Almost two years after completing its acquisition of Starwood Hotels, Marriott International is ready to combine its three loyalty programs — Marriott Rewards, Starwood Preferred Guest (SPG) and Ritz-Carlton Rewards — into one. On Aug. 18, 2018, the three programs officially will merge under one account with one set of unified benefits and rewards currency across all of Marriott’s 29 brands. That’s when the company’s 110 million members will begin to use one account to earn and redeem points at more than 6,500 properties across the world.
While it may seem like a long time coming, it’s a very complicated task merging and synchronizing two programs with completely different currency conversions and status levels — all while trying to please the 21 million SPG members entering the program without annoying Marriott’s own loyal customers.
So how did Marriott do? Were SPG loyalists’ worst fears about Marriott devaluing their beloved rewards program, in which they could earn up to a very generous 3 cents per point in value when booking free rooms, confirmed?
Well, you can breathe a sigh of relief. It’s a very fair deal with SPG points being converted into the new program at a 1-to-3 ratio — and not the 1-to-2 ratio as many had worried.
Under the new program, elite status will be unified under one system with five tiers: Silver, Gold, Platinum, Platinum Premier and Platinum Premier with Ambassador. Members will have the ability to earn elite status faster, with only 10 nights required to hit Silver status. But it will be more difficult to achieve Platinum Premier with Ambassador. Previously, SPG members only needed 100 nights to reach its highest status level, whereas in the new program, members must have 100 nights plus a minimum of $20,000 of hotel spending (including nights and incidentals).
Unlike SPG’s setup, Marriott’s new program will not count the number of hotel stays as a way to earn status. It will be based only on qualifying nights. This is a blow for SPG members who used to qualify for Platinum status after just 25 stays but will need 50 nights under the new program. (It also deters active point collectors from a practice known as “hotel hopping” in which they switch to a different hotel within the same chain during a trip simply to rack up another “stay.”) But SPG members should know that Marriott is allowing guests to earn toward their status under the current SPG elite system until the end of 2018.
Marriott also has created a new Free Night Award Chart with eight categories that will apply to all Marriott, Ritz-Carlton and Starwood brands. There will be no blackout dates for point redemptions, but the company will be introducing a three-tier point system for redeeming free rooms with standard, off-peak and peak rates. The off-peak and peak rates, however, won’t come into effect until early 2019.
Because the point redemption for Category 8 hotels, which include the company’s most luxurious brands, will not be released until early 2019, it will be placed temporarily in Category 7. This situation is creating an arbitrage opportunity in which members can lock in deep discounts on 5-star properties. If you are interested in visiting a Category 8 hotel in 2019, Marriott itself suggests booking before Dec. 31, 2018, to save 25,000 points per night.
Marriott also has expanded its free breakfast program, though it may not live up to SPG’s deal. Only 23 of the 29 brands will offer complimentary breakfast to its Platinum members, while SPG Platinum members enjoyed that perk at all properties, including luxury resorts.
So what can you expect on Aug. 18 when the programs merge?
SPG members will receive their new nine-digit account number through a pop-up when they log into their account. Some Marriott Rewards members also will receive an email or call informing them of their new account number.
Marriott is warning members that during this migration, its systems will be down much of the day, starting at approximately 6 a.m. EST, and customers may experience disruptions when trying to make reservations on its sites and apps and accessing their membership accounts, which means you should book an upcoming stay before or after Aug. 18.
If you’re planning to redeem a free hotel night for an upcoming trip, what should you do? Book now or wait until after Aug. 18? Well, that very much depends on where you’re planning to stay.
Marriott reports 31 percent of its properties will move to a more expensive redemption rate category come Aug. 18 while 52 percent will switch to a lower rate. We recommend visiting the Marriott site asap to look up any of its more than 6,5000 hotels to see if the hotel you’re considering will require more or fewer points and whether you should redeem now or later.