The Ins and Outs of Marriott’s New Elite Status Program
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One of the most important aspects of combining two loyalty programs is how to reconcile disparate elite status tiers, and we now have an idea of how this will happen with Marriott and SPG. For Marriott and SPG loyalists, take a deep breath — the changes are almost universally positive. In fact, I don’t see a single significant devaluation, and given that all members will now have a broader portfolio of properties at which to earn (and then enjoy) the perks of elite status, these changes are a terrific step forward.
Watch David Flueck, SVP of Global Loyalty for Marriott International, answer TPG’s questions about the combined program:
Let’s start with an overview of the new levels, the qualification criteria and how the current status levels map to the newly combined program:
|Elite Status Tier in New Marriott Program||Qualification Criteria||Current Status Equivalent(s)|
|Silver Elite||10 nights||Marriott Silver|
|Gold Elite||25 nights||SPG Gold|
|Platinum Elite||50 nights||Marriott Gold and SPG Platinum|
|Platinum Premier Elite||75 nights||Marriott Platinum and SPG 75-night Platinum|
|Platinum Premier Elite||100 nights + $20,000 in qualifying spending||SPG 100-night Platinum|
These levels do a solid job at honoring the current elites from both programs. If you hold status with either SPG or Marriott, you’re either retaining that status level or, in the specific case of current Marriott Golds, earning an upgrade. The only significant change is the fact that you can no longer qualify on stays, as you can currently with SPG. The new program restricts qualification to nights only, a carryover from the Marriott Rewards program.
But what’s actually included at these levels? Let’s take a closer look at each one and compare it to the current perks offered by the comparable status.
The lowest level in the new program is Silver Elite, and as noted above, this is earned after 10 qualifying nights, which matches the current Marriott Silver requirements. It’s also granted automatically to certain credit cardholders (see below for full details). I pegged this status at just $75 in my 2018 valuation of Marriott elite status, so the perks aren’t too valuable. The new program tweaks them slightly:
- Ultimate Reservation Guarantee: Same as current program
- 10% points bonus: Current program offers 20%
- Priority late checkout: Same as current program
- Dedicated elite reservation line: Same as current program
The only other current perk that isn’t explicitly referenced in the new program is the series of discounts that Silver members enjoy, including 10% off at participating Marriott gift shops and a 10% weekend discount at participating SpringHill Suites and Courtyard properties. If these are in fact not continuing in the new program, that’s certainly not a huge blow, but worth noting if you were a frequent user of these perks.
The second tier in the new program is Gold Elite, and this is where things may get a bit confusing. As noted above, this level is comparable to the current SPG Gold, not Marriott Gold. To earn this status, you’ll need to complete 25 nights in a calendar year, which is the same requirement currently in place for SPG Gold (minus the option to qualify on stays). Here’s a breakdown of the benefits for this level:
- Complimentary enhanced internet: Same as current program
- Ultimate Reservation Guarantee: Not currently a part of the SPG program
- 25% points bonus: Current SPG Gold members earn a 50% bonus, but that’s based on a standard earning rate of 2 points per dollar spent. Since the standard earning rate in the combined program is now 10 points per dollar spent (except Residence Inn, TownePlace Suites and Element, where you’ll earn 5 points per dollar spent), a 25% bonus boosts your earning as a Gold member to 12.5 points per dollar spent. Based on the 3:1 conversion ratio, this is the equivalent of 4.17 current Starpoints per dollar spent. As a result, this is actually a significant enhancement over the current bonus.
- Priority late checkout (2pm, subject to availability): Current Gold members get a guaranteed 4pm late checkout that’s subject to availability at resort & conference hotels, so assuming this new restriction applies to all properties, it’s definitely a downgrade.
- Welcome gift (points): Same as current program
- Upgrades to enhanced rooms: Same as current program
These benefits are largely equivalent to the current SPG Gold status, though the points bonus is actually a very positive development. Unfortunately, it does appear that the newly combined program has devalued the late checkout benefit from “guaranteed” to “subject to availability.”
The only missing perk from my 2018 SPG elite status valuation is the Crossover Rewards program with Delta (see below for more details on this and other airline partnerships).
The next tier in the newly combined program is Platinum Elite, which will require 50 nights in a calendar year. This is the new level for existing Marriott Golds and SPG Platinums, and it retains the vast majority of perks offered to these members:
- Complimentary enhanced internet
- Ultimate Reservation Guarantee
- 50% points bonus: This is a boost for both current Marriott Golds and SPG Platinums. If you’re Marriott Gold right now, you only enjoy a 25% bonus, and SPG Platinums receive the same 50% bonus that SPG Golds get (3 Starpoints per dollar spent). In the new program, Platinum Elites will get 15 points per dollar spent at most properties. This is a 20% boost for current Marriott Golds and a whopping 66.67% boost for current SPG Platinums since they’re now earning the equivalent of 5 Starpoints per dollar spent.
- Priority late checkout (4pm): Same as current programs
- Welcome gift of points, breakfast offering or amenity: Comparable to current programs, with 23 of the combined program’s 29 brands offering breakfast (Ritz-Carlton, EDITION, Marriott Vacation Club, Gaylord Hotels, Marriott Executive Apartments and Design Hotels are not included)
- Room upgrades (including suites): Same as current programs
- Lounge access: Same as current programs
- Guaranteed room type: Same as current Marriott program but a nice addition for SPG Platinums
- Choice benefit (5 suite night awards or gift option): This is a new perk for Marriott Gold members but a devaluation for SPG 50-night Platinums, as the current program’s Choice Benefits award 10 Suite Night Awards. However, you can earn another five of these awards by reaching 75 nights, and with the greatly expanded portfolio, this endeavor may be easier.
Once again, the newly combined program has carried over almost all of the current perks offered to Marriott Gold members and SPG Platinum members, and in some cases has boosted the benefits (higher point bonuses and Suite Night Awards for Marriott Golds). While the removal of stays as a criteria for qualifying and the drop in number of Suite Night Awards may sting for certain SPG Platinums, it’s somewhat offset by the higher earning rates and greatly expanded number of properties from which to stay.
Platinum Premier Elite
The fourth elite status level in the new program is Platinum Premier Elite, earned after 75 nights and thus comparable to current Marriott Platinum and current SPG 75-night Platinum. Here’s a rundown of the perks at this level and how they match to tiers from the current programs:
- Complimentary enhanced internet: Same as current programs
- Ultimate Reservation Guarantee
- 75% point bonus: Once again, an enhancement for all members. Marriott Platinums currently enjoy a 50% bonus, so this will give them an extra 2.5 points per dollar spent at most brands. SPG 75-night Platinums currently earn 4 Starpoints per dollar spent, which is the equivalent of 12 points per dollar spent in the new program. Since they’ll now earn 17.5 points per dollar spent at most properties, this represents a 45.8% boost in earnings.
- Priority late checkout (4pm): Same as current programs
- Welcome gift of points, breakfast offering or amenity: Comparable to current programs
- Room upgrades (including suites): Same as current programs
- Lounge access: Same as current programs
- Guaranteed room type
- Choice benefit (10 suite night awards or gift options): The new program awards Platinum Premier Elite members two sets of Choice Benefits; one when you reach 50 nights and the second when you reach 75 nights. These are a nice addition for current Marriott Platinums and match what’s offered to current SPG 75-night Platinums.
- 48-hour guarantee: Same as current programs
- United Premier Silver status through RewardsPlus: Same as current programs (see below for more details)
Reaching 75 nights and qualifying for Platinum Premier Elite status will be very similar to current Marriott Platinum and SPG 75-night Platinum, with a few added or enhanced perks. The only item missing is the Your24 perk currently offered to SPG Platinums who reach 75 nights — this benefit is shifting to the next tier in the program…
Platinum Premier Elite (100 nights + $20k in spending)
The final tier you can reach in the new program is similar to what SPG currently offers. It’s essentially a differentiated tier of Platinum Premier Elite status for those members who reach 100 nights and $20,000 in qualifying spending in a year. The suite of perks include everything offered to “regular” Platinum Premier Elites, plus the following:
- Ambassador Service: New for Marriott Platinums, same for SPG 100-night Platinums
- Your24: New for Marriott Platinums, same for SPG 100-night Platinums
This tier is far-and-away an enhancement for current Marriott Platinum members, as there aren’t any added perks for those who far surpass the 75 nights in the current Marriott Rewards program. And if you’re currently a 100-night SPG Platinum member, this won’t be any different than what you’re currently enjoying with the exception of the spending requirement.
Keep in mind that $20,000 over 100 nights works out to just $200 per night, so this is certainly a reasonable level of spending, especially since it includes room rates and incidentals. However, if you’re always booking at lower category properties or on cheaper rates, you may fall short of this threshold.
To make this more transparent, starting in August you’ll see a counter appear in your loyalty account once you’ve reached 50 nights. This will display your total spend for the year and help you see your progress towards this “enhanced” Premier Platinum level. Keep in mind too that this spending requirement won’t be fully implemented until 2019. As a result, you can still qualify the “old way” in 2018 but will need to reach the spending threshold in 2019 and beyond.
What about credit cards?
Another huge task in this integration involved credit cards, and this plays an important role in earning (or helping to earn) elite status. Here’s a run-down of how you’ll be able to earn status in the combined program starting in August and how that will shift slightly in 2019:
- Marriott Rewards Premier Credit Card: Automatic Silver Elite status through the 15 nights of elite credits awarded every year. Note this card is being closed to new applicants, but existing cardholders can retain their card or get upgraded to Chase’s new Marriott Premier Plus card.
- Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express: Automatic Silver Elite status for 2018; 15 elite night credits starting in 2019; ability to earn Gold Elite status by spending $30,000 in 2018 and $35,000 in 2019
- Starwood Preferred Guest® Business Credit Card from American Express: Automatic Silver Elite status for 2018; 15 elite night credits starting in 2019; ability to earn Gold Elite status by spending $30,000 in 2018 and $35,000 in 2019
- New Marriott Rewards Premier Plus Credit Card: Automatic Silver Elite status and ability to earn Gold Elite status by spending $35,000 on the card each year
- New Starwood Preferred Guest Luxury Credit Card from American Express: Automatic Gold status and ability to earn Platinum Elite status after spending $75,000 on the card each year; 15 elite night credits starting in 2019
- The Ritz-Carlton Rewards Credit Card: There are no changes to this card for the time being, but it’s unclear at this time how the elite status tiers offered by this card will map to the tiers in the new program.
As you can see, there are a plethora of ways to earn automatic elite status, and with most cards shifting to 15 nights of elite credits every year starting in 2019, you’ll be well on your way to boosting your status as well. The one important change to note though is that the 15-night elite credits will no longer be stackable across multiple cards — you can only have one 15-night credit per member per year.
What about airline partnerships?
One of the other big questions surrounding the integration of the two programs was how this would impact the chains’ respective airline partnerships. Marriott and United have the RewardsPlus Partnership, while SPG partnered with Delta for Crossover Rewards, Emirates for Your World Rewards and China Eastern for Eastern Explorer Rewards. Here’s what we know so far:
- RewardsPlus: There are no changes to the RewardsPlus partnership. If you reach Platinum Premier Elite status, you’re able to link your combined Marriott/SPG account with your United MileagePlus account and enjoy complimentary Premier Silver status. In addition, all members will continue to receive bonuses when converting points to United MileagePlus miles and on RewardsPlus Hotel + Air Packages.
- Crossover Rewards: All current benefits will remain in effect through July 15, 2018. However, the newly combined program is “actively working on ways that we can create a benefit that in light of our size, is sustainable into the future.” There will hopefully be additional information forthcoming before July 15.
- Your World Rewards and Eastern Explorer Rewards: All current benefits will be honored, though registration will be temporarily paused on July 15, 2018 to allow for new infrastructure to support the integration of Marriott Rewards and SPG. Like Crossover Rewards, we’ll likely get more information moving forward.
It’s nice to see that the newly combined program is working to maintain these partnerships moving forward, which is a delicate balancing act. A program can’t feasibly partner with every airline out there, so it’ll be interesting to see how the current SPG partnerships adjust over the last half of 2018.
What about Lifetime Status?
A final consideration involves Marriott’s and SPG’s lifetime status programs. Fortunately, it’s great news on this front. If you’ve already earned Lifetime Status in either program, nothing is changing — you’ll continue to have your status recognized in the newly combined program based on the mapped tiers outlined in the table above. In addition, when the two programs are officially combined in August, your lifetime activity will also combine, boosting your chances at reaching lifetime status sooner.
The future is a bit more uncertain, but here’s what we know so far. Starting in August, the program will have three Lifetime Elite tiers, each with its own nights and elite tenure thresholds. These details are not yet available, but there is a grace period: if you reach the current Lifetime Status requirements for the legacy programs (Marriott Rewards or SPG) by the end of 2018, you’ll be grandfathered into that Lifetime Status without needing to reach the new requirements.
Who WON’T like these changes?
While there are still some details to be ironed out, on the whole I must say that the newly combined program does an admirable job at recognizing the loyalty of both Marriott Rewards elites and SPG elites. I don’t see a single truly massive devaluation — instead, the vast majority of members will enjoy the same or even better benefits, especially with higher earning rates and access to perks like Suite Night Awards that were previously unavailable to Marriott elite members.
That being said, there are a few subsets of elites that may not be a fan of these (almost) universally positive updates:
- Current SPG elites who qualify on stays: If you’re currently an SPG Gold member who qualifies with 10+ stays across fewer than 25 nights or an SPG Platinum member who qualifies with 25+ stays across fewer than 50 nights, this is going to hurt. There’s no way to qualify on stays anymore, so you must reach the required number of nights in a calendar year to maintain your current collection of benefits. However, given the massively expanded portfolio of properties (roughly triple the number of hotels), it shouldn’t be too hard to snag those extra nights, and keep in mind that you can also close the gap by opening a co-branded credit card to earn 15 nights of elite credits every year, a nice boost over the 5 currently offered on the Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card from American Express and the Starwood Preferred Guest Business Credit Card from American Express.
- Current 50-night SPG Platinums: Another potentially unhappy group will be those SPG Platinum members who do reach 50 nights each year, as you’ll only be able to grab 5 Suite Night Awards (as opposed to the 10 you currently get). But again, the ability to earn 15 nights of elite credit through a co-branded card coupled with the much broader footprint of properties should make it easier to reach 75 nights and earn the additional 5 Suite Night Awards.
- 100-night SPG Platinums who spend less than $200 per night: If you’re a 100-night Platinum with SPG but typically average less than $200 per night, you may find yourself dropping down a peg and losing out on your Ambassador. However, I’m guessing that this group is very small, and ideally the expanded footprint of the combined program would allow you to pick up some additional nights that you wouldn’t have in the past.
- Loyal Delta flyers (maybe): The next group of travelers that may be unhappy with the new program consists of those who are loyal to SPG and Delta. I use the term “may” here very deliberately, as it’s not yet clear what will happen with the Crossover Rewards program. If you’re a current SPG elite member and typically spend a lot on Delta purchases each year, a devaluation of this program could be a serious hit, but again, all of that is TBD.
- Those who are close to Lifetime Elite status (possibly): A final group that also could come up short in the new program is anyone who’s close to Lifetime Elite with either program but won’t actually reach those thresholds by the end of 2018. We don’t yet know the exact qualification criteria that will exist moving forward, but if the bar is raised significantly and you were within striking distance before, you may be left out. Hopefully we’ll have more information on these three Lifetime Elite thresholds in the near future.
Marriott and SPG elite members: it’s time to let out the collective sigh of relief. As the two programs combine in August, there are very few negatives in the newly integrated elite status scheme. I would actually argue that these perceived drawbacks are actually offset by the much broader portfolio that SPG members will soon have access to. When I was a road warrior, I struggled to reach the SPG Platinum qualification thresholds given the limited footprint of the program’s brands. This is no longer an issue, as you’ll now have access to a much larger number of properties around the world.
While there are still a few details to be released (Crossover Rewards and Lifetime Elite thresholds among the most significant), I’m confident in saying that the newly combined program does a terrific job at reconciling the perks offered to current Marriott and SPG elites.
Featured image courtesy of Marriott.