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To be honest, I was rooting against a Marriott acquisition of Starwood. As a long-term, and now Lifetime SPG Platinum, I was worried about two things. One: that my hard earned SPG points would be devalued. In July 2016 we valued SPG Starpoint at 2.5 cents a piece and Marriott points at .7 cents each — so an even exchange would be catastrophic and even a 1:2 transfer ratio would be terrible. Luckily, Marriott implemented the 1:3 transfer rate which was much fairer and since the programs integrated in September 2016 we’ve been able to transfer back and forth between the two, which I think has been a reasonable approach.
My second concern was for elite perks, mostly around SPG Platinum members being able to get suite upgrades while Marriott Platinums (who had to work harder to get their status) did not. Would they really roll out valuable Starwood perks to a massive Marriott Platinum base as well?
Watch David Flueck, SVP of Global Loyalty for Marriott International, answer TPG’s questions about the combined program:
Well, we now know all the answers, and I have to say I think most people will be relieved. While the changes won’t take effect until August, on Monday afternoon Marriott officially unveiled its new — still unnamed — rewards program that will unify benefits across Marriott Rewards, Ritz-Carlton Rewards and Starwood Preferred Guest (SPG).
This is essentially an entirely new loyalty program, so there’s a lot of information to digest. But here’s a quick overview of the most important changes…
- The new program will have one unified loyalty account with Marriott-style points, meaning SPG points will be converted into the new program at a 1-to-3 ratio. You’ll use this one account to earn and redeem across all three chains — Marriott, SPG and Ritz-Carlton.
- There’ll be a single new 8-category award chart with bands for standard, peak and off-peak times of the year.
- Elite status will be streamlined into one system, but you’ll still have the option in 2018 of earning toward status under the current SPG elite system.
- Airline transfers are staying, with all the old airlines available (plus some new ones) and a transfer ratio of 3 points in the new program to 1 airline mile. And yes, there’s still a transfer bonus.
- New credit cards will be introduced by both Chase and American Express, including a brand new premium card with fee credits and an annual free night.
Our team at The Points Guy is providing comprehensive coverage of this story, with our entire roster of points and miles experts digging into every angle and detail. I’m going to give you a brief overview of the changes and what I think of them, then you can check out our in-depth analysis on each aspect of the new program here.
Merging Accounts and Earning Points
Starting in August, Marriott Rewards, The Ritz-Carlton Rewards and SPG will combine their separate accounts into a single account that will span the entire loyalty portfolio, though the three rewards program names will live on until 2019, when a new name for the unified loyalty program will be announced.
When SPG members combine their SPG points with their Marriott points into this new account, all SPG points will be tripled, essentially continuing the same 1-to-3 transfer ratio that has been in place since transfers were enabled in 2016.
Non-elite members in the new program will earn 10 points per dollar spent at every brand except for Residence Inn, TownePlace Suites and Element (those three brands will earn 5 points per every dollar spent). This is huge considering SPG non-elites were only earning 2 SPG points/6 Marriott Rewards points for every dollar spent.
Additionally, all members will start earning points for food, beverage and other incidental purchases on their stay at all brands. Before, some brands like Edition or Courtyard by Marriott did not award bonus points for incidental purchases.
Elite Status Changes and New Benefits
Marriott and Starwood’s elite programs will merge into one in August, with a new earning structure and five elite tiers: Silver, Gold, Platinum, Platinum Premier and Platinum Premier with Ambassador.
If you currently have status with Marriott or SPG, this chart provided by Marriott shows how the existing status levels will be converted to the new status tiers and how many bonus points will be earned at each new level, as well as how many nights (you can no longer qualify on stays) will be required going forward to earn status in the new program.
An important note that doesn’t appear on this chart is that earning top-tier status — Platinum Premier with Ambassador — will also have a $20,000 annual spending requirement. That averages out to $200 per night on a room and incidentals when staying 100 nights. There will not be spending requirements for any of the other tiers, and Marriott has told us that for 2018 only, SPG members will still be allowed to earn toward status under the terms and conditions of the old SPG program.
So now that we know the tiers and what it takes to earn them, what are the elite benefits in each of these tiers?
The new elite tiers strongly favor Platinum members and higher — the fact that suites are included in best-available room upgrades is a major bonus. But you’ll also be able to choose to receive five Suite Night Awards at the Platinum level and an additional five Suite Night Awards at the Platinum Premier level. Marriott has informed us that members who achieved Platinum status prior to the launch of the combined program in August and chose Suite Night Awards for their choice option will receive 10 Suite Night Awards for this year.
Also, according to Marriott, the breakfast offering for Platinum and Platinum Premier members will be available at 23 of the 29 participating brands, as well as all resorts.
TPG‘s resident elite status expert Nick Ewen — author of our comprehensive reports on Airline Elite Status and Hotel Loyalty Programs — has more analysis of these elite status changes in his story on “The Ins and Outs of Marriott’s New Elite Status Levels.”
Redeeming Points with the New Hotel Award Chart
Marriott has created a whole new award chart with eight categories that will apply to all Marriott, Ritz-Carlton and SPG brands. There will be no blackout dates for point redemptions, although the brand will be introducing seasonal pricing, with off-peak, standard and peak reward rates.
However, only Categories 1-7 will be used starting in August — Category 8 rates will not be used for reservations booked before 2/1/2019. Also, peak and off-peak pricing won’t be implemented until February 1, 2019. In the meantime, all hotels will be priced at the “standard” rate.
Now, we don’t know which hotels will fall under what categories yet, so it’s impossible to tell whether this is a devaluation or not overall. Marriott says it expects to begin publishing a list of properties for each redemption category on its website in June. However, a quick look at the new chart tells us that at least in some cases, the changes will be good.
For instance, Category 7 SPG properties currently go for 30,000 points a night on off-peak dates. But even if the highest-tiered SPG properties end up in Category 8, the off-peak price of 70,000 points a night on the new chart essentially equals 23,333 current SPG points, so you’re effectively saving saving 6,667 SPG points.
TPG Contributor Ethan Steinberg has examples of how hotels at all three chains might fall into the new categories and the value proposition in his story on “Analyzing the New Combined Marriott/SPG Award Chart.”
Airline Transfer Partners
All our fears of Marriott eliminating one of the best parts of the SPG program can be laid to rest. The new program will be keeping SPG’s airline transfer partners, and will in fact actually improve upon it for the most part. The program will retain all of the current SPG airline partners and add 10 more for a total of 45 transfer partners. Note that some of these “new” partners already existed under the current Marriott Rewards program, but at significantly less desirable transfer ratios.
Speaking of which, the 1:1 transfer ratio of SPG points to airline miles is effectively remaining the same — the difference is that now you’ll be using the new loyalty currency, so you’ll have to transfer 3 points of the new currency for one airline mile. But since all SPG points are getting converted to the new currency at a 1:3 ratio, the value of your existing SPG points effectively remains the same.
The new program will also be keeping the SPG transfer bonus that offered an extra 5,000 airline miles when converting 20,000 SPG points. The new bonus will work like this: when transferring to airlines in increments of 60,000 points of the new currency, you’ll receive a 15,000 point bonus — which will net you 25,000 airline miles at the new 3:1 transfer ratio. The program really leaves the transfer bonus and ratios unchanged — it’s just inflated the numbers to match the existing Marriott Rewards.
One of my biggest gripes about SPG airline transfers is how long they take to process — sometimes even weeks. The new transfers will be on the Marriott system, which at first glance appears to be quicker than SPG. I made 21 transfers on April 10th and five programs transferred in less than 24 hours while others took about five to six days.
While Marriott doesn’t plan on changing any of the benefits it offers United MileagePlus elite members, Delta and SPG Crossover Rewards will continue through July 15 while the Emirates and China Eastern partnerships will continue through the end of the year.
TPG Senior Points and Miles Contributor Richard Kerr has a full breakdown of all the airline transfer partners — old and new — in “An In-Depth Look at the New Marriott Airline Transfer Partners.”
New Chase and Amex Credit Cards
A new rewards program means changes were obviously coming to Marriott’s credit card portfolio, which will continue to include cards from both American Express (the current SPG issuer) and Chase (the current Marriott issuer).
First, American Express will be introducing a new premium SPG card in August. The Starwood Preferred Guest American Express Luxury Credit Card will come with a $450 annual fee, a $300 credit at Marriott hotels, an annual free night award (up to 50,000 points) after card renewal, a Priority Pass membership and a slew of other credits and benefits. A welcome bonus has not yet been announced.
There will also be changes to the Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express and the Starwood Preferred Guest® Business Credit Card from American Express will see new perks like an annual free night award (up to 35,000 points) after card renewal and automatic silver elite status, but will lose the 2 stays/5 nights elite credit in favor of a flat 15-night per year elite credit that cannot be stacked across multiple cards.
The bad news is that all three of these cards will only earn 2 points per dollar on everyday purchases, which is effectively a 33% devaluation on non-bonused spend from what the SPG cards currently offer. All SPG cards will earn 6x points on purchases at Marriott and SPG hotels. The SPG business card will also lose Sheraton club access, but will earn 4x points on purchases at restaurants, gas stations, wireless phone and shipping services.
On the Chase side of the portfolio, the bank will be adding a new co-branded card called the Marriott Rewards Premier Plus Credit Card. Launching on May 3, the $95 annual fee card’s benefits will look similar to the updated SPG cards. Like the mid-tier SPG cards, the new product will earn 6 points per dollar on purchases at Marriott hotels and 2 points on all other purchases. The card will also have a 15 night elite credit (not stackable) and a free anniversary night certificate (up to 35,000 points). Best of all, the credit card will come with a 100,000 point sign-up bonus.
Chase will continue to offer its current Marriott Rewards Premier Business Credit Card and The Ritz-Carlton Rewards Credit Card, but the existing Marriott Rewards Premier Credit Card will no longer be available once the new Premier Plus launches, though current cardholders will have the option to keep their cards or upgrade to the Premier Plus (Chase suggests there will be bonus offers to upgrade). However, as we’ve seen with the Chase Sapphire card line and, more recently, the Southwest Rapid Rewards cards, you’ll only be able to have one personal Chase Marriott card — either the Premier or the new Premier Plus.
TPG‘s Editor-at-Large Zach Honig has further details and analysis of the Amex and Chase cards…
- Amex Details New ‘Luxury’ SPG Card, Changes to Existing Products
- Everything We Know About Chase’s Marriott Rewards Premier Plus Credit Card
When hearing about these changes from Marriott, I kept waiting for the hammer to fall, but it never did. In general, I’ll be earning more points as a Platinum Premier with Ambassador than I did in the old program. And while I don’t like the devaluation on points earning with the Amex cards, I don’t put a ton of everyday spend on them, but will continue to use them for Marriott stays.
But at least at first glance, most of these changes seem fair and to Marriott’s credit, it’s giving us fair warning before any of the changes are implemented. Overall, I’m pretty happy with the new program and I expect I’ll continue to stay at SPG hotels on a regular basis, and now will be able to add Marriotts and Ritz-Carltons to my regular hotel rotation as well. Although there are still some important outstanding questions, including which hotels will fall into which category.
On Tuesday morning I’ll be doing a Facebook Live with the head of Marriott Loyalty, David Flueck. So comment below with your questions and we will try and field them in when we chat with him tomorrow — tune in here.
This story has been updated to note that the Delta and SPG Crossover Rewards program will continue through July 15, not July 1, and to clarify that while the new Marriott program will launch in August, a specific start date in August has not yet been confirmed.