There’s a unique but little-known benefit buried in the terms and conditions of Marriott Bonvoy’s elite program known as the “elite guarantee”, which provides guests with cash compensation in the event that certain elite benefits are not delivered.
Although I’ve known about this guarantee for a while, I’ve recently taken advantage of it for the first time, so I wanted to share my experience around it as well as some strategies for “maximizing” this benefit as a guest if you wished to do so.
What Are Marriott’s Elite Guarantees?
Even though we sometimes think about Marriott Bonvoy as being about as “unfriendly” as a loyalty program can be, it does have a few safeguards in place to provide guests with a unified experience across the brand’s 7,000+ properties worldwide.
One of those safeguards is the elite guarantees, which stipulates the exact benefits that every elite member is entitled to for every stay, along with compensation that’s due in case those guarantees are not met.
You can find the list of elite guarantees on the Marriott website, and we’ll discuss them here one-by-one.
Ultimate Reservation Guarantee
This guarantee is in place for members of all elite tiers. If you show up at a hotel and the hotel is unable to honour your reservation for any reason (a phenomenon also known as “getting walked” from the hotel), Marriott will pay for your accommodations at a nearby hotel and compensate you to the tune of the following amounts:
As you can see, at many full-service Marriott brands, a guest who gets “walked” would indeed walk away with a veritable windfall of US$200 and 90,000 Marriott Bonvoy points. At limited-service brands, guests would only get US$100 compensation, and only Platinum and Titanium members would receive 90,000 Bonvoy points on top.
Meanwhile, at Ritz-Carltons and St. Regises, Platinum and Titanium members who are denied accommodations for the night would receive an even more bountiful sum of US$200 and 140,000 Bonvoy points!
(I presume that Ambassador members are included in the more exclusive sets of guarantee compensation, even though this isn’t explicitly stated on the website, as it’d be mind-boggling if Marriott’s top-tier members were somehow excluded from the elite guarantee.)
Guaranteed Platinum Elite/Titanium Elite Welcome Gift
Platinum members and above are entitled to receive a welcome gift upon arrival at most Marriott-branded hotels. If the guarantee is not met, compensation is due.
Understanding Marriott’s elite benefits brand-by-brand sometimes feels like pursuing a postdoctorate degree, given the sheer volume of options, asterisks, and exclusions that one must be aware of. Here’s the full list:
As the chart shows, your guaranteed welcome gift varies based on the hotel brand you’re staying at, the region of the world, and whether or not it’s a resort property.
Even though the list is rather byzantine at first glance, you should be able to figure out exactly what choice of welcome gift you’re entitled to for every stay, as well as the guest compensation that’s due if you aren’t offered the welcome gift.
Importantly, for hotels that are supposed to offer a choice of between two benefits (e.g., 1,000 points or a US$10 food and beverage voucher at a JW Marriott in Canada, or 1,000 points or an amenity or breakfast at a St. Regis anywhere in the world), the hotel must offer the guest the choice between one of the benefits in order to meet the guarantee.
Technically, if the hotel simply selects one of the benefits by default and forgets to offer the choice, the guarantee has not been met and compensation is due.
Guaranteed Room Type
Note your bed and room preferences in your Marriott Bonvoy account (one king vs. two queens, etc.) Whenever you make a reservation in Canada or the US, Marriott will always honour your bed type request. Elsewhere, Titanium Elite members (and again, I assume Ambassador Elite members too) will always have their room type preferences honoured, although exact bed sizes may vary.
If the room type guarantee isn’t met, compensation is due, to the tune of the following:
Guaranteed Lounge Access
At some Marriott brands, executive lounge access is a guaranteed perk for elite members, or a comparable alternative if there is no lounge or if the lounge is closed.
In terms of compensation, the only situation in which you’d be entitled to claim US$100 in cash would be if you’re staying at a JW Marriott, Marriott, Delta, Autograph Collection, or Renaissance property, the lounge is unavailable for some reason (it’s closed or the hotel doesn’t have one), and you aren’t offered a breakfast alternative upon check-in.
Note that a select list of US properties do not offer the choice of 750 points or breakfast in the event that the lounge is closed; instead, they’ll offer a greater sum of 1,000 points:
48-Hour Guaranteed Availability
This benefit is applicable to Titanium and Ambassador members only, and just means that there will always be a room for you at any Marriott hotel in the world if you’re making a paid booking at least 48 hours before arrival. Resorts, Design Hotels, Marriott Vacation Club, and Vistana properties are excluded.
In practice, this means that even if a hotel is sold out for a given night more than 48 hours in advance, if a Titanium or Ambassador member wants a room, they’ll get one – and the hotel will “walk” a different guest instead. Maybe it’s just me, but I feel like I’d rather get the compensation for a reservation not being fulfilled than a guaranteed reservation itself…
Why Does Marriott Offer Elite Guarantees?
The idea behind the Marriott elite guarantee is to keep hotel owners honest and ensure that Marriott’s most loyal members receive a certain expected standard of elite treatment from every stay.
In theory, if guests are able to claim compensation when elite benefits aren’t offered, then hotels would do a better job of training their staff to always offer the correct welcome amenity or assign the correct room based on the member’s noted preferences.
How to Claim Elite Guarantees at the Hotel
In practice, however, I think it’s fair to say that it’s somewhat rare for guests to claim elite guarantees, if only because most guests aren’t aware of it.
Even for guests who are aware, the onus is on them to proactively claim the guarantee, and not every guest may be comfortable or willing to pursue that.
If you’re staying at a Marriott hotel and didn’t receive one of your elite guarantees, it’s important to be aware that you are entitled to cash compensation, and that you have the option of claiming it if you wished.
For example, if you weren’t assigned your preferred room type as a Platinum member staying at a Sheraton in the US, you’d be eligible for US$100 in compensation. Or if you weren’t offered your choice of 1,000 points or breakfast in the restaurant at a Marriott resort in Europe, you’d be entitled to US$100 in compensation as well.
In either case, if you wished to claim the compensation, the best course of action is to approach the front desk and explain the situation: you’re entitled to a room type or welcome amenity as an elite member, you didn’t receive it, and therefore you’re due compensation as a result.
Indeed, as per Marriott Bonvoy’s terms and conditions, you must request compensation before you check out, or else you waive any rights to compensation for a guarantee not being met during your stay.
If an Elite Member believes that compensation is due with respect to any aspect of the Elite Benefits Guarantee, he/she must request payment of the compensation while still a guest at the Participating Property, prior to checking out. Failure to request such payment prior to check out will result in a complete waiver of any right to receive such compensation.
Typically, more junior front desk associates will escalate this to their manager, who will then either immediately respond to your concern or get back to you later on.
This is where there’s an element of “Your Mileage May Vary” about the elite guarantees. Some managers will be very familiar with the elite guarantees, and will take you at your word that you weren’t offered the benefit that you were entitled to.
They’ll see this as a valuable opportunity to better train their staff, and will offer you the US$100 compensation you’re entitled to without much trouble (either in cash or as a credit to your hotel bill, although strictly speaking, you are entitled to take the cash – and that also helps you earn some more hotel points when checking out!)
On the other hand, other hotel managers might be more difficult to deal with. They may not be familiar with elite guarantees and may not know what you’re talking about.
Even if they are familiar, some front desk staff members might claim that they did indeed offer you the guarantee even if they hadn’t, and then it becomes a game of “he said, she said” with two possible outcomes: the manager either sides with their staff member and refuses to pay out, or they pay out the cash just to make their guest happy.
As a last line of defence, you can always reach out to Marriott Bonvoy over social media to inform them of the situation and ask them to enforce compliance on the hotel’s part.
The Bonvoy team may well step in to assess the situation, and if the hotel plays hardball with them as well, then the social media team is at least empowered to offer you some amount of compensation in Marriott Bonvoy points for your troubles, too.
Maximizing the Marriott Bonvoy Elite Guarantee
Out of all the elite guarantees, the Guaranteed Welcome Gift is probably the one that actually gets forgotten by front desk associates the most often. Think about it, surely you’ve had a stay where the front desk didn’t mention your breakfast benefits, and you might’ve had to follow-up and ask about them later?
Like I mentioned, most guests who happen to not receive their elite benefits on a stay don’t end up pursuing compensation, because they don’t know they’re entitled to it. And even among guests who are familiar with the elite guarantees, most guests probably adopt an attitude of “live and let live”.
After all, some guests might not find the trouble of raising a concern with the hotel manager to be worth US$100 in compensation. Others might feel awkward for doing so, as though they were accusing the hotel of wrongdoing, even though it’s very much a published benefit in the Marriott Bonvoy program.
Yet others might feel bad about potentially implicating the staff member who helped them during check-in and getting them into trouble – even though in reality, one guest raising a concern will certainly help the staff member avoid making the same mistake with future guests, contributing towards a better loyalty program for all guests.
Ultimately, I think most guests just don’t care enough. Even if they have to follow-up after check-in to get their breakfast vouchers, what’s the harm? They have their breakfast vouchers on hand – why would they need compensation for the minor inconvenience of not having received them immediately upon check-in?
Of course, there are some Marriott guests who just can’t help themselves from feeling truly inconvenienced at every trifling detail during their stay, and US$100 in cold hard cash would very much make their worries go away.
For these guests, being assigned 1,000 points at check-in would be inconvenient because they might’ve chosen breakfast instead. And being assigned breakfast at check-in would be inconvenient because they might’ve wanted the points instead. Only if they had been offered the choice between the two would they have been truly satisfied.
Now let’s imagine if such a guest were to arrive very late at the property and catch the junior staff member working the evening shift, who may not be familiar with Marriott’s mind-numbing minutiae.
That staff member might be more likely than someone working the day shift to forget about offering elite benefits – and my oh my, how inconvenient would that be?
Or if a guest were to engage their front-desk associate in deep conversation during the check-in process, regaling them with stories about how they missed their flight on the way here or how the Uber driver took a wrong turn – and then asked a few innocent questions about where they might find the best restaurants in the area?
Maybe, just maybe, the small matter of elite benefits might just slip the associate’s mind. That would certainly leave our talkative guest in a real huff – one that would take no less than a Benjamin to clear up.
Now, you might be wondering – surely such easily-inconvenienced guests might find mobile check-in to be a smoother experience, right?
Wrong. In general, you’ll find that these guests never use mobile check-in, since that feature automatically selects a welcome amenity on your behalf: “Enjoy a welcome gift of 1,000 points. If you prefer the amenity or daily breakfast, please let us know when you arrive.”
And hey, why let the automated system offer you your elite benefits by default, when you can instead engage with a human staff member who’d be a lot more susceptible to a slip-up that might inconvenience you?
My Experience with the Marriott Bonvoy Elite Guarantee
There have been several instances over the years when I was entitled to compensation because my elite benefits were not mentioned upon check-in, although I’ve either been too lazy to follow-up with the front desk, didn’t have enough time to do so, or simply decided to live and let live.
Last week, though, I visited the JW Marriott San Francisco Union Square for a one-night stay. Prior to my arrival, I discovered that the hotel’s lounge was closed, and to my surprise, the JW Marriott was actually on the select list of US properties shown above that didn’t have to offer breakfast in lieu of lounge access!
(I’d chalk this down to my own insufficient research beforehand, as if I had known I wouldn’t be getting breakfast, I’d probably have chosen a different hotel.)
During check-in, I was informed that I’d be getting 1,000 points in lieu of lounge access as part of my lounge access benefit as a Titanium member, but the associate never mentioned anything about my elite welcome amenity as a Titanium member.
That should’ve been a choice between a further 1,000 points or a US$10 food and beverage voucher. I assume the associate got confused between the two, and forgot to mention the latter.
Like all of the previous occasions, I wasn’t feeling too enthusiastic about raising my concerns at the front desk and claiming compensation, even though I was entitled to it. But then again, I had made breakfast plans the following morning, and it’s frankly ridiculous that there’s a list of US properties that don’t have to offer breakfast if the lounge is closed – why, Marriott, why?!
So for the sake of giving the elite guarantee a test-run and paying for my breakfast the following morning, I approached the front desk about the issue late in the evening of my stay. The on-shift associate promised to pass it along to his manager, who’d get back to me the following day.
To the manager’s credit, he called me the following day even after I had checked out, even sending me an email to call him back when he couldn’t get a hold of me.
Eventually, we spoke, and he thanked me for my loyalty and for bringing up the issue, as it was a good opportunity for him to ensure the staff was better trained on the ins and outs of Marriott’s elite benefits and guarantees.
Since I had already departed the property, he said he’d adjust my bill and credit me with the US$100 in compensation that I was due.
And while this manager was merely following the terms and conditions of the Bonvoy program as they’re laid out, I do commend him for following up gracefully about the situation, since I’ve heard over the years that not all hotel managers are equally as familiar with or willing to grant the elite guarantee compensation.
Whenever you stay at Marriott hotels as a Platinum Elite member or above, you’re meant to be guaranteed a welcome gift upon check-in, and you’re entitled to claim US$100 in compensation if the guarantee is not met.
Most guests aren’t familiar with this policy, and even those who are familiar might be reluctant to pursue the compensation every time. And yet, there’s a small segment of easily-inconvenienced guests out there who routinely engineer situations in which the welcome gift is forgotten, resulting in a nice US$100 discount on their stay every time it happens.
What are your experiences with the Marriott Bonvoy elite guarantee? Have you claimed compensation before? And on your future stays, are you going to let go of minor inconveniences, or chat the front desk associate’s ear off while keeping your skin extraordinarily thin?