Thanks for posting this Jasper. Sounds like the BOGO thread could be officially closed. It will be interesting to hear what changes are coming for the lifetime status. I have to admit that I've always thought that getting the 5th night free on points redemptions was a nice thing. I always look hard at taking pleasure points trips in 5-day increments when it works out.
Ed French is the Senior Vice President of Marketing Platforms & Marriott Rewards at Marriott International, and has served in this capacity since 2003. Prior to this, he served in a similar role with American Airlines
He is incredibly humble, was very courteous to following up with me after attending the Freddie Awards, and it was a pleasure to interview him on the Marriott Rewards program. Enjoy!
1. What do you enjoy about working for Marriott?Ed: It’s a great company to work for. While it is a very large and global organization, it still maintains the feel of a family company. It’s wonderful that we still have our founder’s son involved in the company as Chairman of the Board, which adds to the unique family feel. Also, we are company that is focused on at all levels at building and maintaining relationships with our customers, which makes my team’s job that much easier.
2. What is unique about the Marriott Rewards program?Ed: What sets Marriott apart is the depth, breadth, and quality of our hotel brands and properties. From the Residence Inn to the Ritz Carlton, our properties are able to provide meaningful value to consumer, across a broad spectrum of travel needs. We operate 3,800 properties in over 70 countries around the world. Each of our hotel brands is geared toward different guests, with very different needs. It’s all about having about having a hotel and a hotel brand for all of your travel needs—whether a luxury vacation, weekend family getaway, or a business trip. Ultimately, I think it is part of our DNA is to provide value and a great experience, wherever they stay.
3. What is your favorite Marriott property/favorite brand?Ed: This is the most common question I get asked, and I suppose I need a one-line answer. Honestly, I don’t have one because there are so many properties and opportunities within Marriott.That said, I did recently vacation at the JW Marriott Guanacaste Resort & Spa, Costa Rica. We were able to relax by the beach, venture through the rainforest, and indulge in seafood—all while doing it in an exotic foreign country.
Alright Ed, down to brass tax. Even though I personally like the Marriott brand of properties, not everyone does, and even I would argue there some shortcomings. Not to say any program is perfect, but it’s just the nature of the matter.
The next several questions will include some of the most common objections to the Marriott program. While I may come off as attacking, I have faith picking at the weaknesses because I know that Marriott is a very strong loyalty program, and think that this can actually bring out your strong points as well.
4. How do you justify the 50-night Gold/75-night Platinum requirements? I mean, with some other programs, I can reach top-tier with a mere 25 stays.Ed: Hotel loyalty program are not all commoditized, which I think is a good thing. We have more hotels than all but one of our competitors (who is the same size as us), and a better range of brands, from select-service brands to luxury properties. Thus, our program is not the same across the board, and we offer different things to our customers based on their needs. In doing so, we find it actually drives more loyalty. We not only have more choices at which our members can earn elite status, we also have more ways to earn than other programs. There are a number of different paths to racking up elite status with Marriott Rewards, in addition to staying at our hotels, including:
And in your defense, if one stays at your properties 3 nights each time, it seems it would be about the same as 25 stays with another program.
Also, I recently completed a 6-stay Gold challenge—good through February 2014. How many other program out there offering the same level of benefits for a mere 6 stays?Ed: Definitely. The Elite Challenges, both for Gold and Platinum Elite, have been very well received. I hear issues from some members about the elite requirements. Yet, our Gold and Platinum Elite levels are actually up 20% this year, due to all the ways we have for them to earn and retain their status. In the end, we balance benefits to make them real and meaningful for our customers.
5. It’s good to see that Marriott has added suite upgrades as a benefit to Gold and Platinum members, although based on my experience this has been going on for a while. How come there are no confirmed suite upgrades, besides using points (except at the Ritz-Carlton… GRR!!)Ed: We do in fact encourage our properties to make sure that suites are available to our elite members. That said, it can be hard to guarantee. Many of our properties sell them, while others will sometimes give them to guests booking a block of rooms or holding a conference… We are working to make sure more properties make suites available for upgrades (it is now a standard at our Asian properties and we hope to continue to expand it). Currently, our US Platinum members get suite upgrades about 10% of the time. In addition, we also upgrade our Gold and Platinum Elites to preferred rooms, with better views, etc. and to the concierge level. As a side note, our program has more Concierge and Executive lounges than any other program, primarily in our Full-Service Marriott, JW Marriott and Renaissance hotels worldwide.
6. It is good to see Marriott giving their elite members breakfast benefits when club lounges (at some properties) are not open on the weekends. But the terms and conditions state that resort properties do not have to honor this for resorts, as well as Courtyard hotels. What is your reason behind this?Ed: Marriott was the original hotel company to offer free breakfast to our most frequent guests, and over the years competitors have copied us. Today we offer breakfast 7 days a week at our hotels outside the US and Canada. Our standard for US/Canada full service hotels is to offer breakfast on the weekdays only, though many go above and beyond. We have heard loud and clear that this is an important issue for our elite members and for domestic properties, we are evaluating. But the truth is that it is incredibly expensive to provide. Hence it’s taking us a little while to decide our plan. In contrast, historically we have made a large investment in the concierge lounge while our competitors have not.
7. Have you ever thought about adding points & cash awards, like for example, Starwood has? I noticed you guys just launched a version of this, but I mean where one might spend $50 and 10,000 points instead of $150 or 25,000 points per night.Ed: Yes, I understand where you are coming from. As you know, we launched a way for our members to combine point redemptions and cash nights in an easy search and booking process on Marriott.com recently. Our goal is to make booking a redemption room easier, with more flexibility. We have in fact considered the “Starwood” option. We even evaluated our version against that of our competitor with our members, and found the attractiveness of both options to be fairly even. We went with our option both because we knew it was valuable to customers (we are seeing thousands of these redemptions in the month since launch), but also because we have other discounted reward options, including PointSavers and 5th Night Free. Remember you can use PointSavers for up to 25% off the normal award rate.
25% off is great, but what about 50 or 75%?Ed: Again, this is something we have analyzed, and we just can’t afford this as a business.
Maybe I will have to get other Marriott loyalists to revolt against this!Ed: Haha, ok. On the technical side, we added the ability to search Cash vs. Award, and even added in the PointSavers awards automatically. Ultimately, a core proposition of our program is our long list of the most popular destinations, and we provide the best value for these destinations, particularly for 5 or more night stays.
8. What is the deal with BOGOs. Why are they gone and will they return?Ed: Buy-One, Get-Ones, or BOGOs, were an offer where one could buy a meal or even a night, and get another for free. We never promoted or promised them to customers, but we did include them in our elite member kits for a number of years in the 90’s and early 2000’s. Frankly, most elites did not even know about them. In the end, it’s awfully hard to justify a 50% discount, especially when most elites did not know about them. And, of those that did, only a very small number redeemed them. At the same time, it became really hard to convince our hotels to do them, and more and more they refused to accept them, so we stopped. Unfortunately, we handled the communication poorly and our members were upset that we abruptly stopped. We continue to evaluate what we might offer along these lines, but we don’t have anything at this point that we are ready to talk about.
PFHEWW!! You survived the tough part. Now onto some (relatively) easier questions:
9. Maybe this means I am picky, but Marriott seems very good at dealing with customer disputes and resolution. What is your secret?Ed: Companies and organizations, especially Marriott, have guiding principles. Some are focused on the bottom line, and worried only about the cost of doing something. Again, at Marriott we are all about providing lasting value for our customers. So ever since Marriott started out in business as a restaurant chain, when customers have had issues, we have made sure to address them, so that they will stay with us again.
10. What do may members not realize about the program that perhaps they should?Ed: As I mentioned earlier, I think people don’t understand the depth and breadth of the brand and hotels in the Marriott Rewards program. For example, no other program has a luxury brand like the Ritz-Carlton or our large number of extended stays Residence Inn hotels. And we add 100-200 new hotels every year and expand the number of countries and cities we operate in. We have also added a number of new chains or brands in the last few years—including our recent addition of Gaylord. We have never expired our points, and although our terms and conditions technically allow for it, we have no plans to do it.In addition, folks many may now know about 5th Award Night Free feature. When booking an award using Rewards points, the 5th night(s) are free. This really makes awards much more doable for a lot of our guests. Finally, I don’t think people recognize all the different ways that there are to earn Elite-level credit. They just don’t understand that there are a number of the quick paths to elite status.
11. Why do properties such as the Springhill Suites, Fairfield Inn Edition, and the Autograph Collection not credit points for spend on incidentals?Ed: In the beginning of Marriott Rewards, we had hotels with restaurants, spas… that offered point earning on all spending. And we had other hotels, like Fairfield Inn, that only offered rooms and therefore you only earned points on that. As our group of hotel brands has become bigger and more complex, we’ve chosen to amend which of these newer brands earn points on total spend versus rooms only. It’s an economic decision, ultimately, but we know it is confusing for our guests. It’s something we’ll continue to evaluate as we grow.
Ed French gave some very honest answers. He clearly admitted when some items did not make business or economical sense, and didn't try to sugarcoat it. I always like those type of answers.
My suggestion is to have the option to book a suite with more points. The only time I want them is when I'm on vacation, and I usually use points for those trips.
"Ed French gave some very honest answers. He clearly admitted when some items did not make business or economical sense, and didn't try to sugarcoat it. I always like those type of answers."
bhamous -- that was my point exactly. Agree or disagree, his answers were frank and basic, although as pointed out in another thread (discontinued) some of the reasoning was questionable. At any rate, I'm still a happy (most of the time) MR member.
Here is a response from a Flyer Talk Member on the interview!!!
As I figured, he has provided no new information and danced around the issues important to elites. In a nutshell:
• Breakfast for elites at Courtyard/Resorts/7 days a week... too expensive, evaluating options, meaning its not going to happen.
• Confirmed BOGO is dead (we already knew that) and there will not be a replacement anytime soon.
• Confirmed Suite Upgrades - danced around this one, meaning its not going to happen.
• Marriott's version of Cash + Points, stated members wanted the ability to book an award room + paid room on the same ressie over a program similar to Starwood's. (Not sure which members they talked to about this...) Evaluated option similar to Starwood and this is something they have analyzed, but just can’t afford this as a business.
• Lifetime Status - they have some greatnews in the coming months about this program. Great for who? Whenever Ed French says there is great news, watch out because it usually means Elites are not going to like it!
I am not surprised by anything said in the interview.
Husker, et al
My takeaway form the article is that Marriott is proud of their Rewards Program, and although there are some specific areas where a competitors program may be better, Marriott is pleased with their position within the industry. I'm not here to agree or disagree, but I will say that we all should focus on liking the benefits we have instead of clamoring for those we would like to have. I think it was pretty clear that any additions to the program would need to pass the fiscally responsible test before they would even be seriously considered. I suppose that if any of us were in their position, we would operate under the same guidelines..
shoeman, you are absolutely correct. If I were a Marriott shareholder, Mr French would be doing exactly what I would expect of him. But as a Marriott frequent stayer, I am as you said, focused on liking the benefits the program offers me. As I said in the earlier post, I am, for the most part, a happy Marriott Insider, and nothing in the article changed that. I work in a job where everybody thinks they know more about my job than I do and if you don't believe it, just ask them. I'm not about to second guess Mr. French based on the article.
I didn't make the post, but I agree with part of it. Ed said the company line, which is fine & is what I would expect. I've actually met Ed & like the guy. But that doesn't negate that all of what he said makes sense and/or is a good thing for Marriott's elites.
For example, on the BOGO. The part I don't get is if, as Ed said, most elites didn't know about them & hardly used them, then why not keep them? It's offering a benefit which Marriott's elites would appreciate. Marriott looks like it's offering a bennie to elites, but knows it's not going to cost that much due to elites not really using them so won't impact revenue that much: a bit of a win-win. Same with the part on the hotels refusing to accept them. If they weren't being used that often, then why were the hotels unhappy? And it doesn't mesh with what Michelle said in the BOGO thread about why they were shut down (ie, being used too often, being sold on eBay, FDC didn't know how to process them, etc). Obviously there's a disconnect.
The other part about the BOGOs was that over the years less & less properties were included - international was excluded, as were most hi-cat, full-service properties in major domestic cities, especially on the eastern seaboard. But they were still beneficial to elites where they could be used. Same with Point Savers; fewer of them in general & again usually not the hi-cat, full service properties in major cities.
I'm not totally buying that elites said they'd rather have a cash+points system where you can combine them in one ressie (which you could do already, although it required one extra step) over the cash+points system ala Starwood. I'd like to see the #s responding to a) Marriott way; b) Starwood way - assuming they were even told about the Starwood way. Ed never actually says the focus group was given the other option to rank. (Yes, I realize those #s won't be made available).
Also, I bet those folk who were interviewed weren't told that the cash+points can't be used with AAA & other rates. There have already been examples where using the cash+points Marriott system in its current incarnation costs more than doing the resssies w/ the extra step, aka, the old way. BTW - I have no problem w/ Marriott offering a program re: combining ressies (although I do have a problem w/ AAA etc rates being excluded) & think it will prove helpful to some folk/makes sense for them to do so. But I do think it's a bit misleading to name it after a well-established program by a competitor that has a different meaning & make it sound as though it's the same. There were other names they could have named the program & gotten the concept across.
Re: breakfast 7days/week in the exec lounges/lounges being open. Marriott used to do that as recently as a few years ago (CYs & resorts excluded). When the economy took a tumble, they cut back on the weekend offerings. The main reason given was due to expense. Yet Marriott's competitors (in the same economic environment) have kept their lounges open on the weekend and/or offered cont'l brekkie 7days/week & evidently feel it's worth the expense. And the economy/hotel bookings have rebounded since that time. So the competitors trump Marriott in that area.
What I took from Ed's comment is Marriott isn't going to penalize the individual hotels who have decided to keep their lounges open and/or offer brekkie when the lounge is closed, but I don't see Marriott opening up lounges again across the US on the weekend anytime soon. BTW - as someone who has to travel for bizness on the weekends, this does impact me. Not everyone at a hotel on a weekend is a leisure traveler paying cheap rates.
Sidenote: I maintain a sticky on Flyertalk in the Marriott forum w/ the status of lounges open/closed on the weekends and/or if brekkie coupons are offered, both for domestic & int'l properties, so if someone is interested re: a property & their status, they can always check that. It takes a lot of effort to maintain & update the list, so I'm not posting it on Insiders as it would take up too much of my time to duplicate the list/updates.
Re: CYs offering brekkie (at all). I don't see that happening. For whatever reason, Marriott has decided this is a brand that won't offer it (even though HGI does). Elites have been complaining about it for years & I don't see it changing. Shrug - it is what it is at this point. I also seriously doubt that they're going to add brekkie at resorts, although again it's something their competitors do at their resorts. So on the resorts at least, the competitors trump Marriott.
What I would like to see change (and I'd push for this a lot more than the brekkie!) is that now that there are brands that offer things like restaurants/bars (CY w/ the new Bistros, SHS w/ similar), Autograph Collection, AC & let's not forget - Ritz Carltons, to get points for incidental spend. It makes no sense to me (using the high-end RC as an example) that someone spends a fortune on meals and/or spa activities at a RC & gets zero points. The same (using a more down to earth example) w/ meals/drinks at CY, SHS, Auto Collection & AC. Speaking only for myself, until Marriott provides points on incidental spends my incidental spends will be done off-site. I see no point in giving Marriott additional revenue when I don't benefit. The business/financial aspect goes both ways.
I was stunned when Ed said that Platinum members get suite upgrades in the US only 10% of the time. I knew it wasn't that high & isn't guaranteed, but quite frankly I didn't think it was that low either.
There are a # of things Marriott does right. I've been staying with Marriott for years & am Lifetime Plat. I like the consistency of the properties. I can redeem awards easily, and like the new 5th night free. Yes, Marriott elite status is more diffiult to attain but as Ed mentions, there are multiple ways to achieve & keep it. Marriott has the BRG/LNF program. Marriott started a Lifetime program long before its competitors. Because of that I stay at Marriotts more. One of the things I like about Marriott (and Hilton too for that matter, which is Marriott's equivalent in terms of brands/locations) is that there are so many brands under the company umbrella, so depending on location and/or price I've got options.
I give Marriott credit where credit is due, but I also call them on it when things aren't done well. In my opinion, that's what good customers do. For one thing, if feedback isn't given in both directions Marriott won't know what works best for its customers/elites & what doesn't & needs to be re-evaluated.