American Express, Chase, Marriott, Starwood

Starwood / SPG and Marriott complete merger. Link your account to status match and transfer points.

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Well, it finally happened. SPG has been swallowed up by Marriott. And to me, it feels like a dark day.

SPG is *the reason* I got into the miles game. Literally. 5,000 bonus points thrown my way because of a mistake rate over a decade ago and here I am.  Figuring out what to do with those points let to thousands of posts on FlyerTalk, joining SPG for their launch of the Aloft brand, meeting the FlyerTalk’s famous Starwood Lurker a couple of times down in Austin, TX for BBQ and so much more. (For the uninitiated, SPG positioned the Lurker on FlyerTalk to give direct feedback to customers posting questions/comments/please for help before there was true social media, let alone Twitter – a truly forward thinking move by Starwood.)

I’ve had some of my very best hotel stays of my life at SPG properties. Like the suite I had in Monte Carlo overlooking the water with butler service for just 13,500 points a night (worth over $1,200 or close to 10 cents a point in value!) and the villa at the Le Meridien Khao Lak in Thailand.

Now, with this merger, there’s some uncertainty. Of course I hope that Marriott does everything they can to keep the brands as they are and keep from destroying what has made the SPG program so special. Marriott has always been the brand with a consistent feel and way more properties than SPG. But they’ve never felt “aspirational” to me like so many of the SPG properties do.

Marriott, if you are listening, please keep in mind that SPG has a “secret sauce.”  You are buying this secret sauce and you have a responsibility to not mess with the ingredients too much – or we all lose.

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With that out of the way, here are some things you need to know:

  • As of right now, you can link your accounts. Just go to SPG or Marriott’s website and follow the instructions. They are front and center on both websites now.
  • If you have status in either program, you will be instantly matched to have status in the other as follows:
  1. Marriott Basic –> Starwood Preferred Guest Preferred
  2. Marriott Silver –> Starwood Preferred Guest Preferred Plus
  3. Marriott Gold –> Starwood Preferred Guest Gold
  4. Marriott Platinum –> Starwood Preferred Guest Platinum
  • Points will transfer from SPG to Marriott Rewards at a 3:1 ratio, so 10,000 SPG = 30,000 MR
  • Likewise, Marriott to SPG will get you 1/3 of your MR points as SPG
  • You can freely transfer points back and forth between your accounts

There is a lot to digest about the differences in the programs. It does seem, at first glance, that SPG loyalists make out VERY well on the status front. For example, my SPG Gold, requiring only 10 stays or 25 nights in a year, gets me Marriott Rewards Gold. That would take twice as many nights – 50 – with Marriott’s program.  The good news for me is I have MR Gold now. The long term fear? What will I have once the programs fully merge and I have to requalify?  3:1 transfer ratio was probably the best possible outcome for SPG customer. I was afraid of a worst case 1:! that would have decimated loyalty and assumed 2:1 was likely. So I’m pleased. I’m sure MR members would have liked a 1:1!!

The part about being able to transfer points back and forth does mean that, for the time being, you can truly maximize how you spend points between the two programs. And you can do pretty well with your SPG points in the more expensive cities.

Let’s look at London. The cheapest central London SPG property is 20,000 points per night.

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But with Marriott, most of their central London properties are 45,000 MR a night – equivalent to 15,000 SPG. And BOTH programs have stay 4, get the 5th night free. So, you can stay at the London Marriott Hotel Park Lane for 5 nights for 63,333 SPG points. That would have been 80,000 SPG points for any SPG property.

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See where I’m going? With a simple 3:1 conversion on your mind, you can quickly maximize your points for any upcoming travel.  If you change your mind, you can always cancel and move the points back.

Marriott also lets you book reward stays without having the points in the account. You need them there 8 days before the stay.

This also represents a new way to earn SPG points – Chase Ultimate Rewards. Marriott has always been a transfer partner and now you can exchange those for SPG. Granted, the 1:3 ratio there stinks (it’s already only best for topping off MR and not using 1:1 for a whole stay) but it’s an option for top-offs that would be cheaper than buying points.

There’s LOTS more to think about here – obviously the credit card bonuses and earnings come into play – but let’s stop here for now and digest.

Maybe this won’t be the worst thing in the world?