A few days ago, Marriott and Starwood announced what the new combined program will look like and, for the most part, it’s not terrible. I know that’s not a ringing endorsement but, compared to what they could have done, they kept many of the best attributes of each. That’s not to stop them from decimating the program in the future, of course.
Marriott And SPG Merge
There are a lot of excellent blog posts out there that analyze the minute details of each change. Mine will not be one of them, but I’ll hit a few of the high points.
Before we start, though, I will say that I am curious as to what people like and don’t like about the changes. Feel free to throw your thoughts in the comments.
Okay, here are the basics. The new program starts in August and will be a combination of the Starwood, Marriott and Ritz Carlton plans. Everything will be based on the Marriott system that revolves around nights, not stays, so that’s a negative for Starwood people who earned status on many short stays. Your Starwood points will convert to Marriott at the standard 3 Marriott Rewards (MR) points for every SPG point that converts.
You’ll earn 10 points per dollar spent at almost all hotels, with bonuses if you have elite status in the new program.
Marriott is carrying over many of the most popular benefits from the Starwood program, although they have raised the level for many. Most of the key benefits start once you hit 25 nights and earn Gold in the new program. You’ll pick up free enhanced internet access, 2pm late checkout (based on availability) and a 25% points bonus. The other big jump is from Gold to Platinum, which gets you lounge access and five “suite night” awards. The latter, for those of you who aren’t familiar with the SPG program, are guaranteed upgrades. They’ll start checking for upgrades five days out from your check-in date and keep going until you check in. I’ve heard mixed reviews on their efficacy from Starwood people. Move to Platinum Premier at 75 nights and you’ll get an additional five nights or an alternative gift.
The highest level, Ambassador, comes with your own personal concierge. It requires 100 nights and $20,000 in spend, though. Ouch. Goodbye, top-tier, hello booking meetings.
Redemptions, though, aren’t quite as exciting. While there will be a fixed reward chart, which will have peak and off-peak rewards, the redemptions at the high end are going up in price, particularly if you are a pre-merger Marriott customer, whose award chart had always been a little more generous. The hotels will be broken down into seven categories, with an eighth to be added in 2019. Get ready to spend more points for your nights.
One of the most lucrative areas for companies are their co-branded credit cards. Chase and American express, the former partners of Marriott and SPG, respectively, will be sharing the duty, with Amex picking up a high-end card that gives you lounge access, a free night, a $300 hotel credit and lots of other goodies. Marriott is introducing a new card as well, although one of the features that it lacks is getting a free elite night credit for every $3,000 that you spend. That’s a big loss for those who earn elite status on heavy card spending. I’ve seen mixed messages on whether that benefit will carry over under the new plan on existing cards once we hit August. Chase was actually able to tell me very little about what would happen, although the representative that I spoke to indicated that it looked like the business version of the card would stay like it is, including the ability to earn an elite night credit for $3,000 in spend. Your guess is as good as mine, however, as to how it turns out.
One benefit that’s going, though, is earning multiple 15-night credits for having multiple cards. In the past, you have earned 15 elite night credits for each card that you have. That appears to be changing to one per account, regardless of how many cards you have.
The Bottom Line: We have not seen all the changes that will eventually come, nor the unintended consequences of what the current changes will bring. But the first pass appears to be rather benign. Hopefully, Marriott has recognized the value of the loyalty program and the enthusiasm that Starwood customers have for SPG.
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