Marriott and Starwood have merged. With admirable speed, Marriott has announced that you can now status match between the two rewards programs and transfer your Marriott points to Starpoints or vice versa, and that the programs will remain separate until at least 2018.
I’ll break down the news from the perspective of how to maximize the separate programs.
Status Match Angle
This one is a no-brainer. Link your Marriott Rewards and Starwood Preferred Guest accounts now, so that any status you have in either program matches to the other program.
For instance, I am an SPG Gold member, and now I am Marriott Gold member too.
That’s pretty nice since Marriott Gold is better than SPG Gold and includes free breakfast and club access.
Below is a table of how the statuses match. The only complaint would be from top-top tier elites who only match the top of the other program and not the enhanced top of the other program reserved for those who spend half their lives in hotels.
United has a partnership with Marriott. If you’re United Gold or higher, you get Marriott Gold Status, which means you can match to SPG Gold also and have mid-tier status at two chains without ever having made a paid stay.
If you’re a Marriott Platinum member, you get United Silver elite status. So if you have SPG Platinum, match to Marriott Platinum and claim your United Silver status.
American Express Platinum Angle
If you have any American Express Platinum (the best one is currently the Mercedes-Benz AMEX Platinum), you can get free SPG Gold status–that’s how I have mine. You can match that to Marriott Gold Status.
Combining Stays for Status?
Sorry, no dice here. (The third loyalty program referenced is Ritz-Carlton Rewards, which has been maintained separately of Marriott Rewards despite the companies’ prior merger.)
Points Transfer Angle
Once you link your accounts, you can transfer from Marriott to SPG at a 3:1 ratio or the other way at a 1:3 ratio. There are a lot of times you’d want to do this.
If you have an upcoming hotel stay that you want to book with points, go to both sites and check your award options. All other things equal, if the Marriott option is less than three times the number of points, you might want to transfer from SPG to Marriott to make the booking. But if the Marriott option is more than three times the number of points, you might want to transfer from Marriott to SPG.
At the top end, Marriott free hotel nights will be a better deal. At the bottom end, SPG free nights will often be a better deal.
SPG to Marriott for Hotel + Air (including Southwest Companion Pass)
The best value redemption of Marriott points is Hotel + Air packages. You redeem a certain number of Marriott points for seven free nights at a Marriott or Ritz Carlton hotel plus a certain number of miles in the airline program of your choosing. Here is the chart to convert Marriott points to Southwest Rapid Rewards.
Along the left, you see the Category of the Marriott hotel or Tier of the Ritz Carlton hotel where you’d get your seven free nights. Along the top, you see the number of Southwest points you’d get.
For 270,000 Marriott points, transferred from 90,000 Starpoints, you can get a week in a Category 5 Marriott and 120,000 Rapid Rewards and a Southwest Companion Pass valid until December 31 of the next year.
The Rapid Rewards are worth about 1.4 cents each ($1,680), and the Companion Pass gets a designated person onto Southwest flights for free (plus taxes of $5.60 one way on domestic flights and a little more internationally) every time you fly Southwest, whether you book your ticket with cash or your 120,000 new Southwest points.
Read more about the Southwest Companion Pass (and other ways to get it) here. For those with a regular companion who like to go where Southwest flies, the Companion Pass is the best deal in travel.
To maximize this deal, you’d want to redeem for the Hotel + Air package in January 2017 or January 2018 to get the companion pass for two full years. Redeeming now would get the Companion Pass for only 15 months.
If you don’t want a Southwest Companion pass, you can redeem a Hotel + Air package for dozens of airlines’ miles.
You get 10% more miles if you choose United miles because of the special Marriott-United relationship.
18,667 SPG to Marriott to 25,000 United Miles
While SPG points have a great transfer rate of 20,000 Starpoints = 25,000 miles with a few dozen airlines–my favorites being Asiana, American, and Alaska–United is not on that list. Twenty thousand Starpoints is a measly 12,500 United miles.
Now, with an intermediate step, you can turn SPG points into United miles at a better rate.
- Transfer 19,000 SPG points to 57,000 Marriott points
- Transfer 1,000 Marriott back to 333 Starpoints (necessary step because the starting amount of transfers from each program has to be an even thousand)
- Transfer 56,000 Marriott (18,667 Starpoints) to 25,000 United miles
Or you can turn 8,000 Starpoints into 10,000 United miles.
I value SPG points at 2.5 cents and Marriott points at 0.8 cents.
My SPG valuation is pretty steady no matter how many you have because SPG points are valuable for free nights, Cash & Points stays, transfers to airline miles, SPG moments, and Nights & Flights awards.
My Marriott valuation changes a lot depending on how many you have. If you only have a few thousand, you can really only redeem for free nights, and I’d value your points around 0.5 cents. If you have enough to book Hotel + Air packages, a few hundred thousand points or more, then I’d value the points at 0.8 cents or even higher.
Your valuations may differ.
Under my valuations, there is some value in transferring 3 Marriott points to 1 SPG point. If you’re afraid that transfers will be cut off without notice, or the ratio will change, maybe you should transfer speculatively. I don’t see either thing happening, though, so I think there is no point in speculative transfers. Keep your balances as they are until you see an arbitrage opportunity for on an immediate redemption.
Credit Card Angle
Until at least 2018, we will see the Marriott and SPG credit cards stick around.
You’ll want to get all the cards before 2018 when one or more might be killed off. Right now the SPG personal and business cards each offer 25,000 SPG points after spending $3,000 in the first three months. The Marriott card offers 87,500 Marriott points after spending $3,000 in the first three months and adding an authorized user.
After meeting minimum spending requirements, you’d have:
- 56,000 SPG and 90,500 Marriott points
- or 86,000 SPG points
- or 258,500 Marriott points (which is just $4,000 more in spending on an SPG card short of the best Hotel + Air package values which cost 270,000 points)
In the long run, it’s bad for our rewards when hotels or airlines merge. It means less competition and less need for the airlines or hotels to offer lucrative rewards programs.
But for the next two years or more, there will be a lot of ways to take advantage of the Marriott-Starwood merger by combining points and matching status.