5 Great New Opportunities Created by the Marriott-Starwood Merger

Now that Marriott’s acquisition has closed, and they’re already letting you link accounts, match elite status, and move points between programs, there are fantastic arbitrage opportunities created.

However long the period lasts where the Marriott program and Starwood program retain their separate identities while letting members move their points and status back and forth between the two — whether only a little over a year, or for two years — this period may wind up as one of the real golden ages of hotel loyalty programs.

There are several fantastic opportunities that have been created.

Access to Properties in Both Portfolios

Marriott members will have Starwood’s luxury hotels to use their points at. Marriott Platinums will be able to use their status at Starwood properties — and receive benefits they haven’t had before, like suite upgrades (if a standard suite is available at check-in the Platinum is entitled to it, it’s not strictly the result of a property’s beneficence) and breakfast at resorts.

Starwood members will have more properties to redeem for, Starwood’s portfolio is about 1200 hotels and the combined company will be around 5700.

This is the first, most basic, and obvious benefit to transferring points between accounts.


Al Maha Desert Resort

More Airline Elite Status Benefits

Marriott has a great partnership with United, and Starwood partners with Delta, Emirates, and soon China Eastern. Marriott and Starwood elites get elite treatment with these airlines. Now they get elite treatment with their partner’s partners.

Marriott elites, by status matching, will become Starwood elites entitled to the benefits of the Starwood and Delta Crossover Rewards program.

  • Starwood elites earn Starwood points flying Delta in addition to Delta miles and Delta elites earn SkyMiles in addition to Starpoints when staying with Starwood.
  • Starwood Platinums get priority check-in, priority boarding, and free checked bags as well as upgrades (at the bottom of the queue).
  • Delta Platinum and Diamond members receive elite benefits with Starwood, sort of Gold-lite like what’s provided to co-brand credit card holders — elite check-in, late checkout, and modest room upgrades similar to what Starwood offers to Golds.

Marriott elites will also get access to the Starwood and Emirates Your World Rewards program.

  • Starwood Gold and Platinum members receive 1 Starpoint per US dollar spent when flying Emirates in (in addition to miles earned for the flight itself).
  • Emirates Skywards Silver, Gold, and Platinum members earn 1 bonus Skywards point per US dollar spent when staying with Starwood (in addition to the SPG points earned for the stay).
  • Starwood Platinums receive elite priority check-in and boarding with Emirates and e-gate benefits
  • Emirates Gold and Platinum members get priority check-in, late check-out, and free internet with Starwood.

Starwood Platinums are effectively Emirates Silver-lites and Emirates Gold elites and higher are effectively Starwood Golds without the 50% bonus earning of Starpoints and modest room upgrades. And all elites in both programs get more points.

A similar Starwood relationship with China Eastern is slated for launch.


China Eastern 737

Meanwhile, Starwood Platinums will get Marriott Platinum. And Marriott Platinums get United Silver. United Silver gets access to economy plus extra legroom seats free at check-in and priority boarding so you don’t wind up having to gate check your bags.

Take Advantage of Unique Airline Miles Transfer Opportunities

Starwood has some of the best and most unique airline partnerships. Most transfer 1:1 into miles, and when you transfer points to 20,000 miles you get 5000 bonus miles.

One of my favorite options is Aegean Miles & Bonus which may have the very best Star Alliance award chart. While only one connection permitted, Aegean has some great values like 90,000 miles roundtrip for US-Europe business class (and North Africa is included in Europe). First class is 120,000 miles roundtrip. It’s 110,000 miles roundtrip for US-Middle East business class and 110,000 miles roundtrip for US-Africa business class. One-way awards are available at half these prices.

One of the downsides of Starwood airline transfers is that they’ve long been 2-1 into United, thought to be the result of United’s relationship with Chase — they didn’t want the Starwood Amex to earn United miles more efficiently than Chase’s own co-brand. However, Marriott has a strong transfer relationship with United, better than their other airline partners.

As a result you’re now about to transfer 19,000 Starwood points to 57,000 Marriott points, and on to United miles. 56,000 Marriott points become 25,000 United miles. You’ll have 1000 Marriott points left. Marriott travel packages give an even better ratio but we’re now at effectively better than 1:1 Starwood:United.

Meanwhile Starwood points do not now transfer to Southwest, but Marriott’s travel packages are one of the best ways to earn a companion pass.

Transfer 80,000 Starwood points to Marriott and you have 240,000 Marriott points. Members have regularly been able to book 5-night travel packages (which were marketed to timeshare owners): 235,000 Marriott Rewards points for 5 nights at a category 1-5 hotel and 120,000 Southwest points (which is enough for a companion pass). In other words, 80,000 Starwood points could get you 5 hotel nights and a Southwest companion pass. Boom. Now someone can travel with you whenever you fly Southwest, paid or award.

Speculative: Stock Up On Your Starwood Nights Now for Lifetime Status

Marriott’s status matching gives Starwood Golds the same Gold level in the Marriott Rewards program. Platinums get Platinum. This is true even though Marriott requires more nights to earn Gold than Starwood does, and more nights to earn Platinum. Starwood has two metallic elite levels, Marriott has 3. And Marriott lifetime status takes more than Starwood.

This suggests to me — though Marriott hasn’t said this — that Starwood lifetime Platinums will get Marriott lifetime Platinum. And Starwood lifetime Gold will get Marriott lifetime Gold (versus getting only lifetime Gold and Silver, respectively).

There’s no guarantee, but it’s a good bet that if you can hit Starwood lifetime status next year it’s worth doing so.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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Comments

  1. I have linked programs, thankfully I have healthy SPG balance as Platinum. Trying to find answer as I need to get to 50 nights by Dec 31 to retain Platinum for 2017.
    Do any stays at Marriott for remainder of this year count towards my SPG status moving forward? or are both view separately? Maybe obvious answer. Insight would be appreciated.

  2. @Gordon – No, as per the FAQ on the Account Linking page, Marriott stays will only count for Marriott status and Starwood stays will only count for Starwood Status this year.

  3. Gary –

    Do you expect the programs to merge in 2017? if so that will leave me 1 year short of 10 years of spg lifetime platinum,which would be a bummer. But if it is 2018, then it is worth cramming 25 days quickly to lock the benefit down.

    Any thoughts?

  4. As a quick follow up – is there much of a difference between Marriott gold or platinum lifetime status? It seems mostly it relates to extra bonus points per stay? Where as for SPG, the difference seems to be lounge access at platinum, but not at gold.

    Does that seem right to you?

    Thanks

  5. Can you elaborate on that southwest companion pass? So I can use 80k from spg and some how convert that to Marriott points and then transfer it to southwest points for a companion pass? I thought transfer points to southwest does not count toward companion pass earning

  6. ” if you can hit Starwood lifetime status next year it’s worth doing so.”

    in 2017 I could hit SPG 5 yr elite & 250 night, in time for lifetime gold?

  7. Gary,

    Do you think SPG points will eventually convert to Rewards points for lifetime status purposes? Initial reports on another board are saying that current transfers from SPG to Rewards are not impacting lifetime points.

  8. I understand they still need to work out the details of the lifetime program, but transferring points from Starwood to Marriott at this juncture makes me nervous not knowing if that will result in them not being counted downline (if indeed, they would be counted otherwise.)

    I’m not in need of nights to get to Lifetime Gold Elite, but am short on points.

  9. I spoke to SPG On chat today, they said the programs will remain separate until 2018.

    Last year I received lifetime gold with SPG and hoping this is honored with Marriot.

  10. Tip to those who get:

    Error 500: java.lang.NullPointerException

    When trying to join Rewards Plus (to match to United from Marriott), make sure you are still logged in to marriott.com and haven’t timed out.

  11. Gary, thank you for the fantastic tip regarding converting SPG points to Marriott then to UA miles. My husband had a handful of expiring Marriott points that we didn’t know what to do with but now we do. Thanks again.

    I have a question regarding the Aegean awards please. Any idea approximately how much taxes/fees/fuel charges are for travel between SFO and Athens? Thank you.

  12. @Despina depends on the airline and routing, fuel surcharges should be the same as on a paid ticket, one-way SFO-ATH in business I’d assume a little over $200

  13. @Gary, thanks very much. So considerably more expensive than UA, though UA charges 50,000 more points per roundtrip, so something we’ll need to consider.

  14. As an SPG elite, how do you actually benefit from priority check-in when flying Delta? Do you have to somehow prove your SPG status to the ticketing agents, or what?

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