The wait is finally over — today we’re learning the details of Marriott’s new loyalty program!
Marriott’s takeover of Starwood closed in September 2016, and I was impressed that from day one they offered reciprocal points transfers and status matching, which we’ve never seen from a program of this size before. Today Marriott has revealed the full details of their new loyalty program, as they merge Marriott Rewards, Ritz-Carlton Rewards, and Starwood Preferred Guest, into a single loyalty program.
There’s a lot of information here, so let’s get right to it.
Short version of Marriott’s new program
I’m sure a lot of you will want to read every last detail, though let me start with a summary. The future loyalty program being offered by Marriott is pretty close to what I envisioned the best case scenario to be. I’m so relieved and thrilled, because I was expecting things to be a lot worse. Is the new program perfect? No. But I actually think it’s pretty close.
Here are some of the major things to expect (lots more details below):
- There will be five elite tiers — Silver at 10 nights, Gold at 25 nights, Platinum at 50 nights, Platinum Premier at 75 nights, and Platinum Premier with Ambassador service at 100 nights plus $20,000 of spend
- All Platinum members and above will receive complimentary suite upgrades subject to availability at all properties
- Platinum members will receive five confirmed Suite Night Awards per year, and Platinum Premier members will receive a further five Suite Night awards per year
- Breakfast is being expanded to Courtyards and to resorts, and the only brands that won’t offer free breakfast are EDITION, Gaylord, Ritz-Carlton, Marriott Executive Apartments, and Marriott Vacation Club
- Airline mileage transfers are here to stay at the current rates
- The new lifetime status program is better than I was expecting, and no one should lose out too much here
That’s a very high level summary of what’s going on, so now we’ll take a deeper look at the program.
What Marriott announced today
Today Marriott has announced that they’re creating a single, unified loyalty program as of August 2018. With this, members will be able to earn and redeem points at all properties without having to transfer points, and will receive a unified set of elite benefits at all of these properties. Members will also make all bookings at marriott.com, which means that spg.com will no longer be used.
Furthermore, as of early 2019, Marriott will create a new name for their loyalty program, though that hasn’t yet been revealed.
New Marriott elite tiers
Going forward, Marriott will have five elite tiers, as follows:
- Silver Elite: 10-24 nights
- Gold Elite: 25-49 nights
- Platinum Elite: 50-74 nights
- Platinum Premier Elite: 75-99 nights
- Platinum Premier Elite with Ambassador service: 100+ nights plus $20,000 of qualifying spend
Essentially they’re maintaining qualifying tiers at all the levels that both Marriott and Starwood previously had.
I’d also note that going forward several co-branded credit cards will offer 15 elite qualifying nights per year just for having them (though this can’t be stacked, you can only earn a total of 15 nights per account per year). That means in conjunction with one of these cards, you only have to spend 35 nights per year at Marriott family properties to qualify for Platinum status. That’s quite attainable, especially when you consider Marriott’s footprint as the world’s largest hotel group.
For this year, Marriott will be matching elite tiers as follows:
As you can see, this is pretty generous for members this year, as many members will receive a higher tier than they have now. However, that’s only temporary, and valid for this year.
Furthermore, this year members can combine their elite qualifying nights across all three programs to qualify for status.
New Marriott elite benefits
So, what benefits can members can expect? Here are the perks by tier:
- 10% bonus points
- Priority late check-out, subject to availability
- Dedicated elite reservations line
- A 25% points bonus
- 2PM late check-out, subject to availability
- A welcome gift of points
- A room upgrade subject to availability, excluding suites
- A 50% points bonus
- Guaranteed 4PM late check-out, except at resorts (where it’s subject to availability)
- A welcome gift of points, breakfast, or an amenity
- A room upgrade subject to availability, including suites
- Executive lounge access
- Annual Choice Benefit (5 Suite Night Awards or gift option)
Platinum Premier Elite
- A 75% points bonus
- A further annual Choice Benefit (5 Suite Night Awards or gift option)
Platinum Premier Elite with Ambassador service
- Ambassador service
- Your24 (the ability to check-in and check-out over a 24 hour period, subject to availability)
To make things easier, here’s a chart comparing the elite benefits by tier:
The ability to select breakfast as the Platinum welcome amenity will be available at all brands except EDITION, Gaylord Palms, Ritz-Carlton, Marriott Executive Apartments, and Marriott Vacation Club.
Most notably, Courtyards will offer Platinum members free breakfast, which wasn’t previously the case. Furthermore, going forward breakfast will be an option at resorts as well, which Marriott previously excluded.
Earning points with Marriott
When this new program is launched, all Starpoints will be converted into Marriott Rewards points at a 1:3 ratio. Marriott claims that under the new program, members will be earning an average of 20% more points than before.
Members will earn 10 points per dollar spent with Marriott, so when you include elite bonuses:
- Base members will earn 10 points per dollar
- Silver members will earn 11 points per dollar
- Gold members will earn 12.5 points per dollar
- Platinum members will earn 15 points per dollar
- Platinum Premier members will earn 17.5 points per dollar
As a point of comparison, previously with Marriott Rewards:
- Base members earned 10 points per dollar
- Silver members earned 12 points per dollar
- Gold members earned 12.5 points per dollar
- Platinum members earned points 15 points per dollar
Meanwhile with SPG:
- Base members earned 2 Starpoints per dollar (6 Marriott Rewards points)
- Gold & Platinum members earned 3 Starpoints per dollar spent (9 Marriott Rewards points)
- Platinum 75 night members earned 4 Starpoints per dollar spent (12 Marriott Rewards points)
As you can see, for most Marriott Rewards members points earning is staying similar, while for SPG members we’re seeing a huge increase in points earning. As a 75+ night Platinum member with Starwood I’ll be earning 17.5 points per dollar spent rather than 12 points per dollar spent, which is nearly a 50% increase in points earning.
Here’s a chart comparing the earning rates across programs before and after:
Redeeming points with Marriott
Marriott will on average award 20% more points (most of which are going to SPG members), so what’s the catch? Is there going to be a huge award chart devaluation? Actually, no.
As of August 1, there will be a new award chart used for all hotels, with Categories 1-8. For the remainder of 2018, all hotels will have “standard” pricing, while starting in 2019 we’ll see both “off-peak” and “peak” pricing added, meaning that a given hotel can up to three levels of award pricing.
Here’s the new Marriott Rewards redemption chart (Marriott will continue to offer fifth night free redemptions, as before):
How does this compare to the current charts?
Right now Marriott Rewards charges the following number of points:
- Category 1: 7,500 points
- Category 2: 10,000 points
- Category 3: 15,000 points
- Category 4: 20,000 points
- Category 5: 25,000 points
- Category 6: 30,000 points
- Category 7: 35,000 points
- Category 8: 40,000 points
- Category 9: 45,000 points
Ritz-Carlton Rewards charges the following number of points:
- Tier 1: 30,000 points
- Tier 2: 40,000 points
- Tier 3: 50,000 points
- Tier 4: 60,000 points
- Tier 5: 70,000 points
Starwood Preferred Guest charges the following number of points (adjusted for the 1:3 transfer ratio):
- Category 1: 6,000-9,000 points
- Category 2: 9,000-12,000 points
- Category 3: 21,000 points
- Category 4: 30,000 points
- Category 5: 36,000-48,000 points
- Category 6: 60,000-75,000 points
- Category 7: 90,000-105,000 points
Perception of pricing probably varies depending on which program you’re coming from. From the perspective of an SPG member, the pricing is excellent, especially when you take into account that you’ll be earning lots more points under the new program.
From the perspective of Marriott Rewards and Ritz-Carlton Rewards, we’re potentially seeing some price increases, though in most cases they shouldn’t be too bad.
I think the big question will be which hotels will belong in which categories. Marriott is known for their annual award category changes, where we see more and more hotels get into higher categories. We’ll have to see which hotels go in which categories here. Hopefully all Category 9 Marriott Rewards properties don’t become Category 8 properties in the new program, since that would represent a 100% price increase in some cases. Instead, I hope that category is used primarily for select Ritz-Carlton and St. Regis properties.
Converting hotel points into airline miles
Starwood’s current mileage transfer option is here to stay. Going forward, you can convert Marriott Rewards points into airline miles at a 3:1 ratio, with a 15,000 point bonus for every 60,000 points transferred. This means that for all practical purposes, mileage transfer rates are staying the same (you used to be able to convert 20,000 Starpoints into 25,000 airline miles), which is fantastic news.
Marriott Hotel + Air Packages are also here to stay. However, I’m told that pricing on some of those packages may be changing in the near future, though the details of those changes haven’t yet been revealed.
New lifetime Marriott status rules
One of the things I’ve been concerned about is what happens with lifetime status going forward. This is something that personally impacts me, given that I’m pretty close to reaching SPG lifetime Platinum.
Under the new program, the thresholds to reach lifetime elite status will be as follows:
- Lifetime Silver Elite: 250 lifetime nights plus five years of elite status
- Lifetime Gold Elite: 400 lifetime nights plus seven years of Gold Elite status or higher
- Lifetime Platinum Elite: 600 lifetime nights plus 10 years of Platinum Elite status
Going forward there will be no opportunity to earn lifetime Platinum Premier or above, and lifetime Platinum members won’t receive the Choice Benefit, which includes Suite Night Awards. Furthermore, elite qualifying nights and status across all programs will be combined to calculate lifetime status.
How does this work for existing lifetime elite members?
- Lifetime SPG Gold members will become lifetime Marriott Gold members
- Lifetime SPG Platinum members will become lifetime Marriott Platinum members
- Lifetime Marriott Gold members will become lifetime Marriott Platinum members
- Lifetime Marriott Platinum members will be grandfathered as lifetime Marriott Platinum Premier members (a lifetime status that can’t be earned going forward)
I actually think that last point is extremely fair. Marriott Gold was significantly tougher to qualify for than SPG Gold, and also always included free breakfast and room upgrades. The requirement for the new Platinum tier is equivalent to the old requirement for the Gold tier, so it’s only fair that they’re offering those members lifetime Platinum.
Personally I feel good about this. I’m at eight years of Platinum with Starwood and about 550 nights, and I was worried this merger would screw up my prospects of getting lifetime Platinum status. That’s not the case at all, as I’ll be earning it at the same time.
New Marriott credit cards
Late last year we learned the basic details of the future credit card agreement for Marriott, and specifically how both American Express and Chase will be issuing Marriott credit cards in the future:
- Amex will offer super premium and small business cards
- Chase will offer mass consumer and premium consumer cards
So, what can we expect?
On May 3, the new Chase Marriott Rewards Premier Plus Credit Card will be introduced. The card will have a $95 annual fee and will offer:
- 6x Marriott Rewards points per dollar spent at participating properties and 2x points per dollar spent on all other purchases
- An anniversary free night certificate valid at any property retailing for up to 35,000 points per night
- 15 elite qualifying nights towards status annually
Then in August, the new SPG American Express Luxury Card will be introduced. The card will have a $450 annual fee and will offer:
- 6x points per dollar spent at participating hotels, 3x points per dollar spent on airfare and U.S. restaurants, and 2x points per dollar spent on all other purchases
- A $300 annual statement credit for on-property purchases
- An anniversary free night certificate valid at any property retailing for up to 50,000 points per night
- Automatic Gold status
- Platinum status when you spend $75,000 on the card in a year
- A Priority Pass Select membership
- A $100 Global Entry fee credit
That’s quite compelling, not for the return on everyday spend (which is worse than before), but rather for the $300 statement credit, Gold status, free night certificate valid at a property retailing for up to 50,000 points per night, and potential to earn Platinum status.
My thoughts on the new Marriott program
I’m breathing a big sigh of relief, and I’m so impressed here. This is pretty close to being the best possible scenario I could have envisioned.
Marriott is now the world’s largest hotel group, and in particular Marriott Rewards has a ton of super frequent guests, so I knew it would be a challenge to build a combined program. I had low expectations coming in, and this exceeds those expectations by a long shot.
Let’s start with the negatives. I’m disappointed that Marriott still isn’t offering breakfast at EDITION and Ritz-Carlton. C’mon, that’s just ridiculous. On principle I’ll be doing everything I can to avoid these properties, as they don’t deserve the revenue for their stinginess. Clearly they don’t value their company’s loyal guests, and I’ll make sure the feeling is mutual. That’s about the only complaint I have, though.
50 elite qualifying nights (which is really 35 nights if you have a co-branded credit card) gets you Platinum status with guaranteed late check-out, upgrades to the best rooms including standard suites, confirmed suite upgrades for five nights per year, and lounge access. This is on par with SPG Platinum benefits, and an improvement for Marriott Platinum members.
Points earning potential looks quite good under the program, and redemption rates seem fair. Airline mileage transfers are even sticking around in their current form, which is great news.
The $20,000 spend requirement for Ambassador is steep. It requires 100 elite qualifying nights, though when you factor in the 15 elite qualifying nights from a credit card, that’s just 85 nights. Let’s assume the average person has 10 award nights per year, meaning you really only spend 75 revenue nights per year with Marriott. That means you’d have to spend an average of nearly $270 per night pre-tax.
That’s steep, though I can also understand why they feel like they had to add a further requirement. There are tons of Marriott Rewards members who spend 100+ nights per year at limited service Marriotts and probably aren’t terribly high revenue. If Marriott wants to provide a proper, worthwhile Ambassador service going forward, I can see why they’d need to thin out the ranks a bit.
All things considered, well done, Marriott! As a Starwood guy, I didn’t think I’d be this pleased with the new program.
What do you make of Marriott’s new loyalty program?