Marriott Quietly Updates Terms & Conditions, Though Not Necessarily for the Better
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It seems hard to believe that the combined Marriott and SPG program is now in its third week, though it's been anything but smooth sailing. From incorrect point balances to ongoing issues with pre-August 18 travel package certificates, I've been receiving daily emails from readers expressing frustration about the integration.
While we're still waiting for updates on many of these issues from our Marriott contacts, we do have some information to report related to the new program's terms & conditions. As first reported by LoyaltyLobby, Marriott has quietly changed a few notable items, and while some of these appear to be positive, they unfortunately still leave some room for properties to exploit them (to the detriment of members).
Let's start with the (mostly) positive. In the initial launch of the terms & conditions on August 18, there was some concerning language related to the legacy SPG suites-only properties. Despite receiving multiple communications directly from Marriott reps indicating that all of these properties would be included in the standard award chart, many were still listed as unavailable at these rates:
"Free Night Awards at the following locations require a higher amount of Points either because the Participating Property does not have standard rooms or the standard rooms it offers have a mandatory full board requirement in peak seasons: Vana Belle, a Luxury Collection Resort, Koh Samui, Thailand; The Naka Island, a Luxury Collection Resort & Spa, Phuket, Thailand; Sheraton Steamboat Resort Villas, Steamboat Springs, Colorado; The Westin Golf Resort & Spa, Playa Conchal, Costa Rica; The St. Regis Bora Bora and the Le Meridien Bora Bora, Bora Bora, French Polynesia; Mystique, a Luxury Collection Resort, Santorini, Santorini, Greece; The St. Regis Bali Resort, Nusa Dua, Indonesia; Hotel Cala di Volpe, Hotel Pitrizza, and Hotel Romazzino, Costa Smeralda, Italy; W Maldives; North Ari Atoll, Maldives; W Koh Samui, Surat Thani, Thailand; Al Maha, a Luxury Collection Desert Resort & Spa, Dubai, U.A.E.; St. Regis Residence Club, Aspen, Aspen, CO; and Phoenician Residences, a Luxury Collection Residence Club, Scottsdale, AZ."
I immediately reached out to our Marriott contacts when I noticed this back on August 20 and was told with "100% confirmation that the T&C's are being updated." Well, it appears that has now happened, as this paragraph has been removed.
However, it is worth noting that there is an added phrase to section 3.2.f. (which I've bolded): "Point values are based on a standard room only (does not apply to premium room) and may vary by length of stay and hotel category." This likely won't impact these suites-only properties, as again Marriott has told us multiple times that all properties will have at least some standard rooms available. Hopefully we won't start to see these properties playing games with categorizing all of their accommodations as "premium rooms."
Another bit of seemingly positive news is some added language regarding upgrades for Platinum members. The original version released on August 18 included verbiage like "enhanced rooms" and "may include...suites" which (naturally) got the attention of SPG Platinums, who were used to stronger language in their legacy program's terms. Fortunately, the updates now include the following (emphasis mine):
"Platinum Elite Members receive a complimentary upgrade to the best available room subject to availability for the entire length of stay at the time of check-in. Complimentary upgrade includes suites, rooms with desirable views, rooms on high floors, corner rooms, rooms with special amenities or rooms on Executive Floors."
The addition of "best available room" and the removal of "may" provides a bit less room for properties to weasel out of providing suite upgrades to Platinum and Platinum Premier Elite members. Unfortunately though, the updated terms also include the following:
"Enhanced Room Upgrades are subject to availability and are identified by each Participating Property."
This language is very similar to that which was part of Marriott's legacy terms & conditions and is concerning to me. Based on the way it's written, a hotel could define its "Enhanced Rooms" for the purposes of upgrades as solely those with a view or on high floors and exclude suites. Then, when a Platinum member arrives, he/she would be entitled to a "complimentary upgrade to the best available room" with a view or on a high floor but not a suite because suites weren't "identified by" the "Participating Property" at which he/she is staying.
So on the surface it appears to be an improvement over what was originally written, but I still see major loopholes for properties to use to their advantage (to the detriment of Platinum members).
Unfortunately, there has been one negative change that (again) appears to be positive on the surface. The first iteration of the terms & conditions allowed members to transfer "up to 50,000 points per calendar year between any two accounts in good standing." The new version bumps this to 100,000 points. However, the following paragraph has been completely removed:
"Once per calendar year and only at the time of an Award Redemption, a Member may exceed the 50,000 Point maximum into the Loyalty Program account of a friend or family member in order to qualify for a specific Award in accordance with this section. In the instance of transfer exceeding the 50,000 Point maximum only the necessary number of Points needed to redeem the specified Award, rounded to the nearest 1,000 Points, may be transferred - no more, no less."
This could hurt for anyone looking to combine points from a family member for a specific award, especially given the current welcome bonuses on cards like the Starwood Preferred Guest® American Express Luxury Card and Marriott Rewards Premier Plus Credit Card. If your spouse or friend signed up for one (or both) of these cards and you had hoped to pool your points together for a future redemption, it appears that you'll now be capped at just 100,000 points.
These updates to Marriott's terms & conditions are relatively minor, but they could have some broader implications. It's nice to see that there is no longer a published list of suites-only properties unavailable at standard redemption rates, though it remains to be seen how easy it'll be to lock in these awards. However, the upgrade benefit change isn't cause for celebration in my opinion.
Maybe I've been married to a lawyer for too long, but I like my language clear and unambiguous with no margin for error or alternate interpretation. Sure, it seems like a good thing to update the Platinum upgrade benefit terms, but when you still allow individual properties to determine which "enhanced rooms" are eligible for these upgrades, it kind of defeats the purpose. Only time will tell if hotels abuse this leeway. If you find that to be the case, I encourage you to politely (yet firmly) push back and keep Marriott customer service informed if a property isn't living up to its end of the bargain.
What do you make of these updates to the terms & conditions?