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When Marriott initially announced plans to acquire Starwood almost three years ago, the collective, worried gasps from SPG members were almost audible. The small yet mighty program was revered by travelers all over the world thanks to its fantastic hotel redemptions and lucrative airline transfers. The key question was simple: Would a combined Marriott and Starwood program provide the same value to which we had become accustomed?
In announcing details of the newly combined program in April 2018 and officially launching the integration just four months later, many of these fears were put to rest. Airline transfers with the beloved 5,000-mile bonus? Sticking around (and expanding to additional partners). Fifth night free? Staying. Differentiation for top-tier elites? Check. Overall, many of the best things about Starwood Preferred Guest were carried over into the new program, and with roughly four times as many properties as before, the new program seemed to be welcome news.
Unfortunately, an integration of this magnitude will never make everyone happy and simply can’t include everything from both programs, so today I want to take some time to evaluate the different items that SPG members have lost (or seen devalued) along the way.
(Note: This is not a comprehensive list but rather a collection of ones that we’ve seen or had readers bring to our attention. Feel free to comment below with others that may affect you.)
1. Ability to Qualify on Stays, Not Nights (Gone)
One of the first aspects of the Starwood Preferred Guest programs that’s no longer available is the ability to qualify based on stays rather than nights. During my days as a road warrior, I qualified for Platinum status four years in a row, and two of those were by reaching 25+ stays but falling short of 50 nights. Under the new program, I would’ve fallen short of Platinum status in those two years.
However, this may not hurt as much as it seems for a couple of reasons:
- Larger portfolio of properties: The global footprint of the legacy SPG program was quite limited, with roughly 1,500 properties. With the addition of the brands under the legacy Marriott umbrella, members now have over 6,500 properties from which to choose. In the years I qualified for SPG Platinum on stays instead of nights, I also spent several nights at other brands (including Marriott properties), so theoretically it should be easier to qualify.
- Co-branded credit cards: In the legacy SPG program, you could get 2 stays and 5 nights toward elite status with both the Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express and the Starwood Preferred Guest® Business Credit Card from American Express, giving you a maximum of 4 stays and 10 nights (if you held both cards). Starting in 2019, all co-branded cards from Marriott and SPG will award 15 nights toward status, meaning that 10 one-night stays would earn you Gold Elite status in the new program while 35 one-night stays would earn you Platinum Elite status in the new program.
Neither of these can completely make up for this loss of flexibility in qualifying for elite status, but hopefully they lessen the blow a bit.
2. Guaranteed Late Checkout for Gold Members (Devalued)
Another aspect that’s been watered down in the new program is the late checkout benefit for Gold members, and there’s sadly no silver lining. Under the legacy SPG program, here’s what the terms & conditions said about this perk:
“Gold and Platinum members may check out as late as 4 p.m. This benefit is guaranteed at all hotels, except at resort, conference center, and convention hotels, where it is based upon availability.”
The combined program slashes this in two ways. For starters, it’s now subject to availability rather than guaranteed. In addition, it’s been cut to 2pm rather than 4pm, a devaluation that may be particularly painful to families with young children (like me). My daughter still naps in the early afternoon, so we’ve utilized the guaranteed 4pm late checkout a few times before an evening flight. Shifting that up two hours could be a recipe for disaster.
Of course, individual properties may still allow late checkouts beyond the published policy, but since it’s no longer guaranteed until 4pm, they truly don’t need to do so.
3. Airline Partnerships With Delta, Emirates and China Eastern (Gone)
With Marriott as the buying party, there was much speculation that it would retain its airline partnership in the combined program, and that’s exactly what happened. The RewardsPlus program with United lives on, while Starwood’s Crossover Rewards program with Delta, Your World Rewards program with Emirates and Eastern Explorer Rewards program with China Eastern have all ceased to exist. In my days as a road warrior, I racked up thousands of bonus SkyMiles and Starpoints as a loyal Delta and SPG traveler, and the reciprocal benefits for those who weren’t elite members of both programs was nice. Not anymore!
4. Cash & Points Redemptions (Devalued)
In the past, one of the most lucrative redemption options in the Starwood Preferred Guest program was Cash & Points. Instead of redeeming the full amount of points for a property in a given category, you redeemed half that number of points plus a cash copay. The cash amount was fixed, so if room rates were astronomically high, you could save a ton of money and keep a bunch of points in your account.
Here were the pre-integration rates for this redemption, alongside standard award rates for each legacy SPG category:
|SPG Property||Cash & Points Rate Per Night||Standard Award Rate Per Night|
|Category 1||1,500 points + $30||3,000 points|
|Category 2||2,000 points + $35||4,000 points|
|Category 3||3,500 points + $55||7,000 points|
|Category 4||5,000 points + $75||10,000 points|
|Category 5||6,000 points + $110||12,000 – 16,000 points|
|Category 6||10,000 points + $180||20,000 – 25,000 points|
|Category 7||15,000 points + $275||30,000 – 35,000 points|
You can hopefully see where the value would be in these redemptions. For example, if a Category 4 property had a room rate of $400 per night, you could redeem 10,000 points or use 5,000 points and $75. You could look at this in two different ways:
- You were “buying” 5,000 Starpoints for $75 (purchase price = 1.5 cents apiece)
- You were redeeming 5,000 Starpoints for $325 worth of hotel rooms (value = 6.5 cents apiece)
In either case, this would’ve been a fantastic option.
In the newly combined program, this redemption option is sticking around, but it’s been devalued. Here’s the new chart, with numbers in (parentheses) representing the equivalent number of pre-integration Starpoints, and note that I’m only looking at “standard” redemptions in Category 1-7 right now, since Category 8 and peak/off-peak pricing won’t kick in until 2019:
|Any Property||Cash + Points Rate Per Night||Standard Award Rate Per Night|
|Category 1||3,500 (1,167) points + $55||7,500 points|
|Category 2||6,000 (2,000) points + $65||12,500 points|
|Category 3||8,500 (2,833) points + $80||17,500 points|
|Category 4||12,000 (4,000) points + $105||25,000 points|
|Category 5||17,000 (5,667) points + $140||35,000 points|
|Category 6||25,000 (8,333) points + $190||50,000 points|
|Category 7||30,000 (10,000) points + $250||60,000 points|
Some of these represent a solid loss of value. Take a hotel like the W New York – Times Square, a property that has not changed the number of points needed for a free night (was 20,000 Starpoints, now 60,000 Marriott points). Before August 18, a Cash & Points redemption would’ve set you back 30,000 Marriott points + $180. That same redemption is now $70 more expensive, a 39% increase.
This gets even worse when you start factoring in peak, off-peak and Category 8 pricing in 2019. A top-tier property like the St. Regis Bal Harbour would’ve been 45,000 Marriott points + $275 under the legacy SPG program. On peak days in 2019, it’ll be 50,000 points + $635!
5. SPG Flights (Gone)
While Cash & Points still exists in some form, another aspect of the legacy program that’s gone entirely is the SPG Flights redemption option. Peter Rothbart dissected this back in 2014, and little had changed since then. Instead of using your Starpoints for hotels or transferring them to an airline partner, you could instead use them to book paid flights. The exact number of points required would vary based on the price of the ticket, but here were some examples:
- $0 – $150: 10,000 Starpoints (up to 1.5 cents per point)
- $150 – $215: 15,000 Starpoints (up to 1.43 cents per point)
- $215 – $280: 20,000 Starpoints (up to 1.4 cents per point)
- $280 – $345: 25,000 Starpoints (up to 1.38 cents per point)
The ranges continued in this fashion, with the maximum value for these redemptions gradually approaching 1.3 cents per point. Based on TPG’s pre-integration valuation of Starpoints (2.7 points), you’re only getting roughly half the value you could get by using another redemption.
Now, it is worth noting that you can still use your points for airfare directly with the combined program through its Air + Car program, though from my searches it appear that the maximum value you’ll get for these redemptions is just 0.4 cents per point, even lower than the value you’d get from SPG Flights.
6. No Minimum Airline Transfers for Platinum Members (Gone)
Another small perk that no longer exists applies solely to legacy SPG Platinum members. In the old Starwood program, Platinum members had no minimum when it came to transferring Starpoints to airline partners (Gold members had a 1,500-point minimum and regular members had a 2,500-point minimum). In the new program, you now must transfer a minimum of 3,000 Marriott points, equivalent to 1,000 Starpoints. While this isn’t a monumental loss, it’s still unfortunate if you’ve ever needed to top off an airline account by a small number of miles, something I have done a couple of times in the past.
7. Suite Night Awards (Devalued)
A much more significant perk that was stripped down in the new program is SPG’s Suite Night Awards (SNAs). Prior to August 18, a Starwood Platinum member would receive 10 SNAs after reaching 50 elite-qualifying nights in a calendar year. These awards allowed you to confirm a suite up to 5 days before arrival, avoiding the dreaded “negotiation” at check-in to score an upgrade to a suite.
The new program cuts this in half; qualifying for “standard” Platinum by reaching 50 nights will only get you five SNAs as part of your Platinum Choice Benefits rather than ten.
Now, if you’re a former SPG Platinum who always surpasses the 75-night mark, this won’t make a huge difference, since you’ll get the chance to select another five once you’ve reached 75 nights, equaling the 10 you used to get at 50 nights. In addition, many would argue that these are actually more valuable now that you have a much wider portfolio of properties at which to use them, and there’s no debating that this is a nice added perk for legacy Marriott elites with 50+ nights per year. However, if you can’t get to 75 nights in the integrated program, you’ve lost some significant value.
8. Make a Green Choice (Devalued)
Helping the environment and earning bonus points; it’s a win-win and accurately described Starwood’s Make a Green Choice program. The premise was simple: for each night you refused housekeeping at SPG hotels, you’d receive either bonus Starpoints or a food/beverage voucher. While a lot of my stays were just one night long, I frequently utilized this program to boost my account balance whenever I stayed for 2+ nights.
The good news is that the program is sticking around and is expanding across the entire combined portfolio. The bad news is that it’s now only 250 – 500 Marriott points, just a third of what it used to be based on the 3:1 conversion of Starpoints to Marriott points.
However, the pain here is eased a bit due to the increased earning rates that virtually all SPG members will see in the combined program. Here’s the nightly spend required to “break even” under the devalued Make a Green Choice program:
- Legacy SPG member: $250
- Legacy SPG Gold member: $285.71
- Legacy SPG Platinum member: $166.67
- Legacy SPG 75-night Platinum member: $181.82
Once again, not the end of the world but worth pointing out for those who loved it.
9. SPG Nights & Flights (Gone)
Yet another redemption option that got the ax in the new program is the SPG Nights & Flights program. This allowed you to redeem a set amount of Starpoints and receive a five-night stay in an old Category 3 or Category 4 property plus 50,000 airline miles. I reviewed this program back in 2015 and found that it could (in certain cases) offer some solid value, but it’s now gone.
Of course, you can still redeem your converted Starpoints for travel packages that include both hotel stays and airline miles, but in the new Marriott program these are almost universally a poor value.
10. Weekend Award Rates at Low-Tier Properties (Gone)
If you had redeemed Starpoints for a weekend night at a Category 1 or Category 2 property in the past, you’re probably sorry to see that the new program doesn’t offer weekend discounts for low-tier properties. Under this option, you could book the following:
- Category 1 weekend night: 2,000 Starpoints (normally 3,000 points)
- Category 2 weekend night: 3,000 Starpoints (normally 4,000 points)
The new award chart for the combined program makes this a thing of the past. Of the 115 legacy SPG Category 1 properties, 61 are staying in Category 1 at 7,500 points per night (or 2,500 Starpoints), while the remaining 54 are jumping to Category 2 at 12,500 points per night (or 4,167 Starpoints). Both of these nightly rates are higher than the old weekend rates, in many cases more than double!
It’s even worse when you look at the 218 legacy SPG Category 2 properties:
- 20 are now Category 1 at 7,500 points per night (or 2,500 Starpoints)
- 121 are remaining as Category 2 at 12,500 points per night (or 4,167 Starpoints)
- 75 are moving to Category 3 at 17,500 points per night (or 5,833 Starpoints)
- 2 are jumping to Category 4 at 25,000 points per night (8,333 Starpoints per night)
This means that over 90% of Category 2 properties will require more points not only over the weekends but on weekdays as well.
11. Breakfast and Lounge Access for Gold Members (Gone)
I deliberately held this loss for SPG members until near the end, as I believe (personally) that it’s been overblown. One of the first steps taken after the Marriott/Starwood merger closed was the activation of points transfer and reciprocal elite statuses between the two programs. This meant that SPG Golds, including those who enjoyed the status simply by holding The Platinum Card® from American Express, were suddenly upgraded to Marriott Gold status, unlocking perks like free breakfast and lounge access at certain properties.
(Full disclosure: I was one such traveler.)
With the new program, Gold Elite status is comparable to legacy SPG Gold, which doesn’t include these perks for members. Instead, you’d need to qualify the “hard way” (with 50 nights) to retain these benefits.
Because of this, many SPG members raged at the new program for devaluing their benefits and not grandfathering these members in at the new program’s Platinum level. Others felt that the Amex Platinum actually lost value because of this change. However, it’s critical to recognize that this was never an officially published perk of the Amex Platinum, and it also was never intended to be permanent. It was a temporary solution to allow Marriott Gold elites to access perks at SPG properties and vice versa.
Think of it this way: Gold Elite status with legacy Marriott Rewards required 50 nights. That’s the same requirement as legacy SPG Platinum. So why would SPG Gold members be granted this elevated status in the new program? It worked at the time, but for anyone who feels cheated, it was just a stopgap measure.
Now, if you deliberately booked a Marriott property for later this year in part due to the free breakfast perk, you may have a legitimate gripe, and I would encourage you to reach out to either Marriott or the individual property to request that those perks be honored. As I always say, it never hurts to ask!
12. Ability to Earn Elite Credit for Multiple Rooms (Gone)
As pointed out by some commenters, a final item missing from the new program is the ability to earn credits towards elite status for multiple rooms at the same property on the same night. Under the legacy SPG program, a member could have up to three rooms count towards elite status qualification, provided that he/she stayed in one of them and paid an eligible rate for all of them. The new program does still allow you to earn points for up to three rooms, but only one of those will count towards elite status qualification. If you frequently booked and paid for multiple rooms at a given hotel for family members, friends or co-workers, this is a definite loss.
The integration of Marriott and SPG has been a bit rocky, and while the combined program does a solid job at keeping the best of both programs, there are nevertheless several aspects that have been devalued or removed entirely for long-time SPG members. You probably have your own tolerance level for these changes, as some may be a non-issue while others may be causing you to re-think your loyalty. If the latter is true, I’d strongly encourage you to reach out to Marriott, as the program has demonstrated that it’s open to feedback from members and adjusting course when necessary.
Featured image courtesy Blue Palace, a Luxury Collection Resort and Spa, Crete.
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