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To say that Marriott’s loyalty program merger with Starwood hasn’t gone smoothly for travelers would be an understatement. We get emails daily at TPG from readers frustrated with the merger.

However, besides a unique elite status issue — which took Marriott more than five months to resolve — I’ve generally had a decent experience with Marriott since the merger. Or, at least that’s what I thought until I dug in deeper.

With a couple of days off this week, I did something that comes naturally to me: reconciling my loyalty program accounts. As a CPA who worked in tax accounting for more than a decade, I’m drawn to numbers and spreadsheets. And, yes, I know how weird that sounds.

It didn’t take long for me to notice a problem. Based on the 24 months of activity showing in my Marriott account, I should have at least 349,859 Marriott points. Instead, I had just 78,011 points in my account. Obviously, I didn’t have a -271,848 balance 24 months ago, so something was clearly amiss.

So, I dug in. It would take me over three hours to reconcile my Marriott and SPG accounts, and I’d never have been able to reconcile the differences without external resources such as Marriott and Starwood emails with my account balance, AwardWallet account balance and activity emails and credit card statements.

In the end, I found that Marriott owed me 183,980 Marriott points. That’s $1,472 worth of points at current TPG valuations. And it would take more than 40 minutes working with two different Marriott agents — excluding initial hold time — to get these points credited back to my account.

Here’s what I learned from the experience:

Don’t Rely on Your Account History

The only way that I was able to reconcile my Marriott and SPG accounts was by looking through old emails. My Marriott account history is lacking key details and history, and it’s a combination of activity from Starwood and Marriott accounts — which made it even harder to reconcile.

Complicating the reconciliation were strange line items in my account history. For example, Marriott lists a “point transfer with other account” for 410,711 points in my account activity. After eliminating transfers between Katie and my Marriott and SPG accounts, I figured out that this was my SPG account balance (160,237) multiplied by the 3x SPG to Marriott multiple less a 70,000 point redemption. Since some SPG activity is already reflected in this account history, these points are partially doubled-up in my account history.

Since this account history wasn’t reliable, I had to go through all my Marriott, Starwood and AwardWallet emails to check my balance at various points to solve for which account the activity was in and what the activity must have been to build an accurate transaction history.

If you’re trying to reconstruct your account activity, try searching your e-mail account for the phrase “Starpoints balance”.  I use Award Wallet to track a number of my loyalty accounts, so “from:awardwallet Marriott” was also pretty helpful for me.

Among the transactions that Marriott didn’t have in my account: 70,000 Marriott points that I redeemed for the Le Meridian Tahiti. Between the time of my reservation and my planned stay, the Le Meridian Tahiti become one of several high-profile luxury properties that have left Marriott since the merger. Subsequently, I cancelled the award. No points were ever refunded, and my account history doesn’t show that points were ever redeemed.

Speaking of which…

Point Refunds Aren’t Automatic

In October 2018, TPG’s Mommy Points wrote about the issue of not getting Marriott point refunds on cancelled award stays, and it seems that the problem still isn’t resolved. In fact, Mommy Points personally hit that issue again even after that October article (more on that in a moment).

A vast majority of the missing points that I discovered that Marriott owed me were from cancelled award stays. Of the three award stays I’ve cancelled since the merger, zero points have been returned to my Marriott account until I manually requested them to be refunded this week.

Double-Check That Stays Post to Your Account

I haven’t historically stayed at Marriott or Starwood very often. Through the merger, I’d accumulated just 42 lifetime nights between the two programs. However, since getting Marriott Platinum Elite status through the Ritz Carlton Credit Card, I’ve completed nine stays. Of those, one stay didn’t post, leaving me 6,480 points and two elite nights short.

Considering the frustrations I’ve heard from TPG readers, I feel pretty lucky to one have one missing stay. Still, this is a good reminder to double-check to make sure your stays post.

Plan for Marriott Calls to Take Time

Through the reconciliation process, I found that I was owed a total of 183,980 points:

  • 100,000 points from a cancelled award stay at Fairfield Inn & Suites Steamboat Springs
  • 70,000 points from the cancelled Le Meridian Tahiti award stay
  • 7,500 points from a cancelled award stay booked and cancelled right after the system merger in August 2018 to confirm that the reservation system was back online
  • 6,480 points from a completed stay in early January at the Marriott Islamabad

Figuring that I’d have to wait for a while to speak with an agent, I set aside time and called Marriott Bonvoy. I was pleasantly surprised to get an agent within a minute. However, that agent would work for more than half an hour to get the points from the cancelled award stays refunded. I could tell that she was really trying to do her best, but she was clearly struggling to get the system to do what she needed it to.

I called back the next day to request the missing stay. That call was surprisingly short. Again, there was minimal wait and the agent was able to credit the missing stay in about 7 minutes.

It’s probable that I had a better experience on these calls as I was recognized by the system as a Platinum Elite member. Earlier this year, I had calls stretch more than two hours with multiple transfers and no resolution. So, a combined 40 minutes on the phone with agents was a notable improvement. Just make sure you set aside enough time when you call.

Turn to Social Media for Help

However, know that calls alone may not always do the trick when missing Marriott points are on the line. After chatting with Mommy Points about her most recent round of missing points, I learned that phone calls were ultimately unsuccessful in tracking down that set of missing points. She also has Marriott Platinum elite status and email records of her award transactions, but even after multiple hour-long phone calls and issues tracking tickets, calls were a dead-end. For her, success was finally found on Twitter via direct messages with the account now known as @MBonvoyAssist. Through that account she was able to coordinate sending email documentation of her missing points.

Bottom Line

If you don’t regularly audit loyalty program account balances like I do, at least pay close attention to your Marriott account balance before and after you cancel an award stay. If your balance doesn’t increase when you cancel and redeposit an award, then you know to start tracking down your points. Things happen from time to time across all programs, but it is unfortunate that seven months into the Marriott and SPG program integration, the onus is still on customers to identify and sort through issues surrounding missing points. We don’t have hard numbers, but based on first-hand stories from TPG employees and reports from TPG readers, these don’t seem to be truly isolated events.

Featured image by aluxum via Getty Images

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