At the beginning of the week we learned the details of Marriott’s new loyalty program, which will be introduced this summer. The new program is getting a mixed response. Personally I feared the worst prior to the news, so I’m pleasantly surprised by the program. Am I happy that Marriott is taking over “my” Starwood? Nope. But at the same time, I think the new program could have been significantly worse, so I’m happier than I was expecting to be, I guess.
I’ve spent the past few days pondering the impact this new program will have on me, and figured I’d share where I’m at on things.
My history with Starwood
SPG is my favorite hotel loyalty program, and I’ve been a loyal Platinum member for eight years. For the past three years I’ve had an SPG Ambassador, meaning that I’ve earned 100+ elite qualifying nights per year (I earn 10 elite qualifying nights per year by having both the personal and business SPG Amex, so that translates to at least 90 “actual” nights per year).
My Starwood Ambassador is phenomenal
The biggest perk of earning 100 elite qualifying nights with SPG in a year is that you get an Ambassador. My Ambassador, Mike, is phenomenal. People have all kinds of experiences with this program, with some saying the program is useless, while others say it completely changes their experience. Of course this probably depends mostly on who is assigned as your Ambassador.
To me, Mike is a reason to stay loyal to the brand. I always feel like he’s watching over my reservations without being intrusive, and sometimes he surprises me in a way that can’t help but put a huge smile on my face. He’s also so incredibly efficient, and even though he works limited hours, I feel like he’s always on top of things.
He’s a huge asset to Starwood, and as far as I’m concerned he should be involved in the development of this program as it’s expanded to Marriott. They need more Mikes.
I’m almost Marriott/Starwood lifetime Platinum
Going forward I’ll have to decide whether I want to go for Platinum, Platinum Premier, or Platinum Premier with Ambassador. Under the new program, you receive lifetime Platinum status after earning 600 lifetime nights plus 10 years of Platinum status. I’m at eight years of Platinum status and am approaching 600 lifetime nights, so within two years I won’t have to worry about earning Platinum status, since I’ll have it for life.
The question will be if it’s worth going for Platinum Premier (75 nights) or Platinum Premier with Ambassador (100 nights).
How I’ll requalify for Starwood Platinum Ambassador this year
Under the new program, you need 100 elite qualifying nights plus $20,000 of qualifying spend to earn Ambassador status. This is the only elite status that comes with a revenue requirement. While the new program is being instituted this year, the good news is that you can qualify based on the old criteria if you stay exclusively with Starwood.
So as long as I earn 100 elite qualifying nights with Starwood directly this year (not factoring in any Marriott properties), then I’ll earn Platinum with Ambassador, even if I don’t spend $20,000. That’s something I plan to do, and it would get me the status through the beginning of 2020.
The $20,000 revenue minimum will be a stretch, especially next year
Let me start by saying that I get why they’re adding a revenue requirement, since presumably Marriott has a massive pool of elites who stay more than 100 nights per year, and they’d have a hard time offering a good program if they gave it to so many people.
On the surface, an average rate of $200 per night isn’t unreasonable, though this doesn’t consider:
- Going forward you’ll earn 15 elite qualifying nights per year for having a co-branded credit card
- As a Starwood loyalist with nearly a million Starpoints, I’m ready to redeem those points at good rates, and award rates don’t help you with the revenue requirement
In other words, I really only need 85 nights after the 15 offered by a co-branded credit card. Then I could easily see myself booking at least 20 nights worth of awards for stays next year. If that were the case, I’d only have 65 revenue nights in 2019, and at that point I’d need an average room rate of over $300 per night before taxes and fees, which seems very steep.
It will be even tougher next year than in the future. As of this August there will be some amazing award redemption opportunities, and I plan on booking a disproportionate number of nice SPG and Marriott properties on points, given the great opportunity we’ll have for this between August and December.
Is it worth bothering if you’re lifetime Platinum?
That brings me to my current situation. I’ll earn Platinum with Ambassador through the end of next year, and basically at that point I’ll also have lifetime Platinum status. There’s no higher lifetime status to shoot for, and at the same time I’m not sure I can rationally justify spending $20,000 with Marriott when I have so many points to redeem.
I might just move closer to being a “free agent” on the hotel front. I don’t think the difference between Platinum and Platinum Premier will be that huge, so at that point I feel like I’d rather focus more on independent hotels, and use Starwood and Marriott hotels when they’re otherwise the best option, rather than seeking them out.
As much as the new Marriott program is better than I was expecting, after putting some thought into it, I think it may make me less loyal to the brand. I’ll soon be lifetime Platinum, and with the spend requirement for Platinum with Ambassador being steep, given how many points I have to redeem, it just seems at that point it’s not worth being particularly loyal anymore.
The more I look at the new program, the more I feel like they’re not adding enough incremental benefits beyond “basic” Platinum. Staying 35 nights per year (plus 15 elite nights through the credit card) gets you Platinum status, though I feel like for the next 50+ elite nights, there’s not actually that much differentiation. I guess we’ll have to see how hotels differentiate between Platinum and Platinum Premier members.
What impact will the new program have on your loyalty to Marriott and/or Starwood?