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Marriott’s takeover of Starwood is expected to close in the next 48 hours. While the impact for investors will be immediate, as customers nothing should change overnight. Instead we’re left with tons of questions about the future of Marriott Rewards and Starwood Preferred Guest, which we’ll hopefully get answers to soon.
In general I think most Marriott Rewards members view this takeover as a positive thing, since they’re unlikely to experience a reduction in elite benefits, and now have access to more hotels. At the same time, most Starwood Preferred Guest members view this takeover as a negative thing, given that it will undoubtedly lead to a reduction in elite benefits. If we wanted to be loyal to Marriott we would have done so all along, given that it’s significantly easier to be loyal to them, since they have hotels just about everywhere.
How this is likely to play out
Given that this is truly a takeover of Starwood by Marriott (it doesn’t feel like a merger of “equals,” unfortunately), realistically I suspect Marriott Rewards will be the surviving program, without many changes. I don’t think the current structure of Starwood Preferred Guest will survive, and if anything I think we’ll just see some minor tweaks to Marriott Rewards.
We’ve already seen Marriott introduce some new elite benefits to match Starwood, and ultimately I hope we see some more benefits introduced. However, big picture I suspect the new program will look very similar to Marriott Rewards, rather than similar to Starwood Preferred Guest.
Of course this doesn’t address at what rate Starpoints will be converted into Marriott Rewards points, in what way elite tiers will be matched from one program to the other (will Starwood Platinum get you Marriott Platinum since they’re both top tier, or will Starwood Platinum only get you Marriott Gold, since both require 50 elite qualifying nights per year?), etc.
Will top tier status with Marriott even be worth it?
Starwood only has two elite tiers — Gold and Platinum — and there’s a huge difference between the two.
The same isn’t true at Marriott, which has three elite tiers, with the following benefits:
As you can see, on paper there’s not much of a difference between Gold and Platinum status, except:
- Platinum status offers 48-hour guaranteed reservations, though it’s not a benefit I’ve ever used at any hotel chain, since the rates tend to be exorbitant
- Platinum members receive a 50% points bonus, rather than a 25% bonus
- Platinum members receive a welcome bonus, which is a nice touch, but hardly something worth going out of your way to earn
Of course in theory Platinum members get preferential upgrades, though when suite upgrades based on availability aren’t a published benefit, it’s not worth going out of your way to earn status for something you’re not entitled to, in my opinion.
For me, guaranteed late check-out and free breakfast/lounge access are the most important perks, and both tiers come with that.
What that means for status qualification
With the above in mind, there are two useful ways to earn status Marriott through credit card spend.
The Marriott Rewards® Premier Credit Card offers 15 elite qualifying night credits towards status annually, plus an additional elite qualifying night for every $3,000 spend on purchases, with no caps. This means you earn:
- Silver status as long as you have the card (since it requires 10 elite qualifying nights)
- Gold status if you spend $105,000 per year on the card (since it requires 50 elite qualifying nights)
- Platinum status if you spend $180,000 per year on the card (since it requires 75 elite qualifying nights)
But there’s another option. Ritz-Carlton Rewards is a parallel loyalty program to Marriott Rewards, and offers all the same elite benefits. In other words, Marriott Rewards and Ritz-Carlton Rewards members are treated equally at all properties. However, Ritz-Carlton’s co-branded credit card, The Ritz-Carlton Rewards® Credit Card, makes it much easier to earn status:
- Receive Ritz-Carlton Rewards Gold status for your first account year
- Maintain Ritz-Carlton Rewards Gold status in subsequent years when you spend $10,000 on the card
- Achieve Ritz-carlton Rewards Platinum status when you spend $75,000 on the card in a year
Assuming that Starwood Preferred Guest is in fact going to be integrated into Marriott Rewards without a substantial change in benefits, and assuming the Ritz-Carlton Rewards program continues to be run in a parallel fashion, I’ll simply maintain Gold status for my Marriott stays by spending $10,000 per year on The Ritz-Carlton Rewards® Credit Card. If Marriott does in fact introduce more useful Platinum benefits, then I’ll try to find a way to put $75,000 of spend on the card.
Assuming the Ritz-Carlton Rewards and Marriott Rewards programs continue to run parallel, then then The Ritz-Carlton Rewards® Credit Card will hands down be the best way to earn and maintain status for the world’s largest hotel chain. It’s amazing how nowadays you can get useful hotel status without actually spending many nights with a chain.
Similarly with Hilton, you get Gold status for as long as you have the Citi® Hilton HHonors Reserve Card, and get Diamond status if you spend $40,000 on the card in a year. However, much like with Marriott, there’s not much differentiation between top tier and mid tier status.
Of course there are still a lot of unknowns, but is anyone else generally planning on trying to use the Ritz-Carlton credit card to earn status with the combined Marriott & Starwood going forward?
Non-Affiliate Product Disclaimer: The information for the Marriott Rewards Premier Credit Card has been collected independently by One Mile At A Time. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.