The Marriott / SPG rumor mill. What’s real?

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I wasn’t planning to post about all the Marriott rumors circulating around, but readers keep asking me if they need to do something immediately to protect their points.  So, I figured that it would be helpful to summarize what we think we know.  I’ve listed below each of the rumors I’m aware of in order from most certain to least…

#1 April 16 Announcement (fact, not rumor)

On Monday afternoon, Marriott is going to make a rewards program announcement.  I know this because I was invited to a Marriott Rewards Program event in New York.  If you didn’t get that invitation, don’t worry.  Everyone in the world was invited to the online version of the event via Facebook (found here).

Next up, the rumor mill…

#2 Combined program begins in August (this looks legit)

Of the rumors circulating, the most convincing I’ve seen to-date is this image posted on Flyertalk:

The text of the flyer reads:

One powerful programme.
Three different names.

Starting this August, Marriott Rewards, The Ritz-Carlton Rewards and SPG will come together as one programme. For now programme names will stay the same, but everything else will be consolidated. You’ll get easier access and even more opportunities at more than 6,500 hotels across 29 brands, including:

  • Book, earn and redeem points at all participating hotels seamlessly
  • Aligned Elite status and benefits with a 29 brands
  • A simplified experience – one account, profile, log-in and points balance

Explore all the new changes at:
members.marriott.com

The key take-away from the flyer is that the programs will merge in August.  When that happens, your Marriott and SPG points will be merged together into one set of points.  And it should then be possible to earn and redeem those points at all Marriott, SPG, and Ritz properties.

#3 The leak that started it all

On April 9th, coltonatx posted the following on Flyertalk:

I am surprised this hasn’t leaked to FT yet, but a good source shared the following details about the merged program:

This too looks legitimate to me, but there’s less context to “prove” that this is really from Marriott.  If we assume that this is true, though, we learn a bit more about the merged program:

  • The points in the new program will be more like Marriott Rewards points in value than like SPG. We know this because of the 10X point earnings. Today, non-elite Marriott members earn 10X at most Marriott properties, but SPG non-elite members earn only 2X.
  • Free breakfast will finally be available to some elites at resorts
  • The new program will have 5 elite status tiers, but we don’t yet know what benefits any of these tiers will offer.

A bit of evidence that the above is true came from a reader named Rose via the Frequent Miler Insiders Group on Facebook.

Rose ads some evidence that free breakfast may be available at the Platinum elite level (which appears to be equivalent to Marriott Gold status in today’s program based on the 50 night requirement).  This seems likely since Marriott Gold members today get free breakfast at most properties.  On the other hand, I wouldn’t assume that a Westin employee would necessarily know details at this point about future free breakfast benefits, so I consider this tidbit a bit less certain than the other info listed above.

#4 Details revealed or wild speculation?

Things got crazy in the rumor mill when OU812 posted on Facebook.  It’s important to note that OU812 specifically wrote that the following changes were discussed but that not all will be in the final program.  So, even if we assume that OU812’s source is completely legitimate, we should treat all of the following as possible but far from certain program changes:

FWIW speculation on changes to MR as we currently know it, based on discussion with someone in the know at MR but not privy to final decisions:

  • Names of status levels above Platinum have not been confirmed. MR wants to differentiate status levels above platinum to ensure proper recognition and avoid confusion among front line staff. Working names are Platinum 50, Platinum 75 and Platinum 100
  • Instant recognition of status at all levels upon check-in, with arrival points, free HSI, food & beverage vouchers, and choice of other benefits depending on status level
  • Spend requirement for all levels above silver. If spending level not reached, but nights are, status is at appropriate level based on spend.
  • Gold and platinum 50 upgrades limited to preferred level, concierge floor, higher floors, corner rooms, or view rooms at resorts. (No suites!)
  • Guaranteed suite awards (4) per year for platinum 75 and above
  • Guaranteed lounge access only for levels platinum 75 and above
  • Free breakfast at resorts for platinum 75 and above
  • Guaranteed late check-out, 2:00pm for Gold, 3:00pm for Platinum 50, 4:00pm for Platinum 75, Plat 100; resort and conference hotels subject to availability.
  • Platinum guarantees: 48 room guarantee remains, others guarantees are gone (platinum arrival gift, bed type, room type, lounge access, ultimate reservation guarantee)
  • Lifetime status changes coming. If status level not obtained, lifetime status identified in system. New Lifetime Level above Platinum will be added in 2019! Benefits reduced to upgrade to preferred floor for LTG; upgrade, late check-out for LTP
  • Big changes coming to awards! Dynamic award pricing, points required for award night based on hotel room rates at time of booking. No black-out dates, no categories!

Some the items above may wind up on the cutting room floor or may not be implemented until a later date due to IT integration issues. Posted as a point of discussion and not a statement of fact.

Regards,
RIP…

Given that OU812 specifically wrote “Some the items above may wind up on the cutting room floor” and “Posted as a point of discussion and not a statement of fact” I think it would be silly to assume that all of the above is really going to happen as written.  Instead, I think this gives us a general idea of what we’ll likely find in the new program:

  • Marriott may introduce a spend requirement to certain status levels.  That is, it won’t be enough to stay 75 nights per year to get Platinum 75 (AKA Platinum Premier) status. Instead you’ll also have to spend a certain amount at Marriott/SPG/Ritz properties.  I’ll actually be surprised if they implement the spend requirement for low level status unless they also grant waivers for certain credit card holders and/or those who spend enough on Marriott/SPG/Ritz cards.
  • Marriott may move towards dynamic award pricingDon’t panic!  Yes, this would likely mean the end to the great values that are sometimes available, especially during events that cause prices to go sky high.  On the other hand, when hotel prices are low, points may be more useful under the new system.  We need to wait and see if this is really implemented, and how.  Then we can panic.

#5 Do we lose the ability to transfer SPG points to airline programs on Monday?

Answer: No.  I don’t believe the rumor.

This rumor came from a single comment on the One Mile at a Time blog.  The comment reads:

According to the SPG agent I just spoke with on the phone, the airline transfer program is being “discontinued” on April 16th. If you need to transfer do it now.

One Mile at a Time wrote about this rumor and gave reasons not to believe it.  Lucky wrote:

Let me say up front that I don’t think this is true. I tried to contact the reader and didn’t hear back, the IP address has multiple names, and I called the SPG Platinum line several times myself, and all the agents confirmed they hadn’t heard anything (and it didn’t sound like they were trying to cover something up, but rather that they genuinely didn’t know). So I don’t think this is true, though it did get me thinking….

And even if the reader was telling the truth, there’s no particular reason to believe that the phone agent had the right information.

In the unikely event that the phone agent was correct (which I still assert is not the case), those of us with 90,000 or more SPG points shouldn’t worry.  Why?  Because you’ll get more miles for your points via Marriott Travel Packages if you’re OK transferring to Aeromexico, Air Canada, Alaska Airlines, American Airlines, British Airways, Copa Airlines, Delta Air Lines, Frontier Airlines, GOL/Varig, Hawaiian Airlines, Iberia Airlines, Southwest, United, or Virgin Atlantic.  See: 12 things you need to know about Marriott Travel Packages.

Wrap Up

The key message here is not to panic.  The scariest of the rumors is also, by far, the least likely to be true.  If Marriott really does “ruin” their rewards program, I’ll bet that we’ll have at least until the end of July to transfer points and/or run around yelling that the sky is falling.  But, keep in mind that so far the merger has been good for most customers.  There’s a chance that they’ll keep that up.

All we really know are the following:

  1. There will be an announcement on Monday in which we’ll likely learn a lot more
  2. The programs will merge in August
  3. You’ll be hearing from Frequent Miler Monday evening or Tuesday about our take on whatever Marriott has revealed.  See you then.
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