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Latent issues with Marriott’s Bonvoy loyalty program after its integration with Starwood’s Preferred Guest are still roiling some members. Now, a new activist website has surfaced to share some user stories.
Called bonvoyed.com and run by Jeffrey Brownson, Shubhayan Mukherjee, and a third anonymous partner, the website showcases a litany of recent problems with the program and encourages members to submit their own stories.
The site launched on March 2 and has been picking up a higher rate of complaints every day as its popularity grows. In a post from March 9, one consumer complained about call center hold times and lamented the old system at Starwood Preferred Guest.
Trying to transfer points to my wife. Knowing how long the hold times have been, I decided to call getting ready for work. One hour on hold. Nothing. Hung up when I had nothing to do and had to hold the phone myself. Tried the next day, 45 minutes. Nothing. Yesterday, 50 minutes. Today I gave up after 15. Like what the hell is going on over there?! SPG was so easy…
PLATFORM FOR Inciting CHANGE
Through the new website, Brownson, Mukherjee, and their partner, all longtime members of Marriott’s loyalty programs, hope to shed light on some of the IT issues on Marriott’s back-end as a way to encourage the hotel chain to prioritize fixes. “We want to help loyal Marriott customers who have given their best travel years to Marriott.” said Brownson in an interview. “We want Marriott to see that these problems are not just ‘noise around the edges.’ They are big problems affecting a large percentage of their best customers.”
Arne Sorenson, CEO of Marriott, has suggested that IT issues and associated negative feedback have largely been at the edge of the group’s loyalty program, though it’s impossible to know what percentage of users have experienced issues. Five out of five Bonvoy (then Marriott Rewards) members interviewed by Skift in November, however, reported IT issues of some sort several months after the loyalty programs integrated.
At the time, John Wolf, vice president of loyalty, digital, and marketing innovation PR at Marriott International, responded that “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.” Three months later, complaints still seem to be rolling in.
“Sorenson’s comments are one of the main reasons that we started this site,” said Brownson. “He clearly has no idea how these ‘outlying’ problems are affecting Marriott’s everyday customers.”
It’s not clear how big of an earful Sorenson is getting from his IT team, but one thing that is known is that nobody on the outside of the Marriott organization is aware of how widespread the problems are either.
Sites like bonvoyed.com and irate user communities across social platforms have been logging content for over a year, but it’s impossible to quantify the relative percentage of that feedback against the number of travelers who are daily staying in Marriott hotels and not logging any problems. Even Brownson and Mukherjee aren’t sure how representative their sample size is, though they point to social media traction around their stories as evidence of unrest.
Brownson and Mukherjee are following a path that’s been successfully exploited before by activist customers in the travel industry. In 1996 after a series of bad experiences on United Airlines, Jeremy Cooperstock founded the site Untied.com as an anchor for customer complaints and activism around the carrier. After years of litigation between the carrier and Cooperstock, the site was finally blocked in 2017 by an injunction from the courts in Canada.
Unlike previous similar campaigns, the group at Bonvoyed is taking their complaints a step further and actually trying to move business away from Marriott. Brownson shared that “we plan to work with Marriott’s major competitors to offer elite status matches, elite fast-track challenges, or other options to make it simple for customers to switch. Once individuals have submitted their stories on our site, they are qualified to be selected for these offers.”
Marriott, for its part, is keen to keep its Bonvoy members happy and is maintaining that complaints are few and far between. Putting the unrest and the new Bonvoyed campaign in to context, John Wolf shared that “the integration has been a major undertaking with many interlocking parts,” pointing out that “today, issues that occur are now increasingly isolated and corrected more quickly.”
He also reinforced that Marriott is working hard to listen to customers and smooth over the loyalty wrinkles, saying “we want our members to know that we are aware and listening to them whether they call, email, or post on social media, and will work with them to ensure their expectations are met.”
Brownson and Mukherjee seem open to that collaboration, saying “we would be happy to work directly with Marriott. If we can, in any way, help to outline some of the recurring problems and Marriott goes on to fix them, that would be fulfilling one of our major goals.”
As the new Bonvoy program continues to ossify, Marriott is pushing forward with its first promotion under the new brand, a campaign that rewards members with 2x points on a variety of bookings. Already, some are reporting problems with the signup process.