Several of the best-known names in travel are now united in one hotel company. Marriott International finalizes Friday morning its $13 billion acquisition of Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide, bringing together its Marriott, Courtyard and Ritz Carlton brands with Starwood’s Sheraton, Westin, W and St. Regis properties. In total, 30 hotel brands now fall under the Marriott umbrella to create the largest hotel chain in the world with more than 5,800 properties and 1.1 million rooms in more than 110 countries. That’s more than 1 out of every 15 hotel rooms around the globe.
Marriott Rewards – which includes the Ritz-Carlton Rewards – and SPG are the most recognized and awarded loyalty programs in hospitality. Together, these programs will offer members more benefits when they link their accounts, as well as new destinations such as Aruba, Tuscany’s Serchio Valley and Kruger National Park in South Africa for SPG members and theMaldives, Bora Bora and Santorini, Greece for Marriott Rewards and The Ritz-Carlton Rewards members.
Starwood put itself up for sale in April 2015. The Stamford, Connecticut, company had struggled to grow as fast as its rivals, particularly in “limited service hotels,” which are smaller properties which don’t have restaurants or banquet halls. They are often located on the side of the highway, near airports or in suburban office parks. To get Starwood, Marriott had to outbid China’s Anbang Insurance Group. U.S. and European anti-trust regulators were quick to approve the sale but the Chinese government hesitated, delaying the sale by months.
But one of the main questions was what happens after the merger. The SPG program is one of the most valuable out there and the program’s members are deeply loyal to it, have generally higher incomes and tend to spend many nights on the road. I’ll try to put together all the necessary information and opportunities that arise from this merger in one post, so I don;t have to constantly bombard readers with Marriott/SPG merger posts.
The most anticipated piece of news was the conversion rate between the two programs. SPG clearly had the more valuable currency. We got some insight yesterday from Head for Points, which I included in my round-up, that the rate might be 1:3. If that needs any clarification, that’s 1 Starpoint = 3 Marriott/Ritz-Carlton points. That conversion rate has now been confirmed. That looks like a fair rate based on what bonuses each of their credit card offers and almost close to the valuation of each currency. I’d say Marriot points are worth about 0.7 cents a piece and SPG around 2.2 cents.
Marriott award nights will cost you 7,500 – 45,000 points per night and Ritz-Carlton award night will cost you 30,000 – 70,000 points per night. On the other hand SPG award nights go from 2,000 – 35,000 points per night.
To transfer points, you need to link your accounts first. Go here and log in with one of the programs and proceed to link with the other. Surprisingly, point transfer aren’t instant. You’ll have to wait a few hours. Hopefully that changes in the future.
Marriott intends to eventually combine the loyalty programs into one. But for now they will continue to operate as separate entities, at least until 2018
Status match is another great benefit coming out of this merger. If you link your accounts, you’ll be instantly matched to the higher status. Gold elite members in one program will get gold status in the other. Platinum elite members will get platinum in the other.
I have SPG Gold status and was match to a Gold Elite Status at Marriott. Starwood Preferred Guest Gold members. I think SPG members come out winners in this scenario. You can get SPG Gold status by getting the Amex SPG card, but it doesn’t really get you much. With Gold Elite Status at Marriott on the other hand, you get lounge access at most brands, which includes free breakfast.
You can now also spend your way to Platinum status. The Ritz Carlton Rewards credit card from Chase gives you Platinum status with $75,000 annual spend. You can then match to SPG Platinum which was previously only achiveable by completing 25 eligible stays or 50 eligible nights in a calendar year. This is a lot of spend for most people, but I’m just pointing out that some of the opportunities that this merger brings.
What Credit Cards Make Sense
With the merger, there’s some uncertainty regarding the credit cards offered by each program. It’s hard to predict how they will change, but for now it’s probably best to look at what each of these credit cards offer and which one would work best for you.
I’ll start with the SPG cards. Amex offers a personal and business SPG card than are almost identical. These cards offer either 2 Free Nights at Category 1-5 hotels, or 25K Starpoints sign up bonus with no fee for the first year. If you go for the points bonus, that would be a 75K Marriot Points bonus, plus you would earn 3 Marriot Points on all purchases. We’ve seen 30K and 35K bonuses on these cards, but looks like those bonuses won’t come back.
There’s two Marriott cards offered by Chase, one personal ($85 annual fee) and one business ($99 annual fee). The two cards are similar and both now have a 80K bonus, but we’ve seen 100K bonuses in the past. The personal card also has a 7.5K bonus for authorized users, but the business card is not included in the 5/24 rule. The personal card is the best option, but the business version is more viable to most people.
With the personal card you would get a total of 87,500 Marriott points. That’s 29,166 Starpoints, which comes out ahead compared to the Amex SPG cards.
Last but not least with have the Ritz-Carlton card. This is a premium Visa Infinite card with a $450 annual fee and lots of benefits to offset that hefty price. Some of those benefits are a $300 annual travel credit, unlimited $100 companion discounts and free Priority Pass and Global Entry.
As a sign up bonus you get three complimentary nights at Ritz-Carlton hotels (Tier 1-4) after spending $5,000 in the first three months. You also get a 10,000 AU bonus. As previously mentioned, you also get Platinum Elite status in Ritz-Carlton Rewards after spending $75,000 each year, which you can then match to SPG Platinum.
Now that you have all the information, what’s your next step? Obviously you need to make the moves that best interest you and give you the most value. When you have these new options at transferring points, it is always good news because it makes both SPG and Marriott points more flexible.
That flexibility brings a great opportunity which would be transferring SPG points for Marriott’s Flight and Hotel Packages and more specifically to their Southwest package.
The highlighted option here requires 270K Marriott points for 7 Night + 120K Rapid Rewards. You would need 90K SPG, which is a lot, but you get tons of value out of them. You get a 7 Night certificate which is good for a year(can be extended one more year), 120K Rapid Rewards which are good for about $2K in flights and the Southwest Companion Pass.
The Southwest Companion Pass lets you choose one person to fly free with you every time you purchase or redeem points for a flight. Once earned, it’s good for that calendar year and the year after that. To qualify you need earn 110,000 Qualifying Points in a calendar year, and those 120K Rapid Rewards from Marriott’s Flight and Hotel Package above are Qualifying Points.
You should keep in mind that this is not the best time to earn the Companion pass, since you only get it for 2017 and a few months this year. It would be best to wait till January 2017 to do this, but we don’t know if this will still be around.