As most of you probably know by now, the merger between Marriott and Starwood closed early this morning, and it’s already possible to status match and transfer points between Starwood Preferred Guest, Marriott Rewards, and Ritz-Carlton Rewards.
I commend Marriott and Starwood for the speed at which they’re moving, as I don’t remember any other merger of this size where customers had instant reciprocal benefits from day one.
The goal is to eventually merge all three loyalty programs into one. However, this likely won’t happen until 2018 at the earliest, so for the rest of this year and all of next year, these programs will be run independently.
What does this mean in practice?
We don’t know what the new program will look like
In 2018 (or whenever a new program is formed), we won’t simply see Starwood Preferred Guest and Ritz-Carlton Rewards folded into Marriott Rewards, but instead they’ll be creating a new program altogether. At least that’s how executives of both programs are explaining it.
Of course it’s possible that the new program looks similar to one of the current ones, but we don’t know that yet. For that matter, I doubt the program executives know yet either, as their focus up until now has been on rolling out the functionality that went live today.
You’ll still have to qualify for status independently
The good news is that if you’re Starwood Platinum you’re matched to Marriott Platinum, and vice versa. However, keep in mind that:
- You’re not earning Starwood elite stay & night credits for Marriott stays, and vice versa.
- You’ll still have to qualify for status with the programs individually, but can then status match. In other words, you still need to qualify for Starwood Platinum with 25 stays or 50 nights, or qualify for Marriott Platinum with 75 nights (you can’t “transfer” elite qualifying stays and nights between programs). Spending 60 nights with Marriott and 40 nights with Starwood (spread across fewer than 25 stays) wouldn’t get you Platinum status in either program.
We might see more reciprocal benefits soon
The above is what we’ve officially been told. Programs won’t merge until 2018 at the earliest, and while you can status match, you still need to qualify for status in an individual program based on elite qualifying nights with those respective brands.
That being said, I think we may see further reciprocal benefits and more changes before 2018. I suspect they’re trying to under promise and over deliver. Here’s what I’d speculate:
- I suspect eventually Starwood status will be recognized at Marriott properties, and vice versa, so you can start to earn elite qualifying nights and points in your preferred program without even having to status match
- Over time we might also see a change in partnerships and benefits of each program prior to a unified program launching; this would make the transition easier
There are still a lot of unknowns. While you’ll continue to be able to status match, as of now I’d count on having to qualify for status exclusively with Marriott or exclusively with Starwood through the end of next year. In practice I suspect true reciprocal recognition will be rolled out before then, though that’s just speculation on my part.
The Marriott Rewards & SPG teams have a lot of work ahead, and I think it goes without saying that they want to roll out these benefits as quickly and smoothly as possible. Now they just have to figure out what that looks like in practice.