I’ve been a Marriott customer for a long time. When I started my solo career as a consultant, my travel agent encouraged me to pick one chain and stick with it. At the time I chose Hilton, stayed mostly at Hampton Inns and was unimpressed. The hotels were often tired and the points system was not very generous.
Then I stayed at a Residence Inn somewhere I don’t recall, but I clearly remember walking in and seeing a message board that welcomed elite guests by name. At the front desk they were thanking guests for being an elite guest.
I switched. The big benefit was that the earned points bought more free hotel room nights, which I liked. What I valued was that my status mattered during the stay. Elite rooms were generally on a quieter floor and located at the end of the hallway away from elevators and ice machines.
Plus I was often upgraded to a corner room or even a two-room suite.
Marriott became quite successful in attracting business travelers over the next ten years. I watched as the ranks of regulars like me clogged up the “Elite” end of the check-in area.
The room rates steadily rose. Good for Marriott. Not a big deal for me. I didn’t mind paying 10% more to stay in brand. Sometimes I drove a bit farther to get a more reasonable rate. The point is I stayed with Marriott.
A few years ago Marriott switched coffee in the guest rooms. The new coffee was horrible. Just about that time, Starbucks appeared in the lobby. OK, I can deal with this, but at these prices I should get a fully stocked Keurig or Nespresso in my room.
Free coffee in the lobby disappeared from some of the brands. Upgrades were less frequent. Status soon wasn’t worth much more than a nod when checking in. The Executive Lounge amenities had dwindled to ‘bare bones breakfast’ that seemed to be open to anyone.
Loyalty is a two-way street. I am a lone traveler – that is, I am not part of a large corporation that sends thousands of workers out in the field and into hotels. Even though Marriott received 100% of my business, my business had started to seem unimportant to them.
Then Marriott changed how they price rooms on their website. They placed discounted non-refundable rates for non-descript rooms at the top of the choice list and somehow “hid” the guaranteed King Rooms. As a result, I had multiple trips in a row where I found myself given double instead of a king, plus it was next to the elevator.
“I’m sorry sir, you booked a ‘King or Double’ – all we have tonight are doubles.”
Wait what? I am Platinum Elite, staying for four nights, and you didn’t save me a King room?
“We have a large event and they reserved all the King rooms.”
Show me how to book a King room on the reservation page – hmm, you can’t. You know I pay extra to be treated well and you took that option away from me? Who the heck is your target customer anyway?
So Marriott through its actions has shown me that my business is no longer important. Perhaps that was intentional. Large corporate accounts are more lucrative I guess.
In an industry where capacity is fixed, chasing away people like me that travel year-round seems foolish, but what do I know?
It was easy to leave Marriott. Why? Status is supposed to be a deterrent to switching, but instead, it helped me leave.
At my third disappointing Marriott visit in a row, I refused the room, left the hotel, and went across the street to the Embassy Suites, a Hilton brand. I sent an email to the Hilton Honors program and they quickly gave me Diamond Elite status to match my Marriott Platinum.
Real breakfast, cocktail reception (for free!)
In the ten years that Marriott had retained me as a customer, Hilton had been improving their product and preferred traveler programs.
The cost of retaining customers is built into the gross profit from serving those customers. Retention is the cost of doing business. Status programs work if the status means something.
PS – Look at what the Hilton app can do for you during your stay. Brilliant!