The Travel Troubleshooter: Oh no, my hotel rewards have been downgraded!

Question: My husband and I have been members of Marriott’s loyalty program, Marriott Rewards, for decades. We’re also Marriott Vacation Club owners. We have a problem with a rewards stay we were hoping you could help us with.

About a month ago, I contacted the Marriott Vacation Club office to make a reservation for a vacation stay next year, and I asked the employee to check on a seven-day hotel award, which I thought was about to expire in a few months. I was informed that the award had been converted into 25,000 points and credited to our account.

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I asked to speak with a supervisor, since I preferred seven days to 25,000 points. The supervisor said the only thing he could do was to offer us a five-day award. He said some mass emailings went out last year notifying readers that our type of seven-day hotel award would expire at the beginning of the year. I expressed my disappointment in having to accept his offer.

I searched the Web and my saved mail messages for the announcement of the hotel awards expiring in January. I found nothing. So I went to the Marriott’s customer service website and emailed from their site a note asking them to please send me a copy of that mass email announcement about the awards expiration. I also expressed my concern that we did not receive a personal call, letter, or email notifying us of a change in the expiration date. After two weeks, I mailed a letter. I still have received no response. Can you help? — JJ Mortensen, White Rock, NM

Answer: Can Marriott arbitrary downgrade all of its seven-day awards to five-day awards? In a word, yes.

Check out the Terms & Conditions of Marriott’s Rewards program. It says Marriott and its travel partners have the right, “without limitation, to change, limit, modify or cancel Program Rules, regulations, rewards, and reward levels at any time, with or without notice, even though such changes may affect the value of points or miles already accumulated.”

Put differently, Marriott reserves the right to downgrade your award certificate. It doesn’t even have to tell you about its decision.

This rule isn’t unique to Marriott. Every major airline, car rental company and hotel loyalty program does the same thing — yet another reason that collecting miles and points may not be a habit worth getting into.

Still, just because Marriott could downgrade the certificates and not tell you doesn’t mean it should. Hotels are in the hospitality business, and no one wants an unhappy guest. Since you are a loyal, longtime customer, Marriott should have tried to work with you to figure out a way of addressing your grievance, rather than leave you with two bad options.

Sending an email to Marriott was the right idea. But instead of asking it for evidence of the mass mailing, maybe you should have presented your problem and suggested a solution. You wanted seven nights, not five. How about asking for it? If 25,000 points wasn’t acceptable, maybe 30,000 points would have worked?

If you had framed your request in that way, as a good customer who was unhappy with the Marriott Rewards program changes, but with options for how to fix it, I think you might have received a different response. Actually, make that a response — period.

There’s nothing simple about award programs. When the rules change, it can take a while for employees to understand what’s happened and how they can work with customers who might run into trouble with redeeming their points. I thought there might be some confusion on Marriott’s side, given the way in which it handled your initial query.

I contacted Marriott on your behalf. A representative responded to you quickly, confirming my suspicion that the employees you worked with were ill informed about the program changes. “The Marriott Vacation Club representatives that you spoke with were correct in that we no longer offer seven-night standard hotel rewards, but were mistaken when they informed you that we no longer have seven-night travel package rewards,” a representative told you.

Marriott offered you a seven-night award and gave you another year to use it.

(Photo: josh e v9/Flickr Creative Commons)

9 thoughts on “The Travel Troubleshooter: Oh no, my hotel rewards have been downgraded!

  1. Use it or lose it should be the motto of the rewards programs. Since airlines and hotels can change their programs unilaterally at any time, hoarding points is a bad idea. Marriott Vacation Club is essentially a time share, another dubious proposition. When dealing with hotels, cash is king.

      1. Coupons, script, points etc. are always limited and restricting. If you are paying cash, there’s no blackout dates and you can book any property you want. With cash you can go to any hotel or fly any airline, with script you are handcuffed.

        1. What confused me was I thought that you were implying a behavioral change, e.g. get a cash rewards card instead of a loyalty program card, etc. But the lack of context was difficult.

  2. The OP is a time share owner with Marriott Vacation Club and depending upon the time share purchased, location, etc., it is common for the time-share owner to receive rewards certificate from Marriott Vacation Club for stays at Marriott hotel properties through Marriott Rewards, the frequent guest program of the Marriott brands of hotels.

    It wasn’t too clear in the article but I am 99% sure that the seven-night travel package rewards certificate came from being a time-share owner with Marriott Vacation Club NOT being a member of the Marriott Rewards program. In other words, this certificate was ‘earned’ for being a Marriott Vacation Club time share owner not a frequent guest of the Marriott Rewards program.

    It is very common for some hotel chains (Marriott, Hilton and StarwoodSPG) to have time-share operations which are separate operations from their hotel operations just like Southwest Airlines having Southwest Vacations which is a separate (as well as not being owned by Southwest) entity. Sometimes there are ‘operational challenges or issues’ between operations.

    The bottom line is that Marriott Vacation Club (MVC) issued a reward cerfiticate from Marriott Rewards (MR) (which they purchased from MR) which the terms between the two entities were changed affecting the certificates that MVC sent out to their time-share owners. If the OP called a customer service rep (CSR) at MR instead of talking to CSRs at MVC, the problem would have been resolved.

    1. That’s certainly one way to to it. It really depends on the personality type and how invested you are in the program. If you believe, as I do, that a frequent flier account is like any other deposit account and ought to be managed as such, then hoarding points/miles, is okay because you’re unlikely to find yourself in the OP’s situation. I would redeem points for stays in expensive places such as Paris and Rome.

      If, however, you are more casual about your loyalty program status, then you should probably redeem them regularly to prevent lose through devaluation.

    2. I don’t think that this situation had any thing to do with hoarding of points or a change in the Marriott Rewards program. I could be wrong but I am 99% sure that all of the facts were NOT presented in the article.

      I have cashed in points for stays (a standard reward) longer than seven days recently. This morning, I went to the Marriott website and it allow me to select a period longer than seven days (i.e. 17 days) for a standard reward.

      In the terms and conditions, http://www.marriott.com/rewards/terms/usetrms.mi#hotel, for Marriott Rewards….nothing is stated that you are restricted to five days only for a standard reward stay.

      When you book a reward stay, you receive an e-certificate or a paper certificate that you present to the hotel upon checking in. If you cancel your reward reservations, the reward certificate will be cancelled and all points will be credited back to your Marriott Rewards account (source: http://www.marriott.com/redemption/instructions.mi#question8)

      I went to Marriott Vacation Club (i.e. timeshare) website. You can earn Marriott Rewards from Marriott Vacation Club activities. It is my guess that the OP earned a Marriott Reward certificate from their Marriott Vacation Club (MVC) activities based upon the statements in the article that the OP interactions were with MVC NOT with Marriott (the hotel company) or Marriott Rewards.

      Here is my guess on what took place: 1) The OP received a certificate in the mail from MVC for their activity at MVC. 2) Then MVC changed the reward amount (i.e. the highest reward was five nights instead of seven nights). 3) MVC sent out communications stating that the certificates that they sent out to MVC members will change from 7 nights to 5 nights if they are not used by xx/xx/xx.

      When you cash in Marriott Rewards points, you first must select a hotel (since different hotels have different points redemption levels) before an e-certificate or a paper certificate is sent to you. Therefore, I am 99% confident that the OP received the cerifiticate from MVC for their activities at MVC since you can’t cash in Marriott Reward points and receive a certificiate without selecting a hotel property. I could be wrong but I think that the whole story wasn’t presented…this has nothing to do with Marriott Rewards but with Marriott Vacation Club (i.e. timeshare) changing a reward amount for its program.

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