When Marriott International finalized its $13 billion merger with Starwood Hotels & Resorts recently, the company immediately linked the respective rewards programs allowing customers to transfer points back and forth and earn the highest status of any program.
So a silver member of Marriott’s program, for example, automatically becomes a gold if that’s the status enrolled in at SPG (Starwood Preferred Guest). According to Marriott CEO Arne Sorenson, an average 100,000 people per day were linking the accounts.
I happened to stay at a Sheraton shortly after the merger, and at check-out decided to open an SPG account. That’s when I learned that I already had one, albeit one opened before 1992 because of the address that was on the account.
The hotel front desk clerk wrote down my account number and instructed me to go online to complete the process of integration. Since I could not remember my password and the email address I used when opening it is no longer in use, I wound up on the phone speaking with a customer service rep.
Because I had divorced and, therefore, had a different name from when the account was opened — though a hyphenated one — I was sent through a battery of questions to verify I am who I am.
The first question was to approximate my current point balance. I skipped to the next round because I had neither a recollection of the points or the password I may have established more than two decades earlier.
The rep next asked when I’d last stayed in a Sheraton and, fortunately, the latest stay had been tied to the account number or I’d be caught in an endless loop of being unable to update my account information. Since the stay had been the day before, he apologized before asking the redundant question of what month the stay was in, but the script offered him no alternative.
Still, I was able to update my mailing address and email address, but cannot link the accounts until the names are the same. This means filing proof of legal name, which the rep thought could be satisfied by a driver’s license and not require mailing in a copy of a divorce decree, which is the usual requirement when a name change is involved.
Wouldn’t it just be easier if I started a new account?
Unfortunately, the system doesn’t allow that. It should be easy enough to scan my driver’s license on the spot using my phone and email the information. But it will take seven days to correct in the system. The process does not allow the information to be scanned and sent directly to the rep to deal with during the actual conversation.
Room for improvement
Rewards programs do matter to frequent travelers. At the restaurant, an avid traveler peppered the waiter with questions about whether the points from the meal he was ordering would make it onto his account. The reply was a tentative yes.
While it's admirable for Marriott to link its programs immediately — something no other entity has accomplished immediately after a merger — communication needs to flow smoothly to those who are closest to the customer.