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News broke Friday morning that Marriott suffered from a massive data breach affecting its database of Starwood Preferred Guest members – a disruption that may impact as many as 500 million members of the freshly merged loyalty program.
For many of Marriott’s loyalty members, especially those who came from the Starwood side of the merger, the hack didn’t come as too much of a surprise.
“From an IT perspective the merger has been very poor anyway,” said Adam Jaffe, a management consultant from San Diego who has lifetime Platinum status with the newly joint loyalty program. “I am not so worried as I am disappointed with how horrible the Marriott IT systems are — basically if I am affected by the hack — it is just a massive waste of time for me to have to fix things.”
Robert Dotson, a consultant to philanthropy who frequently stays in Starwood and Marriott properties, also characterized Marriott’s IT takeover as “poorly delivered” in a Skift profile of recently-merged Starwood loyalty members. Reached once more on the effect of the hack, he expressed little surprise. “Like millions of Marriott elites, I am deeply disturbed and disappointed about the hack. Thankfully, the Equifax malfeasance prompted me to lock my credit reports a while back, and I would encourage others to do likewise if they have not.”
Many voiced their concerns over social media as news began to spread through the morning.
The merger of @Marriott with @spg has been a total shambles and this latest episode is probably the final straw, particularly as it affects @spg members specifically. This merger is in danger of spiralling out of control. Just wish we could return to the good old days with @spg. https://t.co/RVVJUGireG
— Eric Sutherland (@EricSutherland9) November 30, 2018
Despite that disappointment, Marriott loyalty members seem committed to making the program work. Asked if the hack would change his booking habits, Barry Graham, a technology professional based in Washington D.C., shrugged off the news, noting that he found out about the breach from his mobile app Friday morning. “I am not concerned,” he admitted. “They said I would be getting an e-mail if I am affected, and they are starting to send them out today. Kudos to Marriott that I found out about this from them before I found out about it from anyone else.”
Others echoed Graham’s sentiment. “I don’t get bothered by things like this, provided the company learns from its mistakes, corrects the issue and lets its customers know about the incident and its implications for me.” said Dotson.
Indeed, Marriott’s woes may have been partially softened by the environment in which the hack happened. In the last three years, nearly every mainstream hotel operator has been hacked in some way, and both credit agencies and banks have stepped up security measures to prevent fraud.
Another advantage for Marriott may be that like in the Equifax incident, with a data breach this large, many consumers don’t expect to see the effects on a personal level. According to Danny Lee, an aviation reporter for the South China Morning Post, about 9.4 million customers were affected by the recent breach at Cathay Pacific. And of that cohort, no formal customer complaints have still been filed.
“No, I probably won’t change my habits.” said Platinum member Jaffe. “The cat is out of bag. What else could go wrong?”