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
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.
3. Convert lifetime elite nights 1 to 2, and lifetime points 1 to 4
- 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.
Verdict: Not bad, but not a win. Half points for this one.
4. Extend free breakfast benefit to all properties (especially resorts)
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 Option: Daily $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
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.
6. Enforce a real “no blackout date” policy
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
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