When you think back to some of the first major loyalty programs, hotels and airlines come to mind. And if you keep track of customer retention trends today, you’ve more than likely heard of the Marriott hotel loyalty program. Marriott International has a portfolio of 30 brands ranging from long-stay to luxury and over 7,000 locations worldwide. Many travelers and customers have written about Marriott Bonvoy and its predecessors (Marriott Rewards and SPG), but it’s worth taking a look at the program from the standpoint of loyalty best practices.
So, let’s dive into the details of Marriott Bonvoy and see if one of the best hotel rewards programs has earned its gleaming reputation.
Let’s start at the home base. The membership page is the area where new members can join and current members can get an overview of the program, their point balance, rewards, and other essential information.
The first thing we should say about Marriott Bonvoy is that it’s an extremely complex program. Marriott has a wide range of hotel properties in its portfolio, spread out across very different price points. Hospitality and travel companies also sell based on high and low seasons, so trying to understand how point-earning works is not easy. (More on that in Point Accrual). Having said that, the benefits are laid out very clearly and it’s still easy to use.
Before you join the program, the four benefits you see, front and center, are member rates for hotel stays, mobile check-in, free nights, and free WiFi.
Why it works:
- Marriott’s membership page focuses on the benefits and options you have as a member and less on the mechanics of the program.
- Shifting the focus away from the mechanics is especially smart for programs that involve complex loyalty logic.
Members start out with “Member status”, then can move up through five distinct Elite tiers, based on how many nights per year they stay at qualifying Marriott properties. As members move to higher tiers, the percentage of points they earn for transactions increases, and the benefits they have access to improve.
In the Marriott hotel loyalty program, tiers don’t last forever… unless you have enough “qualifying stays” to enter one of three “lifetime tiers”. Once you are part of a lifetime tier, you no longer have to worry about your number of annual stays or spend. It’s a great way to express gratitude to the most loyal, long-term customers.
And if you weren’t already sold on this program, as you reach higher tiers, you get faster internet in your room, too. In the end, the explanations for each tier are easy to navigate and understand. And considering that the program is so complex, this is a real feat.
Customers can sign up using the mobile app or website by entering their name, country, postal code, and email address. You also have the option to opt-in to promotional emails and third-party communication.
Marriott asks for relatively little information to initiate the enrollment, and despite a few hiccups with some of the fields, the registration was smooth and straightforward.
After registering, there was no welcome email, which is highly unusual. Typically brands send a welcome email to newly registered members as a good way to say hello to new members and reiterate some of the best benefits, so this was a missed opportunity for Marriott. Welcome emails aren’t only good for business, members can also use the welcome email as a point of reference, especially when they forget their membership number or the email address they used to register, for example.
There are two earning standards in the Marriott Bonvoy loyalty program: stays and points. So we know right away that this is a loyalty program based on a multi-layered earning mechanism.
Whenever you log in, you immediately see the number of points you’ve earned and the number of stays you have. Hotel stays are based on the nights that you stay in a Marriott property.
Members can also earn points by purchasing tour and activity packages; booking hotel services (spa, golf, dining, etc.); booking hotel space for corporate or family events; or spending money with relevant partners like car rental services, airlines, restaurants, etc.
The number of points members earn will vary depending on which property they stay at (some are higher value than others), so the calculations are complicated, but it’s still very clear: the more you buy, the more you earn.
Another central—and highly promoted—part of the loyalty program is the credit card. If you sign up for a credit card, you can earn points based on how much money you spend with it.
Finally, similar to many airline loyalty programs, customers can simply buy more points if they have their sights set on a particular reward that’s out of reach.
Transactional & Non-transactional Activities
Bonvoy is very much a transaction-focused program, like travel, whether for business or leisure, requires a lot of spending. There are no opportunities to earn points that don’t involve booking Marriott stays and services, or spending money with partners.
The great thing here is that Marriott Bonvoy provides point earning opportunities for the entire “travel lifecycle”. There are also bonus campaigns to help highlight particular properties and boost sales during periods of lower demand.
Why it works:
- Marriott has made intelligent decisions in partnerships, always staying brand-relevant.
- Loyal customers can easily book services through the loyalty program membership site or app and keep earning loyalty benefits automatically.
- Each partnership is well aligned with the core business: Travel, Business, and Leisure.
As previously mentioned, there are no non-transactional activities to speak of. While that works for some brands, it’s considered best practice to include additional ways to earn points, as a way to keep customers engaged between purchases.
Even the welcome bonus is limited to new credit card users. Marriott could consider rewarding customers for doing other things they love besides reaching into their pocket for a credit card, but their program is so extensive, engaging and monetized, that they’re doing just fine without it.
Marriott Hotel Loyalty Program Rewards
If you like the idea of experiential rewards (and we think you should, because they’re super effective), Marriott Bonvoy sets the standard.
Following a shutdown during the height of the pandemic, Marriott Bonvoy Moments has been refreshed and reopened. Moments is essentially a catalog of experiential rewards hosted on a separate web page. Some rewards are fixed-price and others are available for auction, and many of the rewards are partner rewards. Ranging from concerts to professional development, Moments are marketed as “money-can’t-buy” experiences, positioning these Bonvoy rewards as exclusive and memorable.
Moments rewards are separated into four categories:
- Arts & Lifestyle
Dividing a rewards catalog into simple categories is a great way to help your customers find what they’re interested in, faster. The rewards range from exclusive sporting events to concerts to meet-and-greets. Some Moments are available at a fixed point price, while others are made available by auction. This is a great gamification element, which adds a little bit of excitement to the process of sending points. If you make the right bid, the reward not only feels like a reward, it feels like a win.
Of course, there is a selection of everyday rewards, too. You can, for example, spend your points on free nights at a hotel or a room upgrade. Or, if you don’t feel like spending the night, use your points to buy a gift card and go shopping, take yourself out for a nice meal, or spend it all on services and subscriptions like Uber or Spotify. There’s something for everyone here.
Lastly, if you don’t need the points or don’t want any of the available rewards you can share your points with a friend or donate them to a good cause, which appeals to their less reward-motivated customers, or those who would prefer to use their assets to help others. Marriott even introduced a point matching program for up to 100 million points for those who donate their points to help the humanitarian crisis in different countries.
Why it works:
- Marriott has a wide variety of rewards, ensuring that every member will find something relevant.
- Moments seize the spotlight with its entertaining offering of experiences, offering additional excitement with some auction-based rewards.
- By making charitable contributions possible through the program, they’re able to connect with customers based on personal values, which is particularly effective.
While in most loyalty programs rewards are the greatest driver for members, in a best-in-class loyalty program, the perks you get for being a member can play an even more important role in building loyalty.
By focusing on the in-hotel experience, with things like free enhanced room upgrades for Titanium Elite members or lounge access, Marriott is making each hotel stay even more special, and reinforcing the brand love among its members. Even if you already know you’re in a high tier and will get a welcome gift, that gift will still make you feel special. Every little feel-good moment counts.
Why it works:
- By making so many loyalty program benefits about an improved guest experience, they’re giving customers the opportunity to enjoy their stays more, which builds a deeper brand connection.
- Marriott knows that gifts don’t always have to be a surprise to be memorable. Giving customers a choice makes it more likely that the gift will be well received.
The app is promoted in the loyalty program, but it is not emphasized as heavily as the Marriott credit cards. Because the app provides a lot of extra convenient digital services that aren’t otherwise available, it would be a smart move on Marriott’s part to promote it even more.
When you aren’t staying at a hotel, the app feels more like a booking app than a loyalty app. Here, again, there is a heavy emphasis on promoting the Marriott credit cards.
The truly impressive services come in when you begin your stay at one of the Marriott properties. You can see the app is really built for convenience, thanks to features like mobile check-in, mobile key card, a chat feature to connect with the hotel you’re in, get a replacement toothbrush and set your wake up call from the app, or request amenities like an additional housekeeping visit. Amenities vary by hotel property, so all of these features might not be available for all stays.
The app is also smartly built for up-sells and new purchases:
- Book your next stay in the app
- Order food to your room, the lobby, or wherever else
- Track your hotel shuttle
You can also use the app as a mobile loyalty card. It features your membership number and QR code for identification, which makes for easy identification on-site at hotels.
Marriott had a nice idea for people who download the app to “Continue as guest” without signing in. At the time we tested the app, the link was broken and required users to log on to proceed. However, the idea of allowing non-members to download and use your app is really clever. Similar to a Membership page where all the benefits are clear, having guest functionality in the app would help potential members see what they’re missing out on, without being “forced” to register.
This is a very sophisticated program focused on benefits and rewards that cater to basically any type of customer. Without a doubt, the Bonvoy program has truly earned its good reputation as one of the best hotel rewards programs.
Point calculations can be complicated for those who really want to understand every single point and bonus, but Marriott has made the experience super convenient for people, who just want to earn and enjoy the experience without thinking too much.
The app is a definite highlight in terms of tying loyalty in with practicality, thanks to in-app booking, mobile check-in, and the ability to order on-site services online or in the app. Long gone are the days of carrying around paper booking confirmations and plastic loyalty cards!
And aside from a few small technical hiccups during in-app sign-up, Marriott is right on track.
Already have a loyalty concept, or still searching for ideas? Our experts are more than happy to discuss how Antavo’s technology can help your business, so feel free to include us in your RFP or contact us directly.
Also, here’s a handy worksheet about reward planning, because you can never start it too early!
Jess is a Loyalty Program Analyst and a Certified Loyalty Marketing Professional - CLMP, helping companies learn more about customer retention strategies, so they can launch successful loyalty programs. She has been writing about loyalty since 2016. Jess also enjoys ballet, travel, learning languages, and carrying out secret missions for loyalty intel.