Freddie Awards 2019: Marriott Bonvoy Wins Program Of The Year (And More)

Filed Under: Marriott

The Freddie Awards are the loyalty program equivalent of the Oscars or Grammys. An awards ceremony is held every year in late April to recognize the winners. A lot of people vote for these awards (this year, there were over seven million votes cast), and as usual, I can’t make sense of many of the results.

Last night the winners of the Freddies were revealed at a ceremony in Dallas, and the results are as confusing as ever.

2019 Freddie Awards winners

Just to give you a sense of the results, here are the airline winners in the Americas:

  • Program of the Year: Southwest Rapid Rewards
  • Best Elite Program: American AAdvantage
  • Best Customer Service: Southwest Rapid Rewards
  • Best Redemption Ability: Southwest Rapid Rewards

Then here are the hotel winners in the Americas:

  • Program of the Year: Marriott Bonvoy
  • Best Elite Program: World of Hyatt
  • Best Customer Service: Caesars Rewards
  • Best Redemption Ability: Marriott Bonvoy

My take on the Freddie Awards results

I generally put Freddie Awards results into one of three categories:

  • Results I agree with
  • Results that I don’t agree with, but I understand why others might have voted how they did
  • Results I can’t make sense of

World of Hyatt winning best elite program? That I agree with. That’s well deserved, because World of Hyatt has made some very nice improvements to the program. They  might not have the biggest global footprint, but I do think they have the best elite program.

Southwest Rapid Rewards winning program of the year? That I don’t agree with, though I understand why people voted the way they did. Southwest is an airline with great customer service, they have no fees on award tickets, and the program is straightforward and easy to use. That being said, I don’t find it to be particularly rewarding.

American AAdvantage winning best elite program? That’s something I can’t really make sense of. That’s an award that Alaska Mileage Plan deserved.

But Marriott Bonvoy winning the “program of the year” award? That’s something I both can’t agree with and also can’t make sense of.

What’s even more shocking is that voting this year took place between February 15 and March 31, which coincided with the launch of Bonvoy. To say that members were frustrated at this point would be an understatement.

How are Freddie Awards results determined?

So, how is it possible that Marriott won? Well, for one, there’s a high correlation between companies that send emails to members encouraging them to vote, and those that do well. Marriott has 100 million plus members, and they sent out two emails to everyone this year.

But the Freddies isn’t supposed to be a popularity contest. That’s because they use a “value voting” system that is intended to not just tally up total votes, but also take into account how passionately people feel about their votes, by letting people prioritize them.

Sure, there’s some positive impact from people voting just because they are encouraged to do so by the program. But Marriott’s loyalty program since last August has been a bit of a mess, so to see them win is just plain puzzling.

Now to be completely balanced, I want to note that I think Marriott deserved the “best redemption ability” award. While the IT of the program and execution has largely been a mess, Marriott has offered some incredible award values as they create a new program, as they didn’t have peak and off-peak award pricing, and also didn’t have Category 8 pricing.

But to see Marriott Bonvoy win program of the year is something I can’t make sense of.

This raises the question of whether the people voting are just not informed consumers, or if we are in some sort of echo chamber here where our complaints about Marriott Bonvoy are really just “noise around the edges,” as Arne Sorensen describes it?

  1. Both in terms of inflationary number of awards handed out and methodology of how winners are determined (different but equally “reliable”), Freddie Awards ranks similarly to Skytrax in my book.

  2. Most travelers, even engaged ones, don’t travel enough to have elite status. If you don’t have status, I don’t see how other airlines are more rewarding than Southwest.

    Same is true for Marriott. Most members probably haven’t had a chance to stay or redeem points yet since the merger. Plus most people only have one or two programs so if they don’t have anything to compare to

  3. I get why Southwest won program of the year. Unlike us on the blog, a huge majority of people don’t want or need to maximize miles for international business/first class. They just want an easy and flexible way to use their miles to Disney World or somewhere like that.

  4. Bonvoy being #1 and AAdvantage being named best elite program can be explained by the “Endowment Effect”. Essentially, if you own something you are biased in a way as to overvalue it.

    Those are big loyalty program with lots of members. So lots of people feel ownership in the program and may be biased to overvalue it.

  5. @Kai Xu – spot on!

    In any case, I think pretty much all such awards – in any industry – are a complete waste. I’ve never been influenced in my consumer behavior by who/what wins some award, whether it’s a movie, a car, or a frequent flyer program.

  6. As with politics, I think that people generally are not as dissatisfied as the vocal minority. I read a lot about peoples dissatisfaction with Bonvoy, but my personal experience has been great, I actually think I have benefitted from the merger. I am currently Ambassador with Bonvoy and will be at minimum Titanium next year as well as Globalist with Hyatt. I agree that the Hyatt program is somewhat lacking in the lower tiers but at the Globalist level, it is the top Hotel program.

    As for airlines, I try to book Delta, it’s not that their program is so great, but their service and aircraft are better than the rest, I always pay to fly upfront so the program isn’t that important to me. I’ve been booking away from AA, they just don’ t seem to get it anymore, both in the air and their program. I never fly Southwest, United seems to be improving, I do fly Jetblue on occasion, I think they do a good job.

  7. While I recognise that a lot of people have had issues with the Marriott integration and I understand the frustration that I read about. A lot of the case are really poor, anyone I know with a Bonvoy account experienced limited to no impact. Of course the people with the chaotic situations are the vocal ones, and that is fair. But there is bound to be a huge group of people that are still very happy to vote for Marriott, and I can see why.

    As for the number of invitations to vote. Every single program I am a member of sent them, IHG sent 3. Most programs were quicker than Marriott. Accor was the first, and yet they did not harvest any of my accolades.
    Do I put a lot of value in the Freddies? No. Am I baffled or unable to understand the results? Also no.

  8. Oscars, Grammys and most high profile awards have had moments when the awards were so plainly inappropriate that they needed to evaluate criteria and process. I’m not sure how much these awards mean to people who are serious about miles & points anymore (I think they used to have some cache when it was more of a niche audience), but unless they want to lose all credibility, they really should re-examine whether this should be a straight up-and-down public vote. This should be a wake up call – when a program as poorly managed and publicly ridiculed as Bonvoy is able to win, it just proves that the award has no meaning and is easily manipulated by large programs with marketing budgets to influence their large voting base.

  9. While I am not a fan of Southwest and I have mixed feelings about them winning (I get it, but don’t quite agree 100%). But this sends one very loud and clear message – how far the US3’s programs has fell in the past 12-18 months.

    Awards are hard to find and the ones available are often out of reach for millions of customers (vast majority) who flies a couple times per year and doesn’t spend an inordinate amount of money or has the time/energy like some of us geeks to find strategies to help exert value for the money.

  10. The result with marriott winning is a joke. I don’t know why anyone takes these awards seriously.

  11. RE: Southwest, don’t forget that any available seat is available via points. No airline FFP in the Americas provides its customers with more flexibility than Southwest.

  12. But what about the TPG awards? I wanna know who wins “best incentive to bribe us to overlook poor performance” award. Can anyone compete with Bonvoy?

  13. Is this post a joke? Someone takes time and $ to give awards to reward programs?

    Do any of you really care?

    Have you ever seen a program flaunting their Freddie award?

  14. Marriott has a large base of business travelers, who are mostly looking to earn points they can spend later on personal trips or with families in the summer.

    Most of us at my company are Marriott Elite, due to corporate rates and the fact that Marriott is a preferred partner. During the merger and throughout the year, nobody on the team had issue with IT or
    Complained about lack of elite recognition or benefits. Most important thing to them is that points are easy to earn and redeem. The fact that SPG properties merged helped the case – as we now have more redemption options!

  15. Definitely some great points in these comments. Marriott is on a steady decline as they are clearly demonstrating that you can’t just buy greatness (SGP purchase).

  16. Lucky, I comment a lot on this site, and I am a pretty engaged customer across hotel and airline programs. That said, I am not a super elite (I may stay 30-40 nights a year across a variety of hotel programs), never had a Starwood ambassador, etc. I also was never a big SPG AMEX card spender.

    Aside from a few IT issues, I personally never had any program with the integration. On the whole, the Marriott system got significant more valuable to me – the ability to stay at both Marriott and Starwood hotels in any given city was by itself a huge enhancement for me. I’ve stayed at Marriotts, Residence Inns, Ws, Ritzs, Luxury Collections, and Westins in recent months, and the ability to stay at either a desired hotel or a hotel closest to my ultimate destination within a market is huge.

    Obviously if you were super engaged in the Starwood program, the Marriott transition has been more of a loss, but those customers were probably a small minority of even the Starwood customer base.

  17. I kind of agree with the best redemption for Marriott. Little biased as one that doesn’t fly frequently the points to mileage redemptions is Marriott’s biggest plus for me. But best program?? Was TPG stuffing the ballot box??

  18. As a former SPG elite, the Bonvoy program is nice in that almost every city and small town along the interstates now have a Marriott hotel. I hate the name, but the scale of the program is pretty amazing.

  19. I think a lot of people vote on what they know and experience. I am Titanium on Bonvoy and Diamond for life on Hilton. That really doesnt leave a lot of space for me to use Hyatt. I typically book the Grand Hyatt in Taipei twice a year. It is a phenomenal property but I really cant vote for them based on staying at one hotel. Also I did not have any negative experiences with the SPG/Marriott merger. All of my points and stays transferred without incident. The benefit for me is that it is now easier to achieve elevated status since Marriott and SPG were my two main properties. Do I like the new award charts for premium properties. No. Am I happy with the quality of the suite wards program? So far it has been not good at all. But overall I’m pleased with a greater selection of hotels and that is where my vote ultimately went.

  20. SW I totally understand. Keep in mind, they are the largest domestic airline in the US so more people fly them. Also, no fees on bags, no change fees, redemption is easy and no fuss. No basic economy vs. main cabin vs. premium economy, (insert airline acronyms here) so pricing is up front and more convenient. Also, SW has a much better attitude overall with their guests compared to the big 3 carriers.

    Marriott – largest footprint prior to SPG merger – now an even bigger footprint. More travelers can maximize options across the former SPG brands. I never cared much for Marriott before and only stayed there because negotiated rates regarding work, whereas SPG I couldn’t justify. Now that’s all seemless so business travelers can now stay at better hotels (for now) since those negotiated rates are available.

  21. voting this year took place between February 15 and March 31

    Program of the Year: Southwest Rapid Rewards

    Isn’t that right after when Chase is handing out companion pass for free? I know at least 10 people who got that deal, out of those, 8 never had a new card in ages.

  22. Since transitioning over to Bonvoy from SPG, I have been very frustrated and the value we had with SPG is completely gone, everything in the new program is so expensive. Overall value have gone way down.

  23. The Freddie awards voting system is a farce, and results are directly correlated to the marketing effort a program puts behind soliciting its members for vote – nothing else. Delta, United do not promote to their members, for example (and there are many many more who do not ‘actively participate’) and therefore do not even feature in the shortlisted winners. Like most industry awards, it’s about the relationships between the hosts, sponsors and their industry pals. At least the venue was nice!

  24. Feel like they really need to weight the votes based on estimated # of members. It would make things a bit more fair.

  25. Marriott’s “BonVoy” is Sorenson’s “ConToy” and dear old Freddie has fallen for it. The reality of Marriott today is “Serve 360: Doing Corruption in Every Direction (especially in developing countries)”. Sod local people (especially those in communities adjoining Marriott hotels) – and “Bon Voyage” (which can be expressed in much ruder terms towards those who challenge Marriott’s greed and growth non-ethical policies!)

  26. This is why the FlyerTalk Awards always reflect reality better for me. Most Flyertalk members are true travel elites, and I’ve never gotten an email from a company trying to win a FlyerTalk Award. Uninfluenced, both Marriott and SPG got shut out this year, for the first time ever. THAT’S a real result. Hilton won everything in the Hotels categories. Also, Flyertalk corrects for program size by allowing any size program to score a high score and win.

  27. A couple of months ago, in the comments section of a piece over at LoyaltyLobby titled “Freddie Awards Spam Has Begun: Case Marriott Bonvoy “, in which the blogger had deplored Marriott’s solicitation of votes for the Freddies by spamming their loyalty program members, I’d predicted that as awful as BONVoY was it would not be surprising if it won the Freddies:

    “Many have said, rightly, that BONVoY is a joke, but do you know what is an even bigger joke? The Freddie Awards! In fact, it would not surprise me at all if BONVoY, as utterly awful as it has been since botching the merger with IT problems that still persist, walked away with multiple awards at the 2019 Freddies… 🙂 ”

    Only a fool would take the Freddies seriously…

  28. The Freddies have become meaningless, if they ever had meaning, with the push-pull optional voting, similar to the American voting system.
    Like, I mean, who cares? Really?

  29. Just because u and one hundred commenters dont agree, there are hundreds of thousands more that feel otherwise.

  30. Whats the best way to revive a bad brand? Better customer service you say? Or improve your product, work hard to make your customer happy, give them more incentives? Nope. Too expensive. In today’s world, the best and cheapest way is to PR the heck out of your brand no matter how nonsensical it is. Until there is major backlash or a lawsuit these companies will just buy their way out of trouble. I imagine it’s always possible to lean on award givers here and there. Not that I’m saying it happened here. lol I almost said that with a straight face.

    And yes there are people who didn’t experience any issue after the spg merger. But still, even if you experienced no issues at all (like me), compare marriott this year and the same program last year. Was it an improvement? What about the data breach and handling of that? I’m sure the award committee can say “thats not a factor we normally include so its not a factor”. Are the points worth more this year.

  31. The past few years, I have disagreed with many of the Freddy award winners.

    I totally agree with you Ben. In fact, for me I am willing to bet that if you wrote who you think should win in every category, that it would be a much more accurate reflection of the true winners. I am sure that your views would probably match mine in most cases.

  32. The voting system doesn’t really work. There results should be determined by an independent committee of members (maybe 1,000) like the Oscars. The members would be knowledgeable FFers, bloggers, corporate travel managers, and those familiar with the business

    And the awards (whatever you want to call it) should be more of a non-profit operation. Currently it is a for profit business with connections to certain people in the airline business.

    Maybe a group like Consumer Reports should take on the topic of comparing and ranking FF programs.

    At the point, many of the airline/hotel businesses don’t have an interest in the Freddies, nor do they care

  33. Poor Freddie (Laker) is definitely rolling over in his grave and trying to get his name removed from this farce.

    The Freddies have been BonVoyed!

    I have lost all respect and value them now even lower than Skytrax awards (where money buys).

    There probably is some truth in BonVoy having more award space. How true! Every loyal member who valued the old program has seen the writing on the wall and has moved on leaving most BonVoy hotels empty and starving for guests – paid or otherwise. So no problem with availability.

    I own a Marriott Hotel Suite at YVR. Up until last August it was making a reasonable return on the investment. Since August I have not received a penny as the hotel has lost money every month. In the past Nov Dec were weak but never as bad. At the moment it appears that if things continue the hotel will either have to abandon the BonVoy brand, ask for support from owners, or go broke.

    Program of the year – what a disaster!

  34. Bonvoy – Bonvoyage is correct. The massive decline in customer service will ensure that people will say exactly that as they swap to other schemes. They are now totally divorced of honesty, integrity and ethics. Just run by deceitful beancounters.

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