Why I dropped Marriott after 35 years of loyalty
My love affair with Marriott started in 1986. I was a year out of college and was attending a conference at the Fort Lauderdale Marriott Harbor Beach Resort & Spa. I didn’t know anyone and spent a lot of time alone, but the staff made me feel very welcome.
I was so impressed with that service that I decided to write a personal letter to then-CEO and chairman Bill Marriott Jr. Imagine my surprise when I received a personal reply from the man himself. That one thing turned me into a loyal Marriott fan, with Silver or Gold status on and off through the years.
I spent three-plus decades as a devoted Marriott fangirl, but after Marriott acquired Starwood in 2015 and the hotel experience began to change, a few incidents had me rethinking my loyalty. After 35 years, I accepted it was time for me to find a new brand to love and went on a transformational journey through several programs to find the perfect combination of loyalty perks and inviting hotel accommodations.
Why I said goodbye to Marriott
It all started with the Starwood acquisition in 2015. There are always growing pains after deals of this magnitude, but my post-acquisition stays at Marriott brands still felt different. Issues started popping up, such as staff forgetting my long-standing request for non-feather pillows (due to allergies) and rooms that weren’t as clean.
A turning point came in 2016 when Marriott mishandled what was possibly a case of bedbugs in my upgraded room at a Washington, D.C., hotel. After the discovery, I immediately asked for a new room, along with my clothes and luggage to be cleaned. The hotel refused to clean my clothes and wanted to move me to a downgraded room. Thank goodness it wasn't bedbugs -- but the mattress was still disturbingly dirty -- and we were able to eventually come to a resolution. But it only came about after unnecessarily protracted negotiations. The whole situation left a bad taste in my mouth for the brand.
Then Marriott quietly got rid of two helpful Gold benefits -- a dedicated phone number for reservations and no blackout dates for points redemptions. This change seems small in the general scheme of things, but it felt like the program was being devalued -- even before the pandemic.
With the pandemic came even more changes that I hoped would be temporary. In an interview with TPG executive editor Scott Mayerowitz, Marriott CEO Anthony “Tony” Capuano acknowledged the "friction" between what returning guests desire and what owners need to do to run a successful business.
Marriott's loyal guests "want everything to be the way it was" before 2020, Capuano explained, but owners and franchisees have borne a disproportionate weight from the impact of the pandemic. “They’ve lost billions of dollars of revenue. Suggestions about getting back to ‘normal,’ they look at you like you have three heads and they say, ‘You’ve got to be more sensitive to the steep climb we have in front of us.’”
To me, this sounded like the Marriott that I knew and loved wasn’t coming back, leading me to the decision that it was finally time to make a permanent change.
How I chose a new hotel brand to love
After my breakup with Marriott, I needed to switch my loyalty to a new brand to get the best value from any upcoming hotel stays. I have automatic Gold elite status at Marriott and Hilton through my Platinum Card® from American Express. As I rebounded, I found myself booking Hilton hotels more, thanks to perks including a dedicated phone line, a very generous 80% points bonus, a fifth night free (a perk that Marriott also has), a daily food and beverage credit (although I do miss the free breakfast) and two bottled waters.
Related: How the pandemic has altered — or eliminated — hotel amenities we once took for granted
Then three things happened to make me switch my loyalty yet again. First, Hilton announced that it would no longer offer daily housekeeping at its hotels. During the pandemic, hotels made the switch to on-demand housekeeping. Hilton was the only chain (so far) to make the switch permanent, although Marriott has hinted at this, too.
Second, I rediscovered Hyatt hotels. When I started at The Points Guy in May 2019, I was put up in the HGU New York, a delightful boutique hotel that’s part of Hyatt’s Small Luxury Hotels of the World (SLH) brand. I also stayed at a few Hyatt Regencys and Hyatt Houses that were quite nice.
Then this year, I did a review of the Thompson San Antonio-Riverwalk, Hyatt's brand of luxury boutique hotels with a local focus. Despite a few operational issues I chalked up to pandemic-related issues, the hospitality I felt from the time I left my car in valet parking to the time I checked out was enough to convince me to finally make the jump to Hyatt.
But my conversion was complete with the third thing -- accelerated elite status under the World of Hyatt loyalty program. Discoverist status (complimentary with the World of Hyatt Credit Card) now only takes five nights instead of the normal 10 to earn. I easily hit that milestone with my stays at the Thompson San Antonio and Hotel 50 Bowery this year.
I’m only four nights away from hitting Explorist status through 2022 after stays at the Hyatt Regency Paris Etoile, Hyatt Place Times Square and Hyatt Union Square. I have several Hyatt stays booked through the end of 2021, giving me a sporting chance to earn Globalist status.
I fully acknowledge that Hyatt has a smaller footprint -- with more than 1,000 properties in 68 countries across six continents. Marriott has more than 7,600 properties in 133 countries and territories, while Hilton has more than 6,600 properties in 119 countries and territories.
And that smaller footprint was definitely shown during a road trip from Baltimore to San Antonio where there were no Hyatts available anywhere near stops in Tuscaloosa, AL, or Meridian, MS. But despite that, Hyatt is still in many of the places I want to go -- plus I just earned a free room night after staying in five different Hyatt brands (Hyatt Regency, Hyatt, Hyatt Place, Thompson and Joie De Vivre).
Related: Hyatt’s best-kept secrets: 16 incredible hotels you’d never know belonged to World of Hyatt
It’s nice to know I have choices when it comes to hotels, thanks to my elite status with Marriott, Hilton and Hyatt. But I’m happy to have made the full switch to Hyatt, with its perfect balance of perks and an accelerated way to earn status. The hospitality I’ve felt in all my Hyatt stays this year reminds me of how I felt about Marriott back in the day.
After only a single stay, I became a huge fan of both the Thompson and SLH brands. In the future, I look forward to checking out the Andaz, Zilara and Ziva brands, all of which are favorites with TPG staffers. Considering how I travel, it’s entirely possible there may be places that don’t have Hyatt brands -- but that’s no problem, since I have my gold status with Marriott and Hilton as a back-up.
Although I’ve spent more than 200 nights in Marriott hotels, I could never quite keep up my Silver and Gold enough for lifetime status. Even if I had, I still would stick with my move to Hyatt because of what I’ve experienced with the brand so far.