With the merger of Starwood, Marriott and Ritz-Carlton is beginning to approach the finish line, not everything has been smooth sailing up to this point.
Since first published in April, this master guide to the merger has been revised numerous times to include the latest news and updated advice.
- Three hotel loyalty programs—Starwood Preferred Guest, Marriott Rewards and Ritz-Carlton Rewards—combined into one in mid-August 2018
- We are still in a transition period until early 2019 during which each still exists but is linked with the others
- You have been able to transfer your points between SPG and Marriott as well as match elite status for some time now
- The new combined program name and website will launch February 13, and will be called Bonvoy (a play on bon voyage, perhaps?)
- There was a security breach on the Starwood Preferred guest reservation database—if you are one of the approximately 500 million (!) guests affected, you will be contacted by email
What stayed the same?
- Fifth night on award stays free
- Cash and points awards
- SPG 25% transfer bonus to frequent flyer programs (effectively—see below)
New award chart
There will be eight categories instead of the current nine in Marriott Rewards. From March 2019, the award chart will differentiate between peak and off-peak rates, which are slated to be more or less evenly split over the year.
There will be no blackout dates at any property.
There is a searchable table of all 6,500+ Marriott, Starwood and Ritz-Carlton properties with their current and future pricing. Here is the timeline:
- From 18 August until March 2019: Categories 1-7 under one unified award chart
- From March 2019: Category 8 added into award chart
Almost 70% of properties will require the same or fewer points, meaning that over 30% are increasing in price.
For example, currently The Old Clare Hotel in Sydney costs 12,000 Starpoints/36,000 Marriott points (remember: 1 Starpoint = 3 Marriott Rewards points), and this will drop by 1,000 points to 35,000 in the new program.
The Aloft Perth will drop from 21,000 Marriott points to 17,500 points.
The W Brisbane is the only one of the 20 Australian properties in the combined program that will increase in price, from 30,000 Marriott points to 35,000 points.
The first SPG/Marriott property to open in New Zealand, the Four Points by Sheraton in Auckland, is also increasing in price, from 7,000 Starpoints/21,000 Marriott points, to 25,000 Marriott points.
But—and a big but is that—the new amounts are for ‘standard’ pricing. From March 2019, there will be a pricing difference between off-peak and peak dates and we don’t have information on those what exactly those dates are yet.
There is now a rotating PointSavers list, with 20% off points redemptions at select hotels.
Good opportunity: Book top-tier Starwood hotels (including all-suite properties) for over 40% off until March 2019
For the first time, all-suite SPG properties like The St. Regis Bora Bora will be bookable at standard rates.
Previously, the highest tier in the Starwood Preferred Guest program was Category 7, costing 90,000/105,000 (off-peak/peak) Marriott Rewards points per night (= 30,000-35,000 Starpoints with the 3:1 transfer ratio between the two programs).
However, during the transition period from August 2018 to March 2019, whilst this category has remained the highest, it has dropped to only 60,000 Marriott points (20,000 Starpoints) per night. When the full merger comes into effect in March 2019, these properties will move to a new, higher Category 8 and cost 70,000/100,000 Marriott points (off-peak/peak).
That means that for bookings made from now until March 2019, both for stays during that period and for stays into 2019, these properties are 43% off the previous price and 40% off the post-merger price!
Here is the full list of Category 7 properties, with some highlights for New Zealand-based travellers being:
- W Bali Seminyak
- W Koh Samui
- W South Beach
- The St. Regis Maldives
- The St. Regis San Francisco
- The St. Regis New York
- The St. Regis Aspen
- The St. Regis Florence
- Santa Marina, a Luxury Collection Resort, Mykonos
- Al Maha, a Luxury Collection Desert Resort & Spa, Dubai
But note that these properties have potentially experienced a dramatic drop in availability for booking with points both due to a lot of demand from travellers as well as a (most probably tighter) reclassification of what a ‘standard’ room is.
For example, a standard room at The St. Regis Maldives is reported to be a Garden Villa rather than an Overwater Villa, which is a downgrade but still offers good value.
American Express transfer rate to Marriott Rewards
The good news: you are still able to transfer your points into Marriott Rewards (encompassing SPG).
The even better news: the transfer rate stayed exactly the same.
Before, you could transfer at:
3 Amex Membership Rewards points = 1 Starpoint = 3 Marriott Rewards points
From August 21 onwards, the transfer rate changed to:
1 Amex Membership Rewards point = 1 Marriott Rewards point
Hotel + Air Packages
This has historically been a really popular points redemption avenue for Marriott Rewards members and, as an extension, SPG members.
Transferring your Starpoints to Marriott Rewards and then into a Hotel + Air Package with Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan opens up great-value redemptions on Alaska but, more importantly, its partner airlines
Most Marriott Hotel + Air Packages will now be priced the same, regardless of the airline you are transferring your points to, rather than split into five tables. The only exception is United MileagePlus, with whom you’ll get a 10% bonus.
This new table is a devaluation but still offers better value than just a straight Marriott points to airline transfer.
Elite status is now recognised across all three programs with five elite tiers—basically like SPG used to have plus a Marriott Silver tier.
Marriott Rewards and Ritz-Carlton Rewards Gold now translate into Platinum Elite—this is the main elite status to aim for—whilst Platinum has become Platinum Premier Elite.
More brands now offer breakfast, notably Courtyard and resort properties, but Ritz-Carltons and some others will still not feed you for free.
How do the changes affect me if I hold SPG Gold status?
SPG Gold became Marriott Rewards Gold Elite, meaning those members lost out with reduction of guaranteed 4pm late check-out to 2pm late check-out subject to availability, and only bonus points as arrival gift instead of choice between that and a welcome drink.
The backdoor access route to free breakfast for SPG Gold Elite members (no breakfast) through status matching to Marriott Gold Elite for free breakfast at Marriott properties has disappeared.
Your earn rate on stays has increased from 3 Starpoints (= 9 Marriott Rewards points) per US$1 spent to 12.5 points, which is a positive change.
The American Express Platinum Charge card still offers automatic Gold Elite status.
How do the changes affect me if I hold SPG Platinum status?
SPG Platinum members became Platinum Elite in the new program.
You get complimentary suite upgrades subject to availability, as well as five confirmed Suite Night Awards each year.
Your earn rate on stays has increased from 3 Starpoints (9 Marriott Rewards points) per US$1 spent to 15 points, which is a substantial increase.
The base rate of 10 points per US$1 spent is the same as the previous Marriott Rewards program, with that rate halved at Residence Inn, TownePlace Suites and Element properties.
Redeeming points by transferring to frequent flyer partners
Here are two bits of great news!
Firstly, the new program will keep the same ratio as the current sweet spot in transferring from SPG in increments of 20,000 Starpoints to get a 5,000-point bonus. Under the new scheme, if you transfer 60,000 rewards points to a frequent flyer partner, you’ll get a 15,000-point bonus, which will equal 20,000 + 5,000 bonus = 25,000 frequent flyer points.
The new program will have 3:1 transfer ratio to frequent flyer partners, meaning it will basically work the same as the current SPG program.
Secondly, all current SPG and Marriott Rewards transfer partners will be kept, which increases the versatility of your points. Notably, Qantas Frequent Flyer will be included as one of the transfer partners—it is not currently an SPG partner but is available through Marriott—and Air New Zealand Airpoints and Velocity are currently SPG partners, but not Marriott partners, and will also be included in the new program. Apart from that, I see no notable/useful additional partners coming on.
Using your Qantas Points for Emirates Business Class travel is a great redemption
It has been a rocky road during this merger, which is partly understandable given the huge challenges in unifying three programs but a general consensus amongst the frequent flyer community is that the new program does not offer the same value as it used to and the changes have not been communicated or implemented in the ideal way.
Let’s hope that the final touches to the merger go more smoothly in 2019 and you can be sure we will update this guide with our analysis of them.
What is your take on the changes? And how do you think they will affect your travel plans?