Time to Start Gnashing Teeth: Marriott is Buying Starwood

Three Chinese firms were supposedly seeking government permission to make a bid to buy Starwood Hotels. Hyatt was rumored to be the lead bidder.

There had earlier been speculation about a Starwood-IHG (or Wyndham) merger. Wyndham hired away enough Starwood talent that it’s recently been referred to as Wynwood.

Starwood’s CEO, whom I interviewed on stage earlier this year, made clear he expected to sell by the end of the year. And it looks like he made good on that promise, because Marriott just announced that it would acquire Starwood for $12.2 billion in cash and stock (a figure that strikes me as odd, because it’s a slight discount to recent trading prices which may be inflated by the expectations of an acquisition).

SkyCity Marriott, Hong Kong Airport

Marriott investors and Starwood customers should see this very differently:

  • Business-wise this makes more sense than a Hyatt deal, Marriott has reach and strength in both full and select service but lacks presence in the luxury market where Starwood is strong.

  • For consumers this means less competition in the hotel loyalty space, and one of the very best hotel loyalty programs getting swallowed up.

Marriott Seattle Airport Atrium

Marriott Rewards members most frequently say that they value the program because wherever they go they can earn their points and because of the consistency. However no Starwood Platinum ever said to themselves they’d rather be a Marriott Platinum. Marriott neither promises suite upgrades (out of Asia Pacific) nor late checkout (which is “based on availability”) and elite breakfast is not offered at Marriott Courtyard properties or even at resorts.

This is an opportunity for Marriott to really up its game and learn from Starwood Preferred Guest. However the more generous programs tend to be the smaller ones for a reason. It does not take any effort to be loyal to Marriott or IHG. If you walk down the street in any city you can wind up in one of their hotels. It takes effort to be loyal to Starwood or to Hyatt, and so they must give you a reason to do so.

Nonetheless, while Marriott is strong in consistency and size they could certainly learn something about treating their members as individuals and creating special experiences from the folks at Starwood. Let’s hope that happens.

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 InsideFlyer.com, 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 »

More articles by Gary Leff »



  1. I got the Marriott card with 50K points a few years ago and they devalued. I had the SPG card with great redemtions, but didn’t end up staying at either property very often because for years my wife has acquired diamond status with constant Hyatt stays.
    So I canceled both cards due to inactivity. I had Chase raise the limit on my CSP card to compensate for the lost outstanding credit
    limits. I’ll wait and see what Marriott does to their program to determine if
    it’s worth rejoining.

  2. OMG — Oh My God!

    I agree with almost everything DCS wrote!!!!

    Although I still disagree with him over the relative value of HHonors, I also thought that SPG points were grossly overrated and the SPG program — as delivered by Gary and Lucky — was overrated, as well!

    SPG simply is great if you could get 25 stays under your belt — or less if you had their credit card(s).

    As an SPG Platinum or more, I am sure it was great with those upgrades, etc.

    But not everyone could muster 25 or more stays at an SPG hotel in a year — as Boraxo cogently points out above.

    Sure Gary and Lucky jet setting off to wherever could do so, and frequent travelers to large cities could, as well, but not the average individual, let alone the average leisure traveler.

    I hate to say it, but those flogging SPG big time deserve their comeuppance as DCS is giving it to them.

    SPG did not work for all but the most exalted and it now shows.

    I hope you enjoyed the ride while it lasted but get used to the rest of us hoi polloi.

  3. @HORACE — Are you feeling already? You and DCS seeing eye to eye for a change? Who would’ve “thunk” it.

    Cheers, mate! 🙂

  4. I cant see a reason that would motivate them to keep it separate. I find the point rates more than fair on SPG. St Regis tops out at 30K a night. What does that sort of hotel sell on Marriott? Hyatt charges 25,000 for many hotels that SPG would charge 10-15K or so max. If anyone here has alot of Marriott experience tell me what a 300.00 hotel goes for points wise, or some reall life example.

  5. I spend 100+ nights per year in SPG hotels and have Platinum “Ambassador” status. Is anyone starting a group of Platinum SPG members to boycott SPG or Marriott hotels unless they give us the same benefits and point value? If so, I want to join!

  6. @DCS After reading your comments I really have to wonder. As somebody who has redeemed more than 160 free nights over the past few years let me point out real examples. You state SPG redemptions are high for points only? You must be kidding

    I just attended a trade show in China. Regular rooms were 600.00 a night event for 10K points per night. 6 cents value per night. No restrictions

    I see redemptions every single day at a min of 2 cents per point if not higher with ZERO restrictions. The majority of points I earn are from credit card charging. Frankly I dont give a damn if you get an extra point or two staying in A Marriott for cash. Four nights gets one free, 25% airline transfer, nights and flights. With nights and flight I pulled down 5 nights in a hotel 200-300 night and got 50K flight miles to transfer. I would love to see rewards that strong and flexible with Marriott. I have spoken to road warriors and certain events who told me why they use Mariott. I fully understand that. They have places everywhere. Bit for me SPG has a good footprint in every major city in the US and overseas with several brands for me to choose from.

    Frankly bashing Gary and Ben is really mean spirited. Its really a combination of jealousy and or hate. I think both Gary and Ben do a great job. For me Gary is the goto person for all things flying and I have personally told him so. I think Ben does a great job as well. They give their opinions. In this case I really cant see any dispute about SPG.

    I may disagree with some things he has said in the past (bashes Delta alot) but I dont defend programs. I state what works for me and why. I have done some amazing things with SPG points like VIP in Vienna two years ago, business class flights for Vienna, rooms at a top hotel, upgraded to a suite with only VIPS in the hotel, a motorcade to the event and tickets. Cash value of this was about 17-20K all for about 300K points. SPG has many hotels at 7K a night or less. I have run marathons in cities where room rates go higher. In almost every case the points remained the same and there was available rooms. Marriott to category 9! A category 4 and up hotel is 20K a night a cat 5 is 25K a night. A Fairfield INN at 100 a night is a cat 4 hotel for 20K a night. On what planet can you prove that SPG hotels are higher per the point costs? The most a 100.00 hotel is with SPG generally is 7K a night. I have seen some at 4-6K a night. That is 70% less.150-180.00 a night hotel with Marriott is a cat 7 for 35K a night. A similar hotel on SPG is 10K or under. I always thought SPG gold was a minor status. But I got Plat using free nights (mostly) and to me it reflects loyalty so why not. SPG getting taken over has ZERO to do with the loyalty program not being good in any way. It was that the compay has not grown much and it costs a fortune to open new hotels. Overall Marriott got a sharp deal with the purchase which should work out for them. They claim they will merge the company but keep some of the brands. That makes some sense. Tell me how many room nights it takes to get 200K points with Marriott? If you get 5X points at Marriott and a comparable award cost 3X times or even more what good is that?

  7. @robertw — I wrote a long response to support my irrefutable claim that SPG awards are the highest priced in the business, with links to blogs that did the math correctly, but it looks that response, which had to be “moderated” because it contained links, may not be released for posting by the moderator, who also did do the math and found exactly what everyone else did: SPG awards, especially for their top-tier “aspirational” hotels, are by far the most expensive in the business. However, being partial to SPG, this site decided to understate the finding. Search this site yourself and you will find the post that supports my claim even though it understated the result.


  8. @RobertW — My main program is Marriott although I would not call myself an expert.

    I notice 2 things from your posts — that you are a Platinum in SPG — which can only be attained thru extensive nights at their hotels — at a minimum around 25 – 1 night stays at their hotels, as well as your assertion that you get the majority of your points thru credit card spend.
    (Both of your earlier posts.)

    If accurate, then you can easily attain Platinum status in the Marriott program — and don’t kid yourself, that is what it is going to be.

    That said, it will be unlikely that Marriott will be as generous with the suite upgrades as SPG has been — get used to it.

    In addition, since you accumulate the majority of your points thru credit card spend — that likely might change — if you patronize Marriott program hotels — you will see more points earned as a Platinum elite member in Marriott than in SPG, but of course, Marriott point redemptions are much higher, as well.

    If your credit card spend was mainly for categories that other credit cards provide bonuses, then I suggest that you change your credit cards, as the Marriott/Ritz Carlton credit cards are not very good at generating those points.

    Yes, MS people can generate points easily, but the Marriott card has only a few bonus categories — such as dining — that will generate 2 points/$ but that can be found in many other cards, including the Chase Premium Sapphire card which also generates a like bonus, but can transfer points into Marriott, or Hyatt or United, the latter perhaps being better for many people.

    Anyone can generate outsized rewards redemptions in particular instances — such as your China example. I doubt very much that the hotel outside of a convention warrants a $600 room night, as the Category 1 designation is likely more apt for another reason.

    I suggest that you and other SPG Platinum members adjust your expectations as Marriott was built on middle of the road travelers — something that SPG lacked as demonstrated by the paucity of hotels in that category which caused them to be sold to Marriott.

    High flyers such as yourself should adjust your expectations, or otherwise flee to Hyatt — with its even smaller footprint, but Hyatt is unlikely to change due to market conditions as the Pritzker family retain voting control and will not be easily subject to the input from Wall Street as SPG is.

    With respect to Marriott redemption, others have noted the Travel package awards as good value, and they are. However, I think that you should just get used to your favorite St. Regis or other Luxury Collection property doubling in points cost for that is what is going to occur — as Marriott has 9 tiers topping off at 45,000 points/night, I believe and Ritz Carlton properties — which many of your sort of hotels will be either grouped under, or whose award chart will likely correspond to a like award redemption, start at around that per night redemption and increase from there — but they are not the 90,000 points/night that I believe some HHonors hotels are!

    Marriott provides very good value for middle of the road travelers — such as myself — who don’t mind flying coach — and do sometimes get a space available upgrade on award or paid stays to a suite, no more, no less.

    Adjust your expectations…….

  9. @Gary — Thank you for the reassurance. I did cut and paste the long riposte into a Word document before I submitted it just in case there was glitch. I will clean it up and post it again later.

  10. I’ve been a Marriotts Rewards customer for over 15 years. Earning points to get free nights is nice… however, this Marriott benefit has drawbacks. First, Marriott sets aside only a small block of rooms for each hotel that they allow you to pay for using your rewards points. And second, the rooms that are set aside are always the worse rooms in the hotel. You’ll get the room next to the elevator; You’ll the room next to the entry door from the parking lot, so you hear people coming in at all hours of the night; You’ll get the room that it about the size of a bloom closet; You’ll get the room that is on the side of the hotel that allows you to hear the train whistles all night long (I had this room 2 weeks ago); You’ll get the room that is directly over the catering kitchen, so you to wake up at 3:30am when they start preparing a huge outside breakfast in the yard that is right outside your room’s window (this was at the JW Marriott in Phoenix – a flagship hotel for the chain)… and so on. You’d think that they would give the best rooms available to their most loyal customers… not so!

  11. @Gary Smith —

    With experiences with those you report, one has to wonder why you have remained a member for 15 days, let alone 15 years.

    I have been a member for over 20 years and have never experienced even one of the things that Mr. Smith reports. I do not know if what he is stating is true or not, but it certainly is not my experience.

    It certainly helps if you are an elite member of the program — as with any program — but I can assure anyone that his alleged “experiences’ are not the norm that I have encountered, nor most who are members on FT — just read the posts.

    Marriott may not be sexy or overgenerous with its Platinum tier as SPG, but it delivers solid value to its Gold and Platinum members with respect to the stated program benefits, not the least is lounge access and complimentary breakfast at most hotels.

    True, it may not deliver suite upgrades to its Platinum members, but on occasion it does — even on reward stays. I myself was upgraded to a suite at the JW Marriott Cannes for 7 award nights in June 2014.

    So, so much for alleged sub-standard serial room assignments related by Mr. Smith, above.

  12. Yes, Horace is correct…. if you’re a Gold Elite Rewards Member (like myself) you can get free room upgrades – if available (very nice perk) and free Wi-Fi. But, those are the only special perks you can get when you check into a hotel in the Marriott family. If free breakfast is offered at that hotel, everyone gets the free breakfast.

    Over the years, I’ve learned how to avoid the “worst room in the hotel” problem. When I check-in and find that I’ve been given a crummy room, I immediately ask for another room. If the hotel is not full, I always get a another room. And, the replacement room I receive is always a big improvement. If you don’t use this tactic, you’re never going to get the better room. However, if you don’t know about the 3:30am train that comes by your room blowing it’s whistle, until 3:30am, it’s too late to ask for another room.

    I’ve stayed with Marriott because it’s an excellent family of hotels and when I travel there is always one of their hotels close to my destination. I just really don’t like this aspect of their rewards program.

  13. @ Gary Smith —

    I agree with some of your troubleshooting suggestions, but it is not correct to imply that Gold and higher elite members only benefit from a room upgrade.

    Aside from a greater points multiplier bonus, the complimentary breakfast/lounge access should not be overlooked, nor should it be as casually dismissed as you have written: ” If free breakfast is offered at that hotel, everyone gets the free breakfast.”

    I am sure that you will correct me if I am wrong, but only the lowest end point of Marriott’s family provide complimentary breakfast to all — TownePlace Suites, SpringHill Suites, Fairfield Inn & Residence Inn.

    Given that the above are at the lowest price-point, the benefit of a complimentary breakfast and elite points multiplier should not be overlooked, especially when the breakfast is not supplied by ANY of SPG’s properties, at all, to any guests.

    Second, the Courtyard chain and its lack of elite benefits has been a bone of contention amongst Marriott loyalists as this segment does not provide complimentary breakfasts to elites — and is a reason why many elites avoid them like the plague, if they can do so, in favor of the above segments of Marriott or the more full service segment — Renaissance and Marriott properties in all their iterations.

    Of course, resort properties do not extend complimentary breakfast to elite members — another bone of contention to Marriott elites, but not all properties located in resort areas are termed resort hotels.

    For example, I stayed at the JW Marriott Cannes, and although located in a resort location, and across the street from the beach, it is not listed as a resort — consequently, I was provided with a full buffet breakfast each day of my 7 night award stay at the property.

    MR is not the be all and end all of reward programs, far from it, and if you were a high volume Platinum elite at SPG then that likely was the program to choose; however, I find it very doubtful that Marriott will extend those perks into a new greatly expanded MR program when the two are consolidated some time in the future.

  14. @ Gary Smith — With respect to the 3 AM train and the like, that is why TripAdvisor and FlyerTalk are excellent in providing such information — the former for general questions such as that, the latter for those questions, as well as what type of treatment an elite might possibly receive at a given property.

  15. Further follow-up from the NYT to Strawberry Mousse Walters & Gary “Falconcrest” Leff:

    “That sentiment was echoed by a manager at a Starwood-affiliated property, who emailed me to say that he, for one, was looking forward to the merger, because he hoped Marriott would set more reasonable guest expectations than Starwood had.

    ‘Starwood’s business plan seems to revolve solely around wooing ‘elite’ travelers by offering more and more ridiculous benefits that are often simply not feasible from a hotel operations standpoint’” the manager wrote, asking to remain unidentified so he could speak frankly about his property’s network. “’This strategy has made tyrannical monsters out of some guests, who seem to have internalized their ‘Elite Status’ as an integral part of their identity, almost as if it were a major life achievement.’”


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *