Marriott downgrades status, maybe no soft landings after all


Marriott has updated member status for 2019 activity and many of those members whose 2019 activity did not meet status requirements are finding that their status has downgraded accordingly. While some have apparently gotten soft landings, many have not. It is thus far unclear as to whether or not this is intentional as status has been somewhat glitchy, with at least one of our readers reporting an inaccurate downgrade. It’s possible that there is some shoddy IT at play here, so I’d give it a week or two before getting too up in arms about changes assuming you’re not traveling at the moment.

Downgrades for many

If you did not meet the 2019 status qualification requirements, your status has likely downgraded to whatever level you achieved based on 2019 activity. This normally happens on March 1st, but was delayed a few weeks this year. When it was initially delayed a few days, I think most of us assumed it was just Marriott’s shoddy IT and would be resolved within a few days. When it stretched on for weeks, I think the new assumption started to become that Marriott may hold everyone’s status over given the unprecedented state of the travel industry.

However, it seems that it was that shoddy IT after all and those who did not qualify / re-qualify based on 2019 activity have seen their status downgraded accordingly.

Only some get soft landings?

Based on the terms of Marriott’s program, you need to meet the status qualification requirements each year based on your stay activity from January 1st through December 31st. For example, if you stay 50 nights during that time period, you get Platinum status. Stay 48 and your status is Gold. Stay 75 and it is Titanium. See our Marriott Bonvoy Complete Guide for full details on status.

Historically, when members have not re-qualified for their previous status level, Marriott has given a soft landing. For example, let’s say that Bob stayed 75 nights in 2018, earning Titanium status for 2019. Then let’s imagine that Bob only stayed 30 nights in 2019. While Bob’s stay activity is only enough nights for Gold status in 2020, Marriott has historically only downgraded customers like Bob by one level — down from Titanium to Platinum (known as a “soft landing”). This was not written in the terms and was never guaranteed but rather is something Marriott has done for a long time.

However, this year it seems that while some customers did indeed get a soft landing, many did not and today see their status reflecting their 2019 activity — in some cases downgraded by 2 or more tiers. While it is certainly fair within the terms of the Marriott Bonvoy program that 2020 status reflects 2019 stay activity, it will be disappointing to those who had become accustomed to soft landings.

It’s worth noting though that this may be a glitch. We had a reader this morning comment on an old post that they have the Chase Ritz-Carlton card, which comes with automatic Marriott Gold status. However, their status was downgraded to Silver today. That is obviously wrong. Combined with soft landings for some and not for others, it makes me at least hopeful that there were some wires crossed in the system and that Marriott may in fact uncross them yet and get this fixed.

If it’s not a glitch, why end soft landings now?

Again, I’m not convinced it’s not a glitch — maybe we’ll see soft landings after all. But given the state of the industry at the moment, I think it seems surprising from one standpoint that they have not offered soft landings while not very surprising at all from another.

Obviously hotel occupancy is way down — in the single digits in many cities. It is an easy argument to say that extending status for everyone and/or offering soft landings is what Marriott should be doing in order to encourage whatever business they can get this year. Indeed, I think that would be the better move for them. While I obviously hope that everyone is avoiding unnecessary travel at the moment, offering elite status perks could certainly encourage travel when and where it is safe to travel again.

But on the other hand, I’m also not completely surprised that they did not automatically extend everyone’s status for free based on the COVID-19 pandemic.The purpose of the loyalty program is to drive business. We expect that we will see far-reduced elite status qualification requirements for 2020, though they haven’t yet been announced at least in part because nobody knows when we’ll be back to normal. Perhaps Marriott is banking on finding a way to incentivize people to travel as much as they can at some point later this year. Rather than give people free status, perhaps they want to encourage some business before the end of 2020, even if it is much reduced. Given the fact that they likely went from extremely high occupancy to nearly-zero in many markets, I could understand Marriott trying to salvage whatever revenue they can for the tail end of 2020.

While soft landings would have made some sense, I have to think that in some cases Marriott may not have wanted to extend status for free to those who already had a soft landing last year. In some cases, that would have meant extending status to those who have not earned it since 2017. While I don’t imagine this is common, someone could have last earned status in 2017. Imagine an example customer Bob who stayed 75 nights in 2017 and had Titanium status in 2018, then stayed 0 nights in 2018 and got a soft landing to Platinum status in 2019. Then Bob stayed 0 nights in 2019. Extending Bob’s Platinum status again in 2020 may not be what Marriott wanted to do. Of course, if Bob is staying zero nights per year, it isn’t costing Marriott much — but imagine those numbers more like 10 or 15 nights per year at expensive hotels for lounge access / breakfast and maybe Marriott didn’t want to extend that another year. I think that would be a shame, but it’s a possible explanation for not offering soft landings again or extending status.

Bottom line

Marriott has finally updated status tiers based on 2019 activity. It’s somewhat surprising that it took them more than three weeks after the usual March 1st changeover date, but surely before the COVID-19 pandemic all of us would have expected status to update on March 1st, so this isn’t a big shock. The surprising thing is that some members are receiving a soft landing while others are not — and in at least one case so far (I assume there will be more), Marriott has incorrectly downgraded the status of a Ritz cardholder. If you’re affected by this negatively, I’d recommend waiting it out a few weeks. With most of us having no travel booked in the coming weeks, the situation isn’t imminently important for many of us and if there is indeed any glitch at play it may be automatically solved in the interim.

H/T: One Mile at a Time

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