Windbag Miles is a blog about points, miles, credit cards, travel, and general windbaggery.

Fearing the worst: All the ways I'm probably gonna get Bonvoyed on my Europe trip this summer

It’s no secret that Marriott’s new “Bonvoy” loyalty program is a miserable clusterfuck, and it’s even more galling that Marriott’s response seems to be to buy off mainstream travel journalists from places like US News & World Report and Conde Nast Traveler in exchange for them naming it “best hotel loyalty program.” Oh, and then to pay a bunch of insufferable #instagram #influencers to #travel with them to #Hong #Kong for a #comped #stay in a #hotel where they can #post about all #their #amazing #experiences (#blessed #nofilter #ad). I guess the idea is to convince as many “normies” as they can that Bonvoy is amazing, thinking that if Bonvoy only alienates 50% of those people with egregious customer service failures, that’s still a lot of new customers.

I guess I’m kind of surprised by all this, because I don’t really remember people hating on Marriott with this much vitriol before the merger, but now there are piles of new stores every week, each more unbelievable than the last. Was this just par for the course in the past, or were hotels on their best behavior these past years in order to avoid spooking investors in the companies that were trying to get scooped up by Marriott? That seems a little convoluted, but for whatever reason, the gloves are now off and Marriott is actively trying to be as outrageously awful to customers as it possibly can.

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Part of what worries me, therefore, is what the hell is going to happen to me this summer when I take in a Bonvoy buffet of hotels as I gallivant across Europe on a half-work/half-personal joyride. My journey begins in France, where I’ll have three nights (paid on points) at the Renaissance République. I’m pretty excited about this hotel, not because it looks especially great, but due to the amazing location in my favorite part of the city. Not that the hotel looks bad or anything, it’s just that the base rooms look closet-sized in the photos on the website. Those photos are supposed to exaggerate the size, so I’m kind of worried about fitting through the door. Maybe my Bonvoy Gold status will get me an upgrade, though. (HAHAHAHAHAHAHA)

Bonvoy Bear Trap #1: Pay 45,000 points immediately or pay the retail rate for your room.

Back when I booked this hotel, it was 35,000 points per night, and I booked three nights. It was basically all of my Bonvoy points, but the cash rates at this hotel are pretty high (hey, it’s Paris in the summer after all), so I didn’t mind. The problem is that the hotel has moved categories and now costs 50,000 points per night. Were this any other hotel program, I’d be pretty confident that the hotel would honor the price I paid when I booked, but given that this is Bonvoy we’re talking about, I fully expect the hotel to demand I pay the difference upon check-in (or something similarly punitive like paying the daily room rate if I don’t have enough points). The way the price displays on my Marriott confirmation doesn’t exactly inspire confidence:

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Looking at the way they’re displaying the cost, I’m just begging to be Bonvoyed here. 50,000 points per night for three nights totaling 105,000 points? Good luck… If every other hotel in Paris didn’t cost a million dollars for the dates I need, I’d cancel this in a heartbeat, because I can’t imagine it’s going to go smoothly.

From Paris I head up to Rotterdam for a stay at the brand new Slaak Hotel, which is part of the Tribute Portfolio (not to be confused with the Autograph Collection, which is COMPLETELY DIFFERENT). Again, this is a beautiful looking hotel, and I’m really excited for my stay, especially since the hotel market in Rotterdam is much more reasonably priced, and I got a great deal thanks to the advance purchase rate that I locked in.

Bonvoy Bear Trap #2: Your card was declined, so pay some exorbitant rate instead of the discounted rate you booked.

Here’s the thing: while I booked an “advance purchase rate,” my credit card was never actually charged. Normally I’d just assume that they’d charge it when I arrived at the hotel, except the rate details on my Marriott confirmation don’t exactly inspire confidence:

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Does the hotel never actually charging my card mean the same thing as the card being declined? Is the hotel going to charge my card for the rate I booked, or will they come up with some ridiculous rate, charge me in full, and tell me to sort it out with Marriott? The fact that I even need to ask this question is completely bonkers, but this is the world we live in now. I did actually try to resolve this in advance, but a support rep with the energy level of a plate of pot brownies told me that all she could do to help me would be to “open a case.” That was months ago, and I haven’t heard anything since.

After the Slaak Hotel charges me my entire available credit limit for two nights, I’m heading down to Munich for a trade show, meaning my employer will be on the hook for any Bonvoy shenanigans this time. I was pretty happy when I found out the trade show moved to Munich from Friedrichshafen, since there are tons of hotels in Munich, and I won’t have to deal with getting kicked out of my AirBNB three weeks before I’m supposed to travel (which is what happened last time). Having a reservation at a real hotel is much more secure than depending on some random apartment owner in southern Germany, right?

Bonvoy Bear Trap #3: Your reservation isn’t on file and the hotel is fully booked due to the trade show, but you can probably find a bench at the nearby train station to sleep on.

I reserved this hotel WAY in advance, since I was told that hotels will quickly sell out… However, I may have booked a little too far in advance, since I booked with SPG instead of Marriott. A few months ago after my SPG and Bonvoy accounts merged, the reservation was no longer listed in my account, and the customer service reps I talked to couldn’t find it using my SPG confirmation number. After about 90 minutes of waiting on hold for various supervisors, someone did actually find my reservation, but it was under a completely new number that had never been communicated to me in any form. Well, to be specific, it was now under three numbers (one for each room). I was able to use those numbers to get the reservation to show up in my Marriott account again, but it absolutely would not shock me if the hotel didn’t have a record of the reservation under either the old or new numbers… After all, it doesn’t exactly inspire confidence to have multiple reps tell you that your reservation no longer exists, until a senior rep finally finds it under the bathroom rug covered in mold and bearing a new number that no one has ever seen before.

In all three cases, I wish I could ditch Marriott and make other arrangements, but due to price (Paris), rate terms and conditions (Rotterdam), or availability (Munich), that’s not really an option. You really have to hand it to a loyalty program to be so terrible that I want to cancel reservations I already booked, but that doesn’t mean you should be lavishing awards on it. Dear The Points Guy, US News and World Report, Conde Nast Traveler, and anyone else who’s swallowing the Bonvoy Marketing Bouillabaisse: stop it. Marriott sucks right now. Hold them accountable, even if it means not going to the Oscars.

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How would my churning strategy change if I lived in New Zealand?