After much speculation, Starwood Preferred Guest (SPG) and Marriott Rewards have announced details of their new combined loyalty program. Starwood and Marriott hotels merged back in 2016, but their respective loyalty programs have remained separate… until now.
The SPG, Marriott Rewards and also Ritz-Carlton Rewards programs will become a single loyalty program from 1 August 2018. Members will be able to earn and redeem points & status across both the Starwood and Marriott networks. But elite status tiers, earn rates and burn rates are all changing. Here is how the SPG-Marriott Rewards merger will affect Australian travellers…
Changes to Elite Status
Status tiers, and their respective earning requirements and benefits, are changing. The new status tiers on offer are Silver, Gold, Platinum and Platinum Premier.
It’s often said that “Platinum is the new Gold”, but in this case it really is. The new Gold Elite tier will come without existing Gold benefits like free breakfast and lounge access. But it will also become much easier to earn Gold status in the new program. Those currently staying enough nights to earn Gold Marriott or SPG status will instead become Platinum members and retain their existing benefits.
There are a couple of potential issues here. Firstly, it could devalue the complimentary Gold SPG status that comes as a benefit with the Amex Platinum Charge card. Complimentary Platinum status would need to be offered to Amex Platinum cardholders for the benefit not to lose its value. However, current SPG Gold members will automatically become Platinum members if they acquire this status before 1 August 2018.
Makes the Amex Platinum card significantly less valuable if it continues to only offer Gold SPG/Mariott.
SPG members will also no longer be able to earn status based on the number of stays at SPG properties. This change makes SPG “mattress runs” superfluous.
From the SPG side it would seem more difficult to achieve gold now (25 nights instead of 10 stays or 25 nights) and the late checkout has changed from guaranteed (except resorts ) to “priority” and for gold it’s back to 2pm instead of 4pm. And for 50 night platinums it’s 5 suite nights instead of 10 (and no choice of free night).
The good news is that earn rates for stays at Marriott and Starwood hotel brands are increasing slightly across the board. Following the SPG-Marriot Rewards merger, base-level members will earn 10 points per $1 spent at most hotels. Members with elite status will earn points at an even higher rate.
One of the most popular methods of earning SPG points in Australia is currently via the Amex Membership Rewards program. Amex points currently convert to SPG at a 1:0.5 ratio. However, when SPG becomes part of the Marriott Rewards program in August, 1 SPG Starpoint will become worth 3 Marriott Rewards points. It’s not yet clear whether Amex Membership Rewards will start offering transfers to Marriott Rewards at an equivalent 1:1.5 ratio – but this would be a massive loss if it is not the case.
New, combined award charts for hotel night redemptions have been announced. The big change is new rates for peak and off-peak periods, which come into effect from next year. There is some speculation that some hotels will eventually be moved to more expensive categories, as there is now a Category 8 tier on the new award chart. Currently, Category 7 is the highest.
The good news for frequent flyer point enthusiasts is that the ability to transfer SPG points to airlines at a favourable rate will remain. In fact, SPG members will have access to some new transfer options (including Qantas Frequent Flyer) from August. The standard transfer rate will become 60,000 Marriott points to 20,000 airline miles. The bonus 5,000 airline miles for every 20,000 Starpoints transferred also remains, becoming 15,000 bonus Marriott points per 60,000 transferred. This will remain a good option for Australians, as long as Amex retains the new program as a transfer partner at the equivalent of existing transfer rates.
The airline transfer options look like they have remained good (some might be pleased about QF being added though clearly better options with AS/AA for Oneworld) but as said, a big part of the value proposition is the Amex transfer rate. I’ve never found the earn rate at SPG or Marriott hotels high enough to be a big deal
Starpoints to be converted to Marriott Rewards Points
It is already possible to transfer SPG Starpoints across to Marriott Rewards at a generous 1:3 ratio. If you still have any Starpoints in your SPG account on 1 August, these will automatically be converted at the same ratio.
Are these changes good or bad?
Overall, the SPG-Marriot Rewards merger is positive for Australians. There are a few negative changes on the horizon but it could have been much worse! However, it will become significantly more expensive to transfer Australian Amex Membership Rewards points to the new combined loyalty program.
Remember, these changes won’t take effect until 1 August 2018.
Join the discussion on the Australian Frequent Flyer forum: Combined Marriott and SPG program