platinum Elite or higher member, but I don't normally stay at the most popular Marriott resorts on peak dates.

Related: Breakfast, upgrades and more: 3 TPG staffers reveal their favorite elite status perks

Actually provide complimentary upgrades to the best available room at check-in

A loft suite at the Madrid Edition. (Photo by Lori Zaino/The Points Guy)

I've gotten some spectacular upgrades at Marriott Bonvoy properties as a Platinum Elite and Titanium Elite member. But I've also gotten no upgrade or just a one-category upgrade when the hotel seemingly had many upgraded rooms available at check-in.

Based on the Marriott Bonvoy terms, Platinum Elite members and above are entitled to "a complimentary upgrade to the best available room, subject to availability on the day of arrival, for the entire length of stay." Upgrades are "identified by each participating property," but Marriott Vacation Club, Marriott Grand Residence Club, Aloft, Element, Vistana and Ritz-Carlton Reserve properties don't offer complimentary upgrades to elite members.

However, if you have Platinum Elite or higher status, you've likely shown up to check in at participating Marriott properties and only gotten a modest upgrade — or no upgrade at all — despite the property still selling many better rooms and suites for the length of your stay.

Checking what rooms are still being sold for your dates when you arrive at the check-in desk isn't necessarily an accurate indication of what's available for upgrade. But, it's the only data Marriott elite members have to go off of when determining whether a property is providing an upgrade to the "best available room."

I'd like Marriott Bonvoy to track whether properties are upgrading elite members to their best available rooms and reward those that are (and penalize those that aren't). We know Marriott Bonvoy reimburses its hotels more when they upgrade elite members on award nights. Presumably, there's also some reimbursement behind the scenes based on the upgraded room type when a hotel upgrades an elite member on a paid stay as well.

Related: How to redeem Marriott points for upgraded rooms

Let members pay to extend free night awards

A room in the Art Deco wing at The Tasman Hotel in Australia. (Photo by Eric Rosen/The Points Guy)

There are several ways to earn Marriott Bonvoy free night awards, including Marriott credit cards, the 75-night annual Choice Benefit and select promotions. These nights are usually worth up to 35,000, 40,000 or 50,000 points.

But you can't save these free night awards for a far-away special occasion. Once issued, each free night award has a set expiration date. You'll typically need to redeem your night and complete your stay before the expiration date. In some cases, you may find that using your free night award before it expires is not feasible. For example, you may have a trip planned shortly before a certificate expires, but then you may become ill and not be able to travel until after its expiration.

You can call to ask for an extension of a free night award, and Marriott may choose to extend it. But this extension is at Marriott's discretion and Bonvoy won't always provide an extension. Marriott could improve its program — and generate some additional revenue — by allowing members to pay to extend expiring free night awards.

Related: 5 reasons we prefer hotel points over free night certificates

Offer more compelling promotions

Marriott Bonvoy has offered a few excellent promotions in the past. Earlier this year, the double elite night credit promotion helped me get a nice jump-start on my progress toward requalifying for Titanium Elite status.

But recently, most members haven't seen any targeted promotions when logged in to their accounts. And Marriott isn't offering any significant promotions for all members.

Of course, some hotel-specific and region-specific promotions offer discounts or bonus points when you book using a specific paid rate. But, as you can see below with the current promotion for stays of two nights or longer in Munich, the rate when you use the "M11" code is more expensive than the standard rate. So, the 5,000 bonus points per stay may not justify the higher cost. After all, 5,000 Marriott points are worth $42 based on TPG's valuations.

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I expect Marriott (and other hotel loyalty programs) will unveil new promotions once the peak summer travel season ends. But, I'd like to see Marriott offer some truly inspired and compelling promotions that are significant enough to change travel behaviors.

Related: These promotions will make your next hotel stay more rewarding

Boost Ambassador Elite perks

A pool at Mexico’s Zadun, a Ritz-Carlton Reserve. (Photo by Eric Rosen/The Points Guy)

TPG's Kyle Olsen -- who currently holds Ambassador Elite status -- recently discussed how Marriott could improve Ambassador Elite status. Although I'll likely never spend enough each year for Ambassador Elite status, I agree with Kyle that Marriott should add more perks to this high-value tier.

By doing so, Marriott would better appeal to those who can give the program $20,000 and 100 elite nights annually. After all, right now, Ambassador Elite status only offers two extra perks over Titanium Elite status: Your24 and the Ambassador Service team.

To start, Marriott should boost Ambassador Elite earnings to be greater than a 75% bonus. Titanium Elite members also get a 75% bonus on earnings. So currently, Ambassador Elite members don't earn any additional bonus points over Titanium Elite members.

A second suggestion is for Marriott to bring back dedicated Ambassadors who know what these frequent guests want during their stays. Ambassador Elite members tended to get varying perks based on their dedicated Ambassador before Marriott stopped this perk. But, those who had good experiences certainly miss the value their dedicated Ambassador provided.

Skimping on service and perks has caused some Ambassador Elite members — including one frequent business traveler I know — to switch to other loyalty programs. With that in mind, it's in Marriott Bonvoy's best interest to boost Ambassador Elite perks before more high-spending elite members leave the program for Hilton, Hyatt or IHG.

Related: What purchases count toward earning Marriott Ambassador elite status?

Bottom line

As I mentioned in the introduction, my husband and I plan for at least one of us to maintain Marriott Bonvoy Platinum Elite status or higher for the foreseeable future. After all, since we each get 30 elite night credits from Marriott credit cards every year, it only takes 20 nights stayed with Marriott per year (or 40 nights if we both want to requalify) to keep Platinum Elite status.

We're finding enough value in the Marriott Bonvoy program to strive toward maintaining at least Platinum Elite status. But, now that I have high-tier elite status with several hotel loyalty programs, all the programs -- including Marriott Bonvoy -- will have to provide ongoing value to get a share of my hotel nights.

Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.