Hey Marriott: Here’s how to keep SPG loyalists loyal

Marriott SPG

Yesterday, Marriott announced its acquisition of Starwood Hotels and Resorts.  The transaction is expected to close “mid 2016”, but we have no information yet about how or when the loyalty programs will merge.  My guess is that the loyalty programs will merge early 2017 and that Marriott Rewards will be the surviving program over Starwood Preferred Guest (SPG).  Assuming this is true, there will be a huge number of pissed off SPG loyalists.  SPG has long been hailed as one of the best hotel loyalty programs, yet it appears that it’s end is in sight.

How to keep SPG loyalists loyal

Assuming that Marriott combines the two loyalty programs into Marriott Rewards, I’ve made a list of things Marriott should (but probably won’t) do to keep SPG members loyal:

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.

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

Marriott and SPG currently have different elite status requirements.  Here are Marriott’s requirements:

  • Marriott Silver: 10 qualifying nights per year
  • Marriott Gold: 50 qualifying nights per year
  • Marriott Platinum: 75 qualifying nights per year
  • Marriott Platinum Premier: This is an unpublished level probably requiring 150 or so nights per year

And, here are the SPG requirements:

  • SPG Gold: 10 stays or 25 nights
  • SPG Platinum: 25 stays or 50 nights
  • SPG Platinum 50: 50 nights lets you choose an additional benefit (such as 10 suite night awards)
  • SPG Platinum 75: 75 nights gives you increased SPG point earnings, and the ability to choose your check-in time (example, check in at 9pm, check out at 9pm next day)
  • SPG Platinum 100: 100 nights gives you SPG Ambassador service

If you were to just match up the basic requirements, you might match SPG Platinum to Marriott Gold since both require 50 nights.  The problem with that approach is that it is unfair to SPG elites.  Marriott nights are much easier to achieve given the much larger global footprint that Marriott has.  Plus, the Marriott credit card gives members 15 elite nights automatically.  That’s three times as many as the SPG credit card which gives members only 5 elite nights.

To keep SPG elites loyal, Marriott should match them to the higher tier.

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

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).

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.

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.

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.

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.

Plan B

Of course, there’s another good option besides following the advice suggested above.  Assuming Marriott doesn’t want to go forward with two different programs, they could adopt the SPG program and migrate Marriott Rewards members to SPG.  That’s an even better plan!

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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Guest

Thanks for the laugh this morning at Panera! I almost could not stop when it got to the “extend free breakfast” part.

I wish for world peace and end to terrorism. We all know it’s not going to happen but we still dream about it. And SPG members and elites can dream about all this stuff man too 🙂

Plan B is…Hyatt!

Andrew G
Guest
Andrew G

No way Marriott chooses to adopt SPG’s program and convert its own members. They would face a riot when they had to tell people they were only keeping a quarter of their points. 🙂

Michael
Guest
Michael

I love the breakfast comment too. All the bloggers salivate when hotel chains offer ‘free breakfast’. Breakfast as a food cost is almost always the cheapest meal of one’s day.

But the sense of entitlement and prestige that goes with getting a free breakfast meal out of a hotel is akin to getting free mints in the room. C’mon, when you’re paying hundreds of dollars (or the equivalent) is a few dollars they spend on breakfast really a deal breaker?

Priorities are always interesting.

RS_WI
Guest
RS_WI

You’ve validated the argument, probably against your intention.

Sure, breakfast as a food cost is the cheapest… exactly why it can/should be viewed by hotels as a reasonable and affordable “perk” to their “valued customers”. What it *costs* the facility, vs what they charge consumers is the reason people (myself & family included) view free breakfast as a big and important deal.

As noted by others, breakfast at many hotels/resorts runs $30+ per person. Family of four, and all of a sudden the day’s budget for activities and other meals is soaked up. Continue paying that for a few days, and fairly quickly that “cheapest meal” is worth hundreds of dollars to me.

So it is not about the “…few dollars _they_ spend on breakfast…”. It is about the _many_ dollars *I* don’t have to spend. And that definitely does factor into my decision making about where to stay (both for award and paid stays).

Free breakfast means we start the day energized, with a happy belly, fully caffeinated, and with some coin in the pocket.

Truth
Guest
Truth

@TBB is correct. Hyatt will probably be the only reasonable response for most people. The irony of Marriott buying SPG for “the SPG customer loyalty”, only to drive them all to Hyatt due to being Marriott and how they run their OWN program, is not lost on me …

Val
Guest
Val

@Michael Breakfast at a hotel that costs “hundreds of dollars” is often $30 or more per person. More than I would spend on lunch. Also, eating at the hotel for breakfast is usually my first choice since it means I don’t have to drag all my stuff for the day to a restaurant. Can also brush my teeth in the room after breakfast before starting my day. In some places finding a breakfast place open early in the morning near the hotel can be difficult. The breakfast benefit is very valuable to me not only because of saving money, but also because it saves me a lot of hassle and time.

Jay
Guest
Jay

First time SPG Platinum this year. I the SPG converts into the Marriott program, I GUARANTEE you those loyal elite member will most likely go take their business elsewhere. I know I will be taking my business to Hyatt for Diamond.

Here’s to hoping they keep they program as is, but that’s not happening. Look at what happened with US Airways and AA merge.

Do we know if they will operate under the same name, Marriott, or will they will still keep both names but under the same loyalty program?

God, that was such a bad move from SPG. They could’ve went with any other hotel chain than Marriott. I’ve never stayed at any of their brands, and never will.

Jay
Guest
Jay

To add more, I can’t people actually apply for their undesirable credit card. Yuck.

Robert
Guest
Robert

How about Option C? Allow Starwood (and SPG) to operate as an independent subsidiary. Marriott buys the profits, everything else stays the same.

Oh, sorry, I was daydreaming.

Lantean
Guest
Lantean

My question is… currently I can transfer 120k SPG points to Aeroplan and get a 25% bonus = 150k Aeroplan miles. With the current promo, Aeroplan will bonus me another 40k miles.
So for 120k SPG points i will manufacture 190k Aeroplan miles, which is almost three one ways in Lufthansa F to Europe (after upcoming deval).

With all the SPG uncertainty, is this worth doing? I don’t mind the YQ Aeroplan charges for Lufthansa F.
Thanks.

Pat
Guest
Pat

Good points made, Wonder what Amex will do with SPG card since Marriott is Visa branded.

Max
Guest
Max

There is NO way to make hotel customers whole while eliminating competition. This merger will be a disaster on the scale of the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact.

Andyandy (ThePointsNinja)
Guest

All I know is that I plan on having a 0 points balance when the transfer happens. Even if I have to convert to Delta, I’ll get more value for my points than I’d ever get from Marriott.

Zack
Guest
Zack

You had me in your corner until I saw convert elite nights 1 for 2. Why on earth would 1 night at SPG be worth 2 at Marriott???

Captain Kirk
Guest
Captain Kirk

Exactly…wishful thinking.

Captain Kirk
Guest
Captain Kirk

If you think #2 and #4 are ever going to happen, they aren’t. SPG Gold is not worth Marriott Gold, not even close. The SPG Golds should be Marriott Silver, SPG Plat = Marriott Gold.

As for confirmed suite upgrades, I too would like that, but I don’t see it happening. Or perhaps only at certain brands. As a Marriott Gold myself I know many FS Marriott properties simply don’t have many suites. With the new SPG properties being in the mix, with more suites, a change in policy would be nice, but don’t hold your breath.

iahphx
Guest
iahphx

Honestly, I don’t really understand the appeal of hotel loyalty programs — except for persons in 2 categories: 1) biz travelers, who have somebody else picking up the tab; and 2) the gamers, who exploit the loopholes, mostly through the use of credit card points and perks.

Everybody else should just go to a meta search engine and finding a hotel that works best for them on location, quality and price.

Since I’m in the “gamer” camp, I care about the hotel loyalty programs. I’ve got status in them all, and pay attention to the promos and such. Like most such people, I dislike Marriott Rewards, even though I have comped gold status (through the UA elite program).

I think Marriott takes a dim view of the “value” of rewarding loyalty, figuring a “good enough” program is “good enough.” They feel no need to be as generous as the smaller chains. Perhaps they feel, correctly, that they don’t need to be generous. Just the way the major airlines have become less generous in their loyalty programs as they’ve consolidated.

The net result is that SPG members will be worse off in the future. The question is how much worse off. I’m guessing perks will be lost over time. As far as the value of the points goes, that will be interesting since, logically, they won’t want to piss off the SPG loyalists whose business they are now trying to inherit. The problem with be that their belief in “fair value” of an SPG point will almost certainly be lower than the “loyalists” view of fair value. After all, you’ll now have so many more places to use your points. 🙂

Mark
Guest
Mark

once they announce the conversion from SPG to Marriott is only 1 to 1 do you think we will still have a chance to convert SPG points to airlines? What is the strategy here? Transfer now or wait until the details are announced?

THEsocalledfan
Guest
THEsocalledfan

All I will say is this whole affair is a dark day for hackers. The SPG is simply the single best non-bonused card out there, and unless Marriott does things like you say, what a devastating loss.

James
Guest
James

As a prior Marriott elite, I discovered Starwood about 10yrs ago and aggressively switched programs. Marriott has seen no more than 1-2 nights/yr (not by choice) since then.. If the merged program loses too much value, I’ll switch just as aggressively to Hyatt without hesitation. Considering Hyatt GP has already achieved near parity with SPG, even a minor devaluation would flip the switch for me. In the near term I suppose a point burning splurge may be in order, a few weeks in the Maldives should do it 🙂

Eric
Guest
Eric

Sorry but none of these suggestions offer keeping hotel points to airline miles transfer which is really the draw of the SPG card. Lets be honest, how many people cared that much about the Starwood properties? I mean its nice but the airline mile transfer of 1.25 miles per point was the big draw to the SPG card. If Marriott doesn’t fix that then what good is the actual card?

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[…] rewards program will be the surviving program after the merger, I made a plea to Marriott: Hey Marriott: Here’s how to keep SPG loyalists loyal.  I suggested that Marriott should convert SPG points to Marriott points at a favorable rate (1 to […]

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[…] Hey Marriott: Here’s how to keep SPG loyalists loyal – Marriott announced their purchase of Starwood this week. If they want to keep SPG’s loyal customers, here are some things they should do. […]

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[…] Hey Marriott: Here’s how to keep SPG loyalists loyal […]

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[…] No thanks for buying Starwood […]

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[…] Marriott’s program is usually, at best, considered middle of the road.  In the post, “Hey Marriott: Here’s how to keep SPG loyalists loyal,” I argued that Marriott would have to make significant changes and generally bend over backwards […]

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[…] Hey Marriott: Here’s how to keep SPG loyalists loyal […]

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[…] the impending Marriott / SPG merger will encourage Marriott to improve their elite benefits.  See: Hey Marriott: Here’s how to keep SPG loyalists loyal.  While I don’t think for a second that Marriott will implement even half of the recommendations […]

Carlo
Guest
Carlo

Well, this post was completely unfair for Marriott Rewards member by essentially giving outrageous perks to SPG members, but SPG elites still ended up winning big time. SPG Plats were matched to Marriott Plat even though they should’ve gotten Gold (still more benefit like the free lounge access). 1:3 conversion ratio, etc. SPG certainly won big time with this merger. No more whining to be expected.

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[…] 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. […]