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It’s been over two years since shareholders approved the merger between Marriott and Starwood and two and a half months since we received additional details on what the combined loyalty program would look like. However, the biggest outstanding question for many travelers was simple: How will the integration impact award rates?
We got a sneak peek at the award chart with the initial announcement and then learned the specific award rates for top hotels in five major markets a week later. This morning we’re finally getting a look at the full award rates for all 6,500+ properties across the new program.
Complete analysis is below, but in short…it’s mostly good news, as almost 70% of hotels will require the same or fewer points in the new program.
As a reminder, the new award chart will have seven categories for the rest of 2018 and will add a new top tier (Category 8) in 2019. Here’s what it will look like in comparison to the three separate award charts currently in effect:
Keep in mind that the peak and off-peak rates also won’t go into effect until 2019, and we don’t have any details on those dates in today’s update. However, we do know which properties will fall into Category 8 next year, giving you a window of time to lock in those redemptions now at 60,000 points per night before the increase takes effect.
The new award chart has complete details on every property under the combined Marriott/Starwood umbrella, including a comparison of the current rates with the new rates as of August. In addition, it also includes SPG’s suites-only properties that used to require a huge premium when redeeming points, including the Al Maha in Dubai and the St. Regis Maldives.
According to the chart, these all-suites properties will eventually fall under standard Category 8 pricing — a fantastic value even then. In the meantime, however, you’ll be able to book them at an absolute steal — for 60,000 Marriott points (20,000 Starpoints) per night, versus the 85,000 points they’ll eventually require. We’ve reached to Marriott for clarification, given that this particular redemption type seems like it could be a bit too good to be true. [Update: Marriott has confirmed these are the correct prices for all-suite properties, which makes this potentially the hotel deal of the year. TPG‘s Editor-at-Large Zach Honig will have a follow up story shortly on this particular aspect of the new rates.]
To begin exploring it for yourself, simply head to newly launched redemption page.
As noted above, roughly 70% of properties across the combined portfolio will require the same or fewer points for a free night, and this proportion holds true even into 2019 when the top-tier Category 8 takes effect. We’ll obviously spend time over the next several weeks digging into this entire chart, but here are three examples of popular properties that fall into each of the three buckets of hotels:
The Westin Maui Resort & Spa, Ka’anapali is one hotel that will be dropping in price come August, going from 60,000 points (or 20,000 current SPG points) per night to 50,000 points per night:
If you are planning a stay there, I’d either wait to book until the new chart takes effect (exact date is still TBD) or secure your room now and then rebook at the lower rate come August.
On the other hand, the JW Marriott Venice Resort & Spa is an example of a property that will require a higher number of points for redemptions under the newly combined award chart, jumping 5,000 points to 50,000 points per night:
As a result, you’d definitely want to lock in your redemption now at the current rate for this property and any other moving up a category.
Finally, it’s status quo for many properties, including the Protea Hotel North Wharf in Cape Town, a terrific property I visited in February that has full apartments:
For what it’s worth, the new award chart has roughly the same overall breakdown as the list of 91 hotels released in April, which included properties in the following areas:
- New York
- Caribbean and Mexico
A quick analysis shows that 72.5% of these 91 hotels will be staying the same or dropping in price, comparable to the 70% that applies to the full award chart just launched today.
What does this mean for you?
Now that we have the entire award chart, there are a few important things to keep in mind:
- Book now for properties going up in price. The current award charts and corresponding categories/tiers across Marriott Rewards, Starwood Preferred Guest and Ritz-Carlton Rewards will still be honored until the official launch of the combined program in August. As a result, if you’re planning a trip to a hotel that will require more points for a free night under the new award chart, book now. Keep in mind that legacy Marriott properties don’t require you to have the full balance of points in your account at the time of redemption; you’ll just need to earn them at least a week prior to your stay.
- Wait (or book now and change later) for properties going down in price. For hotels that are lowering the number of points required for a free night, you have two options: wait until the new price kicks in or book now and change the reservation when the combined program is implemented. I’d probably recommend the latter so you can be sure to have the award night, especially if it’s a popular property for redeeming points.
- You can book future Category 8 properties at Category 7 prices through early 2019. This has the potential to offer some incredible value, as those hotels and resorts slated to jump to Category 8 will only require 60,000 points per night instead of 85,000 points per night. The best part? These temporarily lower prices will remain in effect for all stays booked through the end of January 2019, even if your reservation is for several months in advance.
What information is still to come?
I’ve been generally pleased with how Marriott has handled the integration of these two programs, and it’s exciting to see that over two-thirds of the properties in the combined portfolio will require the same or fewer points for a free night when the new award chart takes effect in August. However, there are still a few pieces of information we don’t yet know, and one will (in my view) make or break the new program:
Which dates will be categorized as off-peak, standard and peak for each individual property?
It’s easy to say that the standard award rates will be staying the same or decreasing for 70% of the properties, but what if many of those properties categorize a majority of dates in a year as peak redemptions? The peak award rates are (on average) approximately 20% higher than the standard award rates, so this could have a drastic impact on the affordability of a property.
For example, let’s say that a hotel will move into Category 8 in 2019 and blocks 250 days at peak prices, 75 days at standard prices and the remaining 40 days at off-peak prices. That results in the average price for a free night jumping to over 93,000 points per night, a notable premium over the standard rates. Due to this, I’ll reserve final judgement on the full award chart until we see the breakdown of dates that fall into these off-peak, standard and peak bands.
There are two other outstanding items for the new program:
- An exact start date: We’ve known that the integrated program will take effect in August but don’t yet know a date. Marriott has confirmed with me that “information will be communicated in a few weeks” along these lines.
- The new program name: This will be introduced in early 2019.
The wait is now over for an answer to one of the biggest remaining questions on the Marriott/Starwood merger. Many travelers were scared that combing the two programs would result in a massive award chart devaluation, and at first glance, that doesn’t appear to be the case, as roughly 70% of properties will require the same or fewer number of points. I must commend Marriott for not just this fact but also being so transparent with the information; the new award chart allows you to quickly see whether your favorite hotels are going up, remaining the same or decreasing in price.
My big concern remains how the newly combined chain will handle peak and off-peak pricing, and we don’t yet have a date on when that will be announced. Hopefully the current positive steps toward integration are a sign of what’s to come, but only time will tell!
Know before you go.
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