When Marriott announced details of their new program they introduced an award chart where at least some rooms at every one of their hotels would be available at a rewards price no higher than 60,000 points.
There’s a 4.5 month period where you can book the St. Regis Bora Bora, the St. Regis Maldives, Al Maha Desert Resort, and many more at this price.
But remember they told us from the get go that they would offer this kind of great value only through the end of the year and that next year they’d start charging up to 100,000 points for their best redemptions with the introduction of a new category 8 along with low season and high season prices.
Meanwhile it takes more nights and more spend to get the same benefits that Starwood members were used to.
- Starwood 75 night elites lose their ’24 hour check-in’ option next year, since that’s a benefit reserved for the top elite level.
- Starwood 100 night elites who do not spend $20,000 in a year lose their dedicated Ambassador contact.
- Starwood Golds (25 night elites) lose guaranteed 4 p.m. late check-out.
That said this is a better program than their biggest competitors offer. Even come next year, Marriott will offer:
- More premium hotels than Hilton or IHG
- Better elite benefits than either Hilton or IHG
- Better pricing at some of the top legacy Starwood hotels than was offered prior to the merger, albeit with more restrictive inventory.
Al Maha Desert Resort
The Marriott program is better than I expected it to be when the chain acquired Starwood. But don’t be lulled into complacency that this year’s experience is what you can expect. We know that things are as good as they’ll ever be right now because Marriott told us so.
My model at the outset of the merger was that Marriott didn’t need to work as hard at loyalty as Starwood or Hyatt because of their size The smaller programs had to entice customers to go out of their way to stay with their chains, so it was no surprise that larger chains like IHG and Hilton did less for members. And the merger made Marriott bigger, not smaller. The deal was done for size and leverage over online travel agencies and other counterparties, and that includes customers.
It’s what I told Arne Sorenson when he asked why I didn’t believe that he was going to offer the most generous loyalty program in the industry. If he had wanted to do so he would have done so already.
Still the program is better than what I expected the outcome to be. Sorenson’s bet was:
- that it would be cheaper to offer a good program than to spend marketing dollars for each of their combined 30 brands individually.
- Plus all that sweet sweet bank co-brand money.
And Marriott does have a program Hilton (no promise of suite upgrades or guaranteed late check-out) and IHG (which doesn’t even promise most elite benefits on award stays, club lounge access, or breakfast). If you’re Marriott why be even better than that?
Marriott executives are good operators. They control costs. And the new program is less expensive for owners than the old one. Starwood was good at marketing, not costs.
The takeaway from all of this is two-fold.
- If the Hyatt footprint works for you, you should focus on Hyatt though they’re far from perfect. The elite program is better than Marriott’s. I really do think it’s criminal that Marriott launched their new program August 18 and Hyatt didn’t pounce with a status match offer to Marriott Platinums.
- If the Hyatt footprint doesn’t work for you, if you travel places where Hyatt’s aren’t or where they aren’t convenient, then you should focus on Marriott — but be realistic about what you’re getting after the halo (such as it is with the rocky transition) wears off.