Just under a week ago, the details of Marriott’s new loyalty program were revealed. Prior to this announcement, one of the biggest questions that both Marriott and Starwood loyalists had was whether the new program would offer suite upgrades as a benefit:
- At Starwood Preferred Guest, Platinum members are entitled to be upgraded to the best available room, including standard suites
- At Marriott Rewards, Platinum members are entitled to be upgraded, and that upgrade may include standard suites
That’s a subtle but important distinction. At Starwood you’re “entitled” to a suite upgrade subject to availability, while with Marriott you can be upgraded to a suite at the hotel’s discretion. In other words, with Marriott a hotel can upgrade you to a suite if they want to, but they can also upgrade you to another type of room if they want to.
I’ve received a ton of questions about what the new suite upgrade benefit will look like, so wanted to share my general thoughts on this:
Marriott’s new policy will mirror Starwood’s
While the terms & conditions haven’t yet been published, the head of Marriott Rewards, David Flueck, told me that the new policy is intended to mirror Starwood’s policy rather than Marriott’s policy. That was in response to me asking whether suite upgrades were at the hotel’s discretion (like Marriott), or whether they were guaranteed subject to availability (like Starwood). That’s good news.
There will be a lot of Platinum members
How likely are suite upgrades to actually happen? The first thing to understand is that the new Marriott program will have tons of Platinum members. I imagine the percentage of elite members in the new Marriott program will be higher than in the old Marriott Rewards or Starwood Preferred Guest program.
That’s because Marriott will have more properties than any other hotel group, and it takes less effort than ever before to be loyal to them. Platinum status will require just 50 elite qualifying nights per year, and for having a co-branded credit card you’ll get 15 elite nights, so really you’ll only need 35 nights per year to earn Platinum status.
So yes, you’ll be entitled to complimentary suite upgrades, but you’ll be competing with a lot of people.
I don’t think Marriott will enforce the policy that rigidly
Historically my perception is that Starwood is much stricter than Marriott when it comes to making sure that hotels are compliant. This is true in several ways.
For one, I suspect that there will be a learning curve here for hotels. Given that Marriott has thousands of hotels, there will probably be a lot of hotels that are slow to learn the new policy. Starwood has historically been good at implementing policies across their various hotels, and it’s my understanding that they also charge hotels the most when corporate customer relations has to get involved in a dispute between a hotel and a guest.
I wouldn’t count on all Marriott hotels being onboard with these new suite upgrades overnight, and that’s because of the number of hotels we’re talking about, and also because Marriott isn’t historically as strict as Starwood when it comes to compliance.
I got a great suite upgrade at the W Verbier
How will Platinum vs. Platinum Premier upgrades be prioritized?
Technically both Platinum and Platinum Premier members will be entitled to complimentary suite upgrades subject to availability. With that in mind, how will hotels prioritize these upgrades? Based on my conversation with David Flueck, it seems like hotels will be given guidance as to what these tiers mean, and then based on that they can make their decisions as to how they want to prioritize upgrades.
Let me give an example. Let’s say a hotel has 10 suites available, and has 10 Platinum Premier members and 10 Platinum members checking in on a given day. All those members are entitled to suites, so who should get them?
- Should the hotel block Platinum Premier members into the suites before arrival, since they’ve demonstrated more loyalty?
- Should the hotel not block suite upgrades, and just upgrade all Platinum guests on a first come first served basis?
There’s not a right or wrong answer here, and it will be up to each individual hotel to decide what method they want to use. My guess is that guests may often find themselves in a situation where they’re not proactively offered suite upgrades due to how hotels have blocked rooms. However, I imagine if you want to “pick a fight” with a hotel (which I don’t necessarily recommend doing), you’ll often find that a suite miraculously opens up.
It all comes down to the individual hotel’s management. I know from being an SPG Platinum Ambassador that at some hotels I get a “thank you for being an SPG member” at check-in (so I spend 100+ nights per year with the brand and only get thanked for having signed up for their loyalty program?), while at other hotels I get specifically recognized as being a Platinum Ambassador member.
General suite expectations
Even for us long-time Starwood loyalists, I think we’ve adjusted our expectations of suite upgrades over the years based on where we’re staying. In very general terms:
- I don’t expect to be upgraded to suites at most US properties, since there are so many Platinum members
- In Southeast Asia, the Middle East, India, etc., Platinum members are typically treated extremely well, and upgrades are readily available
- I find that Europe is a mixed bag — at major hotels in London or Paris you often won’t be upgraded, while in secondary markets it’s much easier to get upgraded
I got the sense there aren’t many Platinum guests at the Marriott Yerevan
Don’t expect Suite Night Awards to clear
In addition to complimentary upgrades at check-in, there will also be opportunities to earn Suite Night Awards as part of the Choice Benefit:
- You can select five Suite Night Awards for reaching 50 elite qualifying nights
- You can select five additional Suite Night Awards for reaching 75 elite qualifying nights
Note that this is independent of earning status, so if you qualify based on lifetime status or credit card spend, you won’t receive those.
I do think it’s important to manage expectations with Suite Night Awards, though. They clear at most five days before arrival, and they clear at the hotel’s discretion, so they don’t even have to clear these if there are suites available.
While I appreciate the benefit as such, I wouldn’t get your hopes up too high. My general experience has been that when these clear, I feel like I would have gotten a suite upgrade at check-in anyway. Don’t expect to get these to clear on Maui over Christmas, or in Aspen during ski season, or in London during summer, for example.
What are your expectations of Marriott’s new suite upgrade policy?