The Marriott SPG merger continues to be a disaster. Many promised capabilities of the new program simply don’t work. Want to apply a travel certificate to a Starwood property? Good luck. Want to book an all-suites property at the promised 60K per night rate for standard rooms? You might want to wait another month or two. Want correct information about your elite membership? …. You get the idea.
Yes, merging two giant programs is a huge technical task. I’m not surprised that they’re still dealing with technical issues two and half weeks later. The thing that has surprised me is how long it has taken for them to fix the simple stuff: online documentation. Since merger day, it’s been all wrong. I found at least four completely wrong sections in the terms & conditions, and several completely wrong displays on the website. This has led to no end of confusion for everyone. Want to clear things up by calling Marriott and asking? I promise you’ll get a different answer from every person you talk to. No one, anywhere, seems to know what’s supposed to happen. If they simply fixed the online documentation (and made it consistent), then a lot of problems would be alleviated. Members could point to the terms and say “See? This is how it’s supposed to work…”
Finally, finally, finally, the online Terms & Conditions have been updated. And, now the online terms & conditions might just be somewhat correct. At least, I haven’t found any obvious mistakes yet. Assuming the T&Cs are correct, here’s what I’ve gleaned from the new T&Cs so far…
- No elite benefits for non-qualifying stays (e.g. stays booked via online travel agencies)
- Point transfers now with 100K limit
- Blackout dates mostly gone!
- Elite Benefits Guarantee is not watered down as we previously thought
- Platinum elites are entitled to suite upgrades when available
See below for details about each…
No elite benefits for non-qualifying stays
It has long been the case that you wouldn’t earn points or elite night credits for non-qualifying stays (these are usually stays booked through an online travel agency like Expedia, or booked with points through your credit card’s travel portal). But, previously, we could call the Marriott hotel to add our rewards number to the stay and the hotel would provide elite benefits. Now, the terms explicitly exclude elite benefits on non-qualifying stays:
A “Non-Qualifying Rate” is a rate a Member pays for a Stay in a guest room at a Participating Property which does not qualify to earn Points or Miles, as well as membership tier benefits.
Benefits of Elite membership apply to stays on Qualifying Rates (as described in Section 2.1.e.) and are reserved for Members only and apply solely to the one guest room in which the Elite Member stays.
Point transfers now with 100K limit
Previously, Marriott allowed transferring up to 50K points per year to another member for $10 per transfer (free for Gold elites and higher). Now they allow transferring up to 100K points per year:
Members can transfer up to a maximum of 100,000 Points per calendar year between any two accounts in good standing that have each been open for at least sixty (60) days, whether sending or receiving Points.
The terms don’t mention a transfer fee, but the Marriott website does:
Transfer 1,000 points or more—up to a maximum of 100,000 points per year—for a transaction fee of just US$10. Gold Elite, Platinum Elite and Platinum Premier Elite members transfer for free.
It used to be possible to get around the 50K transfer limit by booking an award with another person. Marriott Rewards would achieve that by moving the points from one person’s account to the other so as to book the award from one account. As far as I can tell, both the Terms & Conditions and the website are silent about this, so I don’t know if it will still work or not.
Blackout dates mostly gone (but good luck with timeshare properties)
Marriott used to say that they had no blackout dates for awards, but they allowed hotels to weasel out of it with this clause:
Hotels may limit the number of standard rooms available for redemption on a limited number of days.
The new terms do not include the weasel out clause. Instead, they list 6 specific weasel out properties that are excluded and two timeshare brands that are excluded: Marriott Vacation Club & Vistana
Here are the new terms regarding blackout dates:
Blackout dates refer to a limited number of dates when a Participating Property could choose not to permit Members to redeem Points for Awards, but the Company has a “No Blackout Dates” benefit so that if there is a standard room available for booking by any means, whether by cash, credit or Points, then a Member can reserve the room using Points. The following properties either do not participate in or do not fully participate in the No Blackout Dates benefit at this time:
- Boscolo Exedra Nice, Autograph Collection
- The Dedica Anthology, Autograph Collection
- JW Marriott Scottsdale Camelback Inn® Resort & Spa, Scottsdale, AZ
- Marriott Vacation Club and Marriott Grand Residence Club – all properties
- Participating Vistana properties
- Rome Marriott Grand Hotel Flora, Rome, Italy
- Waikoloa Beach Marriott Resort & Spa, Hawaii
- Wailea Beach Resort – Marriott – Maui, Hawaii
Elite Benefits Guarantee is Alive
This is a bit of a hidden gem in the Marriott Rewards program and one of the few places where Platinum SPG elites can come out way ahead in the combined program. The earlier version of the terms & conditions showed that the elite benefits guarantees were far lower than before. The new terms show rates similar to before:
Available to all elites (Silver and up):
- Ultimate Reservation Guarantee: If you get walked from your hotel, they will pay for alternate lodging and you are eligible to get:
- $200 + 90K points at EDITION, The Luxury Collection, W Hotels, JW Marriott, Marriott Hotels, Sheraton, Delta Hotels, Le Méridien, Westin, Autograph Collection, Renaissance Hotels, Tribute Portfolio, Gaylord Hotels
- $100 (Platinum Elites also get 90,000 points) at Courtyard, Four Points, SpringHill Suites, Protea Hotels, Fairfield, AC Hotels, Aloft, Moxy, Residence Inn, TownePlace Suites, Element
- $200 + 140K points for Platinum elites only at Ritz-Carlton and St. Regis
Platinum elite guarantees:
- Platinum Elite Welcome Gift. If you are not offered a welcome gift, you are eligible for $0, $25, $50, or $100, depending upon the hotel brand.
- Breakfast or Lounge Access: If no breakfast or breakfast alternative is offered, you are eligible for $100 at JW Marriott, Marriott Hotels, Delta Hotels, Autograph Collection, and Renaissance Hotels
- Guaranteed Room Type: If the hotel is unable to fulfill this Guaranteed Room Type benefit, you are eligible for $25, $50, or $100 depending upon the brand.
You can read more about elite benefit guarantees (under the old program, but very similar to today) here: Marriott pays up when they fail to deliver elite benefits.
Suite Upgrades for Platinum elites
The terms & conditions were previously pretty wishy-washy about whether or not you should get upgraded to a suite. One Mile at a Time says that the old terms were as follows:
Complimentary Enhanced Room Upgrade for Platinum Elite Members. Based on room availability at check-in and limited to a Member’s personal guest room at no additional charge. Enhanced rooms may include rooms with desirable views, rooms on high floors, corner rooms, rooms with special amenities, rooms on Executive Floors, or suites.
The previous terms left a lot of wiggle room for the hotels. The new terms are more forceful:
Complimentary Enhanced Room Upgrade for Platinum Elite Members. 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.
Of course, Ritz-Carlton is special:
At The Ritz-Carlton, suites are only included for Platinum Premier Members and rooms with direct Club access are excluded.
In other words, if you have Platinum status (or Platinum Premier at Ritz properties), the hotel is supposed to upgrade you to the best available room (including suites) that is available for the entire length of your stay. Surprisingly the terms do not state that this is limited to “standard suites” the way the SPG terms used to. But, since Suite Night Awards are specifically limited to “standard suites” I’m sure that’s how Marriott intends this benefit. And they do provide wiggle room with the following:
Enhanced Room Upgrades are subject to availability and are identified by each Participating Property.
And, of course, there are brands that get out of this entirely:
The Complimentary Enhanced Room Upgrade for Platinum Elite Members is available at all Participating Brands except at Marriott Vacation Club, Marriott Grand Residence Club, Aloft, Element and participating Vistana properties.