Should I Keep Points with Marriott Rewards or Starwood?
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TPG reader Daniel sent me a message on Facebook to ask about managing hotel points:
“Now that Marriott and Starwood are merging loyalty programs, does it matter where I store my points? Am I better off transferring my points to one program or the other, and do you think one of them offers more value?”
The new partnership between Marriott Rewards and Starwood Preferred Guest has been the biggest news in the award travel world this past month. The ability to swap points between the two programs creates a lot of intriguing redemption opportunities. In some cases it will make sense to send Starpoints to Marriott, and in other cases it will make sense to send Marriott points to Starwood. In the meantime, however, it doesn't really matter where you park your rewards.
One impressive aspect of this partnership is that you can transfer points freely in both directions at a consistent ratio. One Starpoint gets you three Marriott points, and vice versa. Furthermore, transfers between the two programs appear to go through quickly in either direction — within a few hours, if not instantly. That means the points are effectively interchangeable, and there's not much incentive to keep your points with one program over the other.
The only advantage you get from transferring between the two programs (when you're not booking an award) is that you may be able to keep points from expiring. Starwood accounts become "inactive" if you don't earn, redeem, purchase or transfer points in a 12-month period. Since transfers qualify as activity, you can preserve your Starpoints by sending even the minimum (1,000 points) over to Marriott.
Unfortunately, Marriott does not count transfers as qualifying activity, so that same strategy won't keep your Marriott Rewards points from expiring. However, if you have Marriott points that are going to expire soon, you could avoid losing them by simply transferring them all to Starwood.
While you can store your points with either program, there's definitely a new incentive to earn points with SPG rather than Marriott, especially when it comes to non-bonus spending. The Marriott Rewards Premier Credit Card earns 5 points per dollar spent at Marriott properties, as well as 2 points per dollar spent on select travel and dining purchases, and 1 point per dollar elsewhere. In comparison, the Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express earns just 1 point per dollar on most purchases, but that equates to 3 Marriott Rewards points, so it's generally the better option for everyday purchases.
Check out these posts for more SPG, Marriott, and how to maximize the combined programs:
- 15 Questions About the Future of SPG and Marriott Rewards
- A Post-Merger Q&A with Marriott's Thom Kozik and SPG's David Flueck
- 7 Cards You'll Want to Have as a Starwood/Marriott Guest