Marriott Bonv'oi!

Marriott completed the acquisition of Starwood Hotels and Resorts in September 2016, ten months after the acquisition was officially announced. Both Marriott and Starwood had previously had separate loyalty programs, with Starwood bringing 21 million members from their Preferred Guest (SPG) program as part of the $12.6 billion deal.

Marriott, over the course of twenty-five years, has acquired 54 million Rewards members. Marriott actually has two rewards programs, stemming from its acquisition of the Ritz-Carlton brand1, having replaced its earlier Honoured Guest2 with Marriott Rewards and Ritz-Carlton Rewards in 1997. Last August, Marriott integrated all three programs. Effectively, this meant converting SPG points into Marriott points and an attempt at aligning the various loyalty levels between the programs. Shortly after, the name of the combined program was leaked, but it wasn't until today that the new branding takes official effect.

Marriott Rewards is now Marriott Bonvoy, and the nearly universal reaction is somewhere between confusion and disdain for the branding. The unfortunate timing of the rebrand, while Marriott is still attempting to correct technical integration issues, had lead to the an association among loyal Marriott guests of things going wrong with the new program; this has coined the verb to Bonvoy, such as in: I have been Bonvoyed by the Marriott IT mess. While Marriott is neither alone in these slip-ups, nor are Marriott slip-ups new, the scale and breadth that even elite VIPs are seeing and reporting is notable, and there's a perception that Marriott's support staff is simply overwhelmed by the volume.

Issues such as points and elite nights not posting and poor hotel service shouldn't be related to the program merger, but when added to the set of issues faced by merging accounts: lost points, wrong elite status levels, lost reservation information; it all adds to the perception of a dumpster fire.

Mixed messages, coupled with devaluations—and perceived devaluations—add to the frustration. Marriott currently has all of their hotels participating in point redemptions classified in categories from one (cheapest redemption: 7,500 points) to seven (60,000 points). Point values can often be outstanding deals, for instance the St. Regis New York and Ritz Carlton Central Park (both in NYC) are category 7 hotels, with cash rates sometimes as low as $650 for a basic room, but often closer to $900-$100. Both of these properties will be in the recently announced, and soon to be introduced, category eight which will cost 85,000 points. Worse, Marriott will be introducing peak pricing, where these hotels will cost 100,000 points; effectively making it harder to get more than 1¢ of value out of a Bonvoy point.

It used to be pretty easy to get SPG gold status, for instance as a benefit for holding the American Express Platinum card. Outright earning SPG gold only took 25 stays, compared to 50 stays in Marriott's program. Last year, SPG Gold members were given Marriott Gold which included things like lounge access at Marriott brands; the new program re-aligns tier memberships, but effectively is a merger of the two programs. Platinum is the new Marriott Gold, while Gold is the old SPG Gold. Marriott's old Platinum tier sits above that, and finally SPG's Ambassador tier sits at the top, but requires a $20,000 spend during the year.

There's been consternation from people who had matched from SPG to Marriott that they were losing lounge access and effectively that their SPG Gold was being devalued. I don't think that's fair, since they're basing their decision on what was effectively a bonus status for one year. Similarly, prior to the SPG merger, Marriott also had five tiers of awards for Ritz Carlton properties; so while the JW Marriott in NYC would be 45,000 points as the top category in Marriott's program3, the Ritz Carlton Central Park would be 70,000 points4. SPG categories already had peak/off-peak pricing which mean that a Category 7 hotel would generally be 90,000 or 105,000 points5, meaning SPG awards are actually a better value, even with Category 8 prices.

SPG loyalists aren't doing so poorly unless you were staying enough for platinum previously. Marriott members on the other hand are seeing a moderate devaluation, and changes to lifetime status may or may not be a concern depending on how close the member was to status under the old qualifications. If Marriott had waited to work out the IT mess, the animosity should have been much reduced. Instead, it's serving to magnify what would be otherwise run-of-the mill problems and peccadilloes.

  1. a minority share in 1995, a controlling share in 1998


  3. Category 9

  4. Tier 5

  5. given the 3:1 conversion from SPG points