There are a number of little idiosyncrasies in my business travel life that help solidify my place in the “contrarion” category when it comes to the miles and points space. Living where I live, I think flying Delta is the easiest to forgive, though one could argue that I should wise up and start crediting to Alaska MileagePlan. Then there’s the other side of the business travel coin – hotels. Marriott Rewards always wins a lot of awards so it must not be so bad, but it catches a lot of flack in the bloggerverse for being among the least rewarding hotel programs. Appropriately, I spend most of my hotel nights in a Marriott family hotel. :)

Travel Update reported this weekend that Marriott’s cancellation policy will change on January 1, 2015, from a “cancellation deadline from the day of arrival (e.g., 12:00, 4:00 or 6:00 p.m.) to 11:59 p.m. local time on the day prior to arrival.” For whatever reason, a lot of my business travel is last-minute. Likewise, a lot of my planned business travel changes at the last minute. As a result, Marriott’s admittedly generous cancellation policies at most properties were a benefit to me. Frankly, it is one of the reasons that Marriott.com is usually the first place I look for hotel accommodation in any city I’m traveling to.

When I look at things through the eyes of a revenue management analyst, I can see the benefits for hotels being better able to manage inventory and price distressed inventory appropriately. Then there’s the cancellation fee possibility as well. However, I’m not a revenue management person for a hotel, I’m a business traveler, and this is not a positive development in my travels. I’m not the type to wail on about any little change sending me somewhere else. The truth is that I’ll still be spending plenty of time at Marriott in 2015. BUT this one little change alone will cost them some business from me as there are other hotel properties in cities I frequent that I prefer, and I no longer have the better cancellation policy to sway me towards Marriott. End of the world? No. End of defaulting to Marriott without looking anywhere else? Definitely. Will Marriott’s change in cancellation policy impact your hotel decisions?

-MJ, October 13, 2014

MJ on Travel is a fan of the concept of mobile check-in. Seriously. While I think the penultimate solution is turning your mobile phone into your room key, I accept that mobile check-in is an evolving lodging solution. Admittedly, I’ve tried two mobile (or online) check-in solutions, Hilton (0nline) and Marriott (mobile). I did not much care for Hilton’s solution. They make you pick a particular room, which may or may not be the best available.

On the other hand, Marriott’s mobile check-in is a little cleaner. You receive a notification the day before that you can check in. No one forces you to do so, and when you do, you’re not forced into a particular room. I’ve checked in with the Marriott mobile app before my room had been assigned and afterward. An “assigned” room might be to the club floor, or some other accommodation. In any event, it works, but I’ve offered some constructive criticism on Marriott’s mobile check in solution here and here. My biggest complaint was the lack of an assigned area for those who use the app to check in and pick up their room key.

I’m currently bunking at the Renaissance Washington, DC, Downtown, a hotel I’ve stayed with multiple times, and reviewed previously. This is a favorite hotel of mine, especially the lobby area. Upon arriving today, I was pleased to see a unique kiosk situated well before the front desk, and prominently displaying a “Marriott Mobile Check-in” display. One attendant was working the kiosk, and she politely greeted me upon arrival. I presented my idea, and mentioned that I had checked in via the mobile app. She located my reservation and confirmed that I wanted to apply my room charges to my card on file, which has not been required to be seen again during any of my three Marriott mobile check-in attempts. Then, she left and went to the front desk to get my keys which had already been prepared. #Ugh.

If you’re going to place a kiosk just inside the front door that displays a sign saying “Marriott Mobile Check-in,” why wouldn’t you have the room keys waiting at that kiosk? Make it happen, Marriott! Otherwise…well, not even “otherwise,” this is a great stay and a great hotel. Just a little constructive criticism on the mobile check-in experiment.

-MJ, September 24, 2014

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News that the Atlantis Resort in Nassau, Bahamas, will join the Marriott Autograph Collection of hotels piqued my interest, but probably for reasons that are a bit different than others. Nassau is a huge stop for mass-market cruise ships, and a port that I’ve visited so many times that I usually choose to stay on the ship when docked there unless I want two things – wi-fi at the Green Parrot bar near the port, or to hit the super-duper awesome water park at Atlantis.

The cruise lines sell excursions to the water park that include transportation to Paradise Island. The cost is typically $165 per adult, and $119 for children. You can also buy a day pass at the resort on a space available basis. And finally, I’ve previously covered a unique way to obtain access using Ultimate Rewards points. Now, there will be another option.

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Image courtesy of Marriott

Of course, all of this is pure speculation until Atlantis actually joins the program, and we learn what category the hotel will be assigned. We’ll know this fall, according to Marriott. Depending on where you are with points balances, and your travel goals, I think it could be possible to make a case for spending Marriott Rewards for a room, even if you aren’t spending a full night. For a family of 4, you could be looking at $568 for a day at the water park, and that’s before food and beverage. It will be interesting to see where Atlantis winds up on the category chart. Then I’ll test whether this will work in practice.

-MJ, August 5, 2014

I subscribe to a lot of email services, and one in particular, the American Hotel and Lodging Association (AHLA) SmartBrief, caught my eye today. It referenced a USA Today article about a new offering from Marriott Rewards, LocalPerks. LocalPerks will be a part of the Marriott Guest Services app, and will offer a traveler particular services based on their location within participating hotel properties. While it gives me a feeling of “big brother” watching, younger travelers are a little more wedded to their smartphones. Likely a fantastic idea for forward thinking marketers, and who am I kidding? I’m as wedded to my smartphone as anyone. It appears that this initial effort is aimed at Apple customers and their “i devices.” Yeah, that’s me.

Additionally, according to Marriott Rewards Insider, they’ll be introducing Marriott Rewards Flash Perks on Monday.  According the Insider website, they’ll be offering limited quantities of our very best hotel deals, travel experiences and merchandise. The sales will only be live for 24 hours, or until the inventory is depleted, and only available on the Flash Perks website. And some of these deals are so good that you’ll want to be first in line when the doors open!”

Interesting stuff from Marriott Rewards. How do you feel about “location based services?” Too big brother, or not soon enough?

-MJ, July 11, 2014

Loyalty Traveler posted some news today that I found interesting. To be clear, this isn’t confirmed, but I think it’s worth noting for the sake of discussion. As Ric notes, a thread on Marriott Rewards Insiders contains some interesting info. The highlights of these rumored changes include:

  • The points required for award stays will be increased by at least 5,000 points per night across all levels and the 5th night free will disappear.  Category 10 will be added and require 60,000 points per night (read mass devaluation),
  • A new level will be announced above Platinum and the requirements will be formally revealed. (i.e. everyone will know how to achieve PP, if that is what it is called)
  • New benefits for Gold, Plat, and the new PP will be announced.  These will include things like confirmed suite upgrades (for the new PP), instant upgrades using online check-in, free breakfast (including resorts for the new PP ), free parking, and free “lifestyle events,” at the hotels during your stay,
  • The offerings in the concierge lounges in NA will be enhanced and will include free beer, wine and spirits where local laws permit.
  • However, Concierge lounge access will be eliminated for Golds and Plats unless upgraded to the concierge level rooms.  (Gold and Plats will continue to receive free continental breakfast in the restaurant or points.)
  • MR is looking at different models for awarding elite status including annual hotel spend, instead of nights stayed (similar to Delta’s and United FF requirements for elite status).  Spend in bars and restaurants will be included.  Deeply discounted rates, such as Government Rates, group and convention rates,  and special promotion rates will not count towards the spend requirement.

Well….. OK, I said it already, but just to make sure….this isn’t something official from Marriott. However, any one of these is pretty major stuff. To be clear, I like Marriott. Marriott Rewards, along with Starwood Preferred Guest were my first two hotel loyalty programs all the way back when I was working for a big airline and traveling a lot. They were also the first two programs where I held elite status. I was Gold with SPG when that was the only elite level there was. Marriott happens to have a lot of properties near a few of my most important project sites nowadays. Frankly, it’s easy for me to stay with Marriott. Just so happens that one of my favorite hotels anywhere, the Mayflower in DC is part of the Marriott family.

I’ve always viewed hotel programs and hotel elite status differently than my airline programs and status. It’s not that I don’t appreciate hotel points or elite programs, believe me, I do. It’s just that a hotel has a purpose unlike any other in my book – sleeping. As a Marriott Gold member, I would be annoyed at losing concierge lounge access. That said, in the last 20 stays at one of my favorite Marriott family hotels, I’ve set foot in the concierge lounge exactly 3 times. Lounge access is one of those things I like to have when I really need it. In the end, it’s hard to say how I feel about any of these changes, well…other than bar charges counting towards “spend.” I’d be top tier in no time. ;) Kidding.

In conclusion, I’m not terribly concerned about this. Rumors abound, especially in light of Delta’s recent changes. In the end, the hotel programs have been revenue based from the get-go. Hotels are a place to sleep for me, though I know others feel differently. I will say that these changes would make it far more likely for me to “break up” with the big chain programs and forget about the random benefits I sometimes use in favor of staying in hotels I really, really enjoy. I’m thinking just about any hotel associated with Kimpton. So there. What are your feelings on this Marriott rumor?

-MJ, March 13, 2014

 

The Mayflower Hotel in Washington, DC is a longtime favorite of mine. Though the lobby was renovated not too long ago, the place has an old school DC feel about it that I like. The fact that I’ve never had anything but great service there keeps me coming back. I’ve reviewed the hotel before, so I will not do so again, but I thought I’d put up a few pictures of my room. When I looked at my reservation on the way to DC, I could see that I had been assigned to a standard room on the Club floor, which was just fine with me. However, at check in the very nice agent said let me see if we have a better room for you. I was upgraded to a Congressional Suite, not a certain former governor’s suite I’m sure.

The suite was on the 2nd floor, just far enough from the elevators. It was a 2 room suite with a bonus area where the coffee pot was located. The living area was quite large, complete with a sofa and two sitting chairs. There was a small desk as well.

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I enjoyed the room, but did not get to spend much time in it unfortunately. Every now and then, things work out for Marriott Gold members too. Upgrade or not, the Mayflower Hotel is a favorite.

-MJ, February 28, 2014

This is a mini-review of a short hotel stay. There’s nothing fabulous about most any airport hotel, but having spent one night here before a flight, I thought it was worth a quick post. The back story – I was in New Jersey on business, and the most suitable airport was Philadelphia. I flew in the evening before my series of meetings the following day and stayed near the project site. I knew I would be unable to finish everything I needed to do on site, and get back to PHL before the last flight to Atlanta. The solution – The Philadelphia Airport Marriott. Staying at the airport enabled me to avoid getting up at 3AM to get to the airport, and I was able to drop the rental car off one day early too, since the hotel is connected to the airport terminal. I could do without a car because Philadelphia’s SEPTA trains service the airport, and you can take that into town, or you can do what I did and realize you’re bone tired and really just want a drink and a burger in the hotel restaurant (which turned out to be surprisingly good) and then go to bed.

Check in was swift, and easy, and I was on my way to my 7th floor room in short order. The room was basic Marriott with a comfortable bed, big TV, well-lit work area, and my favorite thing about any hotel nowadays, lots of power outlets.

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The hotel’s restaurant, The Riverbend Bar and Grill, turned out to be surprisingly good. I went for the pork chop, which was really good. All of my colleagues were well pleased with their food as well. Dinner menu here. There is a concierge lounge, which I only visited for dessert so I can’t speak to the morning and evening buffet spreads. Dessert was a little minimalist, but fine for me.

Getting to the airport terminal was very easy. There is a shuttle, but you can walk from the second level. The hotel staff estimated a 7 minute walk, but I’d be surprised if it took more than 5 minutes. The climate controlled walkway ends at the B/C security checkpoint. If you’re a PreCheck person, just turn left at the end of the walkway and proceed a little further. Even though this lane enters into the US Airways area, you can easily walk to the Delta gates. If you have luggage to check, you’ll need to spend a few minutes outside, but you can still walk to the Delta check in area.

If you have an early morning flight from Philadelphia International, consider staying at the Philadelphia Airport Marriott, and saving yourself a few minutes of valuable sleep.

-MJ, November 22, 2013

Marriott Rewards may not be the sexiest hotel rewards program out there, but it is big, offers a plethora of properties in cities and towns of all sizes, and offers one of the more consistent experiences in hotel stays. When I transitioned from my airline career into something new, I began to focus more on loyalty programs, specifically hotel programs that I had not really bothered with in a long time. It was nothing but chance that most of the people I worked with in my new position were Marriott loyalists. I became one too. As time passed, I read more about hotel programs, and the desire to experiment led me to try other hotel loyalty schemes.

At about that time, I began working with a new group of people who were all Hilton loyalists. I dove in. Within a short amount of time I was elevated to HHonors Gold, and eventually Diamond. My Hilton family stays were always OK, no complaints, then I rediscovered Starwood Preferred Guest. I say “rediscovered” because there was a time during my airline days that I was Starwood Gold when that was the only elite level! Starwood remains a big favorite of mine, but once again, my travel patterns have changed, making it more difficult for me to amass enough stays to hold anything more than Gold status….not that there is anything wrong with that other than I’d rather be SPG Platinum. :)

Which brings me back to Marriott Rewards. Yes, things do come full circle. With my relocation to Atlanta, I have found that my travel needs have evolved yet again. It seemed that everywhere I was going, there was always a Marriott property, whether it was a Courtyard or a JW Marriott, that met my lodging needs. I debated sticking with my old habits and love of Starwood, and backing that up with the HHonors Gold status provided by virtue of my HHonors Reserve Visa. In the end, I elected to cover my hotel needs in a different way, and challenge my way back to Marriott Rewards gold status which I had lost several years ago. You can read about my challenge experience here.

I’ve enjoyed the benefits of Marriott Gold, including free internet, lounge access, etc. One of my favorite things about booking more Marriott hotels for my business travel needs? Most of the Marriott family hotels I book will allow you to change or cancel your reservation up to the afternoon of your scheduled arrival. For a variety of reasons, it is not at all unusual for my travel plans to change on short notice. That little bit of scheduling flexibility is a big deal, and has already saved me a few hundred bucks in late cancel fees.

In summary, Marriott Rewards is working for me for reasons that are unique to my situation. Still, with all the changes in hotel programs, I am experimenting with different alternatives. Look for a review of a beautiful Kimpton Hotel in a yet to be disclosed location by week’s end. Are you making changes with your hotel loyalty choices this year? How so?

A few years ago I spent some time as a Marriott Gold Elite member. I liked the benefits that came with Gold status, and frankly, I liked Marriott Rewards. As my knowledge of other hotel frequency programs increased, I branched out to Hilton HHonors and Starwood Preferred Guest. SPG quickly became my favorite hotel program. That said, changes in my travel patterns came and I found myself staying at Hilton properties more frequently, ultimately reaching HHonors Diamond status and SPG Platinum status while seeing my Marriott elite status drop to dirt. I always missed Marriott. I don’t think of myself as a creature of habit, but perhaps I am. While I love the whimsical differences of the various W Hotels I’ve had the pleasure of staying at, I have to admit that there was always something that I missed about the familiarity of Marriott hotels.

Like all things, my stay patterns again shifted and I found myself booking an increasing number of Marriott family hotels. I had Silver Elite status by virtue of my Marriott Rewards Premier Visa. But having experienced Gold Elite status in the past, I knew that was what I wanted. OK…I really wanted Platinum Elite, but the fact is that I knew I would probably be able to maintain Gold for the longer term so that is what I went for. I knew from reviews of Flyertalk and Milepoint that Marriott would frequently offer a status challenge if you inquired, so I wrote a brief email and sent it to elite.member at marriott.com stating the following:

Hello. I would like to request a challenge to Marriott Rewards Gold status. I believe that my upcoming travel patterns and plans should allow me to obtain and maintain this status going forward and would appreciate the opportunity to challenge up to Gold. My Marriott Rewards # is XXXXXXXXX, and my address is XXXX Street, Atlanta, GA XXXXX.

Regards,
Marshall Jackson

I received a reply from Marriott the same day offering to upgrade my status to Gold immediately. I would keep the status until the end of January 2013. During that time, I would need to complete 6 paid stays at Marriott family hotels. The email asked for a reply if I accepted the challenge, which I sent. The next day when I logged into my Marriott account, I was Gold Elite.

I completed my 6th stay before Christmas, and in retrospect, I could have easily completed a Platinum challenge as well based on current bookings for January. But like I said, I expect I can maintain Gold Elite for the long term, and I find the benefits it offers mesh well with my travel needs. My favorite benefits are complimentary internet, lounge access, and free breakfast. Room upgrades are nice, and I enjoy them when I get them as well. You can review all the benefits of Marriott Rewards Gold Elite status here.

I recently completed a 2-night stay at the fabulous Hotel Arts Barcelona (Marina 19-21, 08005 Barcelona, Spain). This was my first visit to Barcelona, and my first stay at a Ritz-Carlton Hotel! No, I’m not making that up. :) My love of W Hotels aside, no one ever called me Mr. Fancy Pants when it comes to hotels. Basically, I want a bed, a TV, and wi-fi, and I’m happy. That said, the Hotel Arts was our first stop after a fabulous 14-night cruise which we were taking to celebrate MrsMJ’s (ahem) 29th birthday, and I wanted something nice. I contacted our wonderful travel agent, Michelle Bemis, at McCabe World Travel in McLean, Virginia for advice. She recommended the Hotel Arts, which was a partner hotel with the Virtuoso network. As a result, not only would we be staying at a great hotel, we would receive a room upgrade at check in, an 85 Euro credit to our room for use during our stay, and late checkout, not that we needed that with a 6am flight! I was not disappointed.

Check In

We arrived at the hotel rather early following our cruise, just before 10:00am. Early check-in had been requested by our travel agent, so I wasn’t worried. It was likely that our room would be ready, and if not, we would just leave our bags and spend our time touring beautiful Barcelona! Arriving via taxi, we were immediately greeted by Bell staff and sent to the elevator for a short ride to the main lobby. Upon arriving there, we were immediately assisted. We were warmly welcomed, by the front desk assistant. While being checked in, we were even greeted by the hotel concierge. Our front desk assistant recognized not only my Marriott Gold status, but our Virtuoso affiliation as well. She presented us with a card detailing our benefits, and then, much to my surprise, escorted us to our room on the 16th floor of the hotel.

The Room

Our room offered a partial sea and city view. I suppose it was the best of both worlds. Our front desk person kindly explained the room and presented us with a map of Barcelona, pointing out important sites and the best ways to get there. I was quite pleased with the room. It was large, offered nice views of the city, a comfortable bed, and a TV that came with a remote control that weighed as much as a baseball bat! Seriously, that was the sturdiest remote control I’ve ever seen! After spending a generous amount of time with us, the front desk attendant left us to our own devices….which after such a long cruise meant, we took a nap! At some point, champagne and strawberries arrived, another Virtuoso amenity compliments of our travel agent. The room was extremely comfortable, and featured wireless internet access. ($28 Euro, but complimentary for me as a Marriott Gold member). The room featured a large bath with separate walk-in shower and tub, dual vanities, etc. It was very nice! I snapped a few photos around the room with my iPhone.

Around the Hotel

There was a nice lounge for elite members that I only caught a glimpse of. Frankly, we had too much to see and too little time, so we did not spend a lot of time just lounging around the hotel. I can say that the fantastic restaurant, Cafe Veranda, offered one of the better breakfast buffets I’ve seen. If you go, do not leave without enjoying one of their phenomenal crepes! I went with strawberries and Nutella. Just sayin’. The hotel is located in the Olympic Village area of Barcelona, next to the sea, and within close proximity to many oceanview restaurants and clubs. We walked everywhere we went, which of course included the Ramblas. However, I think my favorite destination during our short visit was Sagrada Familia.

You are welcome to view my photos of Barcelona. (Added December 6, 2012. More photos will be added as I work through them)

Final Thoughts

I cannot say enough good things about the Hotel Arts. From the moment we arrived, it exceeded my expectations, and continued to do so throughout our all to short stay. I will not hesitate to stay at this fabulous hotel again.

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