Two Marriott-Starwood Rumors that May Make SPG Members Happy

Marriott is buying Starwood. The deal is expected to close in June. It has now cleared anti-trust hurdles in both the US and Canada.

SkyCity Marriott, Hong Kong Airport

Two narratives coming from folks at Starwood may give positive indications of things to come in both the short and the long term.

Starwood’s Internal Messaging: Program Safe Through at Least 2017

Marriott’s acquisition of Starwood still won’t close for a few months, and if they’re going to fold Starwood into Marriott and fold Starwood Preferred Guest into Marriott Rewards that’s a minimum 18 month IT project. So I’ve been saying that Starwood Preferred Guest lasts at least through 2017. (That isn’t to say there couldn’t be some changes to the SPG program made along the way of course.)

Starwood Preferred Guest Platinum members who stay at least 100 nights with the program each year receive a designated “Ambassador” — an individual designated to handle all Starwood issues, “gets to know you over time” and “provide the personal touches that make each trip special.”

In practice, the quality of each Ambassador varies and many likely have too many guests to really work hard for each member assigned to them. But having an Ambassador is better than not having an Ambassador.

Ambassadors are apparently being told they’re safe until at least the end of 2017. In other words, like my assumption about Starwood Preferred Guest remaining largely intact not just this year but also at least next, Ambassadors are being told that program (and thus their jobs) are also intact at least that long as well.

Marriott Considering Adopting an Ambassador Program

Starwood has been much stronger on elite benefits than Marriott, and that’s the crux of member concern about the merger. Marriott members get access to nicer hotels with their points, and Marriott Rewards offers a stronger rebate for in-hotel spend. It’s Starwood’s treatment of elites that has far outpaced Marriott. Marriott doesn’t offer guaranteed late checkout, a commitment of suite upgrades outside Asia Pacific, or breakfast at resorts or Courtyard or Ritz-Carlton properties. (Marriott also doesn’t have the strong points to miles transfers of Starwood either.)

W Seoul Walkerhill

So word that Marriott has in mind some of the high end services that Starwood offers to elites is heartening. And indeed word is that Marriott had been working on an Ambassador program similar to Starwood’s in the months prior to the merger.

What’s more, that program may have been on hold given that the merger was pending and Starwood already has such a program. That would suggest Marriott keeping the benefit and perhaps even expanding it.

These narratives come from the Starwood side, rather than Marriott (unlike when I leaked new benefits coming for Marriott Rewards), and though they’re being talked about by multiple people I can’t verify that they’re coming from different places so I leave this in the category of rumor though it seems credible.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. “Marriott members get access to nicer hotels with their points”

    What does this mean?

  2. Hi, Gary — I’ve always been a lot less enthusiastic [than bloggers] about SPG benefits, probably because I have only Amex cc status, don’t travel on an expense account, and would rather stay at a Hyatt. I can’t see the magic of SPG points whose highest value is a bonus on transfers to an airline.

    I have no relationship with Marriott; it’s way down on my cc wish list — even below the Carlson Club card that USBank and Carlson recently trashed. Ever an optimist, I see potential in the merger — that it will shake up the stiffs at Starwood. Maybe there will yet be a reason to renew my SPG Amex card.

  3. Good to see you note that Marriott awards far more points for hotel spend (proportionally) than SPG which offers a measly 2 per $1 (Marriott base is 10 per $1). As SPG awards are not 5x more costly than Marriott it is clear Marriott offers better ROI for hotel spend.

    Conversely SPG Amex is far superior than Chase Marriott for spend as each offers 1 point/$1 everyday spend and Marriott rooms cost 2-3x more points per night.

    Will be interesting to see Gary’s predictions on the combined program earn & burn, rather than a 100-night elite perk that few of us can use.

  4. Gary, any idea at what point in the year you can hit your 25 stays with SPG and get Platinum status for the following year as well?

  5. @gary steiger – the deal hasn’t closed yet, they don’t have those sort of answers. if i had to bet, i’d bet that we lose the great transferrability of points.

  6. What will be the conversion rate from SPG points to Marriott points ?

    What will happen to Starwood Amex cards ?

  7. Gary, I never stay at Stanwood. In fact I have had 18 lifetime nights since 2005. My SPG Gold status was set to expire this year. It didn’t. It now says valid til 2017? Why is this? I do not have Amex Platinum. Will it transfer over to MR?

  8. Gary – is there any example in reference to SPG Golds? You refer to SPG “elites” but every example seems to be for SPG Plats. This is the biggest gripe I have to the blogger analysis of SPG elites – it’s often really about the Plats. Please refine your definition, or you sound a bit self-serving.

  9. Another article that rights a it SPG being better than Marriott for airline transfers without any understanding of the programs

    Marriott. Spend $4000(x15) as a platinum elite. You’ll learn 70,000 points which earns 25000 miles to many airlines. Starwood spend $4000 (x3)as an elite and you have 12000 points which earns 12000 points. SPG pretty much sucks and you lose your check in points if you want breakfast. Marriott has WAY more properties that offer free breakfast without forgetting your points or amenity. I don’t get SPG. Tried to like it. But points are slow to accumulate , they don’t have good travel packages and their hotels are not all that great.

  10. @colleen SPG golds get guaranteed 4pm late checkout (except at resorts and conference locations where it’s subject to availabiity). That to me is the biggest benefit of SPG gold. Marriott does not offer guaranteed late checkout even to their Platinums.

  11. Some random thoughts:

    – I wonder whether there is a large enough number of SPG Plat 100s for Marriott to really care about continuing the “Ambassador” program for their sake…
    – The continued reiteration that a guaranteed 4pm late checkout is a significant perk baffles me when most top elites or even 2d tier elites will generally be accommodated if they make a timely request. Hilton does not “guarantee” a 4 pm late checkout and, yet, I was approved for a 6pm late checkout at Hilton Buenos Aires three years in as many years, and have never had request denied anywhere, with latest being last December at the iconic Drake Hotel in Chicago, where I was simply asked how late I wanted to stay and got approved.
    – @Ryan on March 2, 2016 at 1:13 am: I have been making the point, as recently as last week in this space, that starpoints are not as valuable as SPG kool-aid-drinking bloggers have convinced themselves and their readers they are, so, good luck with that…
    – SPG Gold is not much of a second-tier elite status. It is only slightly better than the loftily named HGP “Platinum”, which is an elite status in name only. HH Gold and Marriott Reward Gold are the two best 2nd tier elite statuses in the business.
    – With Marriott Rewards having won the prestigious JD Power award for loyalty program with highest customer satisfaction many times, and SPG consistently ranking lower, frequently dead last or next to it in the same survey, I do not believe that Marriott will be interested in letting the SPG loyalty program, which has some of the most expensive awards in the business, persist too long after the merger is completed.
    – SPG, like Hyatt Gold Passport, is greatly overvalued by travel bloggers.

  12. Gary Leff wrote: “it means that Starwood has much nicer hotels than Marriott does”

    I would disagree and suggest that Starwood has a higher proportion of nice hotels than Marriott does. Marriott has properties which can rival any Starwood property, moreso if you include the Ritz Carlton portfolio. However, Marriott also has a greater focus on affordable and mid-market properties than does Starwood, which has a higher proportion of its properties in the mid- to high-end of the market.

  13. @gobluetwo – I am not talking about on average, Marriott has few top end hotels (and most Ritz-Carltons don’t even count). There are special and unique properties in the Starwood portfolio. Marriott members gain access to a portfolio of hotels that aren’t merely functional.

  14. To further what Ryan said about airline transfers. At 270,000 Marriot points, you get 120,000 miles (x1.1 with UA). That’s an even better ratio. And you get a week at a low- to mid-end Marriott. And, as one of the best transfer partners to SW, you can get a companion pass good for nearly 2 years.

  15. Hilton Diamond is the most overvalued hotel loyalty program. SPG and Marriott are much better

  16. Forget the high end properties comparison, SPG’s 2K-3K properties are better than Marriott’s 30K or Hilton’s 45K properties. Period.

  17. Looks like DCS continues to struggle with the simple concept of a “guarantee”.

    It’s a bedrock benefit for SPG Plats/Golds that is not difficult to comprehend.

  18. @UA-NYC: “Looks like DCS continues to struggle with the simple concept of a “guarantee”.It’s a bedrock benefit for SPG Plats/Golds that is not difficult to comprehend.”

    Speaking of comprehension, it looks like you need a lot of work to try to improve yours. What I wrote was that “The continued reiteration that a guaranteed 4pm late checkout is a significant perk baffles me…”

    There is nothing in that statement that indicates that I doubt that “4pm late checkout” is a genuinely “guaranteed” perk for SPG elites. It simply says that it is silly for anyone to consider “guaranteed” late checkout as a significant perk, when nearly all programs do accommodate their elites with it if they make a timely request. That is fundamentally different from claims that suite upgrades, which depend on AVAILABILITY can be referred to as “confirmed” or “guaranteed”, implying a done deal.

    Like I said, this is NOT rocket science…


  19. Is it likely that this merger precipitated the new (highest ever?) SPG 35k sign-up bonus? If so, is there any speculation on whether this deal is a one-off last hoorah before the deal closes in June? Or alternatively perhaps we can expect to see more deals like this one because of the merger…

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