Suite Night Awards are one of Marriott's most frustrating elite benefits. In theory, they are supposed to award Bonvoy elite members with suite upgrades. But in reality, Marriott properties deny SNA requests way too often for these benefits to hold any real value. Until Marriott holds its properties to the standards published in its own terms & conditions, SNAs will continue to be practically worthless. This post analyzes the official Marriott terms that apply to SNAs and how Marriott allows its hotels to get away with playing by a different set of rules, to the detriment of its guests.
How SNAs Are Supposed to Work
Suite Night Awards give Bonvoy members a one-night, confirmable upgrade to a “standard suite or select premium room.” According to Marriott's website, the hotel's system is supposed to check for availability for the requested suite or room automatically beginning five days before arrival. If availability is not confirmed five days before arrival, the system checks each day before arrival, up to 2:00 PM hotel time one day prior to arrival. (To learn more about how to use SNAs, check out this post.)
Marriott's terms & conditions state that “Suite Night Award use is based upon availability of the requested suite or Premium Room.” This suggests that having a suite or premium room actually available for booking on the date(s) of your stay would be the only hurdle. Indeed, nothing in the T&Cs indicates that properties have any additional say on whether to grant SNAs if the requested suite or room is available.
But with Marriott being Marriott, SNAs typically do not work out as
intended advertised. Having an SNA clear for a significant upgrade, such as for a large suite or in a major US city, is a rarity. Instead, we usually see this:
How SNAs Work in Practice
Usually, one of three things happens when Bonvoy members request a Suite Night Award. First, and most common, the hotel denies the upgrade request. Often, this happens regardless of whether the requested suite is actually available (more on this below). Second, the hotel actually grants the SNA request.
Yet there's a third possible outcome that lies between denying and accepting the SNA request. Sometimes, the property will deny the Suite Night Award request ahead of the guest's arrival, but then upgrade the guest at check-in anyway. This outcome might seem good at first; you received an upgrade after all! But it presents a bigger problem.
As noted above, Marriott's T&Cs indicate Suite Night Awards are an automatic process. The “hotel's system” searches automatically for the requested room ahead of your arrival. The only publicized requirement to grant SNAs is that the requested room actually be available. But if the hotel gets to deny your SNA request and manually upgrade you at check-in, then how do SNAs actually work? Are they really automatic? Does the property get to ignore the “based upon availability” language in the program's terms?
Bonvoyed: Marriott Stacks the Deck against Elite Members
Marriott stacks the deck in favor of its properties and against elite members in a couple of different ways.
According to Marriott's website, SNAs “are only offered for standard suites or premium rooms as designated by the hotel.” This means the hotel has broad discretion to decide what is a “standard suite” or “premium room” to make available via SNAs. A Sheraton in New York City can take a completely different view of what these terms mean compared to a Sheraton in California, let alone a Sheraton in a smaller town in the middle of the country. Marriott properties are free to limit the universe of options for which elite members can apply their SNAs by categorizing rooms and suites as they see fit.
Even more problematic, though, is that while the Bonvoy terms & conditions say one thing, hotels are free to act outside those rules. As discussed above, the T&Cs state that “Suite Night Award use is based upon availability of the requested suite or Premium Room.” According to the T&Cs, if the requested suite or room is available, the SNA requested should be granted automatically.
But in practice, things play out quite differently. Below we share two examples of how Marriott lets properties get away with playing by different rules.
Example 1 – “It's not us, it's Marriott corporate”
Recently, my wife and I had booked a one-weeknight stay at the JW Marriott Tampa Water Street. We applied a Suite Night Award to the reservation, which was rejected, of course. Here is a frustrating conversation we had with the hotel through my wife's Bonvoy account:
Notice how the hotel skirts responsibility by blaming “a variety of factors outside of our control.” And when we cited language from Marriott's T&Cs, they responded that “suite night awards are approved and denied above property for various reasons besides what is or isn't selling online.”
What do we learn from the JW Marriott's response? First, the property blames the outcome on Marriott corporate. That certainly doesn't jive with “based upon availability” requirement of Marriott's terms & conditions. Second, the property says Marriott corporate gets to approve or deny SNA requests for reasons other than availability showing on hotel's website! So if the SNA process is not automatic and is subject to more than just availability, shouldn't Marriott update its terms & conditions to say so?
Example 2 – Sleight of Hand?
Rick had booked a three-night stay at the Marriott Puerto Vallarta Resort and Spa, where he tried to use SNAs, unsuccessfully. He saw suites available for each of the nights. Yet the property claimed no suites available for any of the nights. Then, after Rick pushed back, they claimed suites were available only for two of his three nights.
With the property digging its heels in, Rick took screenshots of each of the four types of suites available for his entire stay. Within minutes, all of the suites suddenly disappeared and were no longer available on the hotel's website. With the suites (somehow) no longer available, the Marriott Puerto Vallarta could deny Rick's SNA request based on Marriott's T&Cs. After all, there was no availability!
Holding properties and elite members to different standards is what makes Suite Night Awards so frustrating. Restricting the definition of a “suite” is one thing; at least we're aware of this possibility from reading the program's rules. And we can review the upgrade options on the hotel's website before choosing to use SNAs. But operating Suite Night Awards entirely through a different set of rules than what is published is just absurd. Both examples above show how Marriott allows its properties to operate SNA requests as they see fit with no regard to the program's T&Cs. Allowing Marriott properties to play by their own set of rules outside of the program's terms & conditions is #Bonvoyed at its finest.
How often have you succeeded in redeeming Marriott Suite Night Awards? Come join the discussion in our Facebook group.