At an event yesterday, Marriott unveiled the details of the new single program that will combine Marriott Rewards, Ritz Carlton Rewards and Starwood Preferred Guest.
The good news is that it’s nowhere as bad as we feared- Starwood was historically strong with elite recognition, and Marriott strong with earning and redemption, and it looks like they’ve chosen the best traits of each for the combined program. That’s not to say that everything is perfect (as we’ll see below), but as a Starwood loyalist who was bricking himself over the potential changes, I can say that I’ll sleep a bit better tonight after reading through the details.
My overall summary: SPG members see their elite benefits slightly devalued, but gain significantly on the earning and redemption side. It’s the exact opposite for Marriott Rewards members, who get much better elite benefits while losing out on earning and redemptions.
There’s a lot to dig into here, so let’s get started.
The majority of changes go into effect August 2018
From August 2018, stays across Marriott and Starwood brands will count towards elite status in the unified program, and elite status will be recognised across most hotels.
All your Starwood points will be converted to “points” (they won’t be called Marriott Rewards points), at a rate of 1:3 on this date. The new program won’t actually have a name yet; you’ll need to wait till early 2019 for that announcement.
The new program will have a total of five different elite tiers, with losers mostly from SPG
Marriott is combining the relevant qualifying tiers that Starwood and Marriott previously had (Starwood did not have Silver, Marriott did not have a 100 night tier) to give a total of 5 elite tiers:
- Silver: 10 nights
- Gold: 25 nights
- Platinum: 50 nights
- Platinum Premier: 75 nights
- Platinum Premier w Ambassador: 100 nights + US$20K of spending
You’ll note that qualification on the basis of stays is going away. For example, under the current SPG loyalty program, it’s possible to qualify for Platinum with 25 stays/ 50 nights. You can still qualify for Platinum through the old SPG rules this year, but from next year it’s nights only. Do note that if you intend to qualify for Platinum through stays this year, you will not be able to combine your stay figures from Marriott properties.
In the SPG program, you could earn Starwood elite credit and points on up to 3 rooms a night. In the new program, you can earn points on up to 3 rooms a night but elite credits are capped at 1 room per night.
Here’s how your existing status will map onto the new program:
|Current SPG Tier||Current Marriott Rewards Tier||Elite Tier from August 2018|
|Base member with 10-24 nights||Silver Elite with 10-24 Nights||Silver Elite|
|Corporate Preferred||Silver Elite|
|Preferred Plus||Silver Elite|
|Gold||Silver Elite with 25-49 Nights||Gold Elite|
|Platinum||Gold Elite||Platinum Elite|
|Platinum with 50 nights||Platinum Elite|
|Platinum with 75 nights||Platinum Elite||Platinum Premier Elite|
|Platinum with 100 nights||Platinum Elite with 100 nights and US$20k in qualifying spend||Platinum Premier Elite with ambassador|
If you were a SPG Gold member who matched him/herself over to Marriott Gold when back when status matching went live about a year ago, you will not be able to get Platinum Elite in the new program. On their back end, Marriott knows who earned their Marriott Gold status and who was matched over from Starwood, so no dice.
Here are the elite benefits, by tier, in the new program:
I realise the table above may be a bit hard to read, so I’m going to summarize the key points below:
Silver Elite (10 nights)
- 10% bonus points
- Priority late check-out, based on availability
Gold Elite (25 nights)
- 25% bonus points
- 2 pm late check-out, based on availability
- Points as a welcome gift
- Room upgrade subject to availability, not including suites
Platinum Elite (50 nights)
- 50% bonus points
- 4 pm guaranteed late check-out, except at resorts and convention centres
- Points, breakfast or an amenity as a welcome gift
- Room upgrade subject to availability, including suites
- Executive lounge access
- “Annual choice benefit” (5 Suite Night Awards or a gift)
Platinum Premier Elite (75 nights)
- All the benefits of Platinum Elite with the following enhancements
- 75% bonus points
- Enhanced “annual choice benefit” (10 Suite Night Awards or a gift)
Platinum Premier Elite with Ambassador (100 nights)
- All the benefits of Platinum Premier Elite with the following enhancements
- Ambassador service
Starwood members lose out here. While it previously took 75 nights with SPG to enjoy Your24, that benefit is now reserved only for 100 night members. That’s kind of a drag, because my personal experiences with Your24 were very positive. If you’re arriving and departing on very late flights, that can be the difference between having to book a hotel for one night or two. Furthermore, it previously took only 50 nights with Starwood to earn 10 suite night awards. That will soon become 75.
Starwood Gold members who matched themselves over to Marriott Gold for free breakfast and lounge access will lose it under the new program (as they remain Golds whereas Marriott Golds are bumped up to Platinum). Starwood Golds also lose 4 pm guaranteed late check out, which is replaced with 2 pm based-on-availability. I always thought this benefit couldn’t possibly last in the new program what with the influx of new members, but it’s still sad to see this go away.
You will not be able to select breakfast as your Platinum welcome amenity at EDITION, Gaylord, Ritz- Carlton, Design Hotels, Marriott Executive Apartments or Marriott Vacation Club. It’s just silly that the Ritz-Carlton isn’t offering free breakfast for elite members, although it’s good that Courtyards will now offer it, and breakfast will be offered at resorts as well which was previously not the case under Marriott Rewards (i know, right).
There is a silver lining for SPG elites. Under the new unified program, elite benefits apply whether or not you book directly with Marriott. Marriott is now the only chain that officially honors elite benefits on third party (eg Hotels.com) bookings. SPG did not. You will not earn points or stay credit if you book through a third party, but your benefits will be honored.
Earning rates in the new program will be revised, with SPG members the winners
Here’s how the earning stacks up in the unified program (versus before in the separate programs)
The exception to this chart is stays at Residence Inn, TownePlace Suites and Element properties, which have a base earn rate of 5 point per US$1. It’s interesting they’ve put Residence Inn into this bucket (TownePlace Suites and Element are mirror images of each other, really), but not Aloft or Four Points. Anyway I’m not complaining.
You can see that an SPG member is earning significantly more points under the unified program as compared to before. As a Platinum-50, I’m earning 15 points instead of 9, or an overall increase of 67%!
Of course, earning is just one side of the equation, and counts for nothing if redemptions get badly devalued. Which brings me to my next point…
New award categories are coming…with off-peak and peak pricing
With the boost in points earning, many people are waiting for the other shoe to drop. After all, more points floating around in the system means more competition for awards.
Marriott has revealed that there will be new categories from August 2018 for all its properties, with the introduction of off-peak/peak pricing from 2019. This is the change that will have many people nervous, especially since we won’t know until August 2018 which hotels will be in what category.
We do know that there will be 7 categories in total (with an 8th coming in 2019) that will cost the following (the 5th night free benefit on award bookings will remain, as will yet-to-be-announced cash and points rates):
The interesting point about the chart is that category 8, which costs up to 100,000 points a night, is only coming in 2019. However, all hotels will need to be slotted into one of the 7 existing categories by August. Does this imply a short-term opportunity to snag some of the top tier properties in the Marriott/Starwood portfolio for a maximum of 60,000 points (remember- no on/off-peak pricing till 2019) a night until then?
I initially got excited about this idea, because historically Starwood uberluxe resorts have been overpriced. Under the Starwood program, suites cost double the amount of points as regular rooms, and some hotels were flagged as all-suites. If you wanted to stay at these uberluxe properties, for example, it’d cost you dearly:
- St Regis Bora Bora Resort- 90,000 SPG points (270,000 points)
- St Regis Maldives Vommuli Resort- 90,000 SPG Points (270,000 points)
- W Maldives- 90,000 SPG Points (270,000 points)
- W Retreat Koh Samui- 60,000 SPG Points (180,000 points)
- Vana Belle, a Luxury Collection Resort- 60,000 SPG points (180,000 points)
If award prices were indeed capped at 100,000 points (33,333 SPG points) come 2019 (and potentially 60,000 points (20,000 SPG points until the end of 2018), that’s going to be a great improvement for Starwood users as far as using points is concerned.
However, and this is a big however, in an interview with Gary Leff at View from the Wing, David Fleuck, senior vice president of global loyalty for Marriott, mentioned explicitly that these charts do not account for pricing at premium all-suite properties. That is a real bummer.
I have no idea what the points premium will be for all-suite properties, but let’s say for argument’s sake it’s 2X, as it was before. This means:
- Highest award cost in 2018: 120,000 points (40,000 SPG points)
- Highest award cost in 2019: 200,000 points (66,667 SPG points)
That’s still pretty good. Over the past couple of years, Starwood ran a regular promotion called “Paradise is Closer” that offered 35% off awards at its top tier properties, which meant that properties like the W Maldives were regularly discounted to 58,500 SPG points.
From that point of view, a pricing cut to the equivalent of 40,000 SPG points for a few months before an increase to the equivalent of 66,667 SPG points come 2019 is not unbelievable. I’m actually going to take a punt on this, keeping my 220k+ SPG points in reserve to pounce on this opportunity if it arises.
I’m no fan of introducing on and off-peak award pricing, but in this NYTimes article, the writer got a few assurances out of Marriott:
There are more properties where standard award pricing will fall than there are where they will rise. There will be roughly the same number of peak and off-peak nights. And he answered with a straight-up “no” when I asked him, on behalf of loyalists of the Starwood Preferred Guest program like myself, whether the changes were designed to devalue the program for Starwood members, who were often able to get up to (a quite generous) 3 cents per point in value when booking free rooms.
So on the surface this seems ok. In fact, for someone coming from the SPG program, the revised award pricing is excellent. Look at how much savings the new rates represent over the old ones.
I think Aug-Dec 2018 will be a very happy hunting time for those of us who are SPG points rich.
Lifetime elite status remains, with some tweaks
Here is what Lifetime elite status looks like under the new program:
Your lifetime elite qualifying nights and status across all programs will be taken into account when determining lifetime status in the new program. For example, if you had 290 nights and 6 years of elite status with SPG and 120 nights and 2 years of elite status with Marriott, you’ll have 410 nights and 8 years of elite status with the unified program going forward.
The biggest impact for me is that my Lifetime Platinum goal has been pushed back 100 nights. The idea is that the larger program of 6,500 combined properties is supposed to make it easier for me to rack up nights, but it does feel painful to see 4 years and 129 more nights become 4 years and 229 more nights.
If you are an existing lifetime member, here’s how you’re impacted:
- Current Lifetime SPG Gold= Lifetime Marriott Gold
- Current Lifetime SPG Platinum= Lifetime Marriott Platinum
- Current Lifetime Marriott Gold= Lifetime Marriott Platinum
- Current Lifetime Marriott Platinum= Lifetime Marriott Platinum Premium
It may appear that current Lifetime Marriott Golds are getting a good deal, but when you think about it, it really makes sense. Remember that historically, it was much harder to qualify for Marriott Gold (50 nights) than Starwood Gold (10 stays/25 nights). So if Lifetime SPG Golds (250 nights) can get matched to Lifetime Marriott Platinums, Lifetime Marriott Golds (500 nights) should be matched to something higher.
Also note that Marriott Platinum Premium is not meant to be a permanent thing. Existing Lifetime Marriott Platinums (750 nights) are grandfathered into this tier, but it will not be offered going forward.
As it is, my current SPG Lifetime Gold will become Lifetime Gold in the unified program, but sans some of the benefits like guaranteed 4pm checkout. That’s more or less in line with the theme that SPG elites lose out on the benefits side.
Airline mileage transfers are untouched
There was an unhealthy amount of speculation as to what would happen to points transfers from SPG to airline programs. This program was particularly useful to those of us in Singapore,because it helped us access mileage currencies that were impossible to earn in Singapore or very expensive. It even allowed us to occasionally indirectly buy Alaska Mileageplan miles at 1.82 US cents each, way below the 2.11 US cents price we see when the miles go on sale direct.
The good news is that Marriott is keeping points transfer bonuses. Currently, transferring 20,000 Starpoints into miles yields a bonus of 5,000 miles for a total of 25,000 miles. That will stay, simply multiplied by 3.
I’m not going to talk about cobrand credit cards because that doesn’t apply to those of us outside the USA, suffice to say that holders of the cobrand cards get 15, yes, 15, elite qualifying nights each year. Who said life was fair?
In terms of partnerships, the Marriott-United partnership will continue (Marriott Platinums get United Silver status) indefinitely and the SPG China Eastern/Emirates partnerships will run until the end of the year.
As I mentioned at the start, the changes aren’t anywhere as bad as I feared. I dislike that my Lifetime Gold benefits have been devalued somewhat, but the increased redemption power that my SPG points will have in the new program does make up for it. I’ll be very interested to see what categories the various properties fall into come August, and will be hoping to snag a Maldives aspirational redemption if at all possible.