As I’m nearing the tail end of my journey through the Old World, I wanted to summarize a little experiment I’ve been running throughout my hotel stays this month. As many of you know, I’m quite loyal to Marriott hotels, since Marriott Bonvoy is by far one of the most accessible hotel loyalty programs as a Canadian traveller.
According to the terms of the program, Platinum, Titanium, and Ambassador Elite members with Marriott Bonvoy are entitled to suite upgrades upon check-in, subject to availability. The problem is that the way Marriott handles suite upgrades is a rather opaque process, and indeed, many higher-tier Bonvoy members complain of rarely receiving suite upgrades across their stays.
What Are the Rules for Suite Upgrades?
Marriott’s official suite upgrade policy for Platinum Elite members and above states the following:
This might sound straightforward: if the hotel has a suite available when you’re checking in, you’re entitled to receive that suite as an upgrade. Pretty simple, right?
Dead wrong. There are quite a few confounding factors here:
Hotels may have many different suite types, and many only designate a few of those suite types as eligible for complimentary elite upgrades. After all, if only the Presidential Suite were available, you wouldn’t necessarily expect to be upgraded to it.
Just because you’re entitled to receive an upgrade doesn’t mean that you will receive it. After all, the vast majority of Marriott’s 7,000+ properties are independently owned and managed, and some hotel managements are “stingier” than others and are generally unwilling to provide suite upgrades. They’re happy to lie to the guest’s face that no suites are available, and they get away with it unless the guest pushes back.
What does “available” mean, exactly? Some elite members approach the check-in counter with the Marriott app in hand, ready to demonstrate to the front desk that there’s indeed a suite available for sale for the night. But is availability for sale equivalent to availability for a complimentary upgrade?
All this conspires to create a rather unsatisfying situation in which the only way to reliably receive elite suite upgrades is to make your intentions as clear as possible and explicitly ask for them.
In an ideal world, elite members shouldn’t have to push hotels to deliver the benefits to which they’re entitled – that’s kind of the whole point of rewarding you for your loyalty.
But in a Marriott Bonvoy world, that’s exactly how things are, and so it was exactly what I resolved to do throughout my hotel stays on this trip.
In the past, I would usually accept whatever room type the hotel would give me upon check-in. But this month, I figured that since the terms of the program entitled me to a suite upgrade, I was going to push as hard as possible to get the suite I wanted, using a combination of three channels: emailing the hotel in advance, the Marriott app’s chat feature, and during the check-in process itself. Let’s take a look at how things played out…
1. St. Regis Istanbul: St. Regis Suite
My trip began with a seven-night stay at the St. Regis Istanbul. I had emailed the hotel in advance of my stay asking about a suite upgrade, and received a boilerplate response that my request had been noted and that a suite would be granted if available upon check-in:
I left things at that until my arrival at the hotel. To be honest, I would’ve been okay with not receiving a suite, since it’s plausible that the hotel might not have any suites available for seven nights in a row, so I didn’t approach the check-in desk with high expectations.
However, when the associate informed me that I had been assigned a Deluxe Guest Room, I decided to press the matter ever-so-slightly by simply asking the question: “Do you have any suites available, by any chance?”
Having earlier recognized my Titanium Elite status and thanked me for my loyalty, the associate took my question seriously and went back to his computer to check. After clicking around, he let me know that there was in fact a St. Regis Suite (the hotel’s base-level suite) available, but the previous guest had only just vacated it, so it might be a few hours before it was ready.
I was perfectly fine with having a drink in the brasserie to wait for a nice suite, so I gladly took him up on that offer. As a result, I enjoyed some slightly larger living quarters during my time in Istanbul – the St. Regis Suite at this hotel isn’t too impressive in terms of square footage, but still served its purpose just fine.
Result: Success! Despite not receiving one at first, politely asking about a suite upgrade upon check-in paid off handsomely.
2. Mystique Santorini: Wet Allure Suite
The Mystique Resort in Santorini, part of Marriott’s Luxury Collection, is a truly special hotel carved into the picturesque cliffs of Oia. I had emailed Mystique well in advance of my stay, letting them know that I was there to celebrate my birthday and wanted to upgrade to one of the higher-tier suites or villas (and that I’d be happy to pay for an upgrade if the price were reasonable).
Unfortunately, points reservations at Mystique cannot be upgraded with cash, but the associate proactively placed a note on my reservation to give me a Titanium upgrade to either a Wet Allure Suite or a Spiritual Suite (three and four levels above the base-level Vibrant Suite, respectively), subject to availability upon check-in. That was a gesture I really appreciated.
About a week beforehand, Mystique had also sent a pre-arrival intake form for me to complete, on which I emphasized my special occasion once again, and reiterated my desire for an upgrade to one of those two suite types.
And upon arriving at the gorgeous hotel, I was delighted to be informed that an upgrade to the Wet Allure Suite – with stunning caldera views and a private whirlpool on the deck – had indeed been granted.
Result: Success! In choosing the hotel for a special occasion and asking for a suite well in advance, I gave Mystique an easy opportunity to fulfill my upgrade request and deliver an excellent first impression, which is exactly what they did.
3. Le Méridien Cairo Airport: Executive Suite
While I do think that emailing your hotel in advance of your stay is always good practice, I didn’t get around to doing that for my one-night stay at the Le Méridien Cairo Airport.
Therefore, I decided to try my hand at using the Marriott app’s chat feature, which is available a few days in advance of your stay, to ask for a suite upgrade instead. As it turns out, it’s much easier to convey emotion and enthusiasm over chat, and the back-and-forth nature also makes hotels’ boilerplate responses a little less effective at fending you off.
I asked for one of the hotel’s top-tier suites, which have balconies overlooking the airport tarmac. That certainly would’ve made an otherwise forgettable airport hotel stay quite an experience indeed.
The chat associate replied saying that while the suites with balconies aren’t available to elite members, he was able to upgrade me to an Executive/Studio Suite, which is one tier below. I happily accepted that, and he confirmed the suite upgrade immediately – I could now see my new room type on the mobile check-in page!
This was news to me: Marriott chat associates have the power to immediately confirm your suite upgrade, instead of checking for availability upon your physical arrival at the hotel! I suppose that by using the chat, you’re already within the mobile check-in window, so the upgrade is technically granted “upon check-in”. Still, I was surprised at how easy this one was!
While I didn’t plan on reviewing the hotel and so didn’t take any pictures, the suite itself ended up being pretty amazing, especially for an airport hotel. A 4pm late checkout allowed us to take advantage of it to the fullest before hopping on our departing flight.
Result: Success! I used the chat app to secure a very nice upgrade, which was confirmed immediately.
4. W Amman: Cool Corner Suite
After my success in Cairo, I became much more diligent in requesting upgrades over chat. After all, most of my emails to hotels are met with boilerplate responses, but the chat associates always seem more welcoming.
I spelt out my desire for a suite to the W Amman, and this time, the associate promised me they’d do their best to accommodate my request, but wasn’t able to confirm anything in advance of my arrival. Indeed, the mobile check-in page continued to display the base-level Wonderful Guest Room until the last second.
(Side note: how awkward must it be for employees at W hotels to be trained to say things like “#Titanium all the way”?)
However, upon check-in, I was delighted to learn I had been upgraded to a Cool Corner Suite, which is classified as a junior suite and is one tier below the W Suite I had asked for over chat. The hotel had indeed honoured my Titanium benefit by giving me a Cool Corner Suite, so this time I decided not to press the matter further.
We weren’t planning on spending too much time in our room anyway, so the Cool Corner Suite was more than enough for our time in Amman.
Result: Moderate success. I asked for a full suite over chat and received a junior suite, which I was still happy with.
5. Marriott Petra: Mountain Premium Room
I forgot to take a screenshot of the chat log, but I also used the chat feature to ask the Marriott Petra for a suite upgrade during my one-night stay. The associate replied that they “only have one suite”, with the implication being that it was therefore unlikely to be granted as a complimentary upgrade. I guess I was okay with that.
In recognition of my Titanium status, the associate did promise to upgrade me to a premium room with a nice mountain view, and I appreciated that gesture. With the ancient ruins of Petra on our doorstep, it wasn’t like we were going to spend much time in our room, anyway.
Result: Failure, but more couldn’t have been expected. The hotel only has one suite, so it was always unlikely I would receive it for free.
6. Sheraton Oman: Studio Suite
Next up, a seven-night reservation at the Sheraton Oman, although I was going to leave after five nights (I had booked this using a seven-night certificate from the legacy program, but only planned five nights in Oman).
Even before initiating a chat, I saw that I had already been upgraded to a Junior Suite. This goes back to my point that some hotels are relatively generous, while others are more stingy. The Sheraton Oman proactively recognized my Titanium status and assigned me a suite ahead of time, without me even asking. That’s a great first impression!
Of course, I still wanted to see if I could do better. The hotel also has Studio Suites and Executive Suites, so I asked the chat associate if an Executive Suite upgrade was possible (without forgetting to thank them for the proactive Junior Suite upgrade, of course!)
After a bit of back-and-forth, the associate said that while an Executive Suite couldn’t be granted, they could offer the Studio Suite instead. I looked up the two suites and saw that they had virtually the same square footage – so I was perfectly fine with that!
Soon after that conversation, my mobile check-in page was updated to reflect the Studio Suite upgrade. And what a suite it was – separate living and dining areas, a full kitchenette, and a bedroom with sliding doors. We loved it!
Result: Success! I was proactively assigned a Junior Suite, but asked if I could be upgraded further, and my request was kindly granted. It never hurts to ask nicely for what you want!
7. JW Marriott Marquis Dubai: Seaview Room + Deluxe Corner Suite
Before starting a chat with hotels, I’ll typically go on the reservations page to see which suite types are available for the nights I’m staying (so that I know what to ask for). When I did this for the JW Marriott Marquis Dubai, I was surprised to see that no suites were available for my three-night stay.
(Well, there was the 6,000 sq ft Penthouse Suite on the top floor of the building, which retails for 35,000 AED [$12,869] per night. I sent a cheeky chat message about this suite, and was told that as a Titanium member I could get a discount at 15,000 AED [$5,515] per night. Maybe next time…)
So as I approached the check-in counter, I was fully expecting to simply be assigned a nice regular room. However, the associate very kindly let me know that he’d keep checking for suite availability throughout my stay, so that I could change to a suite if one opened up.
By the terms of the Marriott Bonvoy program, suite upgrades are decided solely based on availability upon check-in, so the hotel really didn’t have to do this for me. The associate said that this was “so that I could experience one of their suites”, which I thought was a very hospitable way to treat a Titanium member, and left me with a lasting good impression about the hotel.
On the last night of our stay, I saw that a Deluxe Corner Suite had opened up, so I took them up on their offer and asked to be upgraded. My request was granted without a moment’s hesitation, so I got to try out an awesome suite with killer views of the Burj Khalifa.
Result: Success! Despite the hotel genuinely having no suites available for the first two nights, they upgraded me on my final night to a very nice Corner Deluxe Suite. Thanks for going above and beyond!
8. W Dubai The Palm: Marvelous Suite
For my one-night stay at the W Dubai The Palm, I decided to push my luck and aim for their second-highest suite type, the Marvelous Suite – just to see how much generosity I could squeeze out of the Marriott app’s chat feature.
The mobile check-in page showed me that I had proactively been given a W Suite, similar to what happened back at the Sheraton Oman. Of course, I reached out over chat a few days beforehand to express my excitement for staying at the hotel, making it clear that I would love to try their Marvelous Suite.
With a few more days to go until my stay, the associate replied that such an upgrade would have to be subject to availability. And that’s why I reached out again on the morning of my arrival, simply to reiterate my desire for a Marvelous Suite and check if it could be granted on the same day.
As it turns out, because of “my love for new experiences”, the W Dubai The Palm was more than happy to grant my upgrade request to a Marvelous Suite!
And WOW, just WOW. I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves…
Result: An incredible success! Despite receiving a proactive upgrade to the base-level W Suite, I asked enthusiastically for the Marvelous Suite – three tiers above – and got it.
9. Al Maha Desert Resort Dubai: Bedouin Suite
Last stop, the Al Maha Desert Resort & Spa in the outskirts of Dubai, from which I’m writing this today.
Al Maha is an “all-suites” property, meaning that each of the resort’s 42 rooms are already classified as suites. Indeed, I had booked the base-level Bedouin Suite on points, but I still sent a message asking if the Royal Suite or Emirates Suite might be available.
I wasn’t holding my breath, since I had read that Al Maha generally doesn’t hand out suite upgrades to elite members too often. And indeed, I was given a boilerplate response over chat, with the assurance that I’d be upgraded to one of their best Bedouin Suites no matter what.
That’s exactly how things played out in the end, and with Al Maha being as across-the-aboard amazing as it is (seriously, I’d even say it’s by far the single best-value hotel redemption for your Marriott Bonvoy points), I really can’t have any complaints about the base-level Bedouin Suite at all.
Result: Failure, but more couldn’t have been expected. All of Al Maha’s rooms are already classified as suites, so I really didn’t have much grounds to push for a further upgrade. In any case, this resort is so incredible that whether or not you get a suite upgrade would definitely be the last thing on your mind.
Over the course of this month, I’ve learned one simple truth: simply by asking nicely for suites, mostly via the chat feature on the Marriott app, massively increases your odds of receiving one as a Platinum Elite member or above. As a result of doing this, I’ve received suites in situations when I otherwise wouldn’t, I’ve received higher-tier suites when I would’ve received a base-level one, and I’ve even gotten a suite upgrade during my stay when they weren’t available upon check-in.
If you aren’t in the habit of intently letting your hotel know about your desire for a suite upgrade, then you really should start doing so. It’s as easy as typing a few messages on your phone, costing you nothing and bringing you a huge potential upside. Even if you’re only a Gold Elite member (and aren’t technically eligible for suite upgrades), I’d recommend giving it a try as well – after all, it never hurts to ask!