Marriott Hotel Caught Playing Games With Loyalty Perks & Upgrades
A reader reached out to us recently to help investigate a Marriott hotel that was playing games with suite upgrades. From the mountain of evidence he sent us, we decided to look into it. We saw the same thing and started writing this article.
Then, something changed.
A property in Hong Kong got caught and got a slap on the wrist from Marriott HQ. We want to let you know about this property that was playing games and also let Marriott know that customers are watching. Here’s what happened.
The Perk Involved – Refusing Suite Upgrades
Within the Marriott Bonvoy program, people with elite status are entitled to room upgrades at check in.
- Gold Elite members are eligible for upgrades within room category but not suites. Info here.
- Platinum / Titanium / Ambassador Elite members should be upgraded at check in, including eligibility for suites. Info here.
All of this is contingent on availability, of course. When you check in, if the hotel is full, suites are all sold out for paying customers, etc. then you won’t get upgraded.
The Hotel Involved – Courtyard Sha Tin Hong Kong
The Marriott hotel that was playing games is the Courtyard Sha Tin Hong Kong.
A reader contacted us with a month’s worth of evidence that this hotel is refusing to provide upgrades to eligible loyalty members. In order to not upgrade members, they have to have no available “upgrade” rooms. Let’s look.
The Marriott Courtyard Sha Tan Hong Kong claims to have 39 suites. They also have “studio” rooms, which would be considered an upgrade from a standard hotel room.
Gold members would be eligible for studio upgrades, but you need Platinum status or above to be eligible for a complimentary upgrade to a suite.
What The Hotel Was Doing
From the evidence (our research built on the mountain of evidence emailed to us by a reader) shows that the hotel was removing all suites from inventory at 1 minute after midnight. Thus, the suites (and often the studios) are “unavailable”. Because of this, you can’t receive a complimentary upgrade. The rooms aren’t available, sorry.
When I started digging into this, I saw INCREDIBLE amounts of suite availability for the next day, next week, next several days…you name it. A ton of suite availability.
At 00:01 am, a minute after midnight, all suites for “same day” check in disappear (based on local time of the hotel). It was available a minute ago, but not now. That’s oddly conspicuous.
It’s even more conspicuous when a reader records this for multiple weeks on his computer and sends us a video of it. Because the reader is identifiable in the video, we won’t post it publicly.
All of this is to say that when you show up to check in, you won’t get a suite upgrade. They’re not available. If you check your phone app to see what’s available, there’s no suite available for today, and the hotel will point that out. The hotel doesn’t have to provide free upgrades to elite members now.
It Gets Worse
This is not the first time someone has pointed out the Marriott Courtyard Sha Tan Hong Kong is playing games. In a TripAdvisor review of the hotel posted here (from March 2021), a Platinum Elite guest was told no suites were available for check in. However, she was able to search 3rd-party booking sites and find suites available for that night / through the end of their stay.
When the guests attempted to escalate, front desk staff said no manager was available. Staff said the manager would contact them on his return. Management never contacted the guest, according to the review. A very formulaic response came from Marriott HQ when they attempted to escalate it to corporate.
This begs a few questions: who knew this Marriott property was playing games? Was every suite really selling out at midnight for the next day…every day…for several weeks? Or was the hotel pulling them, in order to refuse upgrades? If that’s the case, how far up the food chain does this go? Are front desk staff being told to lie about the availability by management? Or does someone pull the suites and just count on others to see “no availability” and fall in line?
And the bigger question: after trying to escalate this to corporate, why did Marriott HQ not really dig into this to see if this property in Hong Kong is playing games?
We can’t come out and say we know for certain what’s happening. However, this is really suspicious. How could a hotel sell every suite at the stroke of midnight for several weeks running? It doesn’t pass the common sense test. When there are a TON of suites available at 11:59pm, something seems fishy that there are 0 available at 1 minute after midnight.
We can’t say for certain without more, but it’s “perception is reality” in customer service, as the saying goes. It creates a perception that the hotel refuses to offer suite upgrades to customers. In order to not have to argue and say “no, we refuse”, the hotel can circumvent this by just making all suites unavailable in their computer system. They’re refusing to honor a key perk of the loyalty program, but they can pretend that they aren’t.
After Meeting With Marriott HQ & Hotel Manager
After gathering data and confirming with other Bonvoy elite members that they were refused upgrades, this customer contacted both Marriott HQ and the hotel general manager. This happened in the background during our research for this article.
On September 11, 2021, the hotel manager (Mr. Peter Sih), our reader, and someone from Marriott headquarters had a meeting. They discussed the data and what it looked like on the surface: it seems the hotel is playing games.
Without admitting any wrongdoing, the hotel has changed its ways. I’ve checked daily for the past week, and there are “same day” suites available every day. It’s amazing that the hotel supposedly wasn’t doing anything wrong, yet things are different after the meeting.
After originally writing a scathing analysis of what the hotel was up to, something magically changed the night before our article was scheduled to post. To be fair to everyone involved, we stepped back and collected more data. It looks like the hotel has stopped whatever it was doing, and we hope people from Marriott headquarters will find a way to watch for this (here and elsewhere) in the future.
This isn’t the first time we’ve had to draw attention to anti-customer practices at a Marriott property this year. Luckily, the Ft. Lauderdale property that was fleecing its customers was reigned in by corporate after I spoke to them.
After a meeting with the hotel manager and Marriott HQ, our intrepid reader got this hotel to stop playing games with suite upgrade perks. Lesson learned: people are watching. We hope this can be a lesson learned for Marriott to keep an eye on its hotels. And we hope it also serves notice to hotels to not be shady, because people will find out and call them out.
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I have managed Marriott properties for years. Almost every suite at my property goes to comp upgrades for members. We start with the top level and work down. If we run out of suites, we offer other amenities such as view, corner rooms etc. Always.
Just happened in Grand Rapids, MI. Manager said they don’t make or allow upgrades to suites for Elites. I’m Ambassador and Titanium Life and we requested upgrade and that’s when they told me their policy of no upgrades.
What type of property is it? Document this and send it to Marriott. Unless it’s a special hotel, the manager is violating policy.
[…] Case #1: Marriott Hotel Caught Playing Games With Loyalty Perks & Upgrades by Miles to Memories. […]
I have lifetime status and I’m in a Marriott somewhere in the world over 16 nights every month. I am considering taking my business elsewhere because 1) I lost a free night certificate for one reason or another and wasn’t able to use it and 2) I have 8 available suite night that I have requested on at least 4 occasions in the last 2 years and was denied upgrades.
This was my regular hotel Pre-Covid. The rooms here are American sized and the service was excellent; I took them at their word that no suites were available. Since the rooms are big, I never thought more about it considering the average size of rooms in town. I’ve been bumped up to a “premier” room but never to a suite. If I can return to HK, I’ll ask about a suite upgrade. The hotel is in a nice location; it has a grocery store, drug store and a McD’s all on the ground floor. It also has a shuttle to the KCR. I’d hate to give all that up cos of slimy management.
Are you me? haha
I’m still processing how I feel about this article, especially to the same property that you and I frequent. If I were to take my business elsewhere it’d be to the Hilton Garden Inn in Mong Kok, but the rooms just aren’t as good as the CY HK Sha Tin. 🙁
Hotels routinely show rooms available to sell online (especially third parties who are not actually liable for anything that they do) when they’re sold out. It’s called “overselling” and it’s common practice just like it is in the airlines.
Unless you’re behind that desk and in their system you don’t know what’s available. The front desk agents are just as frustrated as the guests when something is showing available online but it’s not actually available on the property. And the front desk agents don’t need you to shove your phones in their faces when they’re just trying to do their job.
Complain about the practice of overselling. That’s the real problem here.
Brenda – to play devil’s advocate, according to the terms of the hotel loyalty programs, if they’re selling rooms right now that aren’t available, that means 1) I could get walked, and they owe me compensation, or 2) at the least they’re creating their own problems at the front desks. If a room shows as available, you can’t blame customers for asking about it. In fact, isn’t that what the hotel is trying to do here–get customer attention on the room?
Same thing happens in Hong Kong
renaissance harbour hotel located in Wan Chai
They also hold up the room and not allow for upgrade
Surely Marriott can run a simple analysis of %upgrades per status member check-in per property over period of time vs. occupancy…. Properties with at or near 0% upgrades and not near full occupancy should make such questionable properties obvious?
I have absolutely no doubt they can. There must be a desire to do such inquiries, though.
Thanks so much for holding this hotel accountable. Its the only way to make sure this practice stops.
On principle, though, I am always amazed at why hotels don’t regularly max out the use of their best rooms for frequent guests. It makes great business sense: there is no loss in revenue because the room would’ve been empty anyway. If the traveler falls in love with the suite they are much more likely to pay to guarantee getting it in the future. There would be tremendous brand loyalty and good will built up. Yet this seems to be a common practice (to leave nice rooms empty), even with the pandemic where everyone knows most suites are completely empty. I would really be interested in hearing from someone in the industry why this is so universal and widespread (the refusal to give a better room to a clearly frequent traveler). It seem to make no sense. (BTW Hyatt seems to have this figured out and that’s why I am Globalist for the first time this year and prioritizing Hyatt. And I’m lifetime Titanium Bonvoy).
I agree with you, I’ve never been able to figure out what they gain by doing it. It would be one thing if they were taking away a chance to sell the suite, but when I check in at 3 or 4 that isn’t going to happen. What do they lose by upgrading me? Harder and longer to clean? Anything else? I’m just puzzled by the reasoning behind it.
I have been an Ambassador for two years now. I have only been upgraded onsite to a suite I think twice. I always thought it was at the discretion of the hotel for the upgrade, not if available. For example, I have stayed at near-empty Marriott properties throughout the pandemic and never been upgraded. Of course, their suites could not have been full, but still no upgrade. Is is best to contact Bonvoy when this occurs? I have had excellent luck using my confirmed suite upgrades that you can choose as a benefit. About 90% of the time, these have been confirmed a few days prior to check-in.
Tony – a lot of people will use the phone app right before going into the hotel to search for what rooms are available for the nights they’re staying. Ex: if I’m showing up Oct 1 to stay for 3 nights, I search the phone app for that hotel, Oct 1-4, and see what rooms they have available. If they don’t offer an upgrade, you can ask. “I see you have x type of room available. Aren’t I eligible for an upgrade, based on my status?” Be friendly but let them know you know the info. If they say no, ask if there’s a reason. If you don’t get upgraded, you can contact Marriott HQ and point out this is not how the program works. I find their Twitter team to be pretty fast but not always the best.
This is exactly what I have been referring to for several years now with marginal properties being accepted into the system, others playing games with benefits such as upgrades. I too had this issue at several higher end properties. Making the reservation then checking before flying in to find no upgrade checking told no upgrade and my room was not ready. Hour later different Elite check in person said they had rooms available given a nice suite, not I had reserved a small jr suite. Look no further to your new CEO and his team forget it folks we’re simply sheep
I checked into a Bonvoy Hotel in Tampa, Fl (it was across the street from Bern’s Steakhouse. I believe it was the Epicurean Hotel)/ I had temporarily lost my Driver’s License and they refused my check in. I called a Manager and they checked me in with my passport and all of the supporting paperwork showing I made the reservation. It was a huge hassle though and all I wanted to do was check in to a room I had reserved MONTHS earlier. No upgrade was even asked for.
I am lifetime Titanium-a perk that is not available in future, but clearly I know my way around the program. This is not surprising that a hotel is playing games, or that Marriot doesn’t care. Since taking over the “elite” line is really no better than the regular line although possibly shorter wait times on some days. Gone are the days of concierge service but the larger issue is…there is NOT A WAY to contact corporate, even for elites. Escalation cannot be easily managed, if at all. To me this says to all future status holder…take your loyalty elsewhere, Marriot is not going to care that you’ve earned it.
I agree removing that special phone number in our profile was a real downer.
How do you contact them now?
I am Titanium status for life. Marriotts the world over play this game. Getting upgrades is like pulling teeth. Most of the higher end properties will never offer and will refuse if requested. I’ve caught them numerous times saying “unavailable”, only to check on line and see that upgraded rooms are available. It’s a rotten situation and Marriott needs to fix it.
Tim – Just as a counterpoint, I get upgraded (Titanium but not for life) at almost every stay with Marriott.
Then, ostensibly what you are saying is that there is a code in the Marriott Bonvoy system that allows for selective upgrading due to a “rating system” internal to Marriott staffers that only Marriott knows about and can actively manage.
I think that’s a large leap to claim that’s what I said. I said I get upgraded regularly. Claiming the rest of that as my point isn’t logical.
Do you get upgraded to a suite regularly?
I am same status as you Tim and rarely get upgraded at all
When I do it is usually a view upgrade and honestly not worth the arguement as the view is just at different buildings not the ocean or mountains etc…
I’ve actually given up I can’t argue 100 nights a yr it’s exhausting
Hmm. As a Titanium, I cant say I have ever had this particular game, however, I have had alot of “faux” upgrades from other brands in Bonvoy where the room looks like a motel deluxe and they try to convince me its an upgrade. Its as if they know one should be complimentary, they dont give one, but stick the upgrade card in anyway. When I ask whats the upgrade, the response is usually “a high floor” or “the Nespresso basic machine as opposed to a hot pot.” I dont drink coffee and always request high floors anyway so…Not amused.
These suite nights seem to be NEVER available…but I cant complaun because when I AM OFFERED REAL UPGRADES, it has always been an amazing room/suite or view.
I have had your same experience several times
I have seen this happen, and then I pull out my phone at the front desk and show them if I make a reservation right there and then suites are available. So why not for upgrade. Has happened at various properties, always hear different excuses.
This has been going on at so many properties for so long it’s ridiculous. Marriott is a trash company and has ruined Starwood Preferred Guest. This article treats lying and denying benefits by Marriott properties as somewhat of a rarity. It is constant.
Interesting. I always thought suite upgrade is not a guarantee even if there is availability. In the US, I almost never get upgraded to a suite with Marriott unless I use a suite upgrade certificate.
MIke – depends on status level, obviously. However, you are eligible for “best room available, including suites” or however it’s written in the program.
Bonvoyed by Marriott yet again. It’s like playing whack-a-mole with this “loyalty program” to get any of the promised benefits. Shame Shame Shame.
One of the reasons I am leaving Bonvoy, it simply does not pay off to be an elite there.
Sad operation when they put effort in to deny elites benefits… 🙁
Where do you recommend moving to?
Hyatt is the best by a long shot, but both Hyatt and Hilton both far superior to Marriott now.
[…] A Marriott Courtyard was removing all suite inventory on the day of check-in and only selling suites through third party …. […]
Great investigating reporting. With NO political agenda.
This is shocking. Before Covid I must have stayed at this hotel 3 or 4 times a year. It was always one of the cheapest Marriott properties in HK. I didn’t mind the long trek to and from Kowloon and Hong Kong island. It was a relatively quiet area and the hiking trails were great.
I am a platinum member and I don’t ever remember getting a complimentary upgrade to a suite. Maybe I got one once but I don’t think so. I was never expecting one given that it was a Courtyard and the price was usually $80 or less all-in. I was though almost always given a room on a high floor with a good view. The front desk people were always wonderful and helpful. I still get an e-mail from them every year on my birthday.
This news will make me think twice about staying there the next time I am in HK. It sad to hear because I never would have thought they would do something like this based on how good the hospitality was.
As suite upgrades were previously available between midnight and 00:01, did any Marriott Bonvoy members successfully make a reservation to take advantage of the 60-second elite upgrade booking window?
Ken – That time window actually doesn’t matter. You can book any time. However, you can’t upgrade yourself during that small window of 1 minute. The hotel must upgrade you at check in (or approve in advance with your use of Suite Night Awards).
Thanks Ryan. This scam is an excellent example of more continuing crap of big Bonvoy bilking and Bonvoyed bullsh*t.
Standard Operating Procedure for USA Marriott hotels is to just not provide an upgrade. When I check in, I will tell them i see three Suites for sale on Marriott.com and they tell me they aren’t supposed to do “free” upgrades . Status doesn’t matter. Marriott corporate could not care less. They don’t even bother responding. Bonvoyed!
Literally everything I was going to say! 1000% agree.
I don’t get why the hotel was doing it. The upside for the customer experience is huge. The downside for the hotel is minimal. Sure, a slightly larger room is cleaned, but the net cost of that is tiny vs someone writing on social media about a great upgrade and great experience and just one person staying at that hotel as a result.
Hell, as a Titanium member, I had a 5 night cash stay in Costa Rica Marriott resort this past August and tried to use my suite upgrade certs.
Kept checking not only to see if the upgrade cleared but also if the same suite was a available for reservation.
10 days out…5 days out.. 3 days out still not cleared.. and still available… 2 days out I get an email that upgrades did not clear.. and now the suite is not in the inventory.
I will stick to Hyatt.
Jun – are you saying that 3 days before your trip the suites were available for every night of your trip? Marriott is supposed to start working on confirming the suite upgrade 5 days prior, so you were definitely in the window. If so, did you tell Marriott customer service about it?
Hyatt did that to me in June in Paris and Nice. Tried complaining couldn’t get anybody with authority on the phone
Scott – did you notify Hyatt afterward? Wondering what their response is.
Ben over at OMAAT just had a confirmed award stay and the property did not want to honor it. A call to the service team resulted in a call to the property, which resulted in the award stay ultimately being honored. Shameful.
Look, this is the way that these loyalty programs work. The programs attract the worst type of property owner and the programs know it. I had been a multi-year Ambassador Elite. Every year, I was stiffed — even at Category 8 properties. I was expressly told, “We’re simply not going to upgrade you for seven days.” Or, “This room is good enough.” Seriously? And, if this garbage happens to an Ambassador Elite, what you suppose happens to those at lower tiers? What a shameful legacy Bill Marriott has left. It truly saddens me.
I have moved away from hotel networks that have loyalty programs. I now develop one-on-one relationships with the teams at specific properties in specific cities. They know me as a regular — I take care of them and they take care of me. That’s true bi-directional loyalty.
You’ve all be told.
It is great that this was flagged but it is definitely the tip of the iceberg. I am sure this is widespread tactic used by local properties to keep suites open for upswell. I am sure Marriott HQ is going to give a light “slap” on the wrist to Mr. Shih.
Customer Service in Hong Kong has not been the same since 1997.
A-Hole Managers and Front Desk Staff playing games should NOT be tollerated!!! Call them out, call Marriott HQ, make a scene, ask to talk to a Manager and threaten Twiter, Instagram and other Social Media posts, unless they prove without a doubt there are NO upgraded rooms available… Enough with the Games Hotels, you must follow the rules, PERIOD.
I NEVER recommend “making a scene”. Also I never threaten anyone. Just do not stay there anymore and report them to corporate.
I was a travel agent for 29 years. I had a client take his family skiing in Steamboat, CO, over Easter. When they arrived in Denver, the care rental agency had no vehicles. He had confirmed reservation from the agency (I worked for Amex at the time), so he went back and forth with the car agents. After 10 plus minutes of getting no where, he ordered his family members to put all their luggage on top of the rental counter. The agents could not see over the counter. Imagine 5 ski bags,5 boot bags, 5 suitcases and a variety of carry-ons stacked on the counter. After 10 minutes the agency found the family a vehicle. So making a scene does work! Maybe you, Mr. Johnson, can sacrifice your vacation, but most people cannot just meekly walk away!!!
While if someone needs a suite, I always suggested that they reserve what fits their needs and not rely on status to get what they need. But considering how the travel market has exploded, one many times has to make scene to get what they reserved.
We’ll see if there any consequences for Peter Shih.
I really appreciate you posting this article because Marriott and their properties need to be called out and held accountable. The fact that members have gone to the lengths that they have to expose this shady behaviour tells Marriott that your most loyal guests don’t trust in your brand.
Sad to say but these days Marriott genuinely doesn’t care about the customer. When a hotel is caught doing something really egregious that garners publicity, Marriott will step in as damage control but not out of concern about the customer. I miss the time when Marriott had integrity.
Courtyard Sha Tin sucks – stayed there once and received the coldest service from front desk and service staff.
There is no customer service anywhere anymore. They blame everything on the Covid virus and lack of help.
I wanted to ask about something and maybe you can help. Spent a night recently at the Marriott Burlington courtyard and booked a standard room with points. I was hoping to be upgraded to. Lake view room or suite which were both available on the day of check in. However, when I checked in the front desk manager said I could not be upgraded to any room because I had already checked in on the app and she couldn’t change my room assignment. Should I not check in on the app for a chance at a better upgrade? I am titanium with 83 nights this year
That’s totally not true, because people can have their rooms changed for a host of reasons (something is broken, you need a wheelchair-accessible room, etc.). Also, I’ve personally checked in through the app and then be moved to a different room at check in–just this month, in fact. I call BS.
If I want an upgrade I’ll usually wait to check in at the desk. Find it easier and more successful. If I don’t care then I’ll do an app.
yeah total B. Ask to speak to manager, even if it does not work this time it sends a message to Bonvoy bandits.