Marriott’s CEO Thinks That SPG Loyalists Are “Rabid”

Marriott’s CEO, Arne Sorenson, spoke at the NYU International Hospitality Industry Investment Conference recently, and he had some interesting things to say about the future of the combined hotel group. Among that, he noted that China is the biggest region for growth for Marriott, that they’re open to even more new brands (as if 30 isn’t enough!), etc.

However, what stood out to me the most is what he said about the loyalty program, and more specifically about the future of Marriott Rewards and Starwood Preferred Guest. Per Hotel News Now:

Sorenson was quick to describe the effort to absorb Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide as “a huge amount of work,” while also noting it’s gone fabulously well.

He said one thing that caught him off guard about the acquisition and transition has been how deep the devotion ran for Starwood Preferred Guest loyalists.

“Early on, the thing I didn’t appreciate that I should have was how rabid the SPG elites were about the program,” he said. “Maybe that shouldn’t have been that surprising.”

Now, personally I’ll take the “rabid” comment as a compliment. In looking up the definition of rabid, it’s defined as “having or proceeding from an extreme or fanatical support of or belief in something.” That does describe many of us SPG loyalists, though at the same time we might not self identify as the synonyms to the word (ie, overzealous, extremist, violent, etc.).

So I’ll actually take it as a compliment. To me this isn’t like when United CFO in 2012 referred to elites as “over-entitled.” I think it’s undeniable that there’s a huge gap in enthusiasm between Marriott loyalists and Starwood loyalists. Most Marriott loyalists like Marriott because they have hotels everywhere and offer decent recognition, so they’re quite happy overall. However, in my experience Starwood is in a completely different league when it comes to the degree to which members associate with the brand.

To me the part of the statement that’s surprising is that Sorenson was surprised by how passionate SPG elites are. Damn right, we are! It’s funny, because when the takeover was first announced, Marriott management said that one of the things that was so appealing about SPG was their customer base, and how passionate they are about the brand. Perhaps we’re too passionate? 😉

I’m glad that Sorenson now at least realizes how passionate we are. So far I think Marriott has done a fantastic job with the two programs, at least as good as it can get from day one. They introduced reciprocal status matching and fair points transfers from day one. Furthermore, they adopted some of SPG’s policies and programs, like guaranteed 4PM check-out, an experiences marketplace, and an ambassador service.

Marriott-Benefits

Hopefully that’s just the start, and there’s more to come, like a real suite upgrade benefit for elite members, and a consistent breakfast benefit as well.

Damn right we’re rabid… now don’t disappoint us! 😉

(Tip of the hat to LoyaltyLobby)

Comments

  1. @lucky

    What are your favorite benefits of the SPG program compared other hotel chains? (I.e. – hyatt, Hilton, etc.)

  2. Dont know about the rest but to me, Spg works for me and my needs.
    With Accor the standarts varies a lot and good luck complaining.
    Nothing is perfect in life, but Spg is closer than most others.

  3. I realise this is a case of semantics but its’ still important:

    Sorenson thinks SPG loyalists are rabid for SPG, not rabid in general. The first is simply an expression attempting to describe extreme loyalty (which is what the CEO as doing) while the second is clearly an insult.

    There’s a difference and, for one reason or another, no blogger who has written about this is choosing to differentiate the two.

  4. Being a SPG elite you have to be sort of rabid in order to get there as the loyalty programm is actually so unrewarding regarding points compared to the money spent. Afterall there is a reason why Starwood Poits are a currency of their own.

    I have to say this statement actually calms my worries that Marriott will not degrade the programm and fuse it with the Marriot equivalent. But we won’t know until 2018!

  5. Are SPG elites rabid about the loyalty program or the product? If I recall, AA elites were rabid about AAdvantage and quickly abandoned AA after it was gutted. In other words, Are you a fan of the brands or the perks?

  6. Just two quick points.

    First, Sorenson was well aware that SPG loyalists were “passionate”. His surprise was to find out that they were not just “passionate”, but “rabidly passionate”, which is hardly a compliment because it means “unhinged” passionate…

    Second, @Lucky sez: “Hopefully that’s just the start, and there’s more to come, like a real suite upgrade benefit for elite members, and a consistent breakfast benefit as well”.

    Do you mean real benefits similar those that other programs offer, or bogus ones made up and claimed to be mythically superior by travel bloggers, which unquestionably contributed to making SPG loyalists “rabidly passionate” [1]?

    [1] https://goo.gl/shNh1P

  7. @Pat – having done 700 nights w/Starwood over the last 7 years, my answer is “both”.

    I love both the “hard product” (amazing range of both unique and luxury properties…whereas I find Marriott for the most part to be boring, boring, boring).

    But the on-property treatment is fantastic too…it has the best proactive upgrade policy among all the chains (written right into the Plat benefits, not buried deep into the T&Cs…yes there is a difference). I love my unique benefits like Your24 and my person SPG Ambassador. I have unique ways of earning bonus point like Uber and Make a Green Choice. SPG Moments has really cool experiences.

    It remains to be seen how much of this stays in the future program.

  8. I don’t think everyone at Marriott is on the same page or we’re misunderstanding the 4pm late checkout. I was denied a late checkout as a platinum member at a Marriott property. Front desk staff told me it’s only up to 4pm and up to the hotel. Tried to confirm this and Marriott rep online agreed with them. There’s definitely still some inconsistencies among the staff if that’s the case.

  9. As a fellow “rabid” SPG Loyalist, I agree with you Lucky that I think to this point, Marriott has done a very good job merging the 2 loyalty programs. I have been pleasantly surprised. I hope that trend continues.

  10. Ever since I got SPG Gold status, I pretty much shifted all my hotel spend to St. Regis properties. Now I’m a platinum and I split between St. Regis and Ritz.

    Damn right we’re rabid, and you should be thrilled? I personally have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars out of my own pocket at your hotels, money that would have been going elsewhere if you had a lame loyalty program.

    I have consistently received upgrades to suites in Asia and the Middle East, where I usually travel. Keep doing this and you’ll have my business forever! Start upgrading me to the same room but with an “upgraded” view, and I’ll be gone so fast it’ll make your head spin!

  11. I’d like to see him learn something from SPG. As a Platinum Preferred or whatever nonsense they made up, I’ve yet to see any real benefit from the Marriott/RC side.

  12. @Kevin – I think you are mistaken (your post reads like you were looking for later?), 4pm is the promised benefit, not any later.

    Of course, rational people do know that’s a floor, not a ceiling, and many properties will go above and beyond. Aloft Chicago City Center this week approved my 6pm request even though the property was sold out that night.

  13. Sorry for the confusion. I did mean up to 4pm and not later. The hotel told me 1pm because it’s up to the property whether they can honor up to 4pm. Marriott rep said the same thing which irks me. Terms on the Marriott website when I read it back then also says “up to” which means not guaranteed in my book.

  14. The CEO is an idiot, plain and simple. It doesn’t take much business research to understand that Starwood is a “lovemark” and what the loyalty program means to active members. What kind of DD did they even do on the merger?

  15. @Kevin – that is no longer correct.

    Exact language – “Guaranteed late checkout is an enhanced Elite benefit for Gold and Platinum members, offering late checkout guaranteed as late as 4pm”. So it is 1) guaranteed, and 2) you can go as late as 4pm.

    Marriott didn’t have quite the legacy culture of elite service as Starwood did, so there is a lot of “education” going on.

  16. Stayed at 4 different Marriott brands in 5 different cities the past 3 weeks and not a single one honored 4 pm late checkout. It was pulling teeth to get 2pm.

  17. As for your “consistent breakfast benefit” wish – hopefully your experience last week in New York with the $67 “continental” breakfast croissant and juice was an outlier and not a preview of things to come.

  18. Yeah, no. Rabid has a specifically negative connotation, someone proofread that public speech and they left it in. Not sure why he’d want to offend the “rabid” SPG loyalists, but that’s a choice he made.

    I take it as a “dial it down, folks” kind of comment.

  19. @Kevin — Your understanding of “up to” is correct, as is the reps’ interpretation of it. However, “up to” will be reinterpreted in absolute terms in travel blogosphere as offering a mythically superior perk, thereby giving the loyalists another reason to be “rabidly passionate”…That is, until repeated clashes between the program’s correct interpretation and travel bloggers’ re-interpretations lead to the program being accused of duplicity for correctly interpreting their own policy…really.

  20. I’m a platinum too, and I’d trade every benefit you guys are talking about to get rid of that f#@$%*# new 48 cancellation policy. That is a killer.

    As for the complaints about honoring the 4 PM late checkout, YMMV but I have never once had a problem at a _Marriott_ branded hotel. I have only been denied late checkout at lesser Marriott branded hotels, like Towneplace Suites. Really, Mr. Sorenson should be smart enough to NOT put the Marriott name on the marque (Towneplace Suites by MARRIOTT) if the company isn’t going to hold those franchisees to Marriott standards.

  21. @Kevin….

    As a Marriott Gold elite and a Marriott Insider, I can tell you that as a Platinum Elite if you request 4PM you should get it. There shouldn’t be able bickering or nonsense, you ask, you should receive. It’s a published benefit and isn’t open to interpretation, you ask for 4 they are supposed to give it to you.

  22. It’s Marriott. They can’t help but disappoint us. It’s in their DNA. They are not happy until we are not happy.

  23. @Marriott Gold Elite — Except that what he experienced completely repudiates your claim. Does he believe your claims or his own experience? Inquiring minds wanna know!

  24. Be aware of upcoming 40k awards for the previous spg 3000 and 4000 point redemptions

  25. Yeah, well, based on this article, Sorenson sounds a lot like Smisek to me.

    I was Smiseked at United as an almost 2-million miler pre-merger UA flier and left. Haven’t gone back and don’t miss it.

    If I am Sorensoned at Marriott/Starwood as a lifetime Starwood Platinum with over 1,200 nights, and I fully expect I will be, I will also be gone just as fast.

    And I have no illusions, neither United nor Marriott care.

  26. @Marriott Gold Elite – it could be much worse…you could be a Hilton loyal, where nothing is guaranteed and everything is up to the whims of an individual hotel

  27. …what can possibly be worse that being “rabidly passionate” about a dead program that purportedly had every perk “guaranteed”.

  28. “Dead program” shows your never-ending intellectual dishonesty at work…Always Be Trolling

  29. I like both SPG and Marriott, but I find that the lower end of SPG is inconsistent compared with Marriott.

  30. Just had an awesome 5-night stay as SPG gold member at a top Marriott property in East Africa. They not only honored the late checkout but also I really can’t remember when I had previously tipped so many hotel employees for such great service. I’ve been in 17 countries so far this year and I think I tipped max one employee per hotel so far this year prior to this stay.

    People you’ve got to look at hotel room prices on multiple sites before you decide where to use your awards for maximum value. I’ve had some award stays that got me far less value than this one.

  31. I am very close to lifetime Platinum at SPG – my biggest fear is it will change before I get there or not be honorered if i do… thats a lot of nights lost if thats the case

  32. For anyone to keep accusing me of “intellectual dishonesty” or “trolling” when I have meticulously supported every one of my assertions, which proved right again and again — especially with the demise of the two programs that we were repeatedly told were the “best in the business” — speaks volumes about where the dishonesty lies and who is doing the trolling.

    I have no time to waste with such unhinged or “rabidly passionate” morons because they know no shame and will never have the presence of mind to shut up to avoid making fools of themselves.

  33. Am I rabid about SPG, absolutely. I’ve stayed at Marriott 2 times in the last week and a half and 1 SPG hotel. I’d take the SPG over the Marriott every day of the week. The SPG program still is way better than Marriott, every day of the week.

  34. One quick look at FT SPG section and you will find out that Mr. Sorenson is absolutely right!

    I am Platinum with both for several years and in my experience I find Marriott’s product much superior to that of SPG. Sure, there are many aspirational SPG properties, but there are many more 4Ps and alofts where we got zilch recognition/treatment.

    Oh, and BTW, I have gotten 6PM and later checkouts at Marriott properties.

  35. @Nick et al — There is no need to be “rabid” about any program. Every redemption should be approached on a case per case basis to ensure that one gets the most “mileage” or best value out of one’s hard earned loyalty currency. Some here have “accused” me of being a “rabid” Hilton fanboy. They are wrong because, IN PRACTICE, I am not as wedded to Hilton Honors as it might seem. Rather, I am an equal “opportunity opportunist”, who will invariably go with a redemption that gives me the biggest bang for my loyalty buck.

    Case in point: because last year I’d waited too long to book award stays for my annual Year-end Asian Escapade(tm) and had to pay cash at properties where I would have preferred to use points due to lack of availability, I decided to start booking early this year. Here are the cities I plan to visit and the hotels where I have already redeemed or plan to redeem points for award stays [I have also spent “just” 190K UA/UR miles/points to get from city to city, flying exclusively in F or C — report coming soon!]:

    — Singapore: Have not yet decided. Either Hilton Singapore or Grand Hyatt Singapore, which ever gives the best value.

    — Manila: Have booked an award stay at the brand new and impressive-looking Conrad Manila (first Hilton hotel in the city, which lured me there this time).

    — Shanghai: Have not yet decided. Either Hilton Shanghai or the Waldorf Astoria, but it could be a Hyatt property; which ever gives best value.

    — Chennai (India): Booked a 2-night award stay in a Club King (14K pts w/ lounge access, free breakfast) at Hyatt Regency Chennai.

    — Colombo (Sri Lanka): Booked an award stay at Hilton Colombo Residence (all suites and cheap).

    — Pattaya City (Thailand): Booked an award a 5-night award, with 5th night free at Hilton Pattaya (0.9 cent/point). Had to pay cash for a suite at this property a year ago.

    — Siem Reap: Booked an award stay, including a free night on the Chase Hyatt visa, at Park Hyatt (C+P).

    — Bangkok: Booked a C+P award stay at the NEW (why I booked it) Park Hyatt Bangkok.

    — Hong Kong: Have not yet decided. Conrad Hong Kong first choice or the JW Marriott next door, which ever will give me the best value.

    As you can see, I’ve already booked stays at several Hyatt properties, even though WoH is a dirty word these days and I have no status in the program (well, I am a Discoverist but that is pretty much the same as having no status), and I am still open to booking with Hyatt or Marriott, in addition to Hilton, depending which redemption gives me the best value. The only major program I do not patronize actively is SPG, and that’s because of a simple back of the envelop calculation that showed awards at top-tier SPG properties to cost at least an order of magnitude more than comparable HH, WoH or MR awards.

    You’re happy with SPG? If you like moribund programs with exorbitantly priced awards, then more power to you. Just do not tell me that SPG is (or used to be) the “best program in the business” because (a) such things are usually YMMV, and (b) I have “studied” all the major programs fairly closely, done the math and know better than to take seriously self-serving claims made by self-anointed travel gurus who’ve drunk too much of their own kool-aid.

    G’day!

  36. So sad that year after year he has to rant and rave against SPG (long accepted as among the best, if not the best hotel loyalty program), because of bitter jealously that none of the gurus & experts ever really talk about Hilton (for good reason…mediocre to poor in terms of both loyalty program as well as brand variety & quality).

    He’s probably written a million ranting words about how everyone else is wrong and he is the right one…talk about sad and delusional.

  37. Go to hell. I do not “rant” about SPG or any other program. I set the record straight. That you are so “rabidly passionate” and feel that I am here to “rant” about SPG because of “bitter jealous”, when I have set the record straight on a long list of other bogus claims, should tell you that you are too rabid to keep posting in a discussion group like this. Could you tell me why I would be bitterly “jealous” of any program when I have the resources to easily patronize any that I choose to? Instead of being “bitterly jealous, wouldn’t the thing to do be to join’em if I can’t beat’em? See how your unhinged mind just does not belong here? You can say all you want about Honors, I will not get as unhinged as you do when SPG’s deficiencies are pointed out. I will defend what I can factually or I will keep quiet about what I cannot defend. In your case, it is a knee-jerk defense of SPG whenever anyone says anything about the program, even things that are demonstrably true, like the fact that the program has BY FAR most expensive awards in the business.

    If you have not noticed, the programs that your “gurus” “long accepted as among the best, if not the best hotel loyalty programs” are no more, while those that they constantly disparaged (HH, MR) are alive and thriving. That you would even think I give a damn about what your “gurus” believe are “the best programs” is simply mind-boggling, considering their record in that department.

    I do not spend my time here “ranting” about SPG. I write about the program mostly negatively because it is a mediocre program, but I have written about the shortcomings of other programs as well. But for you, I am here only “rant” about SPG. Well, get this: a great program that’s gone belly up is not so great. Get used to it and get a grip!

    G’day.

  38. Marriott does not appreciate the platinum status as SPG hotels do! I have had the worst experience with Marriott than any SPG hotel. This week itself at Marriott Ko-Olina in Oahu hotel, we had the worst check in experience ever. I hope SPG stays as is after the merger.

  39. Ben,
    The reason I sent you that excerpt of Sorensen’s words was out of concern.
    There are better words to describe loyalists. Passionate comes to mind. I have not heard fans (fanatics) referred to as rabid by sportscasters. The first thought comes to my mind when I hear rabid is a dog who has rabies foaming at the mouth. In that sense I feel the term was derogatory.

    But lets be real. CEO’s who have won the conquest have a bit of swagger. Although they’ve earned it (short run victory), making the combination work well is the best remembered result. The smart ones (not Smisek) will certainly take hold of successes in the conquered company and merge it into their own.

    Of course the Marriott crew is looking at financials. But what they do have and which admittedly did not recognise, is that they have a captivated bunch of people who really like staying at Starwood properties and the “tailored” benefits. A smart CEO would welcome that on board and make the best of both.

    I’d like the think that Sorensen would like to end his career on a high note, making a smashing success of this merger. I wish him well in this endeavor, and I do hope to realise the best benefits come to fruition in both Marriott and Starwood properties for all to enjoy.

    Kent

  40. It requires great gymnastics to spin “rabid” into connoting something positive. That the pejorative characterization came from Marriott’s CEO provides the clearest glimpse into how SPG loyalists are viewed by MR program managers and the company’s top brass. That does not bode well for the wish of many SPG loyalist to see a merged loyalty program that would be like SPG, does it? I suspect that the crumbs that have already been thrown at them thus far may quite likely be all that will be retained of SPG. After all, it is MR that swallowed SPG and not the other way around. It would seem exactly backwards and a recipe for ending up with a failed merged program for MR to try to emulate SPG…

  41. “Rabid” = fanatical about a company and program that has treated us insanely well over the years. You of course can’t understand it, but most long-term SPG Plats took it quite complimentary actually.

    There’s a reason why no one is “rabid” about Hilton or HH…both are the definition of mediocrity.

    A dumb way to piss away their $10B+ investment into Starwood is to chase away the high value customers they were “buying” via this merger.

    (as usual, your biases show through clearly…give it a rest already)

  42. I did not think I would live to see a day when “behaving like a mad dog” would be elevated to a virtue. Anyone who can be made “rabid” by a mediocre loyalty program has ‘head’ issues that travel blogosphere is more likely to potentiate than to cure or soothe…

    Good luck.

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