How You're Affected By the Rewards Program Merger of Marriott and Starwood Preferred Guest

On August 18, 2018, Marriott merged three rewards programs into one:

  • Marriott Rewards
  • Starwood Preferred Guest
  • Ritz-Carlton Rewards

If you’re a member of any of these hotel loyalty programs, you may have already noticed some changes to your accounts.

If not, this guide can help you understand what has changed and how the changes affect you and your travels.

First, we’ll cover some of the significant changes that the new program institutes, then we’ll share some tips on how to make the most of the merger.

4 Big Changes to the Marriott Rewards Program

While Marriott is shuttering the SPG and Ritz-Carlton Rewards programs, it’s made some changes to try to maintain value through its new unified loyalty program.

But not all of the updates are positive ones.

1. New Award Chart

One of the changes that will affect all members of the three rewards programs is the new award redemption chart.

In addition to increasing the number of points required for most categories, Marriott also plans to add peak and off-peak rates.

Here’s a summary of what’s changed:

New Marriott Rewards Awards Chart

Category SPG (pre-merger) Ritz-Carlton Rewards (pre-merger) Marriott Rewards (pre-merger) Marriott Rewards (post-merger) #colspan# #colspan#
Standard Standard Standard Standard Off-Peak Peak
1 3000 30000 7500 7500 5000 10000
2 4000 40000 10000 12500 10000 15000
3 7000 60000 15000 17500 15000 20000
4 10000 70000 20000 25000 20000 30000
5 12000 80000 25000 35000 30000 40000
6 20,000 - 25,000 N/A 30000 50000 40000 60000
7 30,000 - 35,000 N/A 35000 60000 50000 70000
8 N/A N/A 40000 85000 70000 100000
9 N/A N/A 45000 N/A N/A N/A

Note:

The program’s new peak and off-peak rates won’t be available until sometime in 2019, as will the program’s Category 8 hotel group.

2. Other Redemption Options

SPG points were lucrative not only for their redemption value for hotel stays but also because of their redemption flexibility.
For example, members of the rewards program could also transfer their points to more than 30 airline partners.
Under the new unified program, Marriott allows members to transfer their points to more than 40 airline partners.

What’s more:

You’ll get an extra 15,000 points for every 60,000 points you transfer.

The drawback is that the transfer ratio is three to one (3:1).

Since most airlines don’t offer three times as much redemption value as Marriott Rewards, this option may not be worth it.

3. New Credit Cards

Leading up to the merger, Marriott launched a new credit card with Chase.

It was renamed as the Marriott Bonvoy Boundless Credit Card.

Here’s a quick glance at the new card and the changes Marriott and Chase made to its rewards and perks:

Changes to Marriott Rewards Credit Card

Marriott Rewards® Premier Credit Card (expired offer - card no longer available) Marriott Bonvoy Boundless Credit Card
Rewards rate on Marriott purchases 5 points per dollar 6 points per dollar
Other bonus rewards 2 points per dollar spent on airline tickets purchased directly with the airlines, at car rental agencies & restaurants N/A
Base rewards rate 1 point per dollar 2 points per dollar
Free anniversary night Valid for stays at Category 1-5 properties Valid for stays worth up to 35,000 points
Elite status Automatic silver elite status; gold elite status when you spend $30,000 per year Automatic silver elite status; gold elite status when you spend $35,000 per year
Annual fee $0 the first year, then $85 95

This new rewards structure makes the new credit card significantly better for everyday spending than its predecessor.

Additionally, American Express launched a new premium credit card with the SPG brand called the Starwood Preferred Guest American Express Luxury Credit Card on August 23. Here are the details:

  • Welcome bonus: To be announced.
  • Rewards: 6 points for every dollar spent SPG and Marriott hotels, 3 points for every dollar spent at U.S. restaurants and on flights booked directly with airlines, 2 points per dollar spent on all other purchases.
  • Annual fee: $450.
  • Benefits: Up to a $300 statement credit for purchases at Marriott and SPG hotels; annual free night worth up to 50,000 points; automatic gold elite status (upgrade to platinum elite status after spending $75,000 per year); Global Entry or TSA PreCheck application fee credit; Priority Pass Select airport lounge membership; complimentary Boingo Wi-Fi membership.

American Express also updated its other SPG-branded credit cards with new rewards structures.

And finally, Chase closed the Ritz-Carlton Rewards Card to new applicants.

4. Changes to Travel Packages

One of the more lucrative way to redeem your Marriott Rewards points has been through its travel packages.

You can turn in your points for an extended stay at one of Marriott’s properties plus you’ll get air miles with one of Marriott’s airline partners.

With the merger, however, Marriott significantly devalued its travel packages for all members.

Before the merger, for instance, you could get seven nights at a Category 9 hotel plus 120,000 Delta SkyMiles for 390,000 Marriott Rewards points.

Now, however, you’ll have to redeem 675,000 points to get seven nights at a Category 8 hotel plus 110,000 Delta SkyMiles.

How to Maximize Your Marriott Rewards Points

If you had rewards points with SPG and Ritz-Carlton Rewards, Marriott has already transferred your points from the other programs to Marriott Rewards.

But there are some other things you can do now to get the most out of your rewards now and in the future.

Combine Your Accounts

Even if you already linked your accounts from the different loyalty programs for points transfers, you’ll still need to combine your accounts into one to maximize the benefits.

Doing this will automatically combine your points earned with each program plus your elite-night balances to make it easier to gain elite status.

It will also keep things simpler going forward as you book and track your hotel stays.

Apply for a Credit Card Before August 26

Even though the merger just happened, Chase and American Express are planning to add restrictions to their Marriott- and SPG-branded credit cards starting August 26.

These restrictions won’t necessarily keep you from getting approved for these credit cards, but it could prevent you from getting the welcome bonus.

If you’re interested in one of the Marriott- or SPG-branded credit cards, visit Chase or American Express’s website to learn more about the restrictions.

Reconsider Your Credit Card Strategy

If you already have a Marriott or SPG credit card or plan to apply for one, consider the cards’ new rewards rates to determine how you should maximize your rewards.

Also, consider that while you may earn more rewards now with the new-and-improved Marriott and SPG credit cards, you’re still limited on how you redeem your points.

So:

If you want more flexibility, check out general travel credit cards and cash back credit cards as well.

Plan Next Year’s Trips Carefully

Marriott won’t start implementing its peak and off-peak redemption options until 2019, but that doesn’t mean you can’t start planning to take advantage of that.

There’s currently no guidance on what Marriott considers peak and off-peak travel times.

But...

When you plan your trips for the coming year, it’s generally best to avoid three-day weekends and the holidays.

Also, summertime is usually a busy travel time, so expect to see more peak rates than off-peak rates during that season.

Stick With Hotel Stay Redemptions

The new program still makes it possible to redeem your Marriott Rewards points for travel packages, and you can now transfer your points to more than 40 airline partners.

But in most cases, these redemption options aren’t nearly as valuable as a simple redemption for free hotel stays.

That said:

If you’re a seasoned travel hacker and can find a way to squeeze more value out of your points through these other redemption options, go for it.

The Bottom Line

The merger between the Marriott, SPG, and Ritz-Carlton rewards programs came with a lot of changes, some good and some bad.

While it remains to be seen how these updates will affect Marriott Rewards members in the long term, it’s essential that you know what they are.

Also, it’s important to understand how you can take advantage of some of the positive changes to earn more rewards and maximize the value of those rewards.

As you consider how the changes affect you, it’s also important to reconsider how you approach your credit card strategy.

Consider the potential of what you can earn with the updated and new Marriott and SPG credit cards but also think about how you could get more value with another hotel credit card or elsewhere.

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