One Month In: Combined Marriott and SPG Program Still Facing Issues

Sep 19, 2018

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It seems hard to believe that it’s now been just over a month since the Marriott, SPG and Ritz-Carlton integration started, but here we are. The merger of these massive hotel loyalty programs was obviously a complicated endeavor, and while it’s undeniable that progress has been made — including the availability of suites-only properties through the app — many TPG readers are still facing issues. Today I want to do a round-up of what we’re hearing from you and what our Marriott contacts have to say.

Communication Continues to Lag

Last week, we published an article that looked at the integration from a broader standpoint, including the huge (and complex) IT aspect. One of my main contentions in that story was that Marriott failed in its communication efforts, and I cited several examples: holding back the conversion chart for existing travel package certificates, phone reps without the depth of knowledge to support members and major delays in acknowledging the ongoing problems that many were reporting. From many members’ perspectives, the combined program lost a lot of credibility and was forced to react to these issues rather than proactively offering guidance for affected travelers.

Unfortunately, this remains a problem today. Even though a Marriott spokesperson has said that the best method for resolving any non-urgent problems is using the online “Contact Us” form, we’re still receiving reports of unanswered submissions for two or even three weeks. Many readers are continuing to report long hold times as well as untrained phone reps who either say they don’t know or (in some cases) provide inaccurate information.

To be clear, I recognize that hold times are likely even worse right now due to the impacts of Hurricane Florence, which Marriott acknowledges on its homepage. However, these wait times were being reported long before the storm began impacting travel in the US.

I asked our Marriott contacts what the program was doing to address this backlog, and was given the following statement:

“We understand the importance of responding promptly and correctly when our members contact us with questions. For those who have felt we could have done better in responding, we are sorry, but we are listening and taking action.

For example, while we added agents to support the merging of our loyalty programs last month, we have now bolstered our call centers with another 100 newly-trained Loyalty Care associates over the past two weeks to further assist our members. We will continue to add 60 newly-trained Loyalty Care associates per week to provide additional telephone coverage.

In addition to new Loyalty Care agents on the phone, we have already reassigned approximately 40 associates to assist with responding to member email inquiries and are bringing on 180 additional associates to handle email inquiries within the next week.

The enhancements we are making have helped cut call wait times on our Elite line by nearly 75 percent since August 24.

I sincerely hope that this additional investment will start to pay off, though I know first-hand (from my previous job) how challenging it is to ramp up new employees, especially given the complexity of the combined program. If you’ve submitted your issue(s) and are still waiting on a response, you’ll hopefully start to see those answered soon.

Problems With Awarding Platinum Premier

Another systemic problem I’ve seen involves the Platinum Premier elite status level. When the integration went live, there were two main groups of individuals who should have received this status:

  1. Existing Marriott Platinum members
  2. Members with a combined 75+ nights across the two programs in 2018

Unfortunately, I’ve heard from a handful of readers that this wasn’t the case. One issue involves those who completed a Marriott Platinum challenge before the integration. Given that “old” Platinum matched to “new” Platinum Premier, theoretically someone who had successfully completed an “old” Marriott Platinum challenge before August 18 should be matched to “new” Platinum Premier. But many readers in this situation have reported that their status only indicated Platinum when they combined their accounts. Marriott has verified that this is not correct: if you completed the Marriott Platinum challenge before the combined program launched, you should have been mapped to Platinum Premier.

Another reader indicated that she had only been mapped to “new” Platinum status despite being an “old” Marriott Platinum member based on 2017 nights. Once again, your status in the new program is based upon either your pre-August 18 status or your combined 2018 elite qualifying nights across the two programs. As a result, this, too, is incorrect, and she should have been granted Platinum Premier when the combined program went live.

In short: if you held “old” Marriott Platinum status as of midnight on Saturday, August 18, you should now be Platinum Premier. It doesn’t matter if you completed an “old” Marriott Platinum status, completed 75+ nights in 2017 or completed 75+ nights across the combined portfolio of Marriott/SPG/Ritz-Carlton properties thus far in 2018. All of these roads should have led to Platinum Premier, and if your account doesn’t reflect this, send Marriott a message.

That being said, bear in mind that this doesn’t apply to the new Marriott Platinum challenge that launched in early September, as those requirements will only get you regular Platinum status in the combined program. It also doesn’t apply to Lifetime Platinum Premier status — that part of the program won’t launch until early 2019.

Unfortunately, this isn’t the only outstanding elite status issue…

Yes, You Can Still Use SPG Stays to Qualify for Platinum

Photo courtesy of St. Regis New York
You can still qualify for Platinum status in the new program this year by completing 25 stays at legacy SPG properties. (Photo courtesy of the St. Regis New York)

One of the big changes for SPG members in the combined program is the new elite qualification requirements. In the past, you could qualify for “old” SPG Gold or Platinum by completing 10 or 25 stays in a calendar year (respectively). The combined program, however, only uses elite qualifying nights to determine your elite status level. Even though legacy SPG members now have access to a much deeper pool of properties from which to choose, completing 25 one-night stays would have earned you Platinum status in the old program. In the new program, it’ll only get you Gold.

But that’s only starting in 2019. Over the rest of 2018, you can still qualify for “new” Platinum status based on qualifying stays at legacy SPG brands. Here’s the direct text from the combined program’s terms & conditions:

“In 2018, the Loyalty Program will continue to honor Elite achievement via Qualifying Stays at participating SPG Brands that occur in 2018. Elite achievement via Qualifying Stays is only available until December 31, 2018 and will not be continued thereafter. Participating SPG Brands include: St. Regis® Hotels, The Luxury Collection®, W® Hotels, Sheraton®, Le Méridien®, Westin®, Tribute Portfolio®, Design Hotels TM, Four Points®, Aloft® Hotels and Element®. Members can earn Elite Status via Qualifying Stays under the requirements listed below:

  • Gold Elite: 10 to 24 Qualifying Stays or 25 to 49 Qualifying Nights
  • Platinum Elite: 25 or more Qualifying Stays or 50 to 74 Qualifying Nights”

Unfortunately, the combined program doesn’t provide any way to track the number of stays you’ve completed, only nights. As a result, if you’re planning to qualify using this legacy criteria, I’d strongly encourage you to set up a spreadsheet or other document so you can monitor your progress toward this level.

Many “One-Off” Issues Remain

We continue to get reports of missing points from pre-integration SPG Amex statements.

The issues above appear (to me) to be more systemic problems that apply to a broader group of members. However, there are still many outstanding “one-off” issues that remain, and we’ve been hearing about these through emails and comments, including:

  • Rounding errors on airline transfers
  • Problems with changing pre-August 18 SPG reservations using Suite Night Awards
  • Issues with pre-August 18 SPG Amex points posting
  • Missing stays/nights

The first issue has now been fixed, and it apparently only applied to certain airlines. If you transferred points to Korean, Turkish or Japan Airlines between August 17 and September 17, Marriott is “working with [its] airline partners so the correct number of miles are reflected in member accounts.”

If you’re still seeing these other problems (or others that aren’t listed above), the same advice holds true: submit details of your issues using the “Contact Us” section of Marriott’s website.

Points Advance for SPG Properties Is Coming Soon

Here’s hoping that you’ll soon be able to book SPG properties like the W Maldives when you don’t have enough points in your account to cover the full redemption.

On a slightly more positive note, according to Marriott, you may soon be able to make award reservations at SPG properties even if you’re short on points. I asked our contacts about the “Points Advance” feature being expanded to SPG hotels back in late August and was told that the program is “still working through that” part of the integration, which matches what we heard shortly after the combined program’s launch. However, I followed up again last week and received the following update:

“Unrelated to the migration of the SPG systems onto Marriott’s loyalty platform, we are also migrating brand and property systems as well throughout the fall. This will be a rolling process by brand and will result with an increasing number of SPG properties offering Points Advance beginning in the next few weeks.”

Given how the last month has gone, I’m inclined to view this with a healthy does of skepticism, and I imagine this will be a very gradual rollout. However, I’d venture a guess that this functionality should be loaded for all brands by the end of the year, given the introduction of Category 8 and peak/off-peak pricing. We’ve known for some time that August was a large but intermediate step in the combining process, so I’d imagine that Marriott would want this loose end tied up before the officially integrated program (and new name) takes effect.

So What Should You Do?

As noted above, the preferred method of contacting Marriott with non-urgent account-related questions or issues is via the program’s online “Contact Us” form, and the additional customer support representatives that Marriott is bringing on will hopefully speed up response times. A representative also gave us the following tips to help get the support you need:

  • For our Platinum Elite members who call us, we recommend they input their account number when prompted. This will allow them to move to the head of the queue.
  • Members with questions around our new loyalty program should first check our list of frequently-asked questions at https://www.marriott.com/help/rewards-faqs.mi. In lieu of speaking with an agent, members may also wish to contact us via email by going to https://www.marriott.com/marriott/contact.mi and providing the requested information.
  • Members who require assistance combining their accounts should complete the newly launched online form accessible at https://www.marriott.com/loyalty/combine-accounts-help.mi. We have a dedicated team who will complete these requests within 48 hours of receipt.

We here at TPG fully understand that many of you with continued problems have probably done most or all of these things already. Hopefully you’ll start to see improvements with the new investments Marriott is making, but if not, we strongly encourage you to continue to reach out to Marriott and express your frustrations, especially if you’re looking at taking your business to another program.

Bottom Line

When it comes to the combined Marriott, SPG and Ritz-Carlton program, the last month has been rocky at best, and terrible at worst. While many members didn’t have many (or any) problems combining their accounts, there were a slew of issues that arose very quickly after the August 18 live date. Unfortunately, we continue to get reports of ongoing problems, and even if these are so-called “one-offs,” they’re nevertheless leading some readers to question their loyalty to Marriott and SPG. Only time will tell if the complications from the integration over the last month will have a lasting impact on the combined program’s bottom line.

If you’re still having issues, please let us know in the comments section below.

Featured photo by Shutterstock.com.

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