It’s been three months since Marriott officially merged its Rewards loyalty program with Starwood’s Preferred Guest, and on the outside, everything looks great. For most Starwood and Marriott members, the integration went smoothly – sure, there was a week or two when backend systems weren’t properly in sync, but in the end, accounts and customers got sorted out.

Dig a little bit deeper though, and it’s not hard to find a few loyalty members who are still unhappy with the experience. Many of these members are on the Starwood side. Prior to the merger, elite Preferred Guest members were used to a high standard for customer support and onsite care. Now, many think that the newly merged program is not as rewarding.

At Skift Global Forum in late September, Marriott CEO Arne Sorenson asked unhappy Starwood loyalty members to “hang with us,” that the kinks were being worked out.

To get an idea of how Starwood members are adapting to the new combined loyalty program three months in, Skift interviewed five travelers to get their takes. Then, we asked Marriott about how some of those complaints were being addressed. Their stories and Marriott’s responses are below.

Robert Dotson, 55, Consultant to Philanthropy, Dallas, Texas

Skift: What was your elite status with Starwood before the merger?

Robert Dotson: Platinum

Skift: We’re three months into the full integration with Starwood and Marriott. What’s working well?

Dotson: All properties have correctly recognized my status, my point balances combined flawlessly, and my Lifetime Status mapped over accurately.

Skift: What’s not working so far?

Dotson: IT integration, while complex, has been poorly delivered. Attempts to apply suite night awards online with the new system have been futile. Simply updating award reservations to new and lower point pricing has required multiple calls, long wait times, and ultimately manual intervention. Website feel and access to property information makes the digital experience shockingly regressive compared to SPG.

Skift: Do you feel that your former status at Starwood is properly being recognized at Marriott?

Dotson: My former SPG status has been consistently recognized at Marriott properties, but the warmth and enthusiasm of the greeting is usually more muted. I have needed to remind properties that they have suites available, and they have acquiesced. The breakfast benefit can be a debacle, with a Courtyard telling me the $10 food and beverage credit had to be utilized by midnight following afternoon check-in, rendering it useless for breakfast.

Skift: If you could share one thing with Marriott CEO Arne Sorenson, what would it be?

Dotson: SPG was excellent at rendering white-glove hospitality and customer support, much like I receive with Virtuoso. My Marriott experiences have largely had more of a 3.5 star basic business ethos. There is certainly more heart, mind, and wallet share to be won by improving this metric, as the SPG acquisition moved Marriott further into the upmarket realm, and I would love to see them fully capitalize on this significant revenue upside.

Jason Wu, 36, ProcuREment at a SilIcon Valley Tech Company, San Francisco, california

Skift: What was your elite status with Starwood before the merger?

Wu: Gold, though I was Platinum with Marriott

Skift: We’re three months into the full integration with Starwood and Marriott. What’s working well?

Wu: I’m a fan of the greater number of choices for hotels to stay at in the cities I visit (primarily China). It makes it a lot easier to stay in the network when traveling.

Skift: What’s not working so far?

Wu: Seems like there are still gaps in the systems syncing up. My iPhone app shows 41 nights stayed, whereas the website shows 37. It also seems like room upgrades are pretty meager. I haven’t been upgraded to a suite or anything this year for any of my stays — even though it’s supposed to be based on availability…are all of their suites always booked?

Skift: Do you feel that your former status at Starwood is properly being recognized at Marriott?

Wu: Definitely. When they merged the programs, they combined the years of platinum for the lifetime platinum calculations. So I’m sitting at nine years out of 10 needed now and will be able to hit the 10th year this year. The merger made the 10 year hurdle a lot easier to hit this year.

Skift: What would you like to tell Arne Sorenson?

Wu: SPG Ambassadors for the Platinum 100 tier was a super awesome perk. I had great experiences with my ambassador back in the day — so I hope they enable the Marriott ambassadors with the same amount of decision making ability. A highlight being the time they helped arrange a suite to be decorated for a princess party as part of a joke for a buddy’s bachelor party. The hotel and ambassador went all out, it looked like a pink unicorn had vomited in the room — it was amazing.

Matthew Stolen, 36, Financial Services Compliance Officer, Portland, Oregon

Skift: What was your elite status with Starwood before the merger?

Stolen: 75 Night Platinum

Skift: What’s working well for you?

Stolen: All properties have correctly recognized my status, my point balances combined flawlessly, and my Lifetime Status mapped over accurately.

Skift: What’s not working so far?

Stolen: It was a really rough go at things immediately following the merger but things are improving, albeit slowly. Within the past week I’ve received emails indicating that I modified a reservation when I actually didn’t. I’ve limited my phone calls to Marriott because I still can’t seem to get the right answer all the time, and if I do, it takes multiple transfers and longer than it should. Phone calls are still not being returned, emails ignored.

Skift: Do you feel that your former status at Starwood is properly being recognized at Marriott?

Stolen: Yes and no. While the benefits that Marriott offers to its upper tier elite members were for the most part on par with Starwood, there were some differences, but they were for benefits I rarely used. Where Marriott is falling behind is the main reason I stayed so loyal to SPG for 9+ years. And that’s customer service at the properties. I actually felt welcomed at Starwood properties, where at Marriott most employees seem to care less whether I was staying there or not.

Skift: What do you want to say to Arne Sorenson?

Stolen: Simple: empower your employees to make decisions and give them a reason to care. Because from where I stand right now, they are not, and they don’t.

Stacey Segal, 46, VP of a Technology Consulting Firm, Charleston, South CArolina

Skift: What was your elite status with Starwood before the merger?

Segal: 75 Night Platinum

Skift: What’s working well?

Segal: The variety of hotels and choices is by far the most positive aspect of the merger. Beyond that, I don’t think much is working well.

Skift: What’s not working so far?

Segal: Recognition of elite status isn’t working post-merger. Before the merger, I would get upgrades about 99 percent of the time, since the merger, I have had one upgrade in 30 nights. Additionally, I often book rooms for more than one person. On the Marriott website, I can only book rooms three at a time, so I have to create multiple reservations. Much of the functionality of the SPG website was lost in the merger. SPG had a superior website and it’s become increasingly frustrating using the Marriott website.

Skift: Do you feel that your former status at Starwood is properly being recognized at Marriott?

Segal: No. As I mentioned, I used to get upgrades regularly, without asking, and that’s all but disappeared. I also used to get personalized welcome amenities with some regularity and that hasn’t happened – in fact it stopped happening about 2-3 months before the merger – the writing was on the wall.

Skift: Your message to Arne Sorenson?

Segal: I would also say that the customer service focus that SPG had — especially on Twitter — has been non existent. I tweeted with an issue about a Marriott hotel on October 6th and mentioned both Starwood and Kimpton in the tweet (comparing back-to-back stays) I got a response same day from Kimpton. After several more tweets, I still hadn’t heard back from Marriott, but by then Kimpton offered to match my status. I got a response from Marriott last week, about a problem I had on Oct 6th. Compared the the SPG Twitter experience, Marriott falls far short and should really be focused on alternative methods of providing service because I don’t have time to call, but I do have time for a tweet.

MaX K, Software Consultant, Washington, D.C.

Skift: What was your elite status with Starwood before the merger?

Max: Platinum

Skift: We’re three months into the full integration with Starwood and Marriott. What’s working well?

Max: The program integration ended up ok value wise. Very little has actually changed from what Marriott offered before – which falls under the “working” category too because I haven’t seen too much Marriott “culture bleed” over into SPG properties!

Skift: What’s not working so far?

Max: It’s pretty much what I expected. Marriott’s IT systems are a disaster (as they always have been) and the culture of recognizing status at Marriott properties, something that seemed to always be top of mind for Starwood employees, is nowhere near what SPG delivered. If anything I’d say very little has actually changed – which falls under the “not working” category because so much was promised re Marriott becoming “better.”

Skift: Do you feel that your former status at Starwood is properly being recognized at Marriott?

Max: Definitely not. The five-tier system is confusing and one of the best parts about SPG was a highly consistent and predictable experience at every location. With this merger and the addition of Marriott properties into the fold I can no longer count on the consistent experience. I will still choose an SPG property (like Westin, W, etc) over a traditional Marriott any day.

Skift: What would you tell Arne Sorenson?

Max: Thomas Mangas and the Starwood team made business travelers and loyalty a huge part of every decision. Marriott has a long way to come if they want to retain these brand advocates; especially considering the rise of start ups in this space.

I personally love HotelTonight’s VIP program and one of my clients is using TripActions nowadays, which has its own program (and the company has pushed hard to have staff ignore status levels and rely on TripActions’s recommendations), so the “value” of hotel loyalty continues to decrease for me.

Marriott responds

In light of some of the recurring themes seen amidst the user feedback, Skift reached out to John Wolf, vice president, loyalty, digital and marketing innovation PR at Marriott International, to get further insight into how it’s making progress in the integration:

Skift: Some of the feedback I’ve seen is that the site and IT capabilities are now not as strong as what SPG offered on its own. Is there anything you’re doing to polish up the experience and take IT integration to the next level?

Wolf: The unification of the loyalty programs was the largest technology project undertaken by Marriott. We introduced new digital capabilities to both SPG and Marriott Rewards members, including the ability to seamlessly book, earn, and redeem throughout the loyalty portfolio on all our channels, and access to digital features on our apps, which are rated five stars in the Apple App Store, like mobile check-in and checkout, mobile requests, and greater availability of hotels where a mobile device can be used as a room key. Marriott Rewards Platinum members for the first time also got access to Suite Night Awards.

During this unprecedented integration, technology issues have arisen that impacted some members, including the use of Suite Night Awards. As we have identified these issues, we have worked quickly to fix them and appreciate our members patience.

Skift: Many report emails not being responded to and tweets being ignored. Anything you’re doing to ratchet up customer communications?

Wolf: We recognize that some members encountered issues when they reached out to us after Aug. 18. Since then, we have added staff in our Customer Engagement Centers which has greatly reduced call wait times and email response times. In addition, we have adjusted processes, introduced technology and provided additional training for representatives, so members get the answers they need when reaching out to us.

Skift: Many complain that upgrades are not as frequent and status is not recognized as often as it used to be. Is that just a function of more elites in the pool so it’s harder to feel unique?

Wolf: Since unifying our three programs into one, members now have seamless access to more hotels in our portfolio than ever. Some of the most popular hotels are experiencing increased demand and we are working with these properties to ensure our Platinum members are being consistently recognized.

Photo Credit: One of the promotional advertisements for the merger of the loyalty programs between Marriott and Starwood. Marriott