Does The Merger Impact How I’m Redeeming Starpoints?

In mid-November we learned about Marriott’s takeover of Starwood, which is expected to close in mid-2016.

Marriott-Starwood-Merger

I’ll be the first to admit that I’m a Starwood loyalist and have never voluntarily stayed at a Marriott, so I’m quite sad about this takeover. I know I’m not alone among Starwood loyalists. For Marriott loyalists I actually see little downside. Marriott has a huge global footprint, and does a good job managing elite expectations (which is to say that the program delivers well on the relatively few benefits they promise).

And I think that has represented the sentiment from both “sides” since the announcement was made. Starwood loyalists are scared about what this merger means for Starwood Preferred Guest, while Marriott loyalists are excited about some cool new properties they can stay at, and also the possibility of some more benefits being added to the Marriott Rewards program. There are lots of big questions remaining, which I think we’re all curious to know the answers to over the coming months.

Does the merger impact my redemption of Starpoints?

One question I’ve been asked over and over is whether the upcoming merger impacts how I’m redeeming Starpoints. Historically Starpoints are a points currency I hoard, since I consider them to be the most valuable currency on a per point basis. I have well over 500,000 Starpoints, and up until now have felt quite “secure” having such a large balance.

Why do I feel safe hoarding them? Because worst case scenario they can be converted into airline miles at a 1:1 ratio, with a 5,000 point bonus for every 20,000 points transferred. In other words, worst case scenario each Starpoint is worth 1.25 airline miles.

SPG-Alaska

I haven’t been rushing to redeem Starpoints since I assume we’ll be given some notice before changes occur. If we find out that Starwood Preferred Guest will be shut down in the middle of next year as soon as the merger closes (which I really don’t see happening), I can transfer Starpoints to Alaska Mileage Plan or Japan Airlines Mileage Bank and feel like I didn’t lose all that much value.

Emirates-A380-First-Class-001
I sure don’t mind turning Starpoints into Emirates first class redemptions!

I value Starpoints at 2.2 cents each, so that’s like placing a value of ~1.76 cents on transferred miles. I’ve purchased Alaska miles for more than that for years. Actually, the 1:1.25 transfer ratio is sort of the basis off of which I value Starpoints.

When the Marriott Rewards and Starwood Preferred Guest programs merge, the biggest question is at what rate the points will convert. Surely not 1:1. Hopefully not 1:2 (SPG:Marriott). I’d say 1:3 or 1:4 would be fairer. This will be a really interesting thing to see, as I don’t recall the last time we saw major loyalty programs with different points “values” merge.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that it’s “business as usual” for me when it comes to redeeming Starpoints:

  • We have at least another six months of SPG (I would guess the program will run through at least the end of 2016, maybe even longer)
  • I expect we’ll get notice of any changes, so worst case scenario we can transfer points to airline miles at a 1:1.25 ratio
  • Aside from what the new program benefits will look like as such, the biggest thing we should worry about when it comes to the value of our points is at what rate Starpoints will convert into Marriott Rewards points

My Starpoints redemptions this year

I only very rarely redeem Starpoints, at least up until this year. This year I’ve actually redeemed quite a few Starpoints.

Starpoints-Redemptions

These included:

  • I transferred 120,000 Starpoints to Alaska Mileage Plan (which turned into 150,000 Alaska Miles)
  • I redeemed for a few Cash & Points nights in Germany when visiting my family, so they could also stay with me
  • I redeemed 78,000 Starpoints for a stay at Al Maha, possibly my favorite redemption of Starpoints ever
  • Don’t ask about the Disney redemption 😉

Al-Maha-Resort-Dubai - 5
Al Maha Desert Resort in Dubai

My upcoming 120,000 Starpoints redemption

What I realized after my redemption at Al Maha was that while some redemptions are super expensive, they’re also super memorable. I’d rather redeem Starpoints a few times for really awesome properties rather than all the time for more run-of-the-mill properties.

For example, a couple of years ago I redeemed 140,000 Starpoints to take my parents to the St. Regis Bal Harbour for Christmas. It was one of my favorite travel memories, as we also took our dog, Lucky, who passed away shortly after the trip. So it’s a trip I’ll cherish forever.

St-Regis-Bal-Harbour-1
Gorgeous St. Regis Bal Harbour

While parting ways with 28,000 Starpoints was rough, it was certainly better than the paid rate of ~$1,500 per night (including tax).

St-Regis-Bal-Harbour-Rate

Which brings me to my next aspirational redemption. I’ve long been fascinated by the W Verbier, which looks like a stunning property in the Alps (about a two hour drive from Geneva).

W-Verbier
W Hotel Verbier, Switzerland

In summer the rates are somewhat reasonable, while in winter the rates are insane, upwards of $1,000 per night.

W-Verbier-Rate-1

This is a Category 7 Starwood property, meaning a free night redemption costs 30,000 Starpoints per night. If you factor in fifth night free, the cost is lowered to 24,000 Starpoints per night.

W-Verbier-Rate-2

Full disclosure: I don’t actually like skiing (or perhaps more accurately I’m terrified of it), but I do love beautiful views and warm alcoholic beverages. Combine the two and it seems like a pretty cool experience. While I’ve been to plenty of mountainous places, I’ve never done anything I’d call a “ski vacation” (with or without actually skiing).

As far as “value” goes:

  • I value 24,000 Starpoints at less than ~$1,000
  • That being said, I’d never pay $1,000 to stay at this hotel, so that’s not the “true” value to me
  • Using my valuation of 2.2 cents per Starpoint, 24,000 Starpoints per night is like paying ~$528 per night
  • That’s still more than I’d be willing to pay to stay here, but that’s sort of the beauty of points sometimes — we don’t always act rationally when redeeming them, but I also do always say that the best use of Starpoints is something which makes for a memorable experience

Point being, I’m not actually sure I’d book this stay without the upcoming merger. While I’m not worried about the value of points, there’s something which makes me say “might as well make the most of stuff while the SPG system is a certain thing.”

And for that matter, if anyone has been to Verbier, I’d love to hear what you think — is it worth a visit in winter for the views?

Bottom line

I guess my point can be summed up as follows:

  • I’m not worried about the value of my Starpoints decreasing immediately, since a large part of my Starpoints valuation is based on the ability to convert them into airline miles; since we’ll presumably get some notice of changes, we can always transfer them before the programs merge
  • While I try to be a “numbers guy” with points, there is some “mystery” element to them which allows us to redeem them in non-ideal ways, at least based on crunching numbers; after all, the best thing you can redeem points for is a memorable experience, even if the math doesn’t check out as cleanly as a less “aspirational” redemption

How are you feeling about Starpoints in light of the upcoming merger? Are you redeeming them as fast as you can, or like me are you not worried, since presumably you can transfer them to airline miles before anything major happens? Am I crazy for wanting to redeem 120,000 Starpoints for a five night stay at the W Verbier?

Comments

  1. How in the world are you amassing that many SPG points? It can’t possibly be through sign up bonuses because of AmEx’s one time policy.

  2. If they do give 3 to 1 SPG to Marriott points wouldn’t this make top end redemptions cheaper. This is assuming the award chart stays the same (which I am sure it will not at least not for long). You take this 30000 spg per night hotel and that would be 90,000 marriott points after the conversion…Marriott’s top level is 45k a night so you could get 2 nights for what you are paying for 1 night right now…maybe a silver lining if they keep their chart with the same levels.

  3. SPG Cat 7 (30k-35k) would have to map to MR Tier 5 (70k). Thus the worst SPG redemptions would only stay the same at 2:1.

  4. As a Marriott elite I find it so much easier to earn large amounts of Marriott points from stays based on how they pay out – 5x points using a Marriott/Ritz credit card, 10x points on every dollar spent, etc. so hopefully none of that will change in the merger. It is much harder to build up your SPG balance based on dollars spent at hotels, but SPG points are far more valuable (but harder to get)

    I think 1:3 would be very, very fair. 30k SPG points gets you the highest category while only 70k Marriott points gets you the highest tier Ritz (Tokyo, Hong Kong, etc.).

  5. SPG has the most limited elite program out there of the big guys. What are you talking about when you say Marriott has limited elite benefits. I often get upgraded to very nice rooms or suites. I get lounge access almost everywhere. I have valuable points redeemable for Travel packages that have a much better value than SPG points. What is missing from Marriott’s elite program?
    -4pm late checkout? I get this if I ask nicely.. at-least 2pm.
    -Suite upgrades – I get them more than 4 times per year…WAY more!!

    SPG – Rarely can you get a full breakfast PLUS points!
    – They don’t have any hotels, anywhere I go!
    -W hotels don’t have lounges
    -They have VERY limited premium brand options. i.e.:JW and Ritz TRUMP St Regis.

    Maybe there are some better values in SPG but it is not a big difference. Takes forever to earn SPG points on stays. I see the 15 points per Dollar spent going WAY farther than the 3 points SPG gives. I can’t say SPG points are worth 5x more.

  6. You also earn quite a bit of spg points with lots of cash stays throughout the year so blowing 120k is ok to me but doing it at a W property is a bit much to me. Not a big fan of W’s generally.

    Anyway have fun and hope the property is worth it!

  7. Just got started with the SPG Amex this fall. It will be interesting to see how and when they convert the programs, redemptions, etc. Going to try and make sure my points total is near a 20K mark so I can transfer and not lose any value if they get devalued.

    Your 120K redemption is totally up to you. If you feel like its a good redemption go for it. Maybe there is another property nearby you can book through another program for better value of your points.

  8. Agree with Mark completely. I have never redeemed Starpoints for hotel stays (with the exception of when they were giving a 35% discount for annual platinum gift redemption and free night certs). The real value is converting them to airline miles. Also, I believe no matter what conversion rate they use the above average properties will come out cheaper for hotel stay redemption after the merger.

  9. @Mark O – Interesting point, but I’d have to disagree. A top of the line SPG property blows away any top of the line Marriott property (including Autograph collection) from my experience. A more likely comparison would be between SPG’s flagship properties and category 6 or 7 Ritz Carlton properties, which are 60,000 or 70,000 Marriott points per night, respectively.

  10. @ Ryan — I said that Marriott delivers well on the elite benefits they promise. They don’t promise late check-out or suite upgrades, so when you get them it’s considered a positive. My point was that Starwood promises a lot more, though some may think they under deliver (like with suite upgrades, for example).

    As far as breakfast goes, Marriott doesn’t even offer complimentary breakfast at Courtyards, do they?

  11. Verbier, yes, beautiful scenery, and very good ski resort. The nightlife is quite good in high season too, when people get off their skis around 3:30-4pm until the little hours of the morning.

  12. True on Courtyards.. BUT I really enjoy Courtyards. they are an awesome options for easy in, easy out for Business Travel. when I travel for work I expense my breakfast anyway. I don’t use Courtyards in the US when I go on vacation! International courtyards bring a whole new option for SPG-goers. International Courtyard properties usually do offer free breakfast and some of the Courtyards in Asia are outstanding for 10-15K points. I did a 5 night stay in Courtyard Hong Kong with a beautiful corner room overlooking the Harbor on Point Savers for 80,000 points! There are no SPG properties in HK where you can stay 5 nights for any kind of value even close to that. Thats just an example. You need to dive into Marriott. There are just TONS and TONs of options everywhere. Also points and cash coming!

  13. Just back from W Verbier a week ago. Not a skier either, my partner did 2 half days on the slopes and we did a paragliding trip which I would highly recommend. Booked a spectacular room for 3 nights and the view was spectacular, they actually cut down a few trees that we’re hindering the view from our room during our stay. Overall the hotel was excellent, however not worth the prices they charge. It would defiantly be a hopping place in the height of the season. If your goal is views in the alps maybe the Intercontinental Davos would be an option to consider.

  14. As someone else said, I collect Starpoints for airline redemptions and my biggest fear is that Marriott will announce a no warning conversion at an unfavorable rate and leave no opportunity for transfers to clean out my account.

  15. Everyone must remember Travel Packages!!

    270,000 Marriott Points – 120,000 FF miles! or 132,000 United Miles
    PLUS 7 nights hotel
    270,000 Marriott Points get earned as fast as 54,000 star points when earning on Hotel stays.

    This is an amazing value! Can you get 120,000 -132,000 FF miles plus 7 nights hotel for 54,000 star points?

    Why is everyone ignoring these packages…they are the best value in the Hotel Industry.

  16. Don’t forget about travel packages.

    270,000 Marriott Points – 120,000 FF miles! or 132,000 United Miles
    PLUS 7 nights hotel
    270,000 Marriott Points get earned as fast as 54,000 star points when earning on Hotel stays.

    This is an amazing value! Can you get 120,000 -132,000 FF miles plus 7 nights hotel for 54,000 star points?

    Why is everyone ignoring these packages…they are the best value in the Hotel Industry.

  17. As a Lifetime SPG Platinum and 50k points shy of Lifetime Marriott Platinum, I can say with certainty that SPG Platimum is far, far better for me. Suite upgrades and ability to earn nights at aspirational destinations with half the credit card spend. 2pm is not 4pm, bigger room is not a suite..

    If you are converting them to airline miles, you aren’t getting enough airline miles. So many credit card bonus opportunities for airline miles, so few for hotel points.

    I never have a big starwood balance as they are what I plan my trip around. 15 days in Italy will run 320k points (5th night free, 5 nights at Gritti Palace, Westin Rome, Westin Florence). I’m working real hard to get back to 120k point balance for another 5 nights at the Gritti!

  18. OK..so even if you use only 3 nights..or gift the 7 nights to family or friend or employees like I usually do. The miles alone are an awesome value. BTW..good tip for those who love Spain. Book the AC Carlton for 7 nights by Atocha station in Madrid. Great hotel, Category 5 and you can explore Madrid or neighboring towns (Atocha station is right there) There are so many places I like using the 7 nights where you can be central without feeling stuck somewhere.

  19. W Verbier is awesome, but there is not much to do up there if you don’t ski, IMHO. Hopefully, you use SNAs and they give you a suite with a view into the valley. It was absolutely gorgeous when I was there and made my (surprise) engagement trip amazing.

  20. Being familiar with the Marriott business and merger integrations, I would expect a 1:2 transfer with >90% certainty. A 1:3 ratio would be somewhat unreasonable for the business actually, because there would be additional value unlocked in the transaction.

    I would place bets with 100% certainty that they will give advance warning of the transfer. What I am hopeful of is some innovation in the couple years prior to merging programs. I don’t expect the programs merging until at least end of 2017 if not 2018.

  21. Seriously- how can we earn that many SPG points? Churning? Earning on regular purchases? Help the lowly masses out here?

  22. @Ryan – do you have to stay 7 consecutive days or can you break it up into 2 trips or multiple rooms etc? Just wondering how you gift it to employees…do you just give one the entire 7 days?

  23. The biggest questions for the Marriott-Starwood merger are: (1) what will be the exchange rate between MR points and SPG points, (2) what elite privileges from SPG may be incorporated into MR, if any, and (3) will Marriott give us advance notice of the changes and exchange rate? I also assume a big question will be (4) what number of nights/stays will earn elite status in the new Marriott Rewards with so many more properties?

    Our author is assuming that Marriott will give us notice of changes. This is a big IF in today’s marketplace. Just ask Delta flyers. Thankfully, the prospect of alienating millions of extremely loyal SPG members probably means Marriott gives us some notice–but I am betting on 2-3 months at most. I am holding 500K SPG points STILL after redeeming/transferring 300K in the past 2 months; my husband still has 300K after redeeming/transferring 200K in the past 2 months. (I get so many because I have tons of SPG stays being SPG 100 nights, and I earn 6x/$1 with the SPG Amex; my husband gets so many because he puts much of his company’s business spend on his SPG Business Amex.)

    It is interesting to consider that for MR award redemptions, 70,000 MR points does get you a free night at a top tier 5 Ritz Carlton, while 45,000 MR points gets you a free night at a top tier 9 Marriott. For Marriott to ONLY consider hotel award redemptions, you can see how they may consider 1 MR:2 SPG to be fair since the top tier 7 SPG properties require 35,000 SPG points. Of course, SPG loyalists will point out that SPG points ALSO transfer 1:1.25 to so many different airlines that SPG points have added value beyond a normal MR point for hotel awards. My guess is that Marriott will exchange SPG points 2 or 3 to 1 MR point in the end. If it’s 2:1, you’ll see lots of SPG award redemptions and SPG transfers to airline miles–assuming Marriott gives advance notice. If it’s 3:1, you’ll see some but far less SPG award redemptions and SPG transfers to airline miles. I seriously doubt Marriott will give 4:1.

    @ Ryan above who claimed “JW Marriotts and Ritz Carltons trump St Regis” I am laughing at you. First, RC and StR are generally comparable, though in most cities with both, I think you’ll find the StR is almost always better reviewed/regarded. Either way, there is no trumping between both of those very luxurious brands. Second, JW Marriott is considered the more affordable luxury option in Marriott’s family…and isn’t even close to being as luxury as either RC or StR. Nice try, but you don’t have any idea about which you are talking. Third, SPG ALSO brings Luxury Collection hotels to the portfolio, and many of those are among the tops in their class and easily comparably luxurious to most RC and StR properties. Not every LC property is as luxurious as most RC and StR, but most are. Fourth, SPG ALSO brings W hotels to the portfolio–and outside the USA, most W hotels are as comparably luxurious as most JW Marriotts. (In the USA, that isn’t true.) SPG has the best luxury hotel portfolio of any points loyalty hotel groups. That’s why Marriott’s CEO now can brag that the merger will give Marriott indisputable top bragging rights about owning the luxury and upper upscale market–and he specifically mentioned StR, Luxury Collection, AND W hotels when discussing luxury brands that will remain after the merger.

    Many MR members are more accustomed to staying at upscale and midscale hotels, since more of Marriott’s portfolio is with those categories of hotels. Many SPG members are more accustomed to staying at upper upscale and luxury hotels, since far more of SPG”s portfolio is in those categories. That means more SPG elites will be thinking about awards at luxury/upper upscale hotels while more MR elites will be considering awards at upscale to midscale hotels.

    One thing we all know: airline transfers are almost certain to be nixed…unless Marriott really shocks us all!

    I also expect the newly merged MR to eventually require the same 50 nights for MR Gold status and either 75 or 100 nights for MR Platinum status with the addition of so many SPG members and hotels. MR might even create 25 nights at Silver, 50 nights at Gold, 75 nights at Platinum, and create a new 100 nights category of Diamond–which also allows it to incorporate some current SPG elite benefits into the MR program for the very best customers.

  24. Try Tambo del Inka in Peru, Convento de Espinhero in Portugal (the new upgraded rooms) or Marques de Riscal in Spain. Memorable experiences and great platinum benefits.

  25. Nicholas Murray–pretty impressive service that they actually cut down some trees for you to help your view during your stay. Must have been a call to the whatever/whenever line…

  26. All my SPG redemptions tend to be at the 3,000-4,000 level and the 7,000 level. At Marriott that would map out to 15,000 points or 25,000. So 3:1 would be a bit of a screw job. 4:1 would be about right. 2:1 would force me to clean out and jump ship. That’s assuming there is fair warning. If I were the bean counter at Marriott I would devalue without any notice to capture the most value for shareholders.

  27. Michale T. Not on our request just good timing I guess. That would have been a heck of a whatever / whenever request!

  28. Verbier? Yes! Yes! Yes! This time make sure to take a proper ski lesson. As a former ski instructor, the best advice I can give you is to sign up for a beginners lesson package for the 5 consecutive days. It’s amazing how much you can progress if you are able to learn (and immediately correct bad technique, therefore not forming bad habits to begin with) during a ski week. Definitely invest the Starpoints, and your time, into learning how to ski.

    If nothing else, I would very much like to see your write up. Please go to the W Verbier, and better yet, take the lessons!

  29. Take the chance Lucky! W Verbier is an incredible property – especially the food is extraordinary good. Don’t know about the ski area, but the hotel’s spa is very nice as well. The only drawback is its location being far away from the next airport…

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