Did the Marriott SPG Merger meet my 2015 demands?

When the Marriott merger with Starwood was first announced in 2015, SPG loyalists were irate.  While they loved Starwood, they loved to hate Marriott.  So, I published a list of suggestions (demands, perhaps), that Marriott should follow: Hey Marriott: Here’s how to keep SPG loyalists loyal.

That article was published in November 2015.  Now, we finally know most of the details about how Marriott and SPG will merge.  I thought it would be interesting to look at my suggestions / demands from 2015 and see how they did…

1. Convert SPG points to Marriott Rewards points 1 to 4

I wrote:

Stays at most Marriott hotels result in 10 points per dollar earned by basic members.  Stays at SPG properties result in 2 points per dollar earned.  If a person chose to spend $5,000 at SPG properties, they would have earned 10,000 points.  If a person chose to spend $5,000 at most Marriott properties, they would have earned 50,000 points.  To keep SPG members “whole”, Marriott should convert SPG points to Marriott at a 1 to 5 ratio.  It’s true, though, that Residence Inn and Town Place Suites Marriott’s offer only 5 points per dollar.  So, discount the point earnings a bit and offer a 1 to 4 ratio.  For example, 10,000 SPG points should convert to 40,000 Marriott points.

To be honest, I feared a 1 to 1 conversion and argued for an extreme conversion to try to sway the needle in that direction.  I never really thought 1 to 4 would happen.  So, I was thrilled when Marriott announced their 1 to 3 conversion ratio.  I’ll take it!

Verdict: Win. Actually 1 to 3, but I’ll take it.

2. Match Gold to Gold, Platinum to Platinum, and SPG Platinum 75 to Marriott Platinum Premier

Nailed it.  Marriott did exactly as I demanded.  On the other hand, they also re-calibrated their elite tiers, but I’m happy with the result anyway.

Verdict: Win

3. Convert lifetime elite nights 1 to 2, and lifetime points 1 to 4

I wrote:

Marriott lifetime elite requirements are currently as follows:

  • Lifetime Silver Elite: 250 nights and 1.2 million points
  • Lifetime Gold Elite: 500 nights and 1.6 million points
  • Lifetime Platinum Elite: 750 nights and 2 million points

SPG lifetime nights earned should be doubled when the programs merge.  And, for calculating points earned, SPG points should be quadrupled (or even quintupled).

My justification for this was that SPG has a much smaller footprint than Marriott, so the elite requirements for lifetime status should be smaller.

Marriott didn’t do this at all.  Instead they moved the way lifetime status is handled to be more like SPG’s system than Marriott’s.  And they have promised to add up lifetime nights from both programs.  The overall result is arguably fair even if it has likely generated more confusion and angst than any other part of the merger.

Read more about lifetime status in our transition guide, here.

Verdict: Not bad, but not a win. Half points for this one.

4. Extend free breakfast benefit to all properties (especially resorts)

I wrote:

Marriott has a nice perk for Gold and Platinum elites: guaranteed lounge access / free breakfast.  The idea is that you and a guest can get free breakfast in the hotel lounge.  Or, if there is no lounge, or it’s closed, then you get free breakfast in the hotel restaurant (continental breakfast only, in the US and Canada).

Unfortunately, Marriott excludes resorts, Courtyard hotels, and AC hotels from this benefit.  SPG provides club lounge access to Platinum elites at all properties and offers continental breakfast as an optional welcome gift.  If Marriott were to extend the lounge / breakfast benefit to all properties they would meet and even slightly exceed the current SPG benefit.

In the end, they made significant progress towards this goal.  50 night elite members will now get free breakfast at resorts, and will get dining credits at Courtyard, Moxy, and AC hotels.  Unfortunately, several hotel brands have weaseled out of the breakfast requirement altogether: Design Hotels, EDITION, Gaylord, Ritz-Carlton, Marriott Executive Apartments, and Marriott Vacation Club. More here.

Free Breakfast? Participating Hotels
No free breakfast Design Hotels, EDITION, Gaylord, Ritz-Carlton, Marriott Executive Apartments, Marriott Vacation Club
Free breakfast for all* Element, Fairfield, Residence Inn, TownePlace Suites
Platinum Elite Welcome Gift OptionDaily $10 Food & Beverage Credit for Member plus 1 Guest (e.g. $20 per day) AC, Courtyard without a lounge, Moxy

Platinum Elite Benefit:

Hotels: Free daily breakfast for 2 in lounge. Free daily breakfast for 2 in restaurant when lounge is closed or doesn’t exist.

Starwood Resorts: Free daily breakfast for 2 in lounge. Free daily breakfast for 2 in restaurant when lounge is closed or doesn’t exist.

Marriott Resorts: Free daily breakfast for 2 in restaurant. No lounge access.

Aloft, Autograph Collection, Courtyard with lounge, Delta, Four Points, JW Marriott, Le Méridien, Marriott, Protea, Renaissance, Sheraton, St. Regis, The Luxury Collection, Tribute Portfolio, W, Westin

Verdict: Not quite there, but close enough for a cigar.  We’ll call it a win.

5. Add suite upgrades as a Platinum benefit

I wrote:

Currently, Marriott doesn’t offer any option for high level elites to get suite upgrades.  SPG currently offers 10 suite night awards as a Choice Benefit for those who complete 50 eligible nights.  Plus, SPG Platinum members can be upgraded to a suite at check-in if a standard suite is available.  The SPG Platinum room upgrade benefit explicitly states: “An upgrade to best available room at check-in — including a Standard Suite.”

Marriott should adopt SPG’s suite upgrade options for their Platinum elites.  Or, even better, adopt Hyatt’s policy and give high level elites 4 suite upgrade certificates per year so that suite upgrades can be confirmed at booking.

Marriott has made significant progress towards this goal.  They will soon offer 5 suite night awards as a Choice Benefit once a member earns 50 elite nights in a year, and again at 75 nights.  Plus, they now include the ability to get free upgrades to suites for Platinum Elite members, but they have removed the SPG language stating that the upgrade must be to the best available room, including suites.  In other words, I think they’re giving the hotels more latitude to determine the upgrade.  Still, in my recent experience at Marriott hotels, I have indeed been offered an upgrade to a suite when one has been available.

Verdict: Win.

6. Enforce a real “no blackout date” policy

I wrote:

SPG has a great “no blackout date” policy for free night awards.  Basically, if a standard room (defined by the hotel) is available, then you can book it with points.  Marriott, on the other hand, says that they have a “no blackout date” policy, but it doesn’t mean much.  They state:

With our “No Blackout Dates” policy, hotels will no longer have blackout dates for redemptions. Hotels may limit the number of standard rooms available for redemption on a limited number of days.

So, a Marriott hotel can’t blackout a date, but they can limit the number of rooms available for redemption.  In other words, individual hotels can implement blackout dates (by limiting the number of rooms available for redemption), but they can’t call them blackout dates.

My recommendation is to adopt SPG’s policy and enforce it worldwide.

This didn’t happen.

In an interview, View from the Wing specifically asked about this with respect to the loyalty program merger coming in August.  Gary wrote “Marriott says they’re going to get there, but not right away.”  Specifically, Gary was told:

SPG will continue as is and we’ll be moving Marriott Reward toward the SPG model in the future.

So, the good news is that SPG won’t lose this great feature.  The bad news is that Marriott brands won’t adopt it right away, if ever.

Verdict: Lose (but be happy that they didn’t take it away from SPG properties).

7. Increase the Marriott credit card earning rate

I wrote:

We’ve already covered the fact that SPG points are worth 4 to 5 times Marriott points.  We’d like to see this reflected in credit card rewards as well.  Currently, a person can choose to earn one SPG point per dollar for everyday spend with the SPG card, or one point per dollar for everyday spend with the Marriott Rewards Premier card.  Yes, I know that the Marriott card offers 2 points per dollar for airfare, car rentals, and restaurants, but that’s not enough.  Not even close.  The SPG card offers far superior value.  I’d recommend moving the Marriott Rewards Premier card to 3 points per dollar for all spend, along with additional bonuses for whatever categories make sense.

Well, this suggestion was partially met.  All new Marriott cards will offer a base earning rate of 2 points per dollar, which is twice as good as the base rate when I made the suggestion.  On the other hand, SPG card earnings are being reduced from 3 rewards points per dollar (1 Starpoint per dollar) to 2 rewards points per dollar.

Verdict: Lose.  Even though credit card earning rates went up, the net result for customers is down due to the SPG card devaluation.

Final Score: 4.5 out of 7

The final score isn’t great, but it’s honestly way better than I would have predicted.

  • [1 Point] Convert SPG points to Marriott Rewards points 1 to 4
  • [1 Point] Match Gold to Gold, Platinum to Platinum, and SPG Platinum 75 to Marriott Platinum Premier
  • [Half Point] Convert lifetime elite nights 1 to 2, and lifetime points 1 to 4
  • [1 Point] Extend free breakfast benefit to all properties (especially resorts)
  • [1 Point] Add suite upgrades as a Platinum benefit
  • [0 Points] Enforce a real “no blackout date” policy
  • [0 Points] Increase the Marriott credit card earning rate

About Greg The Frequent Miler

Greg is the owner, founder, and primary author of the Frequent Miler. He earns millions of points and miles each year, mostly without flying, and dedicates this blog to teaching others how to do the same.

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Sam
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Sam

Greg- What category or Tier package is the best to buy right now before August 1st and what miles would you get? Thanks

Nick Reyes
Editor

Hi Sam! Greg’s on vacation right now until July 17th. I know you have a large Starpoints balance and have asked this question a few times. Unfortunately, since Marriott hasn’t released info about how the packages will convert, there isn’t a clear-cut answer as to which tier to get – it’s really a matter of personal choice.

The best answer is to get a package for a tier/level where you’d be happy staying if the certificate ends up capped at that level. This post has information on where there may be opportunities:

https://frequentmiler.boardingarea.com/2018/04/27/marriott-travel-package-arbitrage/

But we don’t know the answer any more than the speculation there. Further, if this ends up happening, it won’t matter as all would remain equal:

https://frequentmiler.boardingarea.com/2018/06/20/potential-huge-win-with-marriott-travel-packages-before-august/

As for which miles, it totally depends on where you want to go and what your travel situation is like. For example, if you want to go to Asia and fly in a premium cabin, Alaska has a great deal with a free stopover and 70K one-way first class on JAL / Cathay. But if you want to travel with an infant, it’s going to be a hassle that involves dealing with the operating carrier’s rules. With JAL, I hear a round trip first class infant ticket is about $3,000. However, Aeroplan charges just 12,500 miles or $125 for an infant first class ticket – so while you’ll pay more miles to fly to Asia in first class with Aeroplan, it might make a lot more sense if you’re counting on an infant ticket. Or if you just want to go to Tokyo, a RT first class ticket on ANA will cost you 110K/120K round trip with Virgin Atlantic. Maybe you have no interest at all in Asia and you have no kids and would rather go to Europe or to Africa in economy class, etc. There isn’t one right answer, so I put together a post comparing the best business and first class options for travel to different regions:

https://frequentmiler.boardingarea.com/2018/06/21/46860/

Maybe you’re not interested in international travel at all and you’d rather be able to get as many domestic trips as possible out of your miles — then maybe you want to check out Iberia for use on AA or Avianca for use on United. Or maybe you can put the extra 12K miles you get with United to good use and you’d rather choose United and get 132K miles. Again, picking one is like saying, “I want to have dinner in Manhattan. Where should I go?”. That’s going to depend on budget, tastes, preferred location, number of people in your party, etc. It’s the same with the best travel package — it’s hard to pick one for someone else because there isn’t a one-size-fits-all answer.

Again, the best answer is to pick a Category / Tier where you’d be comfortable staying if you had to choose from the hotels available in that category today. If you’re a gambler, see the green sections in the Arbitrage post linked above and pick your poison. What miles depends on your use. I redeemed one for Alaska miles recently because we’re looking to go to the Tokyo Olympics in 2020 and I’m crossing my fingers for no major devaluation before then (and I have plenty of Ultimate Rewards for United/Singapore for Star Alliance flights if the Alaska miles don’t work out). I might redeem a second package with Aeroplan because we’ve got some travel in mind next year with our infant son. Someone with a companion pass only interested in domestic travel might rather consider Southwest.

I’m not trying to sidestep your question — it’s just that I could tell you a great Brazilian churrascaria in Manhattan…..but if you’re a vegetarian it isn’t the best choice for you, know what I mean?

The bottom line is that you will be hard-pressed to get more value out of your Marriott points than is possible with any travel package. Pick an airline where the miles will be useful for you based on your travel goals and you’re ahead for your Starpoints. (For those who have only read this comment, I’m mentioning Starpoints because I know Sam has a lot of them).

Right now:

90K SPG = 270K Marriott
270K Marriott = 120K airline miles + 7-night Cat 1-5 cert
If you cancel the cert today (I don’t recommend it, but it can be done), Marriott will give you 45K
45K Marriott = 15K SPG
(net cost = 90K – 15K = 75K SPG)

For a net 75K SPG, you’re getting 120K airline miles. Normally, 80K SPG would only equal 100K airline miles. You’re coming out way ahead if you don’t even use the travel package. If Marriott ends up cancelling the certs and paying out a points value, it’s very likely to be more than 45K and you’ll come out even further ahead. If they keep it as a 7-night Cat 1-5 cert, maybe you use it or maybe you don’t — even if you spent 90K SPG, you’re still ahead of the game even if you don’t use the cert or only use it for a few nights or book a room for a family member with it. You will very likely get more value out of 120K airline miles than the Marriott points you’re converting to get them, so it’s a pretty easy decision to go that route for a package or two if you are flush with Starpoints.

Hope that helps a little bit.

king
Guest
king

did u copy paste the entire post ?

Blue
Guest
Blue

Did we ever get a list of the other gift options we can choose besides Free Suite Nights?

Nick Reyes
Editor

I don’t believe so.

Randy
Guest
Randy

Hi Nick, if I’ve already booked a 7 night Certificate internationally will it be honored even if the hotel category changes after Aug 01? Secondly, regarding item number 4 in the post, Gold status losing free breakfast is a big LOSE in my opinion, not a win…

Nick Reyes
Editor

Yes. If you have booked the stay and attached your certificate, you’re good to go. When properties go up, as long as you book before the date when they are scheduled to change, you lock in the current pricing.

Gold status isn’t really losing free breakfast — Gold status is getting re-named Platinum status. What I mean is this: Currently, Gold status in the Marriott program requires 50 nights. In other words, to get free breakfast under the current program, you need to stay 50 nights. In the new program, Platinum status requires 50 nights. In other words, to get free breakfast under the new program, you need to stay 50 nights. See what I mean? There’s no actual change there except in the names of the status.

The only people losing out are those SPG Gold members who matched to Marriott Gold. I’d argue that those members (like me) got a huge win in free Marriott breakfast as long as we have — SPG doesn’t give free breakfast to Gold members, so I’d say we lucked out in getting it from Marriott as long as we have. I suppose a second group of “losers” are those who have historically spent $10K on the Ritz card for Gold status. While that status will transition to Platinum this year, keeping that status in the future will require $75K spend – a huge difference.

But for the average Marriott Gold member who spent 50 nights in Marriott hotels, there isn’t a loss – but rather it’s a huge win because they now get breakfast at resorts and at SPG properties.

Russell Wilson
Guest
Russell Wilson

Hi, I’m a little unclear on the Platinum Annual Choice Benefit i.e. the 5 suite upgrades, after Marriott’s recent post on twitter. It looks like it’s only for those who’ve gotten Platinum doing 50 nights and not via a Platinum challenge. Be interested in your thoughts. Thanks.

Nick Reyes
Editor

That’s correct – you need 50 nights.

Russell Wilson
Guest
Russell Wilson

Thanks nick. To be honest Marriott always upgrades me to the next best room so can’t complain.

Christian
Guest
Christian

While subjective, I think the tally here is off. Marriott did not do number 1, so that’s no points. They made gold without any valuable benefits, so number 2 is zero points as well. Right on with number 3. For number 4, Courtyard was the big one, and that was a no-go, so zero points there. Number 5 is iffy, but good call. You’re dead on with number 6. Sadly, you’re correct on number 7 as well.
I applaud your optimism, but I just think that a lot of these didn’t make the cut.