What's the Best Strategy for Switching Hotel Loyalty Programs?
Update: Some offers mentioned below are no longer available. View the current offers here.
TPG reader Roger sent me a message on Facebook to ask about moving his loyalty to a new hotel program:
“I'm switching from Hilton HHonors to Marriott Rewards, since Marriott has a better presence in my favorite travel destinations. I don't want to start from scratch with my points and elite status; what's the best way to make the transition?”
On occasion I've made the decision to switch loyalty programs, usually because my old program devalued so much that I couldn't justify sticking around. Of course, there are other, more pragmatic reasons for making a change, like moving to the hub of a different airline or discovering (as Roger did) that another hotel better serves your top vacation spots. Getting started in a new program can be cumbersome because you may not have as many points to work with and you lose momentum from elite status, but there are some ways to make the change easier.
There's no simple way to transfer your points from Hilton to Marriott without sacrificing a lot of value, so you should just look for opportunities to use up your remaining HHonors balance. However, you can take advantage of credit card sign-up bonuses to jump-start your Marriott account. For example, the Marriott Rewards Premier Credit Card offers 80,000 points after you spend $3,000 in the first three months, and another 7,500 points when you add an authorized user and make a purchase also in the first three months.
You can easily transfer points to Marriott from Ultimate Rewards, so cards like the Chase Sapphire Preferred and Ink Plus Business Card can also help you accumulate enough for your next award redemption. Ritz-Carlton has also offered some highly lucrative offers on its own co-branded Ritz-Carlton Rewards Credit Card (like last year's monster 140,000-point bonus).
As for elite qualification, there are some shortcuts to gaining status in the Marriott Rewards program so you don't have to start from square one. For example, the Marriott Visa gives you 15 elite-qualifying nights each year — enough for automatic Silver status. If you have United Premier Gold status or higher, you can get complimentary Marriott Gold status via the RewardsPlus partnership.
Another option is to try a status match or challenge, which may allow you to parlay an existing relationship with Hilton HHonors into elite status with Marriott. Anecdotal evidence suggests that you're unlikely to have your status matched outright, but your chances of being offered a challenge are fair depending on your current HHonors level.
Roger has picked an interesting time to make the switch, as Marriott's recent acquisition of Starwood will likely spell changes to both loyalty programs down the line. At this point we don't know what a combined program would look like, but it's probably good news for Marriott Rewards members, who will gain access to Starwood's high-end portfolio.
For more info on Marriott Rewards and hotel elite status, check out these posts:
- The Award Traveler's Guide to Marriott Rewards
- 9 Marriott Properties that Make Awesome Award Redemptions
- How Much is Marriott Rewards Elite Status Worth?
- Hotel Elite Status Match and Challenge Plans for 2015