ritz cancun
Image courtesy of Ritz-Carlton

Rewarding a travel lifestyle, not just hotel stays…

Marriott and Starwood have announced official details of their soon to be merged loyalty program, effective August 2018. Here’s your takeaway: they don’t just want be a part of your hotel stays – they want to become a part of your entire travel lifestyle. The new program will put your points into one easy to use interface, and for the most part, there’s a lot less red tape than you’d expect from a points program.  Here’s everything you need to know from upgrades to earning points for buying iPads…

Overall, It’s Easier

For most travelers who hardly keep up with their exact points balances or know how to transfer points and what not, the program is easier. There’s one chart to tell you how many points you’ll need, there’s one points currency that covers all Marriott, Ritz and Starwood Hotels and you can use your points on almost any date, with greater ease. And if you don’t to use your points for hotels, you can use them for other things.

No Black Out Dates

For most travelers, this is the most important, or only important factor. You can now use your points on virtually any night whatsoever, so long as a standard room is available. This is an improvement on the previous Marriott program.

If You Had SPG Or Marriott Points Already

If you had 10,000 SPG points, you’ll soon have 30,000 Marriott points. Just multiply by three. If you have 30,000 Marriott – you’ll still have 30,000 Marriott Rewards points. Going forward, basic members will earn 10 points per dollar on hotel stays. Frequent guests will earn up to 17.5! Nice….

Easier To Earn Basic Status

Staying 10 nights in a year in just Starwood or just Marriott hotels was a bit tricky for many. Now that both groups count together as one, getting to Silver status after 10 nights at any Marriott, Starwood or Ritz property is essentially 3x less difficult.

Credit Cards Are Hit And Miss

For 95% of Starwood and Marriott fans, a major shrug is the future of their credit card earnings. It appears the Starwood credit cards will now earn at less effective rates than before, at least if you hoped to use points for flights. Marriott will be largely unchanged. New cards are being launched over the next couple months, so keep an eye out for better ways to earn – and some huge sign up bonuses.

Free Wifi For All

Free wifi is one of the few things the world can agree on. Marriott and SPG’s new combined program will offer free wifi to all guests who join the free Marriott Rewards loyalty program, so long as they book direct with Marriott. This is simple and easy and you’d honestly be crazy not to join the program. Did you know you can get a free night after two stays when you join?

100,000 Travel Lifestyle Experiences Using Points

From a simple city attraction to VIP tickets at top sporting events, concerts and festivals all the way to crazy private Michelin star chef dinners featuring cooking lessons from Michelin starred chefs, Moments are a big part of the new program. You can now use points to acquire anything from a ferris wheel ride to an afternoon tea. And yes, the crazy cool VIP experiences, like traveling with the Bayern Munich football team still exist too.

Free Platinum For Golds

Starwood Gold and Marriott Gold become Marriott Platinum – unless you acquired either by the Amex Platinum credit card. If you did, you will remain Gold. Be sure to link your accounts so you’ll keep lounge access and 4PM late check out. Going forward these cards will only offer Marriott Gold status, aka no lounge access.

Using Points For High End Hotels Get Cheaper

35,000 SPG points was the max per night a top luxe hotel would cost under the previous Starwood program. In the newly combined Marriott Rewards program, the highest end hotels currently max out at 60,000 points per standard night, the equivalent of 20,000 SPG points under the present programs. For current Marriott members, this isn’t the most exciting news, but for SPG members this is great as they’ll save almost 30,000 points per night in the new program. There’s even talk of the crazy exclusive luxury hotels being offered at 60,000 points!

Suite Upgrades For Big Sleepers

Many very frequent guests were worried that “suite night certificates”, where certain members can book a basic room and instantly upgrade to a suite for free would go away. They haven’t, and there’s now more opportunity to use them since they can now be used at almost triple the hotels. At 50 nights Platinum members will receive 5 suite upgrades. At each threshold thereafter they can earn even more.

Airlines Miles Tricks Remain

If you’ve been feverishly building up SPG balances to transfer your points for an amazing flight, you still can. Nothing has changed. The points will feel different, since they will multiply by three, but any points you have will have the same value, and transferring them will have the same value. If you stay at hotels, you’ll now earn more points per night than Starwood previously received, so you’ll acquire your future airline points with more ease when staying at hotels.

Platinum Breakfast At More Hotels

It’s hard to beat a great hotel breakfast. Marriott Platinum and above members in the newly combined loyalty program will have the choice of bonus points or a free breakfast on stays at more brands. It would’ve been nice to see Ritz Carlton join the free breakfast game, but an improvement is an improvement.

Peak, Off Peak, Standard

Marriott clarified to us that roughly 60% of the year will be available at the new standard rates, 20% will be at peak rates and 20% will also be off peak. These dates will vary by region and though you may pay more for select “peak” hotels, you’ll effectively pay somewhere around 20% less than previously for off peak hotels.

More Tech, Less Stress

Tech and travel are a lovely pairing. Marriott is investing heavily in mobile check in, mobile check out and phones that can open doors. As the new programs combine, we’ll see increased ways that our phone can do most of the things that usually require time, effort, phone calls or stress.

Lifetime Status

Travelers who spent the ridiculous amount of time in hotels required to achieve lifetime status will be transitioned into the new Marriott program. SPG Lifetime Platinum was easier to attain, so these travelers will receive Platinum for life. Marriott Lifetime Platinums will receive the new, slightly upgraded Platinum Premier for life.

How will these changes affect you?

Featured image courtesy of the Ritz Carlton Cancun…

Gilbert Ott

Gilbert Ott is an ever curious traveler and one of the world's leading travel experts. His adventures take him all over the globe, often spanning over 200,000 miles a year and his travel exploits are regularly...

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1 Comment

  1. I’m absolutely one of the losers with the new program. While there are a few bright spots, these changes drop the value proposition a lot for me.
    Currently I’m SPG Platinum from 53 nights last year plus another 10 from Amex SPG night credits. Under current plans, I will have 43 nights when the programs consolidate. I’ve never stayed in a Marriott, so my status there is all from matches. While IMO a six tier system is wildly over complicated, it is what it is. Where I take umbrage is in the fact that I will be unlikely to reach 50, and absolutely will not reach 75 nights next year. The removal of the second and third room is an active disincentive for me. Now instead of choosing SPG/Marriott hotels specifically to earn more qualifying nights while traveling with my family, I’m more inclined to choose elsewhere because I know that I’m unlikely to requalify anyway.
    On the earning front, I put around 10K/month of general spending on my SPG business card. While things stay as they are, I’ll continue to do so, but when you cut down earnings by 1/3, it becomes much less valuable. With the reduced earnings, transfers to airlines become pretty much a 1:1 from each Starpoint, which really guts the value. There will still presumably be a ton of airline transfer partners, which makes this slightly more palatable, but it’s just really bad. My SPG business card may be cancelled. Should Amex offer a premium business card with truly valuable benefits, I may product change or apply to the new card.
    As to redemptions, the seasonal rates sound fine, but does anyone really believe that this will allow members to get more value, rather than less from the program? Me neither. I also am skeptical that the high season will remain for only 20% of the year. Additionally, Marriott has become known for substantial devalutions. Even for next year, there’s already a new top category. Just look at how the credit card free night became worth less and less every year due to category creep. This just seems like more of the same from Marriott, just in a nice new package.
    To round out the areas that trouble me, I’ve been working toward lifetime status with SPG, but Marriott’s move to make existing lifetime status for Marriott members considerably more valuable than similar SPG members shows that they don’t think as highly of the Starwood customers. This difference just speaks ill of Marriott. Devaluing the suite benefit for 50 night customers from 10 nights to 5 doesn’t do much to burnish their tarnished reputation either, not to mention the devaulations they’re doing to the upper tiers as well. Oh, and breakfast and club access should not depend on the chain within the company. Why are Ritz-Carlton hotels exempt from providing elite benefits? One other thing that’s more of a lurking suspicion than a gripe so far is whether hotels will be -required- to upgrade members into suites. Marriott’s wording seems to leave a lot of wiggle room, where SPG’s did not, so this is unlikely to be a mistake.
    With all of these points put together, I just don’t think that the new program will be for me. There absolutely are some benefits compared to the old program. The free breakfast at Courtyard hotels is probably the most tangible, at least for elite members. The problem is that that’s more than counterbalanced by much tougher requalification standards, weaker benefits, and considerably less value on my general spending. Of course, for all I know, Marriott doesn’t even want me as an elite level customer. With them, it’s often tough to tell.

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