Remember when the Marriott-Ritz Carlton takeover of Starwood hotels was announced last year and I wrote about how the news wasn’t so bad? Well, my point of view has been validated today, because all three programs have taken the first step in merging and it’s actually working out in our favor. Starting today, Starwood Preferred Guest and Ritz Carlton/Marriott Rewards members can do the following:
- Link their Ritz Carlton/Marriott Rewards and Starwood Preferred Guest accounts
- Match elite status across all accounts
- Transfer points: 1 SPG point = 3 Marriott points, 3 Marriott points = 1 SPG point
Most Starwood fans have a less-than-favorable view of Marriott Rewards and any mention of the Starwood takeover incites a negative reaction, but it’s actually not so bad. In fact, there are more pros than cons to the reciprocal benefits that were rolled out today:
Marriott-Starwood Elite Status Match
Marriott Rewards and Starwood Preferred Guest members can now participate in a universal status match program. Those who have SPG Gold status, for example, can status match to Marriott Gold and vice versa. This works out well for Starwood Gold members, a membership level that requires fewer nights than Marriott Gold, which in turn has much better benefits. Considering that SPG Gold status can be earned via $30,000 worth of spending on the SPG Business credit card, Starwood members come out ahead when it comes to mid-tier status matches.
Starwood Gold (10 stays/25 nights) = Marriott Gold (50 nights)
Starwood Platinum (25 stays/50 nights) = Marriott Platinum (75 nights)
Marriott Platinum members aren’t left out in the cold either. Marriott’s top-tier Platinum elite status may require more nights than Starwood Platinum, but top-tier elite status can be earned solely through credit card spending. Earning Marriott Platinum status would normally require $180,000 in credit card spending on the co-branded credit card, while the Ritz Carlton credit card would require just $75,000 worth of spending for top-tier status. For seasoned manufactured spenders, this will be a piece of cake. And a nice way to get top-tier elite status across two rewards programs.
1:3 Transfer Ratio for SPG Points to Marriott
At first sight, you might label the 1:3 Starwood-to-Marriott transfer ratio would be a negative. After all, Marriott has an inflated award chart and Starwood can do no wrong. Except, this transfer ratio actually works out great for top-tier award stays. Marriott requires 40,000 – 45,000 points per night for a top-tier Category 9 award night, and that’s without factoring in the 5th night free benefit. Meanwhile, Starwood requires 30,000 – 35,000 points per night for a top-tier Category 7 award night.
By opting to transfer 35,000 SPG points to Marriott, you can get not one but two free nights at a top-tier hotel! Also, some of the best Category 7 Starwood hotels are classified as full board or suites-only, so redemption rates are significantly higher. For example, the Mystique Resort in Santorini requires a mind-boggling 60,000 Starpoints per night! Transferring 60,000 SPG points to Marriott Rewards instead would get you a 5-night stay (with the 5th night free factored in) in a premium room with a plunge at the Domes Noruz Chania or Domes of Elounda Resort. Granted, neither of these resorts is in Santorini, but you do get more for your points.
Not only are you doubling up on award nights at top-tier hotels by transferring SPG points to Marriott, but you’ll get access to more hotels. Starwood has a mere 47 hotels within their top-tier category, while Marriott has 61.
A New Rewards Program
Marriott has yet to roll out the new rewards program combining all features of all three programs. Hopefully they’ll keep Starwood’s award chart, Marriott’s credit card partnerships, and Ritz Carlton’s…ability to manufactured top-tier elite status easily via credit card spending.
The only negative thing coming from this merger so far has been the sign-up bonus on the Starwood Preferred Guest American Express credit cards, which have changed from point bonuses to two free nights at Category 1 – 5 hotels. To my knowledge, these two free nights can only be redeemed at Starwood hotels, which is kind of a bummer because 1.) Category 5 hotels require just 12,000 – 16,000 points per night, so you’re not getting as much value out of the sign-up bonus and 2.) Free nights offer less flexibility than points.
That being said, the changes so far have been largely positive, so if we take a hit on the credit card front (a credit card most of us can’t re-apply and get the sign-up bonus for anyway), it’s not a big deal. Until the new program is unveiled, we can enjoy this brief period when everything is to our advantage: Generous status matches, favorable points transfer rates, and the accessibility of top-tier Marriott awards.
What do you think of the new reciprocal benefits rolled out by Marriott and Starwood today? What do you think of this latest development in the Starwood-Marriott merger?
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