After months of speculation and uncertainty, 18 August is finally here. Fine, it was technically here yesterday, but I’m thinking in terms of Eastern Standard Time, where it’s currently Saturday night.
The Marriott-Starwood merger is underway, and both websites are currently down with no way to make reservations, paid or points. Your guess is as good as mine as to how long this will last, but let’s take some time to catch our breath and revisit some of the key developments today:
Whose suite upgrade policy is it, anyway?
It’s no secret that Marriott’s suite upgrade policy for elite members has never been as generous as Starwood’s. Here’s how Starwood phrased its benefit:
An upgrade to best available room at check-in — including a Standard Suite
Marriott had repeatedly gone on record to say that they would mirror Starwood’s policy, but when the new policy wording came out, here’s what it said:
We’ll do our best to upgrade your room (including Select Suites), based on availability at check-in. Upgrades are subject to availability identified by each hotel and limited to your personal guest room. See terms and conditions for details.
See the difference? Starwood says that if a suite is available, it’s yours. Marriott says that they’ll give you an upgrade, and that upgrade may include a suite. Now, in practice there were some Starwood properties which would fight you tooth and nail over upgrades, and some Marriott properties which would willingly go above and beyond to upgrade elites, but the wording of the new program is a definite departure from what Marriott had been saying.
The good news is that it seems like Marriott will be updating their T&C to reflect Starwood’s policy, as per this article on OMAAT. I’ll believe it when I see it, and if you’re an erstwhile Starwood Platinum member I’d hold my breath a bit longer.
Travel package remapping has been announced
One of the best uses of Marriott Rewards points was for travel packages, which gave you a 7 night certificate at a particular hotel category plus a certain number of airline miles in your preferred frequent flyer program. The historical cost of those package is shown below:
With the impending merger, there were many questions about how unused certificates from these packages (eg Tier 4) would map onto the new Marriott Rewards categories.
We now have an answer, and it’s not pretty. Here’s how the mapping will work:
Here’s Marriott’s spin on the issue:
No existing Travel Package certificate is losing value in terms of points and, with the new Free Night Award Chart that goes live today, 70% of our hotels either stayed at the same redemption rate threshold or moved down. As we structured the conversion chart, we considered the introduction of peak and off-peak redemption rates, which will be introduced in early 2019. This means that if you have an existing Category 9 certificate, which converts to Category 6 starting today, holders will still be able to attach the certificate to a stay when redemption rates within that category are at their highest.
The thing is- everyone was assuming that Marriott was deliberately keeping mum about the mappings because it intended to be generous, i.e to maintain the current mappings (Cat 7 in the old program becomes Cat 7 in the new program) and they didn’t want people snapping up tons of them.
If anything, the new mappings are the complete opposite of generous. Think about it: suppose you held a Tier 3-5 certificate, the most expensive one under the old program. That certificate is now only valid for use at a hotel up to Category 7, not Category 8 which is the new highest tier. One would think that the most expensive certificate under the old program should be redeemable at the most expensive property under the new program.
There’s a lot of rage on Flyertalk and assorted forums. I didn’t redeem a travel package, so I don’t really have a vested interest in the outcome. Suffice to say, this may be a good lesson about the dangers of redeeming things speculatively.
All suite properties will have standard rooms for redemption
I’ve said from the start that my gameplan (and probably everyone else’s too) is to make a mad dash for Starwood’s uberluxe properties like the St Regis Maldives and the Al Maha Desert Resort once the floodgates open.
A little while ago, the Marriott website was updated with new T&Cs which got a lot of people worried:
Free Night Awards at the following locations require a higher amount of Points either because the Participating Property does not have standard rooms or the standard rooms it offers have a mandatory full board requirement in peak seasons: Vana Belle, a Luxury Collection Resort, Koh Samui, Thailand; The Naka Island, a Luxury Collection Resort & Spa, Phuket, Thailand; Sheraton Steamboat Resort Villas, Steamboat Springs, Colorado; The Westin Golf Resort & Spa, Playa Conchal, Costa Rica; The St. Regis Bora Bora and the Le Méridien Bora Bora, Bora Bora, French Polynesia; Mystique, a Luxury Collection Resort, Santorini, Santorini, Greece; The St. Regis Bali Resort, Nusa Dua, Indonesia; Hotel Cala di Volpe, Hotel Pitrizza, and Hotel Romazzino, Costa Smeralda, Italy; W Maldives, North Ari Atoll, Maldives; W Koh Samui, Surat Thani, Thailand; Al Maha, a Luxury Collection Desert Resort & Spa, Dubai, U.A.E.; St. Regis Residence Club, Aspen, Aspen, CO; and Phoenician Residences, a Luxury Collection Residence Club, Scottsdale, AZ.
This wording mirrors the old policy from the SPG program, where top tier categories could not be redeemed for standard room awards. This matters, because if this policy were carried out there would be some upcharge for all suite properties and that 60,000 a night St Regis Maldives might end up at 120,000 points (based on Starwood’s old policy of doubling the points needed at such properties).
Numerous Marriott executives had come out to say that standard room redemptions would be available at all properties regardless of category. Ben from OMAAT has since received confirmation from Marriott that this will in fact be the policy going forward, and the T&Cs will be updated to reflect this.
So 60,000 point St Regis Maldives rooms are still on for now, and the question is more of “how many rooms will be released for standard awards?” The St Regis Maldives only has 4 garden villas which are classified as standard rooms, so methinks this will be a fun process for all concerned…
The key question still remains: when will rooms be available for award redemptions? I’d be surprised if we saw something today, but that isn’t stopping me from camping at my laptop. Join our Telegram Group if you want real time updates on the latest developments, and good hunting to one and all.