Who Wins and Who Loses in the New Marriott Loyalty Program

There are a lot of details to the new Marriott loyalty program. I spent a good amount of time talking with David Flueck, Marriott’s Senior Vice President of Loyalty. I spoke with executives from Marriott and Chase. I followed up officially with several dozen questions, and I spoke on deep background with several executives as well. And I was able to shed light on many details you didn’t see in any of the other coverage of the program.

Ultimately I think what Marriott has done, at Bloomberg,

“Starwood was strong on the elite side, Marriott was stronger on earning and redemption,” Leff said. “They have basically stapled the Starwood elite program onto a version of Marriott’s earn-and-burn proposition.”


Presidential Suite, Sheraton San Diego Marina

However the specific changes they’re making create winners and losers compared to the programs that are offered today. At reader Alex‘s suggestion I decided to walk through in a nutshell my first thoughts on how each group benefits or sees losses in the new program.

Winners:

  • Starwood General members: Increased earning for hotel stays.

  • Chase Marriott cards: The new card will double its points-earning for unbonused spend.

  • Marriott 50+ night elites: They’ll get breakfast at more hotel brands, breakfast at resorts, and upgrades to suites when available — including priority for suites at least 5 nights a year. They already got 4 p.m. late checkout as a result of the merger, too. In other words they get a meaningful elite experience which Marriott really did not offer before. For many that should compensate for any losses on the earn and burn side of the program compared to what they were used to.

  • 100 night elites spending $20,000 or more annually: They keep all the benefits they are used to on the Starwood side, those benefits extend to the Marriott side (so a much bigger footprint), and they’re getting better earn and burn for their spending.

  • Marriott Lifetime Platinums their 75 night lifetime tier status continues into the new program, with much better benefits — and this is a level the program won’t even allow anyone to qualify for in the future.


Breakfast at the W Doha

More Ambiguous:

  • Marriott General Members: They’re getting an earn and burn proposition likely to be inferior to they have today but in fairness the merger has meant an opportunity to spend points at far more luxury hotels than before.

Losers:

  • Delta elites who will no longer receive hotel benefits because the Crossover Rewards program is ending.

  • Starwood Golds: You can no longer qualify with 10 stays. 25 night elites no longer get guaranteed 4 p.m. late checkout, instead getting 2 p.m. subject to availability. Starwood Lifetime Golds similarly see a degradation of benefits.

  • American Express Platinum cardholders: Some complaint that they’ll no longer get club lounge access or breakfast at Marriotts, but I don’t think that’s fair. Before the merger Platinum cardholders got Starwood Gold which didn’t give them club lounge. However the merger created a temporary loophole. Starwood Gold matched to Marriott Gold which got lounge access at Marriott. That goes away, Platinum cardholders keep the same 25 night elite status as before. The loss here is that no longer comes with guaranteed 4 p.m. late checkout.

  • Starwood American Express cardholders: They lose the strong earn that was great for airline mileage transfers. Instead of earning, in effect, 1.25 miles per dollar spent [with the 5000 mile bonus for transferring points into 20,000 miles] the base earn rate of 1 mile per dollar gets cut by 1/3rd. Moreover, the card previously came with ‘Preferred Plus’ status that offered 4 p.m. guaranteed late checkout. Instead the card will offer Silver status sans late check-out going forward.

  • Starwood Platinums qualifying on stays: Stay-based qualification goes away and folks with 25 stays and fewer than 50 nights will drop to Gold — no more suites, breakfast, or even 4 p.m. late checkout.

  • Starwood 75 night elites will no longer get 24 hour check-in privileges.

  • Starwood 100 night elites who spend less than $20,000 a year who will no longer get 24 hour check-in privileges or an Ambassador.


Caroline Astor Suite at the St. Regis Bangkok

I’m already sensing some bitterness in the comments from Starwood lifetime Platinums who will keep their lifetime Platinum status, but no matter how much they’ve stayed over time will never get lifetime 75 night elite status — the way Marriott lifetime Platinums get on a grandfathered basis. I don’t think that’s fair.

The new program essentially has the Starwood lifetime component, with slightly higher qualification requirements. It doesn’t offer lifetime 75 night status going forward, just as the Starwood program didn’t. However those who earned lifetime 75 night status in the Marriott program get to keep that. We’d all be livid if that was taken away! It would be nice if Marriott went back and calculated lifetime 75 night status based on historical Starwood stay activity, too, but they aren’t taking anything away from Starwood elites here.

Where I am sympathetic is Starwood 100 night elites, with a lifetime of loyalty, who will lose both Your24 twenty four hour check-in privileges (given by Starwood at 75 nights) and their Ambassador, because they don’t spend $20,000 a year in room revenue. They’ve been very loyal, and have the potential to continue to be, but Marriott is essentially firing them by saying their business isn’t nearly as valuable as Starwood used to say it was.

And I think the 20,000 U.S. dollar threshold is a mistake. I’ve always said a program should decide who its valuable customers are and then treat them well every time, and Marriott is doing that here. I think that’s fair. However it seems to run counter to the trends of growth in Asia, especially China, and growth in select service brands. A customer choosing Marriott in China at the bulk of hotels being offered as the portfolio grows might have to stay 300 nights a year to earn the top level of loyalty recognition. That seems off.

What am I missing, and where do you disagree with my assessments?

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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  1. Not only Delta Elites are losing, United Elites do as well. When they are converted converted to the new Gold status as of 2019, they are also losing benefits like free breakfast and lounge access.

    Not as bad as Delta, a lot less attractive than up to now.

  2. I was wondering what happens if someone qualifies for SPG Platinum on stays before August 2018? Would they be considered Marriott Platinum as well and map to the new Platinum premier 75k?

  3. Excellent coverage. One quick question: For elite status this year, how will the credit cards come into play? For example, I have an SPG personal and business, as well as a Marriott Business. Does this mean that I’ll have 25 nights already towards elite status when they make the transition in August?

  4. Similar question from me, does the max limit of 15 elite CC nights per account kick in on Aug 1st or Jan 1st?

  5. Gary:

    Posted a similar comment this also under the story announcing the change but also doing so here: For those of us close to obtaining Lifetime Platinum Elite under the current Marriott Rewards program, in order to be grandfathered in under the Marriott Lifetime Platinum Elite (75 night) benefit going forward, do you have to have hit the current requirements (2 million points, 75 nights) by August 1? Or do you have until the end of the calendar year (December 31, 2018) to be grandfathered in going forward?

    Very much appreciate any clarification as this is of significant importance to my situation.

  6. Also losers here are people who were SPG Preferred Plus members. Which until it became the status match from Marriott Silver was so little known it didn’t even get billing on the SPG website.

    Mostly given out to corporate contracts or more usually through AAA it actually offered most of the gold benefits. *Enhanced room *Guaranteed 4PM check out *3 points/dollar.
    The only things they didn’t get were the welcome gift and the better internet.
    Being given this was what convinced me to become an SPG loyalist properly and while I’ll have my earned status above this, it’ll come as a blow to the less regular folks.

    Sure it’ll be nice to know that I’ll have lifetime silver straight off the bat, but longtime AAA members essentially had lifetime gold(lite) through this program.

  7. That’s a good and fair summary.
    I’d love to know the perspective of the owners of some of the properties in those growth/lower cost markets. After all, it’s pretty simple..and not unreasonable…to calculate that guests zipping between NYC, London, Paris will rack up $20,000. Not so for Bangkok, Beijing, etc.
    In my 18 years, 1000+nights, I doubt that I’ve reached $20,000 more than once or twice. It’s too high. $10 or $12.5, fine.
    One other point: most of the world does not have access to the credit cards ( US, Canada, Japan, UK have them, but they don’t earn at the same rate). The rest of the world, nothing if I’m not mistaken.That makes it even harder to accrue points/status.

  8. From the SPG email:
    “Plus, starting in August, we’ll add 15,000 points for every 60,000 points you transfer to airline miles, providing you with a total of 25,000 miles in the airline program of your choice.”

    So the 25% bonus remains?

  9. Yeah they should just combine the nights and give everyone the best lifetime status they could have got in either program. A night is a night.

  10. Great summary. I think the biggest inequity is for the power SPG members who have no route to the higher Lifetime elite status- Marriott should fix that.

    In all the coverage I can’t find the answer to 2 questions

    1. Is 5th night still free on Rewards?

    2. Can Members at same address still transfer points?

    Thanks Gary !

  11. RE: what OP Peer said about United Elites

    “Not only Delta Elites are losing, United Elites do as well. When they are converted converted to the new Gold status as of 2019, they are also losing benefits like free breakfast and lounge access.”

    I hope MP Platinum and 1K are granted the new Marriott Platinum status. Will have to see what UA and Marriott say specifically in the coming months.

  12. Was there any mention of multiple rooms on one account at the same hotel? SPG would honor those situations with nights/room instead of nights/account. It was a nice bonus while traveling with family members.

  13. Not sure what is ambiguous about redemptions going up between 17% and 120%. Having more luxury hotels that you don’t have enough points to redeem for is not a mitigating factor, it is an aggravating factor. The only possible mitigating factor is that in the short term, it appears that from August 1 until the new category and seasonal rates arrive, top end hotels will still be within reason, but that is short term gain for long term pain.

  14. So will your status be determined by your combined SPG and Marriott nights at the end of 2018? So if I have 44 Marriott nights and 7 SPG nights, I would be platinum?

  15. I get gold in SPG by spending $30k on AMEX Starwood business card.
    Is this feature still available in the new plan?

  16. I’m the items in the losers section (sighs) guess I will be getting the new Marriott card when it comes out. Canceled the old one years ago as the category creep for the Cat5 hotels made it useless to me. Will probably need it to make Plat this year unless work travel picks up.
    Really sucks about the “availability” for a 2PM checkout, as I strongly suspect there will never be any! LT Gold and 4PM checkout was my favorite perk. Only one I really cared about, actually.

  17. Re your comment about bitterness on SPGers not getting the 75 Platinum Preferred Lifetime benefit… am I right in understanding that the only difference between P4L and PP4l is the difference in the point bonus? 50% for P4L and 75% for PP4L ?

    Not a HUGE deal.

    Yes, would be nice, because if you combine my SPG and MR stays I am at nearly 900 nights and well over 4MM in earned points (in the new currency)

  18. @gary Will the nights credits remain stack-able across the Marriott and SPG cards for the remainder of 2018? I’ve received 15 nights from my Marriott Personal, 5 nights from both my SPG Personal and Biz and should receive my 15 for my Marriott Personal in Aug/Sept.

  19. Apologies but I am a bit confused. For someone who puts bonused spend on Chase Sapphitre Reserve and non bonused spend on AMEX SPG should anything change? Should AMEX SPG not be used for non bonused spend at all?

  20. Marriott has said “C’est la vie” to alot of Uber SPG LTP members. For me with 765 SPG nights w/SPG LTP status + 248 Marriott nights to date I don’t get “Grandfathered” like my current fellow MR’s LTP’s to LTPPE? So, as of August 1st I become a 2nd tier LTP as thanks for my loyalty and competing with current MR’s LTG’s who will soon be identical LTP’s with much less paid stays? My divorce from Marriott is imminent if Marriott doesn’t reconsider us Uber SPG loyalist’s……

  21. I’d say it’s a massive loss for Amex Platinum Card members. I can forgive no lounge access, but no breakfast? That’s truly disappointing. Hilton Gold still gets breakfast everywhere (almost) and also comes with the Amex Platinum Card. That will sway me toward Hilton properties over Marriott/SPG most of the time. The fact that Courtyard still charges for breakfast for Gold elites is crazy.

  22. @Marcus, you should change your non-bonused spend to another card. Probably Chase Freedom Unlimited is the easiest choice. That’s going to be the biggest issue for me in whether I keep both SPG cards in the future. SPG Amex went from earning 3x points to 2x points for non-bonused spend.

  23. Gary: How about other losses:
    1) From SPG side: the bonus points upon achieving 75 nights are cut in half. Same for 100 night stays.
    2) Did I read it right – no lounge access at resorts for PLTs and up?
    3) Welcome amenity was either 250 or 500 points with SPG but only 500 and 1000 points with new Marriott?

  24. The LTPP status given to MR LTP is gracious, however at done while ignoring SPG LTP. I’d be ok if the threshold was 750 nights combined. However keep in mind that SPG only gives them nights for stays not CC hotel nights, thus it is butt in bed nights (although with up to 3 rooms). Not fair and something to take a look at before Aug. 1st.

  25. Marcus I certainly wouldn’t put un-bonused spend on your AmEx SPG if you transfer to airlines, You’re basically earning airline miles at .8333 per $1 spent. That’s worse than any airline card and way worse that you can get with other credit cards including cash back cards. I’m canceling both of mine.

  26. Gary – two nuanced questions that I don’t see directly addressed but forgive me if you did. First, will current LTPs that are converted into PPs get the five confirmed suite nights or not? I think the answer is no, that they are only offered annually after staying 50/75 nights, but I’ve seen both. The other question is whether you expect the Ritz Carlton card to continue to offer platinum level qualification at $75K of spend.

    Thanks for your great work on this over the last two days.

  27. Is the right strategy for those with AMEX SPG to shift all points to Airline miles now to get the 5000 point bonus for every 20k transferred and get rid of the card? As a retiree I primarily earn points via spend for premium airline tickets… ( I am primarily an AirBnB guy). Probably looks like I need to shift to a combination of CSR, Freedom and Fidelity 2% back……..Thx To George and C Sue!

  28. Please mention the GREAT deal this is for Vistana (Starwood) Timeshare owners. Many get lifetime SPG Platinum or lifetime SPG Gold which will be mapped to the new Marriott. AND, the StarPoints available, if you choose not to use your Timeshare, are now tripled 3X to Marriott.

  29. Best summary so far and first time someone creating the post has recognized unfairness to SPG LTP’s with 750+ nights – thank you!

    Being at 1,100+ combined nights and 4M+ lifetime points, not getting LTP Premier is hugely disappointing. Marriott needs to reconsider. And if they don’t, then Hyatt, IHG and Hilton should start targeting.

    It’s not just the slightly lower earning rates or missing out on future upgrades to those with Premier status; it’s basically Marriott telling me that I’m worth less than existing Marriott LTPs, despite the enormous loyalty I’ve shown in the past.

  30. Marriott’s biggest mistake:Not taking care of Starwood’s top Elite Members. (those with 750+ stays)

    Amex’s biggest mistake (or is it Marriott’s too?): Devaluing the Business card so drastically. If we can’t stack extra nights, and our points are worth less to us, what incentive do we have to use the card as our primary business card? I have spoken to 3 other SPG Biz card holders who spend over 150K a year on the card who are actively seeking alternatives now. The changes on the personal card I can live with. In exchange for the reduced points on everyday spend I will get extra Elite nights and higher bonus points plus a free annual night. But I can’t see the logic on holding both cards.

  31. A few questions/comments:
    – What happens to existing SPG award reservations that are canceled after the changeover? The logical thing would be to convert the refund at 3x, but I haven’t seen that covered.

    – Is there a way to figure out how many “Platinum” years I had at Marriott?

    – Has AmEx said anything about people who already paid the annual fee for SPG card getting a huge devaluation? That’s relatively rare (though Chase just did it with IHG). Moreover, it’s very not-AmEx.

  32. American Express is a loser, because their luxury card looks poor compared to others, and is only attractive to those who need the 15 nights.

  33. Will the sum of historical lifetime Starwood nights plus historical lifetime Marriott nights be used to qualify for new Lifetime Platinum status?

    I know my historical lifetime SPG nights, but not my historical Marriott nights, how can I find this out?

    Also, will Marriott nights after Aug 1 be added to SPG total to determine this year’s SPG qualification?

  34. Great coverage Garry, I am interested to see how this gets operationalized. With this many more levels and differences I think the local hotel operators and their staff will be challenged, especially on the Marriott side where gold/plat recog can be spotty on check in, compared Starwood. It seems to set up the likelihood of annoyed customers at check in arguing re a 2pm availability or other perks. I feel I am being overly segmented rather than rewarded with something that matters to me.

  35. Lower tier SPG fan here . My main concern is 2 points on everyday spending which is equivalent to only 2/3 of a Starwood point . This increases the cost of an award ticket bought with VGC and MO significantly . I just applied for the Marriott business and intend to also apply for the Marriott personal . They probably won’t see much use after the bonuses though .

  36. I read that Starwood business card loses Sheraton lounge access. No reason to keep this card and the personal Starwood (replace with Business Blue Plus?)

  37. I would add AirBnB to the winners list. With the decline of Gold perks I expect that there will be some leakage out of hotels. Why have a hotel room when you can have a nice apartment instead?

  38. Hi Gary. Apologies if I missed the answers in some of the posts but could you please answer the following questions:
    – will the transfer between family members remain?
    – if I still have 10 SUite Night Awards in august will I be able to apply them to Ritz or Marriott properties as well?
    – will the new SNA be the same as SPG now or more like Hyatt (confirmation at booking)?
    Thank you.

  39. The way I see it is that my stash of Marriott points and Starwood points are being devalued unless I make and keep the bookings prior to August , which gives me to just mid year 2019.

    Also , going forward I will not get any more great redemptions, and I will just be getting a slight rebate for staying at overpriced Marriott hotels in the form of points. Unless they extend the 15 night credit to Canadian Amex credit card holders, I will not bother to get the lowest meaningful status platinum , and I will probably not bother with status with anyone

    My business is not a tremendous loss for Marriott, but it has been sufficient to make platinum every year since 2012 (2018 and 2019 are likely) and occasionally with Marriott as well. No hard feelings, but a sense of loss and disappointment. Particular thanks and appreciation to Starwood lurker, if he is not kept on I will know that Marriott either does not care about their members or is stupid, likely both.

  40. I am 23 nights away from lifetime platinum at SPG. If I get that before August does that mean nothing in the new program? Really??

  41. @Autolycus : so you pick properties based on breakfast and not on location, price, and user reviews / reputation ?

  42. @henry, Breakfast certainly is a factor. It is not the sole deciding factor, but most of my travel is to small-mid-size cities, and I am often staying in hotels in the Courtyard/Hilton Garden Inn range or sometimes into the Hilton/Doubletree/Marriott/Sheraton range. Because of my employer, my rates at all of those hotels are often the same, especially Mon-Thurs. I do pay attention to whether one specific hotel has good or bad reviews, but in general I find that they all serve my purposes similarly. Price and quality are rarely significant distinguishing factors for me. Free breakfast at the hotel saves me real time and/or money.

    FWIW, I am given a scheduled per diem when I travel for work, so when on business travel that free breakfast is a direct personal savings.

    There are, of course, times when I actually want to eat breakfast at a specific restaurant. In that case, free breakfast at the hotel is obviously not a factor. There are also times when I’m on vacation somewhere that calls for a special hotel. That situation trumps free breakfast, but that situation comes up once every year or two for me. It is far more often that I’m deciding between two very similar hotels within a couple blocks of each other, in a car-dominated city, that have the same price. In that case, free breakfast does matter.

  43. Re: free breakfast and access to executive lounge

    I’m retired, and my wife and I like to travel. We can pretty much stay at any hotel we wish. We have status at the major chains, Marriott, Hilton, Starwood, and Hyatt. No reason not to.

    We pick our hotels based on location and benefits we will receive, as well as cost and reputation.

    As we all know, each property is unique. A brand alone does not determine amenities. Many of those amenities have a value over and above the room cost.

    I’m also UA Platinum, and lifetime Gold with UA. Once we got the Gold benefit from Marriott (and Hyatt for a short time, until revamped), we changed our first choice from Hilton properties to Marriott ones.

    Looks like after August 1, we’ll be seriously looking at all the chains again.

    Yes, the Internet makes this easy to compare. I’ve been my own travel planner for 30+ years, and I still provide tips to my travel professional friends.

    For me, I lose with the change, because I will need to work a little harder when choosing hotels.

    Member programs have changed over the years as hotel chains and airlines tweak them so they’re not giving away the store, or when those perks lead to overcrowding. In the end $$$ still talks.

    PS not every Marriott property has a lounge. Same goes for Starwood and Hilton properties. When one is on a extended vacation, those lounges are a welcome oasis.

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