Breaking: New Marriott Program Launches August 18th, Here’s What You Need to Know

Three months ago Marriott shared details on how they’d be bringing their three loyalty programs together with Marriott Rewards, Ritz-Carlton Rewards, and Starwood Preferred Guest all operating on a single platform and single set of rules starting in August.

The new program creates winners and losers, mostly taking elements of the Starwood elite program and bringing them over while increasing the requirements for top status given Marriott’s much bigger footprint of 6500 total combined hotels.

We’ve Learned a Great Deal Since the Initial Announcement

A lot of detail has come out since the original announcement like how Platinum breakfast benefits will work (and the hotel brands that will offer a folio credit rather than breakfast), how points expiration will work, along with a change in achieving lifetime elite status.


Breakfast at the W Doha

Last month Marriott revealed the list of hotels and how many points each would cost in the new program while declaring that award nights at their best hotels would book into a more limited inventory of rooms. They’ve gutted travel packages going forward.

The New Program Launch Date is Set

There have still been several unanswered questions, including a very basic one: when will the new program actually begin? And now we know: the new Marriott program launches August 18.

I spoke with David Flueck, Marriott’s Senior Vice President of Global Loyalty, on Tuesday to talk about the transition and get several more questions answers about what to expect.

What Will Happen August 18th

There has been some confusion about when the new program would launch. Some communications had said August 1 but Marriott has since maintained it would be “in August.” I asked why the date was pushed to August 18.

Launching the new program has been “technologically challenging, it’s a complicated day for us as we move all of the SPG members into the Marriott Rewards system and turn on all of the new benefits and technological capabilities we’ve built, bringing over the SPG benefits to the new program.”

On the 18th Starwood points convert 1 to 3 into the new currency, and the new award chart goes into effect. Members can combine their accounts and that means combining elite qualifying nights, too, so some members will have a higher status.

However on the actual transition day — and programs almost always choose a Saturday for this — they expect “some intermittent outages.” According to Flueck,

Our IT teams have been working now 20 months building out all of the new code, about 20 million lines of code, an enormous technological undertaking. For that reason on Saturday the 18th, sites will go down. Members will not be able to book paid or redemption stays for a period of time. Most of the day our loyalty systems will be down.

Don’t expect to make reservations or access your account on Saturday the 18th.

When systems are up they’ll be using the Marriott IT platform for everything. I believe early on in the merger Marriott assumed they’d use Starwood’s loyalty systems, but learned quickly that the capabilities there were limited.

As a result Starwood numbers will stop working. Everyone will get a new 9-digit Marriott number that corresponds to their SPG number. Passwords will be the same as with each member’s Starwood account. When you log in with your SPG number you’ll get a prompt showing the Marriott number for that account, and that’s the number you’ll need to use.

Existing Starwood numbers in reservations will be changed over automatically, and existing Suite Night Award requests for Platinums will transition over as well. Platinum Suite night awards will be available at Marriott hotels beginning on the 18th.

New points-earning rates (which are generally higher in the new program) will begin with check-outs beginning August 18, meaning they’ll apply to full stays even that begin prior to the 18th.

There’s going to be a new Starwood Preferred Guest mobile app that’s basically the Marriott app with new skin.

Marriott Isn’t Going to Automatically Combine Accounts

I was surprised to see that members actually need to combine their own accounts. Flueck explains that it’s “important to have consent” from members to do this. Once the new program launches you can combine your accounts, and will need to do so even if you already linked them. Marriott won’t “presume it’s the same person” even for two accounts with the same name at the same address.

As a result anyone with both a Starwood and Marriott account that is not combined will wind up with two Marriott accounts, though of course that can happen today without the merger and duplicate accounts can be combined.


Caroline Astor Suite at the St. Regis Bangkok

What You Should Do to Prepare for August 18

Any reservations you plan to make and will be needing soon, make those before Saturday the 18th. Otherwise you’ll have to wait. And while they don’t anticipate problems persisting, there’s always the chance that technical issues could bleed over into the next day.

Once the 18th hits and Marriott’s systems come online you can combine your points (as you can today) and your elite credits.

Some award nights will be getting more expensive under the new system. About half of hotels will be more expensive than they were at the beginning of the year, 30% will be more expensive than they are today. You can book those a year in advance now to take advantage of lower points pricing.

Anything you book now which goes down in price you can call after the 18th to get points back, as long as awards book into the same room category under the new system that they have in the old system. That’s likely to only be an issue at certain top tier resorts like the St. Regis Bora Bora or Maldives.


W New York Times Square

You Can Still Earn Status ‘The Old Way’

The new Marriott program gets rid of status qualification based on stays (Starwood) but SPG members are still able to qualify in 2018 for 2019 status based on Starwood criteria.

Combining accounts and elite nights will not get in the way of doing this. Although remember that only stays at legacy Starwood brands will count towards qualifying under Starwood’s old rules.


Wet at the W Austin

What’s Happening to Existing Travel Package Redemptions?

One of the best values in the current Marriott Rewards program has long been ‘travel packages’ where you combine a 7 night hotel redemption with a transfer to airline miles. Those specify redemptions at current category levels.

Marriott’s new redemption categories don’t correspond to the levels these certificates were issued for. And Marriott still doesn’t know what they’re going to do, exactly, with these certificates starting August 18th.

I asked David Flueck why and he explained that they’re still “finalizing the tech solution, and depending on the tech solution it impacts how these certificates end up converting.” He says “we’re pretty close on that.” He knows that these packages “are really beloved by our members” and takes their value seriously. They’re just not ready to make an announcement until the tech is ready because if they run into issues, the solution might be change.

What About Amtrak Free Night Certificates?

Amtrak Guest Rewards offered Starwood free nights as a redemption option. These certificates must be redeemed for free night reservations by July 31.

Future stays will be bookable through the end of this month, but it will not be possible to cancel and rebook after July 31. This program gets discontinued at the end of July, and anyone with free night certificates that expire after July 31 will need to work with Amtrak Guest Rewards to get a points refund.

American Express Changes Are Happening Before – and After – the 18th

American Express previously notified cardholders that unbonused points earning changes from 1 Starwood point per dollar (3 points in the new system) to 2 points in the new system, a one-third reduction in earning power.

That will still happen August 1. David Flueck cautioned that “For statement date closes August 1-18, there will be a little delay until after August 18th for points to show up” in accounts because of this transition.

So earning on American Express cards change August 1, even if the new program launch won’t happen until August 18th.

At the same time, the new premium Luxury Card which offers Platinum status for $75,000 annual spend will launch “a few days after the combined program.” American Express would not further clarify the launch date when asked.


Credit: American Express

Will You Still Earn Points for Food and Beverage Spend While Not Staying at a Hotel?

For years Starwood has offered the ability to earn points at hotel restaurants even when not staying on property as a guest. When Thom Kozik came on board to run the Marriott program it was the first thing he talked about as one of his priorities for Marriott, although Thom is no longer with Marriott and Marriott hotels still do not offer this this feature.

Legacy Starwood hotels will continue to offer points-earning for ‘off-folio food and beverage spend’ while this will be tested at participating Marriott Rewards properties in Asia Pacific starting August 18th. Presumably this will be rolled out more broadly at some point in the future.

How Premium Room Redemptions Will Work

For all of the award redemption charts that Marriott has made available so far — how much each hotel category will cost August 18th, how things will work with high and low season prices and the addition of category 8 next year, as well as travel package prices we haven’t yet seen a premium room awards redemption chart.

Publishable details on how members will spend points for better than standard rooms isn’t something that’s ready yet.

However it isn’t going to work the way things did with Starwood with hotels opting in to offer better rooms for 1500 or 2500 points and double points for a suite.

Instead the points price for premium rooms “will be based on the cost differential in cash, converted to points.” Once you book a standard room, the difference in price between a standard room and the room you want can be paid for in points as though the points were cash. I can almost assure this will not represent great value, and I expect I will be booking standard rooms and then contacting hotels offering to buy up directly to the room I want with cash.

Still No Program Terms and Conditions

Although the program is launching in about three weeks there’s still no published terms and conditions. I’m told that the “terms and conditions go live August 18th.”

So we need to pass the new program to find out what’s in it wait until the new program launches to understand the fine point details of what’s in it.

The Program Will Get a New Name Next Year

We know that Marriott is retaining 3 separate identities for the Starwood, Marriott, and Ritz-Carlton programs for contractual reasons even though all three programs will be operating on the same platform and with the same rules starting August 18, 2018 (8-18-18, perhaps lucky for the Chinese market).

“Early next year.. Q1” we can expect new branding for a newly named single unified program to be rolled out, and the formal end to Starwood’s name on a loyalty program.

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. What about checking in on the 18th? Will I get the new Plat benefits or the old gold benefits?

  2. I wouldn’t assume any hotels will know your new status until Aug 19 or even Aug 20. If any hotel knows your new status on Aug 18, consider it a gift!

  3. So for those with the SPG Amex Biz card, is Aug 18 the same date when the Sheraton Club lounge benefit goes away or is it Aug 1?

  4. Per Lucky, you will need to cancel and rebook to get points back if hotel gets cheaper. That is different to what you say, who is correct?

  5. @Tom Lucky is correct that you will not AUTOMATICALLY get points back if price drops. However while you CAN cancel and rebook that is not the only way to get the difference in points. If a hotel is sold out of standard rooms you cannot cancel and rebook. However you can call and have Marriott replace the old higher price award certificate with a new lower priced certificate all without cancelling the booking.

  6. Did I read it right? If I spend on Amex in July but my statement closed after August 1st, I’ll get 2 points, not 3???

  7. I hope you didn’t read that correctly. That would not be fair at all to the SPG Amex cardholders.

    Can you clarify Lucky?

  8. @Gary

    I’ve been trying to transfer Marriott Rewards points to SPG points with a pair of linked accounts for a family member for the past week but have been getting the run around. On the website it errors out, so I called Marriott Rewards. The first agent said it was impossible and I’d have to wait until August. I HUCA’d and the second agent said it was impossible. HUCA again and the third agent said I had to call SPG. I called SPG and they said I had to call Marriott. The third Marriott agent said it was impossible, so I asked for the supervisor. After more than 30 mins of trying to talk to the supervisor (who kept saying it was impossible) I gave up on that call.

    Do you have any advice here? Thanks!

  9. Gary, I have 150k SPG points and I am trying to plan my 2019 vacation. Ideally I’d like to stay at a “Cat 8 for Cat 7 price” bookable from Aug 18 onward.

    –Option 1 is that the 150k points become 450k Marriott and I could book 7 nights at a “Temporary Cat 7” for 60k x 6 = 360k points and have 90k points left over.

    –Option 2 is that I could covert the points now (140k –> 420k) and buy a Ritz Tier 1-3 travel package for 420k Marriott points. In effect, I would be paying 60k Marriott points (20k SPG points) for 120k airline miles, which is an insane value.

    The risks I think are: (1) Tier 1-3 may not map onto Cat 7; they might only be Cat 6 certs, in which case I am effectively paying 120k Marriott for 120k airline miles, which is still good value; (2) The certs do not get liquidated into points, and I am stuck with a Category-based certificate after 8/18. If the certificates were converted to points at _SOME_ ratio, even a less-than-optimal ratio, then I could still try to get additional points, even buying them if necessary, to make up any difference.

    Do you think buying the package now is an unreasonable/big risk? It’s obviously some risk since we don’t know how the certs will convert, but do you think it’s reasonable to roll these dice? Anything I’m missing/should be thinking about?

  10. Gary, could you please explain or make a separate post regarding how will it work to replace the certificate to the new lower priced certificate? I think this will be the most useful post out there. Also, I am super confused with the new award chart. The chart says currrent points rate and new points rate. I assume new points rate is starting August 18th. So if you take the St Regis Maldives the current rate is 90,000 reward points. The new rate is 85,000 reward points. If that is the case how can I secure a room at 90,000 reward points when you can’t do reservations before the 18th using reward points? I called the rewards line and A representative told me earlier that starting August 1st they will have capabilities from Marriott’s phone lines to book SPG properties. I asked her three times if that was correct. She said yes. Can you confirm if this is the case? And if not why would they publish a current reward points value if this will never be bookable?

  11. I understand for ordinary reward night redemption if the hotel points per night goes down you can call and get the point difference back.

    How about if the reward stay is booked with a travel package 7 nights certificate, and the hotel is at 30K per night level, i.e. the existing Category 6, but will go down to 25K per night level, i.e. the new Category 4. What would happen then? Will we get back the difference between the current Category 5 package and the current Category 6 package, i.e. 30K difference?

  12. It all seems convoluted and it is apparent that they are porking their members. I need to know how long my Tier 1-2 cert is good for at Ritz Carlton. If they can’t answer then what am I supposed to do? Very frustrating so far and we deserve much better.
    I am lifetime Gold with over 1 mm points. Guess I’m screwed.

  13. Will booking 3 rooms at legacy SPG hotels still count as 3 stays after Aug 18? Trying to qualify on stays one last time.

  14. Sigh. So now Marriott actually pretends to care about the customer? For instance, they admit that the air and hotel packages are beloved by customers, but the company is still destroying them? That’s two contradictory points. Pick one. Added to the rest of the bad news from this merger, im impressed. Most loyalty programs have actually completed their merger before hosing the customer. It seems that Marriott just can’t wait.

  15. Regarding earning status “The Old Way,” does that also mean we can book earn elite night credit for up to 3 rooms per night til the end of the year at legacy SPG properties?

  16. Gary, did you get a chance to ask about family transfer points between accounts? SPG allowed unlimited number of points to be transferred for free.

  17. Pardon if this seems like a silly question but have not it in writing in any article on the launch I have 20 nights with Starwood and 35 with Marriott. Once combined I will be over 50 nights so do I receive the suite upgrades or did I have to reach platinum before August 18? Thanks so much

  18. In response to Sam …after being on hold for probably 25 minutes I was able to move points from my Marriott account to my wife’s Marriott account at no cost; it updated immediately…two days later I rec’d the confirming e-mail.
    In the past you had to jump thru several hoops to move points.

  19. Do you really believe that line about the “tech” determining the path forward for the travel packages? I find it difficult to believe that this bit of coding is so complicated that the IT solution would drive the strategy aka tail wagging the dog. Methinks they are going to bite the bullet and err on the side of the generosity but don’t want us folks lining up in advance for the payout.

  20. Well I will actually expect the new benefits from day 1. If not I will bill my resort breakfast to my room and then ask them to remove it at checkout.

    -Nick

  21. I strongly suggest that everyone prints out or does screenshots of their existing SPG accounts and upcoming reservations to ensure a record in case the merger of the IT systems… Deletes points… Deletes reservations… Deletes upgrade awards… Etc.

    Will SPG.com die on 8/18 or can SPG ‘ers Continue to use that website to book reservations?

  22. @Gary
    So the Marriott hotel I have a reservation but still did not use points yet to pay for (have to transfer from SPG to have enough points) is going down 5000 points a night as of August 18th, my reservation starts on the 26th…what do I do? I was told I really needed to pay at least ten nights before…but I would rather use less points so I can just pay and then call them back or should i try to wait out the certificate and hope the room would still be available?

    Thanks so much

  23. I want to stay at the Marriott County Hall hotel in London for 4 nights in Aug. 2019. The booking calendar only goes into early July 2019. Should I book 5 nights @45k=180k now using points alone for July 2019 (getting no air miles) and as soon that I can move the date as the calendar opens for Aug. 2019 (without having to pay more points since the rates will have increased)…. Or would it be better for me to book a 7 night vacation package @390k for this category 9 Marriott, taking the 132K United miles now, reserving 7 nights in July 2019, and hoping that as the calendar opens I will be able to move the 7 nights into August once available, even though I’m only going to use 5 nights (without having to pay more points since the rates will have increased). Which makes better sense assuming booking these before Aug. 1, 2018. Also if I cannot book 7 consecutive nights, does that mean I will not be able to use any of the package? If I can book 7 consecutive nights, is it OK if I only use the first 5 nights without penalty, losing of course the final 2 nights.

  24. Thanks for the info Gary. Any word on lifetime status? My biggest question bring how qualifying years will work from both spg and Marriott

  25. @Richard King
    In the past Marriott honored previous bookings on properties that went up to higher point levels, on the condition NOTHING can be changed.

    Therefore it is very doubtful you would still get the 45K per night pricing when you change the date after the rates go up on August 18th.

  26. Lots of folks with good questions here. This merger is an absolute nightmare for us SPG loyalists. I’m personally getting screwed by losing the Your24 at 75 nights (which I’ve had for 2 years and would have had next year) and now needing 600 nights for lifetime platinum (it’ll take me an extra year to qualify).

    My question is about SET rates. I have my SET code from my American Bar Association membership which often gets me better rates at SPG properties. I don’t see any way to enter that same 6 digit code into Marriott’s website or app, and I don’t know if Marriott will even offer the SET rates. Any insight?

  27. I only have around 350k Marriott points. Was planning on a air+hotel package. No immediate travel plans. Should I just pull trigger on package or maybe transfer back to SPG and transfer to an airline?

  28. Thank you @ubuguy! My understanding is that Marriott will put limitations on number of points to be transferred between family accounts yearly! Let’s see if @Gary can get some details

  29. I just booked 3 nights in November at London Marriott Park Lane 45000 each, but I won’t have the total amount of points needed for about another month. Will the needed amount of points then jump mid-Aug to possibly 60,000 each night? Or am I safe with my 45000/ night?

  30. I’m retired but was gifted years ago, a lifetime GOLD SPG status member as a result of purchasing a Sheraton time share week. This offer was an incentive to buy a week of timeshare. As I only do vacation travel now I cannot meet and upgrade status anymore. I am also a Marriott Elite member and own two time share weeks with them.
    Will the new program upgrade my current Gold SPG status to an equal Marriott level for lifetime?
    Thank you.

  31. From now until 8/18 you will not be able to transfer Starpoints to airline FF programs. If you try, it just freezes the screen. The SPG representative explained that the transfer to airlines option had been disabled until the merge is complete. A real bummer if you were planning to use miles soon. But given the snail pace at which Starpoints usually transfer, it is unlikely that anybody made any short term plans with them anyhow. And with the new earning rate of 2:1 with the AmEx card, you would realistically be earning at best (2/3)x1.25=0.83 mile per $ spent on the card as a best case scenario, if you transfer a 20,000 (or new equivalent) points block and if they still keep the 25% bonus. On anything other than a 20,000 block transfer you would be earning only 2/3=0.67 mile per $ spent on the card. This makes the SPG Amex card just about the worst card for earning airline miles out there. Sad.

  32. How will this affect my lifetime status for top level status at all my stays at Marriott and affiliates? I have approximately 1,600,000 points Accumulated over the past 30 years. Do I lose these privileges or I am I grandfathered? I have always been a loyal Marriott customer. In fact my wife is in Duablo., Col .at a Fairfield Inn for the next 5 days. Please don’t ignore this note, It is very important to me.

  33. A broad question, the Wife and I have about 1.5 million Marriot points, and she uses the Marriot Visa Card. I did link the SPG and Marriot accounts last year but we haven’t transfered any points. Is there anything besides manually Combining the two accounts after 8/18 that I should be doing?

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