What Travelers Can Expect From The New Loyalty Program Merger
Marriott’s purchase of Starwood was one of the biggest travel stories of 2016, but the deal didn’t make much of an impact on the two hotel chains’ loyalty programs. After the deal closed, members of the Marriott Rewards and Starwood Preferred Guest loyalty programs were able to transfer points — but the programs weren’t fully unified, making it difficult for guests to take full advantage of their points.
That’s changing in August when Marriott will take steps to better unify its Marriott Rewards, Starwood Preferred Guest and The Ritz-Carlton Rewards loyalty programs. Here’s a look at 4 important takeaways, as well as what this change means for business travelers.
1. Aligning Loyalty Program Point Totals
Just like different currencies have different values, so too do loyalty program points. The current value of a single point in Starwood’s loyalty program is different than the value of a single point in Marriott’s program.
That will change for members who combine their accounts starting in August — and it will change in a good way. Marriott will triple Starwood point balances so that they have the same buying power under the newly unified system.
After the unification, members of all programs will start earning 10 points per dollar spent at all hotel brands except for 3: Element, TownePlace Suites and Residence Inn. At those hotel brands, members will earn 5 points per dollar spent.
Pull Quote: Because Marriott will triple the points of Starwood Preferred Guest members, there will be no devaluing and no loss of buying power.
2. Book Stays Across Brand Sites
Starting in August, members of these loyalty programs will be able to quickly and easily book stays at each of the 29 Marriott properties across all Marriott and Starwood websites and apps.
That’s not the case right now. Marriott Rewards members can only use Marriott websites and apps to book stays at traditional Marriott properties, and Starwood Preferred Guest members can only use Marriott websites and apps to book stays at traditional Starwood properties.
This shift away from booking siloes will make it far easier for members of these loyalty programs to browse options, find stays that work and ultimately to redeem points for free nights across websites and apps.
3. No Blackout Dates
What good are loyalty programs if members are overwhelmed by blackout dates when they try to redeem points? Marriott has promised there will be no blackout dates for point redemptions under this newly unified system.
This is great news for anyone who’s looked to redeem points for a weekend — only to find that Friday and Saturday nights are blacked out for their preferred properties.
4. The Names Will Remain … For Now
While these different loyalty programs are merging, their names will stay the same. If you have been a long-time member of the Starwood Preferred Guest program, you can still use it. And, if you have been a long-time member of the Marriott Rewards program, you can still use it.
That is, you can use these existing loyalty programs under their current names until 2019. In 2019, Marriott expects to rename the entire program and fully unify its benefits. The changes coming in August simply allow current members to start accessing the benefits of a fully unified system right now rather than waiting.
Pull Quote: Redeeming points should be far easier under this new system
What Does This Mean for the Business Traveler?
Many business travelers loyal to Starwood feared this day. Starwood’s points have long held greater value than Marriott’s, and members’ concern focused on the possibility of those points eventually being devalued as part of the merger.
But that didn’t happen. Because Marriott will triple the points of Starwood Preferred Guest members, there will be no devaluing and no loss of buying power.
A big merger is typically bad for consumers given that it limits competition, so it’s certainly possible that Marriott’s purchase of Starwood will be bad for business travelers in the long-term. But, in the short-term, there are 3 things for business travelers to appreciate about these changes:
- Options: Many business travelers like to concentrate their stays with one loyalty program in order to maximize points. The unification of these loyalty programs means that you can continue concentrating points while also enjoying more options in different cities.
- Redemptions: Redeeming points should be far easier under this new system, too. For example, perhaps you’re a Starwood Preferred Guest member looking to take a family vacation — but only Marriott properties meet your needs. You can now seamlessly use SPG points to book that Marriott hotel.
- Status: One of the great perks of frequent business travel is achieving status with airlines and hotels. Now that these loyalty programs are unifying, you’ll be able to earn more points under one program — and perhaps achieve a higher status than before.
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