Recent Experience Shows How Marriott Properties Treat Award Bookings Differently Than Paid Bookings

Walt Disney World Dolphin with palm trees and a body of water

Since Marriott acquired Starwood Preferred Guest a few years ago, the number of paid stays I’ve had with Marriott have been steadily dropping.  It didn’t start out intentional, but I did find myself booking fewer and fewer Marriott stays .  I don’t go out of my way to avoid Marriott.  But, I used to go out of my way to stay with SPG.  As the years have gone by, a number of changes have caused me to continue moving business elsewhere.

Marriott has been fairly intentional in establishing a loyalty program that they believe is more beneficial for hotel owners.  Every business has to make money, I certainly don’t begrudge Marriott or any hotel owners who want to make a profit.  The pandemic has been tough on hotel owners, so the loss of some common services like free breakfast and daily housekeeping in the height of the pandemic was understandable.  Unfortunately, those services have been slow to come back.  I’ve had one paid stay with Marriott this year.  My average nightly rate was $300 and I still had to go back and forth with the front desk to get daily housekeeping.

More recently, I had an experience with an award booking at a Marriott property that shed some light on how some properties handle award bookings versus paid bookings.  I booked a room using points at the new Walt Disney World Swan Reserve opening at Disney World.  It’s a sister property to the Swan and Dolphin, two Marriott (legacy SPG) properties located on Disney World property.  A friend of mine also had a booking at Swan Reserve a few weeks before me.  Their booking was a paid booking.  They were notified by the reservations team at the Swan/Dolphin that the Swan Reserve wouldn’t be open in time for their reservation.  Additionally, the Swan/Dolphin reservation team went ahead and moved their reservation over to one of the other existing hotels that had availability.

a building with a large green pyramid shaped building
Walt Disney World Dolphin and Swan

My experience was a bit different.  Here’s the text of the e-mail I received from the reservations team at the Swan:

We hope you are safe and well.  We are grateful you have chosen to redeem your award points for our new property, the Walt Disney World Swan Reserve.  We regret to inform you however, that due to construction delays beyond our control, the Walt Disney World Swan Reserve will not be open at the time of your reservation. We greatly apologize for any inconvenience this may cause.

You can cancel your reservations directly through the Marriott Bonvoy website.  Points will be returned to your account within 24 hours after the reservation and certificate are canceled.

We invite you to rebook at our sister properties the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin, both currently offering availability during your reservation dates. Both are Bonvoy Rewards Category 6 hotels  offering the same great location, amenities and Disney benefits as the Swan Reserve.

Your confirmation number from your original reservation remains active and therefore, any theme park or other reservations made through the MyDisneyExperience app will remain intact.

Should you have any questions or wish to make alternative arrangements, please feel free to reach us or 800-227-1500 during the hours of 8am – 8pm Monday – Friday and 8:30am – 7pm Saturday and Sunday.

Once again, we send our sincere apologies, as unforeseen circumstances led to this delay. Thank you for your loyalty, patience and understanding. We look forward to welcoming you soon.

Customer Experience Matters

Interestingly enough, neither the Swan or Dolphin are sold out for my dates.  Each has award reservations, and as of last night, it would have cost me fewer points to book the trip at Swan or Dolphin.  And, the cash rates right now for those dates are in the low to mid $200s per night, which is middle of the road for that property.  That seems to indicate they’re not close to a sold-out situation.  At first blush, I don’t see a reason why they wouldn’t want an award stay for those dates (unless they disagree with the Marriott reimbursement rate or are incredibly short-staffed, both possible).

Rebooking me at another property they own, right across the street, is a pretty easy service recovery here.  That’s why I’m puzzled they chose to treat the folks on cash rates differently than folks on award stays.  Our family has spent thousands of dollars at Swan and Dolphin over the years, and I have a pretty high level of elite status with Marriott.  That doesn’t seem to have played a factor here, either.

At the end of the day, I’m not mad.  I’m just puzzled.  What’s the upside for Marriott or the Swan here?  Implicitly saying your award booking isn’t as good as a paid booking undermines the foundation of a loyalty program.  The property has made no other attempt to contact me to make sure I’m aware of the cancellation.  I would imagine there will be at least a few customers who miss the e-mail notification and show up at the Swan Reserve without a hotel room.

The Final Two Pennies

It’s hard to blame Marriott here, in that they don’t really get involved in accommodating guests in situations like this.  The vast majority of properties in the Marriott system are franchised and make their own decisions about such items.  Still, the actions of Marriott properties reflect positively or negatively on Marriott.  Those actions influence future behavior.

In this case, Marriott hadn’t refunded my points when I originally received the cancellation notice (they have now after a phone call to customer service).  To make sure I had a place to stay for my upcoming trip, I went ahead and booked a room at the Hyatt Regency Grand Cypress, right around the corner.  It’s a bit further drive, but I don’t need any of the onsite Disney perks for this trip.  Instead, Hyatt will get my business that week. The hotel will get a small amount of money from Hyatt for my award redemption.  And, I’ll be sure to patronize the hotel with incidental purchases while I’m there.  Most importantly, both will be solidifying my belief that Hyatt understands and appreciates their customers.

a swimming pool next to a body of water with Mount Bonnell in the background
Hyatt Regency Grand Cypress

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  1. Pizza you should be mad. The Reserve stopped taking new bookings for the first two week of September in June. Then stopped taking bookings for the third week of September in July. They knew they were not opening but didn’t reach out to folks until days away from the opening. I called in the summer after noticing this and was told the reservation would be honored. I called in early August asking if the pool or restaurants would be open for my September reservation and they said call next week.

  2. Giving the hotel the benefit of the doubt here but hotels are not able to change reservations made with points, that has to be done by the call center or directly by the customer on the website. It’s quite easy to transfer a paid reservation to another hotel however it’s not possible to transfer a certificate to another hotel which is probably why they asked you to cancel the existing reservation and rebook yourself.

    1. Timothy, you may be right, but they own all 3 hotels and they share a common reservation system which works a bit differently than most. I think they could have made the move. At worst, they could have facilitated more than they did.

  3. I’m Lifetime Platinum and I never need to book another Marriott reservation ever again. And now, I rarely do. Properties don’t honor status and Marriott corporate could care less. Limited service properties at a low rate are the norm these days.

  4. What is interesting to me is the sentence “You can cancel your reservations directly through the Marriott Bonvoy website.” What would happen if you kept the reservation open? Would the property be somehow penalized by Marriott Bonvoy if they are the ones to cancel it?

  5. I agree with you that it’s bad service but my guess is that they don’t have the ability to alter the certificate or points stays. It’s still a Marriott problem but my guess is that the property is more willing to lose you than a cash booking so that is also a factor. Much like a non-rev getting bumped on a flight but worse because they didn’t rebook you. I guess it could be worse…”Dear Ed, we love you but we have a bunch of guest paying CASH so we moved you to the Fairfield Inn in Orlando which is conveniently located near the Greyhound station . Don’t worry though we value your business and due to your loyalty and status they agreed to upgrade you to a Jacuzzi Suite on the side of the hotel without semi truck parking and you can still find an Uber to WDW” 🙂

    1. Dan, LOL that would be worse. I still think they can move me to another hotel they own and control. If that was the desire, I bet Marriott could work that out pretty easily. Clearly, that was not the desire.

  6. True award bookings are never ever treated the same as cash bookings despite your award level. Recent stay out me in a 2nd floor room facing a garage (award points) while my father had a cash paid room (same king – same status – Gold) & got a top floor room with view plus free breakfast. I was told my free breakfast was not included due to award terms even if my level allows for a free breakfast. I wrote 3 separate folks at Marriott & neither would over-rule the hotel owner on their interpretation of the rules – which apparently allows for a ton of flexibility on the hotel owners part. Basically, if they wish, they can give you the worse room & honor none of what you are supposed to receive no matter how high a level you had or how much you spent in real dollars this year with Marriott. .

  7. The points rate I booked at Reserve vs the current rate at Swan/Dolphin is almost 100K points more… guess we now bite our nails for 2 weeks to see if they cancel my dates

  8. I have to give you props for viewing this in such a charitable fashion. I’m trying to remember the last two things Marriott did that were only beneficial to the customer but I’m coming up empty.

      1. Welp, final update. I called the phone number listed in the email (which was disconnected…). The front desk line listed redirects to central reservations who basically just cancelled the reservation and offered me “offsite hotels which are cheaper!” which was… not entirely helpful. Feeling the Bonvoy at this moment.

        best of luck to you all in figuring this mess out!

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