The Great Marriott-Starwood Fustercluck, in theaters August 1

So, because capitalism loves nothing like a good, hard merger, in 2016, Marriott, which also owns Ritz-Carlton and a shit-ton of other hotel brands, scooped up Starwood, who also own a shit-ton of hotel brands. Marriott’s been presenting these, more or less, as three separate master brands, with separate loyalty programs: Marriott Rewards, Ritz-Carlton Rewards, and Starwood Preferred Guest (SPG), with easy points transfers between the programs.

We all knew that wasn’t gonna last forever, and now the day has come where the holy union of 29 hotel brands will come together to become a glorious new Rewards Program To Be Named Later. This is not a joke. The programs will merge into a single new program under three names, months before the new program gets a single name.

Overall, things will be a bit shittier, especially for people who spend on SPG cards. Things will be better for some people, too, especially regulars. Things are not nearly as shitty as they could have been.

This is not comprehensive. This is just a best effort. It’s probably wrong. Fucking sue me. I figured out some parts of it from other bloggers, anyway. The Points Guy and Frequent Miler have some good posts on this shit if you want to read more.

 

THE BASICS:

Starting in August, there will only be one kind of points, which, rather than being Starpoints or Marriott Rewards points, are just going to be called “points.” (Creative.) However, you can just think of them as Marriott points, because that’s what they are. Any existing Starpoints you have will automatically be converted to the New Points at a 1:3 ratio, same as you get now when you transfer Starpoints to Marriott Rewards points.

There will be new status levels, called Silver, Gold, Platinum, Platinum Premier, and a new top tier called Platinum Premier with Ambassador Service. Seriously. Existing status levels at either SPG or Marriott will be converted to one of these, which I’ll explain. Lifetime status will also convert to the lifetime versions of these; if you’re close, just go move into a Marriott or Starwood between now and August 1st, because it’s going to be a lot harder to qualify for lifetime status once the deadline passes.

There are new credit cards, issued by both Chase and Amex, at different price points. They vary in terms of their benefits and category earnings, like dining and whatnot, but they’ll all have have the same earnings for everyday spending (2 points per dollar spent) and Marriott-Starwood hotel stays (6 points). Existing cards like the Amex SPG and Chase Marriott Rewards Premier will change to earn at these same rates, too. It might be worth picking up these new cards for their bonuses, and for hotel stays when you’re at a Marriott/Starwood/Ritz property, especially if you do that regularly. Everyday spending will be worse, though.

There will be a single 8-level category chart that every property will belong to (as opposed to the existing three different charts for Marriot, Ritz, and Starwood). Many properties will be recategorized. I’m sure there will be a few new sweet spots, but you know what happens when your favorite restaurant prints new menus? Overall, the prices are higher.

Some changes will kick in immediately on August 1, 2018, and then some will kick in (or change again) on January 1, 2019. The big score is that there will be no category 8 properties until 2019, and no peak/off peak pricing until 2019, either. This means that there will be some fine deals on top-tier properties for from August 2018 through December 2018.

Ever the optimist, I’m going to start with how your life will suck more now under the new program, and then get to how it will improve. So, you know, you’ll have something to look forward to.

 

HERE’S HOW THINGS WILL BE SHITTIER:

Non-category spending on an SPG card will now yield only 67% of what it used to — it used to earn 3 Marriott points per dollar spent, and now it will earn 2. That fucking blows if you have been putting your everyday spending on an SPG card. If your main intent for your points is airline transfers, accumulation via everyday spending will be really slow compared to cards like the Amex Blue Business Plus, Chase Freedom Unlimited, Amex Everyday Preferred, or even an airline branded card. Still, Marriott points are obviously good for Marriott stays, and the points also transfer to 40+ airline loyalty programs, most of which don’t support transfers from other points systems. So some people will want the cards, depending on what’s important to them. But, ouch. (On the other hand, if you were spending on a Marriott branded card for the elite night credit every $3,000 spent — because that would be the only reason to — you will now earn twice as many points as before…except that there are rumors that the elite night credit will be going away.)

If you have Marriott Gold status via an Amex Platinum or Amex SPG card, or a Chase Ritz Carlton card, or United Premier status, you’ll lose several perks like free breakfast and 4 PM checkout.

If you had SPG Platinum status, you got a guaranteed suite upgrade if one was available at SPG properties. With the new Platinum level you’re eligible for one, but the language is a little mushier (“subject to availability”), so the hotel may be able to say tough shit even when you show them an empty suite in the SPG app. Also, SPG Platinum got you executive/club level access. No more.

There will be new “peak”/”off-peak” award pricing starting in 2019. I guess this could wind up being ok, but it smells funny.

The Marriott Hotel + Air packages, which represented one the best values in the whole big wide world of miles and points, are still going to be decent deals, but not the stupidly great deals that they have been.

You’ll no longer be able to transfer to Amtrak. That was actually a pretty good value, and those of us in the northeast actually have a use for Amtrak, so boo.

Delta Crossover Rewards, which was an SPG partnership that gave you dual earning and a little bit of status-like benefit on Delta if you didn’t have any, is going away.

You now need top tier superstatus (100 nights and $20,000 spent) for Your24, rather than 75 nights with no spending requirements at SPG. (Your24 lets you specify any check-in time.)

Status will be awarded on nights alone, rather than having stays as an alternative option, and It will be harder to achieve lifetime elite status.

 

HERE’S HOW THINGS WILL BE BETTER:

Staying in any of the 29 brands will earn rewards that can be be used to stay in any of the 29 brands. This sounds obvious, but it’s kind of huge — they more hotels they have, the easier it is to stay in one of them and earn reward points and/or status for the stay. Plus, the addition of Starwood properties to the Marriott portfolio gives you some really nice options, since a lot of Marriott brands were kinda blah.

You’ll earn more points during stays, particularly if you have elite status.

Some of the top-tier properties, especially at Starwood brands, will require fewer points — what used to be the equivalent of 105,000 Marriott points might now cost as little as 60,000.

If you’re Platinum, there will probably be fewer people vying for suite upgrades, because you’ll (usually) have to stay at hotels to earn that level of status, as opposed to competing with every jackass who has a flashy credit card. Also, old Marriott Platinum didn’t even offer suite upgrades at all.

Most properties will offer free breakfast for Platinum members.

If you want to earn Platinum status by blowing $75,000 on a Chase Ritz-Carlton card, or the forthcoming Amex SPG Luxury card, you’ll now earn 75,000 more Marriott points than you would have previously.

 

HERE’S HOW THINGS COULD HAVE BEEN WORSE:

Airline transfers to 40+ airlines will remain in place, at the same transfer ratios (3:1, in most cases), with the same transfer bonus (if you transfer 60,000 points in one shot, you get a bonus 15,000).

You can still make Platinum status by blowing $75,000 on a credit card, if that’s how you roll; and even if you don’t, having almost any of the cards reduces the Platinum threshold to only 35 nights.

Your combined stays at both Starwood and Marriott properties will count towards lifetime elite status.

There does not appear to have been grotesque award chart inflation (though it’s not as rosy as Marriott makes it sound).

There’s a sweet spot from August 2018 through December 2018 where top properties will be available on the cheap for award stays — assuming you can score availability.

 

ELITE STATUS:

The new elite status levels reflect the same stay requirements as their corresponding levels did before, and have roughly similar benefits.

old Marriott Silver (10 nights) -> Silver [slightly better, but it’s still nothing very exciting]

old SPG Gold (25 nights) -> Gold [worse — 2 PM late checkout rather than 4PM]

old Marriott Gold (50 nights) -> Platinum [better — suite upgrades]

old SPG Platinum (50 nights) -> Platinum [worse — no lounge access, and suite upgrades not guaranteed even if they’re unoccupied]

old Marriott Platinum (75 nights) -> Platinum Premier [better — suite upgrades]

100 nights + $20,000 spent will get you the new top level, Platinum Premier with Ambassador Service, which didn’t exist before.

Here’s the thing: Old Marriott Gold was nearly as good as old Marriott Platinum, and much better than SPG Gold. For a sweet minute from September 2016 through July 2018, when the interim strategy for the two programs was to just match SPG and Marriott status levels by name (Gold<->Gold, Platinum<->Platinum), everyone with an Amex Platinum card (or certain other cards) got Marriott Gold, by matching from the inferior SPG Gold included with the card.

Under the new program, that benefit of the Amex Platinum card will revert to what it was pre-merger, more or less. You’ll get new Gold, which is slightly worse than old SPG Gold, and much worse than old Marriott Gold (which is more like new Platinum).

Also, SPG Platinum was better than old Marriott Platinum, despite requiring fewer nights, and some of its benefits aren’t replicated in the new program.

The consolation prize is that the new credit cards (and maybe the old ones) all give you credit towards 15 elite status nights, which means that you “only” need 35 nights to qualify for Platinum status. That, or you can spend $75,000 on a credit card to get it.

Existing elite status levels will convert like so, from where you earned the status, not where you were matched to. If you had Marriott Gold only because you had SPG Gold, you’re going to get matched from SPG Gold. If you’re close to achieving Marriott Gold or Platinum by stays, or by spending on a card, try to get it done by August 1 so you can be locked in at the higher level through January 2020.

  • Marriott Silver -> Silver (who cares)
  • SPG Gold (25 nights, or from Amex Platinum or SPG card) -> Gold
  • Marriott Gold (50 nights, or from Chase Ritz-Carlton card) -> Platinum
  • SPG Platinum (50 nights) -> Platinum
  • SPG Platinum (75 nights) -> Platinum Premier
  • Marriott Platinum (75 nights, or from Chase Ritz-Carlton card) -> Platinum Premier
  • SPG Platinum (100 nights) -> Platinum Premier with Ambassador Service
  • Marriott Platinum (100 nights) -> Platinum Premier with Ambassador Service

I wonder if Ambassador Service comes with hookers.

 

LIFETIME ELITE STATUS:

It’s gonna be harder to get — if you’re coming from SPG, it requires more stays, and if you’re coming from Marriott, it requires fewer stays, but 10 years of Platinum (instead of 2 million points).

If you are very near Marriott Lifetime Gold, Marriott Lifetime Platinum, or SPG Lifetime Platinum or (maybe) SPG Gold, slam it in before August 1! Fucking do it! If you’re Marriott or SPG Lifetime Platinum, you’ll be grandfathered into the new top tier, Lifetime Platinum Premier, that’s not going to be attainable after 2018. If you’re Marriott Lifetime Gold, you’ll get Lifetime Platinum, which certainly doesn’t suck either. (If you’re SPG Lifetime Gold, you’ll get new Lifetime Gold, which is only ok.) Further, if you’re at Marriott, and already have the points, and can get it done before August 1, you’ll be exempt from the years requirement you’ll need from August onwards.

(Marriott Platinum, 750 nights + 2M points; Marriott Gold: 500 nights + 1.6M points; SPG Platinum: 500 nights + 10 earned Platinum years; SPG Gold: 250 nights + 5 earned Gold years.)

If you can’t make it by August, but might be able to before the end of the year, and you do have ten years as a Platinum under your belt between the two programs, you can also qualify into Lifetime Platinum Premier by getting in 750 combined SPG and Marriott nights by December 31. After that, you’ll only be able to become Lifetime Platinum (with 600 nights), not Platinum Premier, which won’t be available for anyone who doesn’t make it in 2018.

 

WHAT YOU SHOULD DO RIGHT NOW:

If getting to Marriott Lifetime Gold, SPG Lifetime Platinum, or Marriott Lifetime Platinum status is plausible for you at either SPG or Marriott by August 1, try to get it! (But only go after SPG Lifetime Gold if you’re very very close.)

Consider getting a Chase Ritz-Carlton card (or, if you already have one, try to have spent $10,000 on it this year before August 1). You’ll get automatic Marriott Gold in your first year, which will convert to new Platinum on August 1, which you’ll keep through January 2020. (Or, if you think you’ll spend $75,000 in a month instead, because who doesn’t, you’ll get old Platinum, which will become new Platinum Premier.) Further, the free night certificates you get for a signup bonus will get converted to points that you can use to stay at any property, not just Ritz. This fantastic idea comes from the ever-genius Frequent Miler, who has a good post up about it. The card is $450, but you can get $300 back towards airfare if you’re creative. It also puts the Amex Platinum to shame in terms of sheer metallic clankiness.

If you have a bunch of Starpoints or Marriott Rewards points that you don’t have foreseeable plans for, consider getting a Hotel + Air package while it’s still a good deal, if the exchange for airline miles appeals to you. Note that the 7-night certificate that you get will be converted to some as-yet unspecified amount of points in August. The minimum would be 45,000, which is what you can exchange it for now, but it will probably be more. (I should have hung on to mine, but I gambled wrongly that the certificate would become worth less once they announced the new program details. Win some, lose some.)

Or, lie down on the sofa and take a nap. That’s what I’m gonna do, if I ever finish writing this.

 

OK I’M FUCKING DONE:

That’s as much as I’ve figured out, and more than I care about. You can ask if you have questions, or tell me if I got anything wrong or incomplete.

I’ve kind of come to the realization — the light bulb really went off after my brother Max articulated it after I put him up to a Marriott Platinum challenge — that I don’t care that much about having hotel status. Yes, it was super nice when we stayed at the Ritz for free and they waived the bullshit resort and parking fees and even brought us snacks and champagne when I emailed them that it was our anniversary (which was true) — I love attention and good service.

But there are so many zillions of hotels in the world, including some really interesting independent ones, that I don’t want to be tied to only the offerings of a chain. It’s not like airlines, where there aren’t very many of them, and they’re not very different from one another. Also, I tend to do a lot of last minute travel, so I sometimes just like to spin Hotel Tonight and see where it lands me. I mean, I’d rather be Platinum than not, but if it’s a choice between that and flexibility, I’ll take the latter. And my Citi Prestige still gets me 4th night free, anywhere, so there’s that.

The most meaningful thing to me in any of this is that the SPG cards are going to earn so much more slowly than they did, which was already slow. Unless your goal is to stay at Starwood/Marriott/Ritz properties frequently, or travel on as many airlines as possible with as many options as possible, the cards just aren’t a good choice for non-category spending anymore. I’m probably not going to keep my SPG Business card unless I change my mind about wanting Marriott Platinum status.

For American and Alaska loyalists, SPG cards were a better option than those airlines’ own branded cards, because they earned faster and were more flexible. But that’s not true any more. You’ll have to decide if having more AAdvantage or Alaska miles, despite their confined use, is better than having fewer Marriott points, which can be sent to 40+ airlines and used for hotel stays. (Of course, I don’t think you should be loyal to American or Alaska at all, because of the lack of transfer options from Chase Ultimate Rewards and Amex Membership Rewards.)

 

OK, REALLY, I’M FUCKING DONE NOW:

Really. Thanks to reader Jim for goading me into starting this thing, and reader AJ for goading me into finishing it.

(Note to those paying attention: Yes, an earlier version of this was posted sometime last week, but MailChimp didn’t send it out to email subscribers when I was fixing the site to use SSL, plus I’ve further revised it, so I’m reposting.)

2 thoughts on “The Great Marriott-Starwood Fustercluck, in theaters August 1

  1. Alpa

    i’m with you on the hotel loyalty issue. there are so many hotels out there, why stick with any one brand? i pick hotels (or vacation rentals) based on price, location (convenient to what i want to go to, and safe), clean and attractive room & facilities, and, when possible, a locally-owned hotel.

    i got an spg card 2-3 years ago, when there was a good sign-up bonus and because of the range of airline transfer partners. i let the card go at the end of the 1st year, because i get 3x points with hotels with my chase sapphire reserve.

    Reply
    1. Ivan X Post author

      Sure, but if you frequent Marriott/Starwood and value their points, then the 1:1 Ultimate Rewards transfer to Marriott still makes it half of what you’d get for the same spending on an SPG or Marriott branded card at their hotels. But if you don’t stay at Marriott/Starwood often, then it doesn’t justify keeping the $95/year SPG card.

      Ima try math: If you value Marriott points at 0.83c each (which I think is reasonable, because you get 1.25 airline points per 3 Marriott points when you transfer 60K at a time, and with so many airlines to choose from, you ought to be able to find an award ticket that’s worth at least 2 cents per point), you’d break even on the SPG card cost after earning 11,445 points.

      At 6 points per dollar spent, you’d have to spend $1,907 at their properties to earn that many points from the card — except that the Reserve can get half of that, so really you’d have to spend $2,861 yearly at Marriott/Starwood to justify keeping the SPG card in addition to the Reserve. If you primarily want to use the points for stays, rather than airline transfers, the per point value is probably somewhat higher, so you’d have to spend less to justify keeping the card, but it would still be a fair chunk of change.

      Reply

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