Marriott-Starwood Merger Day: Quit Gnashing Teeth

Marriott’s new loyalty program has launched, but as of this writing they’re still working through the IT. They told us to expect things to be down throughout Saturday. If things work on Sunday I’ll be impressed.

Some members have reported success at various times today with various tasks. Soon you’ll be able to now combine your Marriott, Starwood, and Ritz-Carlton accounts. Your elite status credits from each program will count together towards status this year, although if you happen to want to qualify under old Starwood rules (25 stays earns Platinum) you should combine into your Starwood account and you’ll need to qualify only using legacy Starwood properties.

There’s a lot for members to be unhappy about.

  • Existing Marriott balances will certainly be worth less next year as Marriott introduces a new top redemption tier 8 and introduces peak redemption pricing.
  • Sweet spot redemptions like Marriott travel packages will no longer be a great deal
  • Earning from spending on Starwood credit cards is reduced by one third
  • Starwood’s elite benefits are going to get watered down a bit as they translate across the full Marriott portfolio of hotels
  • The most exclusive Starwood benefits will be nearly impossible for most members to attain. 75 night elites received ‘Your24’ twenty four hour check-in. 100 night elites received a personal ambassador. Those benefits will now require 100 nights and $20,000 annual spend.

There’s also a lot to be happy about.

  • Marriott members already got elite 4 p.m. late check-out
  • They’re now going to get a suite upgrade benefit, suites confirmed up to 5 nights in advance, breakfast at resorts and a food and beverage benefit at Courtyard, and more flexible check-in privileges along with a dedicated concierge at the very top level.
  • Marriott members get much nicer hotels to redeem at (the Starwood portfolio)
  • Starwood members get faster earning for their spend at hotels

Westin Stonebriar Chairman’s Suite Balcony

The Merger Isn’t What We’d Want, But it’s the Best We Could Expect

What you think of the change depends on which of these things matter most to you. However compared to what might have happened I still think that the new Marriott program is about the best we could possibly have hoped for or expected. It’s stapling some version of the Starwood elite program onto some version of the Marriott redemption program (‘the best of both worlds’) along with some devaluation of each.

Although Hilton is throwing shade at Marriott for not offering breakfast at all hotel chains still, such as Ritz-Carltons, the Marriott program is more rewarding than Hilton Honors which still doesn’t offer guaranteed late check-out or suite upgrades.

St. Regis Bali

And the Marriott program is more rewarding that the IHG Rewards Club program which still doesn’t offer guaranteed late check-out, suite upgrades, lounge access or breakfast (or even elite benefits on award stays or the option to spend more points for an upgraded room on redemptions).

There’s little question that the Hyatt program does more for top tier elites than any of the three large U.S.-based chains. If the Hyatt footprint works for you that’s wonderful, but they have just 10% of the properties that Marriott now has.

I Don’t Know Why Everyone is Shocked With How Marriott is Handling Travel Packages

A lot of people are unhappy with how Marriott is handling travel packages. Marriott finally shared the new chart for how legacy travel package certificates would work in the new program. We’ve been asking for months, Marriott said they wouldn’t reveal it until the day the new program launched, and that there will be a blackout for redeeming these packages for the next month.

Lucky from One Mile at a Time says “Marriott is actually being extremely unreasonable here.” Top category (9) certificates only map to category 6 redemptions in the new program. Shawn Coomer says Marriott is screwing customers.

Lucky says “The further big issue is the expectations that Marriott has created here.” I disagree. If you read between the lines even a little bit you knew these packages were going to have less value going forward, not more value. I do get the outrage but I don’t get the surprise.

Basic principle: when a loyalty program won’t tell you what to expect you know to expect disappointment.

Upgrades Are Going to Be Better Than Before at Marriotts, Regardless of What They Fail to Promise

Marriott is hoping hotels upgrade guests but doesn’t owe you anything if they don’t. Marriott has been promising suite upgrades the way Starwood offered to Platinums. However if a standard suite was available and a hotel didn’t give it to a Platinum guest, the hotel was doing something wrong to the member. In the new Marriott program, the terms and conditions contain weasel words.

Marriott definitely wants hotels to upgrade Platinums to available standard suites (the suite upgrade benefit only applies at the 75 night tier for Ritz-Carlton properties). They’re paying incentives to hotels based on elite guest satisfaction, so hotels want elite guests to be happy. However there’s not really recourse in the terms – a violation of program rules vis-a-vis the memebr – if a hotel fails to deliver.

Elite benefits simply haven’t been in the Marriott DNA. There are 5 times as many hotels as Starwood had and Starwood had 20 years of pushing suites as a benefit (and hotels still sometimes failed to comply).

We’ll simply have to wait and see how Marriott delivers the benefit before becoming disappointed. My expectation is that some hotels will be excellent, others less so, and that overall more hotels will be offering more suites than before the merger but that consistency is going to take time to develop.

Presidential Suite, Sheraton San Diego Marina

As Soon as the Websites are Available, Start Booking Those Luxury Redemptions

The new program will offer all of its hotel properties for a maximum of 60,000 points through the end of the year (before introducing a new higher redemption tier and additional higher peak date pricing next year).

There are Starwood hotels which have charged 70,000 or more points per night, which is 210,000 points per night in the new program. These hotels will have rooms that cost just 60,000 points in the new program.

And despite some language on the website suggesting this wouldn’t be the case, Marriott maintains that it will be.

However rooms will be limited. You use your points for ‘standard rooms’ however standard doesn’t mean ‘the most common’ it means ‘the lowest category’. Hotels can create very limited lowest room categories. For instance I currently have a points reservation at the St. Regis Maldives (old Starwood pricing, 90,000 points per night) for an overwater villa. The new program will give you rooms at 60,000 points per night — equal to just 20,000 Starpoints in the old program. But it’s a garden villa. And the property has only about four of those. So getting a room on points won’t be easy there.

Al Maha Desert Resort

I’m really looking forward though to seeing what happens at a hotel like Al Maha Desert Resort. Outside of a couple of royal suites all of the rooms are the same — standalone villas with private pool — except for location on the property. The hotel is also nearly all-inclusive. Your meals and two activities per day are included. If they still provide meals and activities and the majority of rooms (again, they’re all alike) this will be one of the greatest deals in the history of hotel loyalty. I have to think they will not be this generous.

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. Garry, I was expecting to be able to search all Starwood properties on the new Marriott website but still can’t see it… from down under. Do you have any insights if this is part of intergration, or do you still need to go to both Marriott and spg to book and redeem?

  2. The lack of transparency, communication, and false information from Marriott and it’s representatives on these travel packages that has dragged on for months has been frustrating and disappointing.

  3. For those with packages like category 6 or 8, you think they’ll give 30k points back? Seems like it would be most fair.

  4. Upset that Gary is spinning this in Marriott’s favour. If only they would have released this information beforehand, I would have been able to make an informed decision and be responsible for my decisions. Instead, I speculatively burned all my points on a Cat.6 and 8 certificate and felt like 60k points were stolen from me. Yes, Im a grown person and still responsible for my decisions, and yes I am alive and well and life goes on……

    but it was a shitty and shady way for Marriott to deal with the packages this way and demonstrates terrible business practice. As a long time reader Gary, Im disappointed in your assessment.

  5. @Gary Leff – I get what you did here. None of this should surprise us because Marriott has no history of rewarding customers and they aren’t trustworthy. But you didn’t come out and say it so some people think you’re defending Marriott.

  6. @Gary Leff – One can only hope. To be quite honest, paying 120k SPG points (I bought a category 8) for 120k AA miles + a 7-night certificate at 40k points a night is pretty good. I can’t complain!

  7. @Gary – to clarify account merging, does it matter which way one combines accounts? (Re your comment about qualifying under old SPG terms). I’ll have 100 nights between the the two programs by EOY, 75 by October.

  8. The final merger was bitter for me. I redeeming hundreds fo free room nights. This was my first major hotel program. Back in the 2004 and some of those years, I was regularly redeeming points for 4-5 cents or even more with the 4 nights/5th free. No blackout dates meant I could get a Westin in Philly for 12K points when room rates were $600.00+ because it was marathon weekend and I was running. Even with chart point changes with SPG in recent years overall, I did pretty well. In fact, it was only the last 3-4 yrs where I saw some bigger bumps on pricey European hotels. No peak times etc. Good times. I got my godson into the program and he was earning more than a million a month on business expenses. Those days are long over. For me, I move on for the most part. I will see what it is to be Plat over the next year with the integrated program. Spending on SPG/Amex only makes sense for air miles the way I see it. Although one thing of minor interest is 75K spend to Plat level using the SPG Luxury card. That might be worth it. I see Hyatt more attractive for spending on free rooms or rooms + cash.

  9. One more thing I forgot. Ritz Carlton sucks. Flat out. No matter what program I have been with they make everything difficult and try not to honor anything until you put up a fight. No breakfasts there for Plats does not surprise me. Funny how St Regis offers free breakfast to Plats. That is a perfect example. Ritz Clubs are off limits as well. Not even a discount price on that for Plats. They usually quote $200.00 per person for that. And using a free room at Ritz, expect to get the smallest room they have if you are staying on points.

  10. Gary —

    I often fault you, but today, I am in total agreement with your analysis and outlook, except I disagree with respect to whether these individuals are right to express any outrage.

    I don’t believe they have any right to do so.

    I have read many posts here and elsewhere and many people were hoping for a arbitrage opportunity and a windfall. They did not get it and I say Boo Hoo!

    Man, we are only talking ’bout 30,000 points here!

    You who chose the wrong TP, you gambled and lost, get over it and suck it up.

    Stop being crybabies.

    As a longtime Marriott patron, I’m very happy with the changes and if SPG or Marriott malcontents don’t like the new program or how Marriott handled the transition and swear off Marriott, I’ll be quite happy — more opportunities for those who stay.


  11. Gary, is there any word on whether all properties will now honor 4 paid 1 free night deal on redemprions? Thank you for keeping us informed!

  12. @Hadley – it’s not about the 30k points (x however many cat 6, 8 or tier 1-3 packages a person may have bought) it is about the lack of communication. They knew the answer and purposefully withheld it to take advantage of their customers. Honestly there is no other reason to have withheld it other than I guess to prevent a run on cat 9 certs but effectively that would have been a small price vs the devil they will face now with their most vocal customers. I’m a long time Marriott Plat and have always felt like I was treated fairly. This is the first time I really feel like they took advantage of a situation.

  13. Gary if you really thought Marriott was going to handle the travel package conversions this way, maybe you could have written a post about your thoughts before today’s news.
    Now it’s too late and anyone can say “told ya not to expect a generous conversion”.
    I am with Lucky on this situation: Not announcing the travel package conversion mapping in advance and letting people purchase packages based on guesses was very wrong.

  14. I have no issues with devaluation itself but not announcing in advance what they are going to do and on top of that mapping category 6 and 5 into the same bucket and category 8 and 7 into the same is simply dishonest. It is literally saying to those people who booked Category 8 and 6 packages that we got to steal 30K points additional from you. I have seen time and again outrage from all bloggers against airlines that simply devalue without notice and this is worse and no outrage at all. It shows malicious intent.

  15. I had a cat 5 package and recently upgraded it to a category 6.

    Do I just lose the extra points? If so, this is BS.

  16. Gary, your writing shows you are advocating on behalf of Marriott. When you wrote “I Don’t Know Why Everyone is Shocked With How Marriott is Handling Travel Packages” you are on the wrong side of this. They pissed off a lot of people and they are clearly in the wrong on how to handle this thing from the beginning. Long call wait time, phone reps giving out false information, and purposely withholding information. 30k Marriott points are not some pocket change. Please don’t be like TPG.

  17. Right now there seems to be a common line of thinking that “if you’re not with me, then you’re against me”. Hence if Gary isn’t upset at Marriott, he must be in support of Marriott, which isn’t true in this post. He is just stating that overall the merger has likely been beneficial for legacy Marriott members and growing pains for legacy SPG members, which is exactly what was expected from the merger.

    Additionally, regarding the recent travel package purchasing frenzy, let’s not forget that this was all a gamble. There’s a general rule in Vegas that you don’t bring more money than you’re ok losing. In my opinion, everyone won but some won more than others. The whole benefit of the travel packages was always the miles, not necessarily the nights in a hotel. So purely in terms of converting points to miles, everyone benefited there and at a very generous rate to boot. The big question mark with these packages was what would happen to the hotel nights. And that is where people did some questionable things. They started pumping more points into their packages to raise their category. Was there a particular property people were going after? Or were they just caught up in playing the game to get an even better deal? If they just attached the package to the hotel they wanted in the first place, then they could have avoided any risk at all but it seems like a lot of people wanted to roll the dice.

    I had an old cat 9 package but I had trouble justifying 7 nights at a single hotel. Rather than play this game, I converted it back to points before the programs merged. I didn’t have a use for 7 nights in a single hotel before d-day and I certainly wouldn’t have a use for it after. I don’t regret my decision at all. After all, travel packages were always a miles play from my perspective.

    I don’t expect Marriott to change course on these packages. You know from the new redemption rates that they already thought the old rates were far too generous. Every blogger out there talked about what a great deal they were. So what incentive does Marriott have to continue to sweeten the deal on old packages? Appeasing people who know how to game the system isn’t something most successful companies do.

    Just my two cents and I am for sure not pro-Marriott or anti-Marriott.

  18. Marriott believes that they have the size and scale to now dictate their terms and rewards. It should come as no surprise that they will be less generous going forward, thinking they don’t have to be.

    It appears as an excellent opportunity for other hotel programs to poach Marriott elites and I would expect that in the fallout there will be many status matching opportunities.

  19. @Moose I wrote “I do get the outrage but I don’t get the surprise.”

    This is a bad conversion, I’m just saying I don’t know why that is surprising to folks.

  20. @JL – I covered over and over that they wouldn’t tell us the package details. I have said over and over that programs that don’t give us details aren’t doing so for our benefit. I wrote that multiple times about Marriott. I did not do a dedicated post on “Why Marriott’s Refusal to Give You Information About Travel Packages Means They’re Going to Stick It To You” maybe it’s unreasonable for me to expect people to read posts in full

  21. Today, I went to Marriott website and tried to book properties that are going up in 2019 and they showed up either as available at the higher points 50,000 in 2019 versus current points 40,000 or they showed as sold our even after putting different dates.

    The places I checked were Aruba, Athens, Kauai, Santorini, Coronado San Diego. I hope they fix these, otherwise the window period from now until end of 2018 to book at lower points is just a hoax even though Marriott website chart show all their properties and changes.

  22. I’m not sure I understand the timing of the travel package chart. I purchased two cat 7 travel packages last week. Does this mean my cat 7 certificates are only good for cat 5 as of today? I didn’t think the cat chances would be effective until 2019.

  23. Does anyone knows what happens to “Marriott Gold” member (by United Airlines partnership via Mileage Plus) after merger? Marriott Platinum? (doesn’t seem fair to those that actually earn Platinum)? Will I still have free access to Marriott Executive “lounge” floor?

  24. Gary. Does spend on Marriott events as the organizer count toward the $20K requirement for Ambassador?

  25. Just booked 4 nights at the Kyoto Ritz for only 240k marriott points which is of course a steal when paid rates are well over $1k per night. Yes it took a day to get the kinks out and the program is still understandably having problems, but the redemptions at top tier prices are absolute steals so take what you can get and be satisfied.

    I was hoping to split the stay between the Ritz and Suiran but no Suiran award availability (as of now) for a single day in November so I’ll have to wait and see if that changes.

  26. Disappointed in how Marriott handled travel package transition. They knew the answer already but refused to give us the details until it was too late. If they hadn’t published them earlier, people would’ve had a chance to make an informed decision.

    Moreoever, what is making a lot of people upset is the fact that CSRs gave out wildly incorrect information which, again, misled people.

  27. Your elite status credits from each program will count together towards status this year,

    Gary may I know where you get this information please? I have been trying to figure out but can’t see anything from the official site

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