Ever since the merger between Marriott and Starwood was announced, one of the biggest questions from frequent guests has been what the combined loyalty program will look like. In general it seems to be Starwood Preferred Guest members who are more worried than Marriott Rewards members. What could “combined” elite benefits look like, and also, at what rate will Starpoints convert into Marriott Rewards points?
Marriott’s management has been saying all the right things, but then again, that’s usually the case with mergers. It has been announced that the Marriott Rewards and Starwood Preferred Guest programs probably won’t merger until 2018, which means we get at least another full year of SPG.
However, it’s quite promising to see that Marriott Rewards is adding some elite benefits prior to that.
Marriott announces three new elite benefits
Marriott Rewards has just announced three new benefits, which happen to be three of my favorite things offered by Starwood:
- The new Marriott Rewards experiences marketplace gives all members, including The Ritz-Carlton Rewards members, even more access to a collection of unique, curated experiences.
- For an initial group of Elite members of Marriott Rewards, a new Elite concierge service will provide them with a dedicated concierge so that their travel experience is both seamless and tailored to their individual needs.
- Guaranteed late checkout will give Gold and Platinum Elite members of Marriott Rewards and The Ritz-Carlton Rewards increased flexibility and peace of mind when they travel.
Let’s look at these perks in more detail:
Guaranteed late checkout
Here’s how Marriott describes the new late check-out benefit:
The guaranteed late checkout benefit will be available to Gold and Platinum Elite members of both Marriott Rewards and The Ritz-Carlton Rewards who will enjoy a more seamless travel experience when planning their trip. These members will receive a guaranteed late checkout, which could be as late as 4pm. Members can request the late checkout when making a reservation by phone, when checking in using the Marriott Mobile app, or upon arrival at the hotel. This benefit is available at all fully participating Marriott Rewards hotels with the exclusion of resorts, convention hotels and Marriott Vacation Club. Marriott Rewards and The Ritz-Carlton Rewards will continue to offer Silver Elite members the benefit of requesting late checkout on their day of departure. Guaranteed late checkout launches globally on May 16.
As you can see, this perk kicks in on May 16. Gold and Platinum members will receive guaranteed 4PM check-out, except at resorts, convention hotels, and timeshare properties. These are the same restrictions that Hyatt and Starwood have on their 4PM late check-out benefit.
I have to be honest, I’m very pleasantly surprised to see Marriott introducing this. It’s a perk which is actually not easy for hotels to deliver on at times. And I think Marriott could even have gotten away with not offering it. Hilton and IHG don’t offer guaranteed late check-out, and those are the two other large competitors they have.
Kudos to Marriott on this, I’m very impressed. At this point Hilton is probably going to be forced to offer 4PM check-out as well.
Here’s how Marriott describes the experiences marketplace:
With the experiences marketplace, all Marriott Rewards and The Ritz-Carlton Rewards Members can pursue their passions by choosing from a wide array of curated special events and opportunities for discovery. Whether it’s tickets to one of the hottest shows on Broadway; a once-in-a-lifetime chance to hang out with your favorite sports team; or a private cooking lesson or wine tasting with a world-famous chef or sommelier, members can redeem Marriott Rewards or The Ritz-Carlton Rewards points to access a marketplace of unique experiences that allow them to explore their personal interests in the most meaningful and memorable ways. The experiences marketplace will be available globally to all members in late May.
As you can see, this will be available starting in May, and presumably will be similar to SPG Moments. In 99% of instances I think the best use of airline miles is for flights, and the best use of hotel points is for hotel stays or in some cases, airline mileage transfers.
SPG Moments is an exception, as it gives you access to some incredible experiences. I’ve used SPG Moments packages to attend an Adele concert at The O2 in London, and I’ve had a seat in the SPG Suite at the US Open. Both were awesome experiences, so I’m happy to see Marriott is adopting the concept.
Elite concierge service
Here’s how Marriott describes the elite concierge service:
An initial group of Elite members of Marriott Rewards will be invited to participate in a new Elite concierge service. By developing a relationship with the member, the concierge will be able to anticipate their unique needs, ensuring the member’s preferences are recognized and their desires are met before, during, and even after their stay. The concierge will be able to reserve on-property amenities like restaurants, spa treatments and golf, as well as make arrangements for special occasions. The service will launch in late May first for U.S. members of Marriott Rewards traveling worldwide and will continue to expand. Marriott Rewards will actively engage with this group of charter members and seek their feedback to refine the service.
We don’t know who will be part of this “initial group,” though it’s nice to see that Marriott is open to the idea of Starwood’s Ambassador program, which I’m a member of and love.
Long term if this program continues, I do have to wonder at what threshold it would be offered. Starwood requires 100 elite qualifying nights to get access to Ambassador service, though top tier status with Starwood only takes 50 nights per year. Meanwhile Marriott’s top tier status requires 75 nights, so would Ambassador service require 125 nights per year?
Treats from my Starwood Ambassador
I’m very impressed by the changes Marriott is making. Marriott is taking over Starwood, but they’re adopting three of my favorite parts of the SPG program. While I don’t want to be naive and think that the combined program will actually take the best from both programs, they are actually adopting three very good aspects of the SPG program here. And it’s impressive to see this is being added long before the two programs are even expected to merge.
Now the big question remains about suite upgrades…
What do you make of Marriott Rewards adopting some aspects of the SPG program?