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The wedding date has now been set. On August 18, the newly integrated program of Marriott, SPG and Ritz-Carlton will officially launch. While a new name for the program won’t take effect until 2019, this intermediate date is an important milestone in the massive merger. In addition to officially becoming one of the largest worldwide hotel footprints, spanning 29 brands and over 6,500 properties in 127 countries, the combined program will also offer unified benefits to its 110 million members as of this date.
Even though there are still a few outstanding questions for which we don’t have answers, it’s important to start planning for this official transition date. So what should you do in the weeks leading up to August 18? Here are six important tasks.
1. Evaluate your lifetime elite status qualification before you combine your accounts.
I’ve written extensively about lifetime status with the new Marriott program. There are many wrinkles to this, as the legacy Marriott and SPG lifetime status schemes were quite different. Initially there was a healthy dose of unhappiness from Lifetime SPG Platinum members, who felt they were being marginalized in the new program by having no route to earn Lifetime Platinum Premier status. Marriott heard those concerns and announced some very nice changes just a few weeks after the initial announcement.
However, I’ve received a handful of emails from members who will easily reach 750 combined nights across the two programs but will miss the 10 years of Platinum by just a single year. If this is you, listen up: You can still earn Lifetime Platinum Premier status by the end of 2018.
This is due to the fact that on August 18, members will have to proactively combine their accounts — it won’t happen automatically. As a result, if you keep your accounts separate, you could actually qualify for both legacy Marriott Platinum status (75 qualifying nights) and legacy SPG Platinum status (25 stays or 50 nights) this year and effectively have 2018 count as two years of Platinum status.
Here’s the statement we received directly from Marriott:
“If a member waits to combine their accounts until after 8/18 and achieves the same Elite status in both Rewards and SPG before the end of 2018, it will count as two years toward corresponding Lifetime status. If they’ve already achieved Elite status in both Rewards and SPG before 8/18 they can go ahead and combine their accounts and still get the two years credit towards Lifetime status.”
Note that this same approach applies to those who are also one year shy of the elite status tenure required for new Lifetime Silver, Lifetime Gold or Lifetime Platinum. However, it does not apply to status matched as part of the integration. In other words, if you’re a current holder of The Platinum Card® from American Express and used your automatic SPG Gold status to match to Marriott Gold for the last couple of years, this will not count as a year toward lifetime qualification. You must truly earn the status for it to count.
However, if you can manage to earn two years of status in 2018 the hard way — one for each of the legacy programs — you’ll want to wait to combine your accounts.
2. Book any planned awards at properties increasing in price.
Back at the end of June, we finally got a look at the full award chart for the combined programs. I (naturally) crunched the numbers and found some interesting bits of information, including quite a few examples where the new chart would be a negative change for some travelers. However, there are still some great redemption options for your hard-earned points.
But if you’ve been eyeing a property that will be increasing in price as of August 18, do your best to lock in your redemption before the integration happens. To do so, visit Marriott’s award chart and search for your hotel or desired destination. From there, you should be able to quickly see whether it’s increasing in price, decreasing in price or remaining the same. Keep in mind that for legacy Marriott Rewards, you don’t even need to have the full number of points to cover the entire redemption — you can book now and will just need to earn them at least 10 days prior to your arrival.
Also, pay close attention to those properties slated to jump to Category 8. Remember that this new top award tier in the combined program won’t take effect until 2019, so Category 8 hotels should be bookable at Category 7 prices (60,000 points per night) at least through the end of the year. Unfortunately, the online award chart shows the future Category 8 price. As a result, you might be tempted to book a property like the Ritz-Carlton Bachelor Gulch in Colorado now, since it appears to be jumping by 15,000 points per night. But that price applies to 2019 bookings, so be sure to consider the 2018 price when deciding whether to book now or wait.
One final recommendation along these lines: do your very best to finalize your dates for these bookings. Once August 18 arrives, any changes will be subject to the new redemption rates. Per the program’s FAQ page:
“For stays booked with points, if you modify your stay dates after August , you will be subject to the new Free Night Award Chart point values. Extending your stay or shifting your stay dates will result in a recalculation of points required for your reservation.”
Plans can (obviously) change, but if you can lock in your trips to properties that are jumping in price, I’d strongly encourage you to do so. Both SPG and Marriott allow you to book 50 weeks in advance, so you should be able to book through August 2, 2019 before the sites go down on August 18 for the transition.
3. Identify existing reservations to be rebooked after August 18.
In addition to those properties that are increasing in price after August 18, I’d strongly encourage you to review your current reservations at properties that will be dropping in price. With the new award chart launching at the end of June, I’m sure that many travelers are eyeing properties that will require fewer points for free nights starting in August. Once the new program officially launches, I expect that these properties will experience a noticeable increase in award bookings. Be prepared for this so you can jump on rebooking your stays as soon as the new pricing is active and the new booking platform is launched.
In fact, if it’s a legacy Marriott property that’s jumping in price, I’d recommend booking the stay right now, even if you don’t have enough points to cover the full redemption (SPG unfortunately doesn’t allow this, though we’ve been told this will be extended to all properties in the combined portfolio in August). That way you’ve “guaranteed” the award inventory and can then simply rebook after the August 18 launch. I’ve actually done that with a Residence Inn property for a fall weekend getaway and will (hopfully) adjust the booking to drop the number of points I’ll need to spend.
Speaking of planning in advance…
4. Plan for new reservations, especially at high-demand properties.
One of the most exciting pieces of news with the launch of the program’s combined award chart was the fact that many luxurious suites-only properties in the SPG program would be available at Category 7 standard award rates (60,000 points per night). These resorts were previously only available for incredibly expensive award rates, and most will be jumping to Category 8 in 2019. If you’ve been considering an award stay at a resort like the St. Regis Maldives or Al Maha in Dubai, plan your dates now so you’re ready to jump on the redemption as soon as the integrated program launches. I’d bet a fairly large sum of money that these properties will have a run on award bookings once the new pricing is loaded, so I’d strongly encourage you to be ready to book as quickly as possible before availability dries up.
5. Redeem points for one or more Hotel + Air packages with Marriott and book your hotels using the associated certificate(s).
The current iteration of Marriott’s Hotel + Air packages can get you some phenomenal value. That’s not true of the new version that will go live with the integrated program on August 18. So if you’ve been thinking about booking one of these packages, the clock is ticking. In fact, I’d recommend booking these no later than August 13. For starters, not all Marriott phone reps are knowledgeable about these package options, so it may take some time to finalize the redemption. In addition, integrating two vastly different IT systems takes a lot of work, and even though there aren’t any system outages scheduled until early morning on Saturday, August 18, I’d personally build in some lag time to ensure the program processes your redemption and posts the miles to your frequent flyer account.
The second part of this recommendation is even more important. There has been rampant speculation on what will happen to existing seven-night certificates from Hotel + Air packages that haven’t been used for a specific property by the transition date (you get the miles immediately but don’t need to finalize your hotel reservation at the time of redemption). Much of it was driven by a single sentence posted from Starwood’s official rep on FlyerTalk:
“Floater certificates, including outstanding Marriott Travel Packages, will be cancelled and converted to equivalent points, credited to the member’s account for future redemption.”
Many began to theorize that “equivalent points” meant the number of points needed for a seven-night stay in that category of hotel. This would be a massive win for certificate holders, but I see this as unlikely, especially since a Marriott rep reiterated (in an email to me last month after the FlyerTalk comment was posted) that details hadn’t been finalized at that time.
I was able to ask David Flueck, SVP of Global Loyalty for Marriott International, how these certificates would be handled and was told that he was “not ready to announce details” yet. All this leads me to believe that the verbiage posted to FlyerTalk was incorrect.
So why am I encouraging you to book now? I simply don’t see how (or why) these would be handled in a way that would result in a sudden windfall for members. The more likely option is that they’ll be treated like outstanding free night certificates from the legacy programs’ credit cards/elite status schemes. Per the FAQ page:
“Starting in August, any outstanding Certificates will be updated from Category-based to points-based values in the new combined redemption chart and may be used for stays at Rewards or SPG hotels up to the points value displayed on your updated Certificate.”
This would result in some neat and clean conversions (like a Category 1-5 certificate “converting” to a certificate worth up to 25,000 points per night) as well as some messy ones (like whether a Category 9 certificate, tops in the current Marriott program, would only convert to 50,000 points per night, below top tier in the new program). Regardless, I doubt we’ll get any further clarification on this before August 18, so if you want to be safe, I’d recommend locking in a redemption now in preparation for a potential devaluation.
6. Plan for the program to be offline all day on Saturday, August 18.
This is a relatively minor inconvenience, but starting early morning Eastern time on Saturday, August 18, all sites and apps across the three programs will be unavailable as the systems are migrated to a single platform. This is expected to take the better part of the day, so you’ll be unable to redeem points or attach your member number to reservations during this outage. If you’re like me and frequently use your weekends to plan trips, plan ahead to either get your reservations booked before the integration or wait until after the migration is complete.
We’re getting closer and closer to the final integration of Marriott Rewards, Starwood Preferred Guest and Ritz-Carlton Rewards, and we now know the exact date the combined program will launch. Hopefully you’ve been preparing over the last several weeks, but if not, I hope this post has given you a solid idea of what to do now leading up to August 18.
Know before you go.
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