At What Rate Will Starpoints Convert Into Marriott Rewards Points?

Yesterday I wrote a post entitled “Does The Merger Impact How I’m Redeeming Starpoints?” The premise of the post was that I’m not in a huge rush to redeem Starpoints despite the impending Starwood takeover by Marriott.

The reason I’m in no rush to redeem points is because a large part of my valuation of Starpoints comes from the ability to convert them into airline miles at a lucrative ratio. As long as they give us some advance notice of the integration, we can “cash out” our Starpoints at a decent value, in my opinion. Which is why I’m not rushing to redeem them.

In the post I speculated that Starpoints would be converted into Marriott Rewards points at a 1:3 ratio, which generated some really interesting conversation in the comments section, especially when it comes to redeem points at high end hotels. The comments really got me thinking…

How do earnings rates for Marriott and Starwood compare?

In theory you’d think the current rates at which you can earn points in both programs is the best indicator of the rates at which points will convert.

So let’s compare them.

Earning points for hotel stays

Starwood Preferred Guest members earn Starpoints for hotel stays at the following rates:

  • Base members: 2 points per dollar
  • Gold members: 3 points per dollar spent
  • Platinum members: 3 points per dollar spent

SPG-Benefits

Meanwhile Marriott Rewards members earn Marriott Rewards points at the following rates (which are a bit more complicated):

  • Base members: 10 points per dollar spent (5 at limited service)
  • Silver members: 12 points per dollar spent (6 at limited service)
  • Gold members: 12.5 points per dollar spent (6.25 at limited service)
  • Platinum members: 15 points per dollar spent (7.5 at limited service)

Furthermore, even at the properties which accrue 10 points per dollar, some count all qualifying charges, while others only count spend on room rate.

Marriott-Rewards-Earn-Points

So the two currencies don’t compare perfectly in that regard, but it’s as close as we can get to a comparison.

Earning points from credit cards

The Starwood American Express offers:

  • 1 Starpoint per dollar spent on every day purchases
  • 2 Starpoints per dollar spent on SPG hotels

The Marriott Rewards Visa offers:

  • 1 Marriott Rewards point per dollar spent on every day purchases
  • 5 Marriott Rewards points per dollar spent on Marriott hotels

Crunching the numbers

When you do a side-by-side comparison like this, it’s amazing how much the earnings rates vary based on the type of activity:

  • At full service properties, Marriott base members earn 5x as many points as Starwood base members
  • At full service properties, Marriott top tier elite members earn 5x as many points as Starwood top tier elite members
  • At limited service properties, Marriott base members earn 2.5x as many points as Starwood base members
  • At limited service properties, Marriott top tier elite members earn 2.5x as many points as Starwood top tier elite members
  • For every day credit card spend, Marriott and Starwood members earn the same number of points
  • For credit card spend at hotels, Marriott members earn 2.5x as many points as Starwood members

As you can see, the rate at which members of both programs accrue points varies significantly, ranging anywhere from earning the same number of points to earning 5x as many points.

My valuation of both points currencies

Personally I value Starpoints at ~2.2 cents each, and Marriott Rewards points at ~0.7 cents each.

So I think the “fairest” conversion rate would be 1:3. I know that would leave some SPG members unhappy, so I don’t think a 1:4 ratio is unreasonable either.

Unfortunately I wouldn’t be surprised if they converted points at a 1:2 ratio either. Not to put too much weight on a single blog comment, but reader MR left the following comment:

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.

I’m not taking it as fact or anything, but I do agree that I wouldn’t be surprised if they try to get away with a 1:2 conversion rate for points.

What do these transfer ratios mean for high end redemptions?

Here’s the Marriott Rewards chart for stays at Marriott properties:

Marriott-Chart

Here’s the Marriott Rewards chart for stays at Ritz-Carlton properties:

Ritz-Chart

Here’s the Starwood Preferred Guest chart for stays at Starwood properties:

Starwood-Chart

Here’s the potentially good news for SPG members. Assuming that Starwood category 7 properties will be priced at most as much as the top Ritz-Carlton properties, you’ll be paying at most 70,000 Marriott points per night for those stays.

Ritz-Carlton-Hong-Kong

At a 1:2 ratio that’s the same you’re paying now for “peak” dates at Category 7 properties. At a 1:3 ratio you’d come out significantly ahead. In theory many of those properties should price at lower levels, as Marriott’s highest redemption tier is 45,000 points. In other words, I wouldn’t expect W properties, for example, to price at Ritz-Carlton levels (St. Regis properties might, however).

SPG-35K

Both programs offer fifth night free, so at least there’s comparable value to be had there.

Bottom line

Given that it’s still early in the merger, I think this is the right time to start making clear what we, the members, think are the appropriate rates at which points should convert.

Marriott’s CEO, Arne Sorenson, recently posted a video reassuring members about the merger:

In the video, he said the following, word for word:

“To state the obvious, devaluing points or member benefits is not the way to preserve and strengthen these programs.”

I’ve long valued Starpoints at roughly three times as much as Marriott Rewards points, which I think is a fair valuation. On the whole I think it’s safe to say that Starwood Preferred Guest members are more worried about the merger than Marriott Rewards members. So if Marriott’s CEO really believes that devaluing points or member benefits isn’t the way to preserve or strengthen the program, I hope he’ll go with at least a 1:3 transfer ratio.

What do you think? What’s the “fair” ratio at which Starpoints should be converted into Marriott Rewards points?

I’ve set up a poll below, and am curious to see what you guys think. Of course feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section as well to explain!

At what rate should Starpoints be converted into Marriott Rewards points?

View Results

Comments

  1. I don’t think the conversion rate will matter because in no scenario will holders of Starpoints be better off converting to MR vs redeeming their points in the current program. Plan to burn your SPG points by end of 2016 and evaluate your earning options going forward once the combined program is announced.

  2. If anyone thinks 1:4 is going to happen, that’s insane. The best that can be hoped for is 1:3, but I’d say, as with all mergers, it’ll be less than everyone wants and be 1:2. That makes sense with top tier comparisons – 35k vs 70k.

    Plus, it’s a lot easier to accrue Marriott points as you mentioned, so I really think SPG lovers will be very happily surprised with how easy they can rack up award redemptions if Marriott keeps the same earnings rates. May not love the program as much, but well, nothing is ever perfect with a merger.

  3. The best would be to convert marriott points 3:1 to spg points. In other words, keep the spg program as is, and keep the starwood branding for the loyalty program. Marriott’s starwood program.

  4. The break-even ratio is 1:3.5 for me, for exactly one reason: Transfer Ratio to airlines (Alaska for me particularly, but same ratio for AA, Delta, BA… etc). 25K miles for the above airlines requires either 20K Starpoints, or 70K Marriott reward points. Any ratio short of 1:3.5, I am cashing out.

    I concur that earning-to-reward ratio is not bad in Marriott for hotel stays. My biggest problem with the program merger are (1) existing Starpoints (2) SPG credit card. Marriott credit card sucks.

  5. I think a phased approach could work well. At Jan 1, 2017 stays at SPG properties earn Marriott Rewards. No more earning of SPG points including credit card. To wind down the points, in all of 2017 you could convert to 1:2 but also have the airline transfer option. In 2018, from Jan 1 through Jun 30th, you can still convert 1:2 but airline transfer option goes away. At July 1, 2018 all points convert 1:1. That’s over a year-and-a-half to use your points and the best use maintains itself for a full year.

  6. Ben, you blew it forgetting the 4th point for Plat75s (which makes the comparison vs. Marriott Plats a bit better).

    I earn 6 points/dollar at SPG (including using the CC), and once you factor in the Plat amenity and Green Choice option, it’s more like 8 or 9 points/dollar. Thus the differential vs. Marriott is much lower, like 2.5x (nowhere near 5x).

  7. Another burning question on my mind is how will the merger impact lifetime status with Marriott. Will the converted SPG points and nights be additive to what you have with Marriott already.

  8. I think instead of looking at high end redemptions, consider that the majority of “regular everyday non-travel-blog-reader” members redeem for more stays at lower tier hotels. If you compare category 1-2 Marriott hotels vs SPG category 1-2, you’re looking at 3,000-4,000 SPG points vs 7,500-10,000 Marriott points (slightly less if you take SPG weekends and/or Marriott PointSavers into account). This results in exactly a 1 to 2.5 ratio for both programs, and I’d say a pretty good indicator of what the actual transfer ratio will be.

  9. I agree that the analysis should be done based on value–points required at comparable hotels. That’s probably more in the 2.5x, I’d guess. I suspect your 2.2 cent valuation is heavily driven by the favorable airline transfer. But for those with sufficient balances, Marriott offers a very favorable transfer program. In January 2017 (I hope), I will get a companion pass by transferring 270k points to their vacation program, whatever it’s called. That gets me 120k SW points (worth about 1.5 cents each, or $1,800) and 7 nights in a category 5 hotel (let’s call that $900, because I may not use all 7 nights). So, I’m getting $2,700 of value, or 1.0 cents per point, PLUS a companion pass for 2 full years. I’d love to get 3x, but that may be part of the hidden value that Marriott is referring to.

  10. I definitely wouldn’t put any merit in the CEO’s comments about devaluing points not being a good strategy. Obviously he has to say that but whatever works out financially for the merger and is thought to be tolerable for a reasonable percentage of members is what will happen.

  11. The interesting thing about SPG is that though their base earning rates for hotel stays are quite low, they often have bonuses in effect for much of the year — almost all of my SPG stays for the past couple of years have earned at least double points (2 extra points per dollar spent). I don’t have a good feel for how often Marriott offers such promotions since I don’t stay at Marriotts much, but I certainly don’t think I’ve heard of anywhere near as many promotions. So an assessment of the transfer taking into account the fact that many earned SPG points may have been at higher rates of earning per dollar spent could suggest a less favorable ultimate transfer ratio.

    The assessment of high-end property redemption rates is somewhat encouraging, though since SPG has a much larger high-end portfolio than Marriott does I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if a few new higher categories were added for redemptions at the top end of the spectrum.

  12. It is possible things play out a bit differently given the economics of the two chains. Marriott in general is a lower end chain than Starwood, and accordingly probably has lower margins on its properties. As a result Starwood it able to offer a greater incentive to stay at its properties to attract less price sensitive customers. If Marriott understands that, it will create a true two tier program for higher cost brands – Ritz, JW, St.Regis, W…

    It can create a more liberal reward program for the higher end properties and a more modest one for the lower end ones. It can use the higher end properties to provide aspiration awards for the lower program offering periodic sales to allow them to get more bang for their point buck so to speak. The higher end clients can continue to benefit from the greater margins at the higher end program with a more generous reward structure.

    When Marriott only owned Ritz, and JW such a seperate program was probably not needed. With the significant investment in the high end client base from Starwood, it may require such an investment.

  13. “To state the obvious, devaluing points or member benefits is not the way to preserve and strengthen these programs.”

    Except, as you are well aware, they did exactly that to their own program, at least 3 years in a row.

  14. Marriott directs their promotions to benefit the low tier customers. Their new promotion, much like all of their promotions in recent years, awards a free night in tier 1-4 properties after 2 paid stays. Most major cities have no tier 1-4 properties. Even a Fairfield is often a tier 5 due to the regular devaluations. Although these free night promotion awards are easy to earn, they are difficult to use, at least where I travel. If Marriott applies to SPG this policy of rewarding stays at higher priced hotels with free nights at entry level properties, the better spending SPG customers will flee in droves.

  15. Marriott rewards 2:1 to new program, Spg 1:2 to same. Adjust rewards chart accordingly, no need for 9 categories

  16. Any thoughts on what can happen to the stays/nights accumulated at SPG? Would be great if they transfer as well and count towards the lifetime status at Marriott

  17. @ Scott — Anything is possible in theory, but I *highly* doubt it, given how much bigger Marriott’s global portfolio is.

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