It’s no secret that people become highly irrational in the pursuit of loyalty programs, points and benefits. Though it’s not always easy, I try my very best never to be one of those people. I look at each travel opportunity, booking and journey with fresh eyes. If anything, having loyalty gives a hotel chain the benefit of being my first glance, but little more. If I like what I see – I’ll do a quick comparison and just book.

But when I don’t like what I see, loyalty goes out the window. In the case of a recent stay in Milan, I’m so glad it did – because not booking with Marriott at a Marriott Bonvoy property saved me a fortune, and earned me better benefits too. Here’s how that happened, and why it may be a big problem as major chains add on boutique properties.

This Stay

For this stay, I was prepared to pay up to $300 per night for a great Milan hotel. I’d seen rave reviews of a hotel with a rooftop pool, great food and quirky modern rooms. It sounded like my kind of place. Unfortunately, when I went to check Marriott.com, the rate was €340 per night, which clocks in at $385. Based on that, I would’ve lowered my price and gone for a more logical option.

But then I checked two of my new go to’s: an app in beta called Wayfarer Points, and a booking site on the rise known as Tablet Hotels.

Wayfarer had the hotel for under $300USD with tax included, as did Tablet Hotels. At the same time, Tablet was offering a 30 day free trial of Tablet Plus, their version of Amex Fine Hotels & Resorts, or Chase Luxury Hotels, which earns booking benefits.

In this instance, it was a room upgrade, bottle of wine and snacks on arrival. I booked with Tablet for under $300 all in, which was a savings of over $90 versus booking with Marriott. As you can see, I effectively got the best benefits any elite Marriott Bonvoy member would’ve received anyway.

But what about the points, right?

For this level of savings, who cares about the points. It’s generally accepted logic that the points from most hotel loyalty programs represent a 7-8% rebate for low tier members, and up to 18% for high tier members. I’ll happily forgo a 10% rebate for 24% savings or better – and better benefits.

Does this mean loyalty is dead? No. It’s just not as black and white as many people treat it to be.

The Major Problem For Chains

If guests can effectively achieve loyalty-esque benefits and pay less for a hotel, why would they ever bother with a loyalty program booking channel? If I save $90 per night, that’s going to add up to a “free stay” a lot faster than collecting points will. If I’m taken care of benefits wise, by a program like Virtuoso, Amex FHR or Tablet Plus, the perks argument goes out the window too.

Many travellers fail to realise that being a part of Marriott Bonvoy, or any other major loyalty program, doesn’t mean that Marriott owns the hotel. It can be something as simple as a management contract, and ultimately independent minds or hoteliers are behind the ownership, style and existence. View From The Wing has highlighted the issues of certain properties attempting to bend loyalty program perk rules many times, not wishing to honour frequent guest benefits.

Rather than receive a piece of the stay and let Marriott, or any other major chain take their massive cut, these hotels will always incentivise guests to book directly with the property website, or through a stream which brings a more attractive commission structure to them.

The property is much happier to ply me, or any other guest with a bottle of wine and some snacks, than lose out on significant cash on the booking, especially when they’d have to doll out benefits to elite members too. For better and worse, many hotel managers see that as a “cost” of doing business, rather than a positive.

The sheer fact that I payed less than anyone booking through the Marriott would’ve paid, and enjoyed top tier level benefits without any meaningful Marriott status says everything about this massive rising conundrum.

More and more, we’re seeing hotels undercut their own management or loyalty program contracts in favour of generating more direct revenue for the hotel. Whether that’s through agreements with some online travel agencies, or preferred booking channels with travel agents – it’s happening. If lower hotel prices exist elsewhere, loyalty will never be a smoking gun in the hotel business.

Gilbert Ott

Gilbert Ott is an ever curious traveler and one of the world's leading travel experts. His adventures take him all over the globe, often spanning over 200,000 miles a year and his travel exploits are regularly...

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14 Comments

  1. I get 17.5 points per dollar spend as an Ambassador member with Marriott (as do Titanium members) plus another 6 points per dollar using a Marriott credit card, so 23.5 points per dollar. At your $385 rate and my point valuation of 1.2 CPP (higher than what others value them at but it’s what I can regularly get) that’s worth $108 rebate, below your other $300 rate. And that’s not including promotions like the current double points which gives yet another 10 points per dollar. I also get even more points for on-site spend like meals and services. In Asia I also get 20% off paid meals too. Not to mention club lounge access, bottles of water, welcome amenity (typically wine and fruit or dessert), free breakfast, and free suite upgrades (I’m batting 65% so far this year, lower than the last two years of 80%). Plus the elite night credits that keep me at my membership level that gets me the same treatment at other Marriott properties around the world. So far I’m still sticking with Marriott although I do a sanity check every so often to make sure the overall rewards are being maximized.

    1. When it works, it works. Like many loyalty programs, the sweet stuff is almost always at the highest end, and clearly you’re batting pretty well with that. I think it’s worth mentioning that most people view Marriott points somewhere between .6 and .8 cents per point, so that is an important factor.

      I can absolutely see why you book direct, and you are a perfect example of when the system adequately rewards people. For most, or virtually all less frequent travellers, this is just a good look at what to consider. Cheers Alex.

    2. Alex, Gilbert outsized value with no stays needed. He just merely, well, booked on a specific site.
      You needed quite amount of spend to achieve those perks.

    3. you would get the credit card points regardless of how you booked if you used any travel rewards credit card. And depending on the chain and the type of booking, you’ll still get loyalty points for the stay.

    4. Hmmm Points vs cash in hands?
      the latter all the way.
      Points might devalue and you can only redeem with the brand. With cash, well you know what you can do 😉

  2. Personally I have decided to drop put of the Marriot programme after checking into London County Hall and being informed as a life time Gold member I do not have loungue access no longer worth it

  3. Doesn’t Marriott match advertised prices found elsewhere? “Our best rates guaranteed.” “Why not have one’s cake and eat it too? What am I missing here?

    1. This is where trust has been a big miss with hotel loyalty program BRG programs. Many love to claim that sites like Kayak, or Tablet specifically are member based purely on the basis of entering an email address. This, coupled with the fact that I was arriving in under 24 hours meant that I wanted to have a reservation locked in at a rate I was comfortable with, with benefits I could enjoy.

      Had I arrived in Milan to find that Marriott had arbitrarily denied my BRG claim based on some silly technicality about which website or how I booked, I would’ve been stuck with a rate $85 higher than I would’ve liked, and with no benefits at all.

      For a stay far in advance, I’m with you – it would’ve been a great cake and eat it situation. For last minute travel, I wasn’t willing to trust that Marriott wouldn’t wriggle out of it.

  4. Have you ever tried the price guarantee with Marriott. Seems this would have been a good time to try.

  5. Yeah but hyatt in Cartagena Colombia includes free parking,bar,tax is this for real “BAR”

  6. Marriott vs Hilton vs IHG. Who offers better perks in Europe and UK?

    I’m Diamond with Hilton and never tried Marriott. Occasionally I will stay with IHG when Hilton is not around and I’m not very impressed with their perks…

  7. Thank you for your post – definitely something to look into for future trips. Earlier this week I had the opposite issue — my corporate booking tool listed a Marriott that I wanted to stay at ~15% higher than what I could get if I booked directly with Marriott.
    Do i break corporate policy and book direct (and save the company money) or do I comply with policy and pay more?? I’d be interested in people’s thoughts…

  8. 1, europe- i have Hilton Diamond and Marriot titanium. its a toss up depending on the property. Hilton lounges often better and Hilton will give you free breakfast in the restaurant (if you prefer- important for me) while Marriot usually limits it to lounge. Marriot is usually better with suite upgrade If you insist.
    IHG is a totally useless program: (especially if u want free breakfast )
    2. 23 points per night at marriot or 35 at hilton is important at my calculation of value of about 75 cents per point from marriot and 35 cents for hilton. .. anything higher very hard to find and points constantly being devalued.

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