Marriott Bonvoy Problems Linger and Could Have Ruined Our Vacation
Nine months after Starwood Preferred Guest was integrated into Marriott's loyalty program, there are still problems. Several of them. Some of these problems can easily be vacation ruiners.
With well over 100 million members, Marriott might be the world's largest hotel loyalty program, but I've found cases where it inexplicably changes rates on reservations, forces customers to pay for reservations twice and outright erases points. It doesn't help that a few months back, Marriott's CEO dismissed issues like these as "noise around the edges."
It's not fair to judge a program solely on its worst or best day, but Marriott has had multiple very bad days in my recent interactions -- including a recent particularly bad day for my reservations.
You could say I've been "Bonvoyed."
A Price So Nice You Gotta Pay Twice
Travelers have reported a wide variety of issues with Marriott Bonvoy, but my particular issues have had a common theme. The pre-merger Starwood award reservations I made in 2018 have been plagued with problems. Points have disappeared, canceled awards didn't redeposit, etc. My newest problem, however, could have ruined a family vacation.
Back in February 2018, I booked two rooms for two nights at a Starwood (now Marriott) hotel in Hawaii for my parents and my own family for a June 2019 trip. These rooms were booked using the former SPG cash-and-points rate. Since the trip is coming up soon, I logged on to Marriott to check the reservation and noted that it had multiple problems. First, the rate for each room had changed from 15,000 points (then 5,000 SPG points, which converted at a 1:3 ratio) and $75 per night to 17,000 points and $140 per night ($190 per night once you include resort fees and taxes).
Additionally, the reservation showed I still owed 17,000 points per night, even though I paid the points portion of the reservation when I booked 15 months ago. Multiply that all out for two nights and two rooms per night, and it's a big difference.
Although Marriott lets you make an award reservation without all the points in your account via Points Advance, that wasn't an option with Starwood when I made the reservation. There's no way I could have booked this Starwood award reservation without spending points in early 2018.
The initial confirmation in the photo above shows the beginning and ending Starpoints balance for each of the four individual reservations. Below is the new rate.
Having been through these sort of problems with Marriott before, I knew a call to Marriott Bonvoy would be unpleasant -- even though I had the all the documentation to prove my case (never delete confirmation emails). What I didn't know was that 90 minutes later, Marriott would take 60,000 points from my account that I had already paid once (as shown below) because they simply did not believe what I was telling them. Not only did they not believe what was said, but they also refused to look at the documentation I had in my inbox and in my own Marriott account. Some of my previous Marriott issues didn't display accurately in Marriott's system, but this redemption actually did. But that didn't matter.
When I got nowhere and pressed for a supervisor, an alternate contact, an email address or even a case number, I was told none of that was possible. The closest I got was the call rep saying that two supervisors (neither of whom I could speak to after asking repeatedly) had been consulted. Ultimately, I did get a case number, but was told multiple times that the case would be routed back to the same department I was speaking with and immediately closed with no further actions available.
Marriott's public relations team later told me this was not the company's policy and that customers can always ask for a supervisor who will call back within 24 hours.
Now, I could have taken the hang-up-call-again approach, as I have on previous complaints, but multiple tries won't guaranteed success with Marriott. It's just guaranteed to steal more of your time.
To the company's credit, Marriott called the hotel and fixed the cash discrepancy on the reservation while I was on the phone. However, I either had to pay the points portion of the award again or have our already-paid-for Hawaiian hotel reservation canceled. For many families, that would spell the end of a vacation in paradise. My parents are traveling with us, but if they were managing this part on their own, that would have catapulted their trip into chaos. They don't have enough points available to pay twice.
Not that it should matter, but I have Marriott Platinum elite status. In other words, I have a deep relationship with Marriott that goes far beyond just getting a few points from a credit card and moving on. What does it say when a company can't help out its most-loyal guests? I'd hate to be a Marriott customer without status who has to resolve a problem.
But I'm pretty stubborn, so the story didn't end there.
What You Can Do Without Marriott's Help
I have an ace in the hole that's helped me with my previous Marriott Bonvoy problems: the Twitter account @MBonvoyAssist. This account used to be a Starwood-affiliated Twitter account (I have SPG communications with them dating back to 2016 in my direct-messaging history). They seem to care, can be empowered to make changes and have been willing to look at documents (unlike the Marriott phone reps I've encountered). Those three things are really all you need in a helper.
Within hours of me direct messaging the information and supporting documentation, they fixed the problem, restored the points to my account and made things whole (bonus sorry-for-the-trouble points were neither requested nor provided).
Most Marriott customers don't know to look for this Twitter account that never even tweets. It's basically the speakeasy of Marriott customer assistance. Don't be shy about asking for help with unresolved issues from @MBonvoyAssist.
Here are additional recommendations to get help with some of the more common Marriott problems.
It's Not Just Me
Just as you shouldn't judge a program on its worst day, you shouldn't judge it based on one person's bad experience.
But it's not just me. People came forth with similar stories almost as soon as I shared my plight on Twitter. You can look at the comments on TPG stories about missing Marriott points (such as here and here). You can go to Bonvoyed.com.
Within the last week since my run-in, multiple friends in the travel space have had their own problems -- none of which have been fully resolved to my knowledge.
And here's a couple recent tweets from folks I don't personally know.
Yes, the program has more than 100 million users. The majority of them probably aren't having issues. But then again, how many of those 100 million people are actively staying in hotels, using points, making changes and tracking awards? It’s those key (and most loyal) travelers that seem to be having the issues.
Though Marriott Bonvoy is winning awards and doesn't seem to be in crisis mode (unless you count emailing out random Marriott gift cards as a sign of a crisis), loyal customers are experiencing very real issues that have the power to disrupt vacations and in multiple cases are receiving little to no assistance.
Marriott responded to my concerns and requests for guidance TPG can provide to travelers in similar situations with the following statement:
Our goal is to provide the highest level of service possible for all of our guests, which we do most of the time. However, there are instances such as yours in which we do not live up to the expectations we set for ourselves and that our members deserve. When that happens, we profoundly regret it.
Your particular case involving a Cash + Points reservation is a rare occurrence. The advice we give members who contact us and want to escalate an issue is to ask to speak to a supervisor. Our commitment is that a supervisor will call them back within 24 hours. We regret this procedure was not followed in your instance.
Marriott remains committed to providing an exceptional program. Many of the broader issues facing members have been fixed and we are addressing individual issues as they arise.
It isn't fun for a bad phone representative to essentially call you a liar. Being told you have to pay for your vacation a second time isn't enjoyable either. Being told there's no one who can help you is infuriating, especially when you have spent years being loyal to the company. But it isn't the details of my case that matter. It's the larger pattern of dismissing valid customer complaints that matters.
Marriott Bonvoy can do better than this.
Its customers deserve better than this.
Those who haven't been hurt by these problems have simply been lucky. Nine months into the merger, you would think that Marriott would have a team readily available for escalated integration issues. It's not a secret or surprise that the massive integration brought with it a bundle of ongoing tech problems. A customer report of a tech-related problem shouldn't result in a worthless case number that the call center openly admits will not be investigated.
If it doesn't get better, eventually customers in these situations won't be "noise around the edges." They may fall silent, not because things got better but because they simply moved on.