As the world’s largest hotel loyalty program, Marriott Bonvoy is committed to striking the right balance between providing value to their customers while ensuring profitability for their hotel owners.
Marriott operates under an “asset-light” model, meaning they do not own the hotels themselves, but rather franchise and manage the hotel/hotel brand for the hotel owners. I’m bringing this up because bit of information is key to understanding one of the flagship benefits for Marriott elite members: Suite Night Awards (SNAs).
The Suite Night Award concept came from the Starwood Preferred Guest brand, which was a powerful competitor that Marriott acquired back in late 2015.
The idea behind Suite Night Awards was that even though suite upgrades were often provided for status members at check-in, it was not a certainty – you simply had to take your chances. These Suite Night Awards were a way to provide more certainty around whether you could receive an upgrade for your upcoming stay.
How Do You Earn Suite Night Awards?
Suite Night Awards are earned as part of your Marriott Bonvoy elite status. When you reach Platinum Elite status by earning 50 elite qualifying nights per year, you are invited to select an Annual Choice Benefit.
You are able to choose one of the following items:
- 5 Suite Night Awards
- Gift of Silver Elite status to a friend or family member
- 40% off your favourite mattress
- 5 Elite Night Credits
- US$100 charity donation
Additionally, if you are able to achieve Titanium Elite status by earning 75 elite qualifying nights per year, you are given an additional Annual Choice Benefit with slightly different options:
- 5 Suite Night Awards
- Free Night Award worth up to 40,000 points
- Gift of Gold Elite status to a friend or family member
- 40% off your favourite mattress
- 5 Elite Night Credits
- US$100 charity donation
If reaching 50 or 75 nights per year seems daunting, remember that the American Express Marriott Bonvoy Card and Marriott Bonvoy Business Card provide 15 elite qualifying nights per year, which is an excellent way to jumpstart your way into status with Marriott.
There’s no doubt that when reaching Platinum Elite status, you should choose the five Suite Night Awards as your Annual Gift Choice, but what about at Titanium Elite? The Free Night Award worth 40,000 points seems like it would be good value, but is it more value than five additional SNAs? Let’s look at it in a little more depth.
How Do Suite Night Awards Work? In Theory
The way that SNAs are supposed to work is that once you make a reservation at a hotel, you are able to apply your SNAs against the reservation. The hotel will start their search for your upgrade five days from your arrival and every day after that.
In theory, SNAs seem to provide a lot of value – I mean, who doesn’t want certainty around their potential suite upgrades? When it works well, you are guaranteed an upgrade up to five days from arrival, like I had experienced at the JW Marriott Essex House in New York.
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When I redeemed my SNAs for this stay, they cleared a full five days prior to my arrival, which was quite a relief as this was a very important trip for me. But the real question is, how often do SNAs actually work? Spoiler alert – sadly, not all the time.
How Do Suite Night Awards Work? In Practice
In practice, SNAs are not as effective as members would hope they would be. I have been denied upgrades when requested many times in the past, including just recently for a stay at the JW Marriott Anaheim. In fact, I have only had two stays that provided me upgrades, one at the JW Marriott Essex House that I mentioned above and one at the Westin Ottawa, during the heights of COVID when occupancy was incredibly low.
Ricky lets me know that he’s had some better success with SNAs in the past, having used them to score upgrades at the W Shanghai The Bund, Marriott Resort Fiji Momi Bay, St. Regis Shanghai Jingan, among others. Still, he’s had his fair share of denials too, including at the W Shanghai on another occasion and at the St. Regis and W in Hong Kong.
The additional challenge around Suite Night Awards is that there’s a huge variety among hotels in terms of which suites are available to request via an SNA. As an example, we have an upcoming stay at the AC Hotel New York Downtown, and these are our options for a “suite” upgrade.
As you can see, these “upgrades” are merely an upgrade to a room with a view, and not a suite. It should be mentioned that AC Hotels often do not have suites at all, but this isn’t the first time I have seen an “upgrade” with no suites in sight.
On the other hand, when Ricky stayed at the JW Marriott Marquis Doha City Center, one of the SNA upgrade options was a three-bedroom penthouse apartment with 3,766 square feet.
Hotels Not Participating in Suite Night Awards
As if clearing SNAs were not enough of a challenge, there is a list of hotel brands that do not participate in SNA redemptions at all. These hotels brands include:
- The Ritz-Carlton
- The Ritz-Carlton Reserve
- The Ritz-Carlton Destination Club
- The Ritz-Carlton Residences
- Protea Hotels
- Design Hotels
- Marriott Executive Apartments
- Marriott Vacation Club
- Marriott Grand Residence Club properties
- All-suite hotels
- All-inclusive resorts
As you can see, the list is quite long, with the biggest non-participating brand being the Ritz-Carlton. That is an absolute shame because many of the aspirational properties that members want to stay at fall under the Ritz-Carlton brand.
Hotels Participating, But Not Participating in SNAs
There are also times when Suite Night Awards aren’t available for redemption, even if the hotel brand does normally participate in SNAs. Out of curiosity, I called Marriott to better understand why this happens.
I was told that every hotel has the ability to designate dates when they believe that suites will be occupied by paying guests. That obviously leaves a lot of wiggle room for hotels to not offer SNA redemptions under the auspice that the suites will be occupied, even if they end up not being occupied during your stay.
This is further borne out in the catch-all language in Marriott’s Terms and Conditions, 4.3.c.vi.A.13:
In addition, Suite Night Awards are not redeemable at select Participating Properties. Contact a Customer Engagement Center for individual Participating Property Suite Night Award participation.
There have been many situations that I either do not see SNA redemptions available, or the SNA is denied, only to find out later in the app that suites were indeed available during my entire stay. This is obviously quite frustrating and contrary to the original intent of SNAs.
Why Don’t Hotels Always Honour SNAs?
So why don’t hotel owners honour SNAs more frequently? While I don’t have the exact answer, I have a pretty solid guess.
Hotels are paid by Marriott for every certificate they honour – exactly how much is anyone’s guess, but I have to assume that the compensation is minimal. If you put yourself in the shoes of a hotel owner, you have to think about your bottom line.
If you honour an SNA, that means that a suite becomes unavailable for purchase. Even if there is a 1-in-100 chance that a fat cat millionaire strolls up and wants to pay for a suite on the day of, without a reservation, it still represents more potential revenue than what they can recoup from the redemption of an SNA, and that’s not even taking into account the additional cost to clean and service the suite.
The additional disincentive for a hotel owner to honour these SNAs is that SNAs tend to be redeemed at aspirational properties or while the member is on vacation.
The likelihood of someone returning to the property on a continuous basis, and therefore padding the hotel’s bottom line, is fairly low compared to a business traveller – so while you are building loyalty to the Marriott brand, the hotel itself derives little value.
How to Redeem Suite Night Awards
If you fall into the middle of this very rare Venn diagram, count yourself lucky.
Here’s how you actually make use of those hard-earned Suite Night Awards:
- Make a reservation: In order to find out if you can even use your SNAs at a property, you are required to have a reservation to do so. I would recommend that you make a dummy booking well into the future to test this out.
Be careful in doing so because some hotels have very inflexible cancelation policies. Read your particular hotel’s policy closely to ensure you don’t get penalized for cancellation.
- Find your reservation: When you log into your Marriott account, click on “My Trips” and find the reservation you want to use your SNAs on. Once you find it, click on “View/Modify”.
- Start Upgrade Request: If your hotel participates in SNAs, you will see a banner that says “Take an upgrade. You’ve earned it.” Within the banner, click the button that is labelled “Start Upgrade Request.”
- Choose your upgrades: Here you will see the upgrade options available to you. The best and most valuable upgrade option is at the top of the list, with the worst option at the bottom.
Something to keep in mind here is that you can choose multiple upgrade options. If you only choose the top option and it turns out to be unavailable, Marriott will not automatically try to process the next-best option unless you specifically check it off.
- Wait to see if your SNAs are cleared. Once you submit your request for an upgrade, you are done – now to wait to see if the upgrade is processed.
If you change your mind at any time prior to the upgrade being confirmed, you can cancel the request had have your SNAs redeposited.
One very large caveat to remember is that each SNA is good for a one-night upgrade, meaning if you have a six-night stay, you need to have six SNAs in your account in order to apply the certificates.
Another thing to keep in mind is that if the number of nights in your stay exceeds the number of SNAs you have, you cannot apply your SNAs to only a portion of your stay. Sticking to the same example above, if you have a six-night stay and five SNAs, you cannot use your SNAs because your stay is longer than the number of SNAs you have.
Your only option here is to break your stay into different back-to-back reservations and apply your SNAs to the shorter reservation. While not ideal, I have heard some anecdotes of hotels honouring the full stay in the upgraded suite, but this is clearly a “your mileage may vary” type of situation.
While Marriott Bonvoy‘s Suite Night Awards can sometimes be a valuable tool to secure suites and upgrades, there are far too many warts on its implementation and actual use in practice.
For those that have achieved Platinum Elite status, there is no doubt that you should choose the SNAs for your Annual Choice Benefit. But if you make it to Titanium Elite, you should most definitely chose the Free Night Award worth 40,000 points as your secondary choice.
While I commend Marriott for trying to give more certainty to elite members through the use of SNAs, it wouldn’t be right to gloss over their very apparent flaws either, which I hope Marriott can address over the coming years to make the SNA program more valuable for its members.