Large mergers in the travel industry have rarely been a net positive for customers. There are some benefits, such as larger networks for certain airlines. But, those have come with the trade-off of less rewarding loyalty programs and, in many cases, higher fares. The Marriott acquisition of Starwood is no different.
When the merger was first announced, I was pretty sure it wouldn’t be an overall good thing for Starwood Preferred Guest members. SPG prided itself on technology, cool experiences and some top-notch unique hotels. Marriott had a large footprint but not much else that I wanted as a loyal SPG member.
Marriott did roll out a few positive improvements for their members, like late checkout (though they did it in a botched sort of way).
This is a significant change even though it doesn’t change the cancellation timeframe significantly. It follows an earlier move late last year to roll back same-day cancellation policies at many hotels to a 24-hour cancellation penalty.
A 72-hour cancellation policy hurts business travelers like me the hardest. Leisure travelers generally set their travel plans further in advance. Additionally, they’re less likely to cancel a trip at the last-minute.
As a business traveler, I frequently make changes to my travel plans as I go. If meetings or schedules change, I’m always happy to get home to the family early. There are also plenty of times where I need to end up in a different city at the last-minute, or change to a different area in a city due to local conditions.
As a top-tier elite member of both SPG and Marriott, I suspect that I’ll have some wiggle room with this policy. SPG has shown flexibility in the past when I need to change a reservation that’s past the cancellation window.
However, I’ve always known that was an exception. Going forward, I’ll be relying on the benevolence of Marriott more when my plans change. That’s not a recipe for success.
The Final Two Pennies
Marriott has already said they hope to have a merged loyalty program with SPG by the end of 2018. While we wait those 18 months, Marriott is going to make it harder to do business with them.
We’re in something of a boom economy where hotels are having less trouble filling rooms. Hotel chains have been less rewarding with promotions and bonus points, no big surprise.
Now, Marriott appears to be seizing on increased demand and the breadth of their network to pinch customers just a bit more.
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