A Conversation with Marriott's VP of Loyalty, Thom Kozik
Arguably, the biggest story from the past year for rewards enthusiasts has been the Marriott and Starwood merger. When it was announced in November, it's safe to say that most Starwood loyalists panicked — should they be worried about the merger and what does it mean for the future SPG program? Well, here we are more than two months later, and even after Marriott's CEO released a video detailing the future of the two programs, we still don't have an exact answer to the question at hand.
Earlier this month, I had an opportunity to attend the Ritz-Carlton-sponsored Cayman Cookout at the Ritz-Carlton in Grand Cayman. In order attend the event, you have to be a Ritz-Carlton Rewards Credit Card holder and be on the lookout for the exact time when tickets are released because the event usually sells out within minutes. That being said, I was thrilled to be able to attend this event and escape down to beautiful Grand Cayman. However, one of the specific events I was most excited about for the weekend was a one-on-one interview I had planned with Marriott's VP of Global Loyalty, Thom Kozik. I had some burning questions — especially about the merger — that I couldn't wait to ask him.
After a long conversation with Kozik in front of a picturesque view of the ocean from the Ritz-Carlton Grand Cayman's property, it became clear to me that there's still no answer to the burning question of what will happen to SPG once the merger is finalized later this year. However, Kozik himself told me that SPG members have "Nothing to be nervous about." What that means is unclear, but he did tell me that Starwood and Marriott are in the process of working together to look at how to mesh the businesses and where the interaction points are. And as Marriott's CEO Arne Sorenson said in his LinkedIn video, Kozik reiterated to me that the company is dedicated to bringing together the best of both programs.
He also told me that Marriott is looking into having a couple of forums — including one for influencers in the industry — to help the company define what the future of loyalty should look like. Ritz-Carlton has already taken steps in becoming more beneficial to its members by introducing "Points Sharing" in October, which allows members to more easily transfer points among all family and friends instead of just their spouse or legal domestic partner. Kozik said the company is always looking to offer more benefits to its members.
Ultimately, I think the best possible scenario for the future of both programs is for them each to retain their independence — like Kimpton Karma Rewards was able to do after its merger with IHG — with the possibility of Marriott expanding its elite perks. And while events like the Ritz-Carlton Cayman Cookout are outstanding — where else can you hang out in paradise on a Friday night and converse with Anthony Bourdain as he serves you a burger? — and offer priceless and rewarding experiences, I hope there continue to be options like this well after the merger is finalized. That being said, I'd love to be able to have both Marriott and Starwood available as their own entity so I can still have the option of maintaining my SPG Platinum status.
Of course, I was sure to let Kozik know that he can always ask me for advice on the merger if needed!