Get Ready: The Marriott Starwood Loyalty Program Merger Will Be Here Sooner Than You Think!
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The Marriott – Starwood merger is well underway! And most recently, Marriott announced big changes to the Marriott Rewards, Starwood Preferred Guest, and Ritz-Carlton Rewards loyalty programs.
These changes take effect in August 2018 – just around the corner! So it’s time to take an in-depth look at what’s coming up so you can prepare your hotel travel strategy before then.
The information for the Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express has been collected independently by Million Mile Secrets. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.
Here’s a deeper dive into what’s changing, and what you need to do before all 3 loyalty programs are merged.
Marriott, Starwood, Ritz-Carlton Programs Merge August 2018
A Single Combined Award Chart
Starting in August 2018, Marriott will publish a new award chart of 8 categories. We don’t yet know which hotels will fall into each category, or when they will make those announcements.
For example, the most expensive Starwood hotels currently cost 35,000 Starwood points per night. Because you can transfer Starwood points to Marriott at a ratio of 1:3, these hotels cost an equivalent of 105,000 Marriott points (35,000 Starwood points X 3). The most you’ll pay for a hotel between August and the end of the year is 60,000 Marriott points, so you’ll have the opportunity to book high-category Starwood hotels for fewer points starting in August.
Unfortunately, Marriott hasn’t announced which hotels will be in which categories, so if you’re planning to redeem points at a Starwood or Marriott hotel later this year or next year, it’s not clear what the best thing to do right now is.
If Marriott releases their new award chart before August 2018, we’ll be able to make decisions about whether to use points before or after the August changes at that time. But if they don’t release a full award chart before August, you could use points to make a refundable reservation before then – that way, you can find out which award chart offers you the best deal!
If you are planning a stay at a top-tier Category 7 Starwood hotel (one that costs 30,000 to 35,000 points per night), you should definitely wait until August to book, because the price should go down (35,000 Starwood points is the equivalent of 105,000 Marriott Rewards points, and starting in August until the end of the year, the most expensive locations will only cost 60,000 points per night).
More Airline Transfer Partners
One of the reasons people love the Starwood loyalty program is because you can transfer Starwood points to 30+ airlines at a ratio of 1:1, with a bonus 5,000 miles for every increment of 20,000 Starwood points you transfer. Thankfully, this isn’t going away.
In the new program, you’ll be able to transfer points from Marriott Rewards to airlines at a 3:1 ratio, and will get a bonus 15,000 points (worth 5,000 airline miles) for every 60,000 points you transfer. Because 1 Starwood point is equal to 3 Marriott points, that means nothing is changing!
Note: There are 3 airlines that will have different transfer ratios, because their mileage programs are structured differently: Air New Zealand, El Al, and JetBlue. The ratios for these programs have not been announced yet.
The new program will also have 8 brand new airline partners, and 2 airlines that partnered with Starwood in the past, but haven’t been available recently. As of August 1, 2018, you’ll be able to transfer points to:
- China Southern
- El Al
- South African
- TAP Portugal
…as well as all of the current Starwood Preferred Guest transfer partners – a total of 45 airlines!
You don’t need to worry about anything here – feel free to transfer Starwood points to an airline before August 1, 2018, if you need them, but there’s no reason to rush to make a transfer before that date. (And if you wait until after August 1, 2018, you’ll have even more options!)
New Credit Cards
Link: Apply for the Marriott Rewards® Premier Plus Credit Card
You’ll also get:
- Free night award (at hotels costing 35,000 Marriott points or less) every year after your account anniversary
- Earn 6 Marriott points per $1 spent at participating Marriott Rewards & Starwood hotels
- Earn 2 Marriott points per $1 spent on all other purchases
- Automatic Silver Elite Status (20% bonus points on paid stays, late check-out when available)
- Gold Elite Status (25% bonus points on paid stays, lounge access / free breakfast, guaranteed late check-out, room upgrades when available) when you spend $35,000 on purchases each account year
- Coming in 2019, 15 elite night credits each calendar year
- NO foreign transaction fees
The card’s $95 annual fee is NOT waived the first year. But it’s worth keeping, because you should be able to get far more than $95 value from the annual free night award on your account anniversary.
There will also be a new Starwood Preferred Guest® American Express Luxury Card coming some time this year. We don’t know what the welcome bonus on this card will be yet, but we do know it will have a $450 annual fee and come with the following benefits:
- Earn 6 points per $1 spent at Marriott hotels
- Earn 3 points per $1 spent on airfare and at US restaurants
- Earn 2 points per $1 on everything else
- $300 statement credit for on-site hotel purchases
- Free anniversary night, valid at hotels that cost up to 50,000 points per night
- Automatic Gold Elite Status
- Platinum Elite Status when you spend $75,000 in purchases in a calendar year
- Priority Pass Select membership with guest privileges (maximum 2 guests per visit)
- NO foreign transaction fees
- $100 Global Entry credit
- Terms apply
If you’re under the Chase 5/24 rule (meaning you have opened fewer than 5 credit cards from any bank in the past 24 months, not including Chase business cards and these other business cards), the Marriott Rewards Premier Plus card might be one to consider. And if you currently have a regular Chase Marriott Rewards credit card (no longer offered), keep an eye out for upgrade offers in your inbox. Just keep in mind upgrading your card may reset your card anniversary date and the date you earn your anniversary free night.
Stay tuned for updates about the new Starwood Preferred Guest American Express Luxury Card as we have them.
Changes to Existing American Express Credit Cards
If you currently have the Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express or Starwood Preferred Guest® Business Credit Card from American Express, you’ve probably already received a letter from AMEX letting you know about changes to your card. Here’s what to expect starting August 1, 2018:
- Annual free night award (up to 35,000 points) after each account anniversary
- Earn 6 Marriott points per $1 spent at Marriott hotels (unchanged from the current equivalent rate of 2 Starwood Preferred Guest points per $1 spent)
- Earn 4 Marriott points per $1 spent at US restaurants, US gas stations, wireless telephone services purchased directly from US service providers, and on US purchases for shipping (business card only)
- Earn 2 Marriott points per $1 spent on all other purchases (this is a 33% decrease in earnings, because currently the card earns 1 Starwood Preferred Guest point per $1, which is equal to 3 Marriott points)
- Automatic Silver Elite status
- Earn Gold Elite status after spending $30,000 on the card (for 2018 only – this increases to $35,000 in 2019)
- Earn 15 nights toward elite qualifying status (starting in 2019)
- Terms apply
Note: The Sheraton Club access provided by the business version of the card is ending August 1, 2018.
If you currently have one or both of these cards, look carefully at the new earnings structure to see if the cards still make sense for you after the changes in August.
And if you don’t have one of these cards, it’s worth waiting to see if the intro bonuses increase in the future.
Elite Status Changes
In August, Marriott will be combining Starwood elites into the Marriott elite structure, so 10 nights per year gets you Silver Elite status, 25 nights gets you Gold, 50 nights gets you Platinum, and 75 nights gets you Platinum Premier.
Unlike the current Starwood program, the new program will only consider the number of nights spent – not the number of stays. However, current Starwood members can continue to qualify for elite status based on stays at Starwood hotels only through the end of 2018.
Your current elite status will be recalculated based on all of the nights in your Starwood, Marriott, and Ritz-Carlton accounts.
Lifetime Elite members with either Starwood or Marriott will continue to have Lifetime Elite status in the new program – and their stay history will be combined, which may give them an even higher lifetime elite status. There will also be a one-time Lifetime Platinum Premier Elite tier, which is only available to those who accrue 750 nights and 10 years of Marriott Platinum Elite and / or Starwood Platinum by December 31, 2018. No new members will be added to this lifetime elite level after that date.
In most cases, benefits are staying the same or improving for elite members. However, folks with Starwood Gold status who linked their Starwood and Marriott accounts to get Marriott Gold may be disappointed to find out that they will no longer have lounge access in August – that will be reserved for the new Platinum Elite tier, which includes those who legitimately qualified for Marriott Gold Elite status on their own.
If you are close to the 750 nights and 10 years requirement for Lifetime Platinum Premier Elite, you may want to consider making the extra effort to qualify for this status, because it will never exist again!
What’s Changing for Marriott and Starwood in 2019?
There will be even more changes going forward into 2019, and they’re NOT all good things. Unfortunately, we don’t yet know complete details for all of these changes, but here’s what you should be on the lookout for coming in 2019.
Elite Status Qualification Will Be Based on Nights Only
Currently, the Starwood program allows you to earn elite status based on the number of nights or the number of total stays. Starting in 2019, only the number of nights spent at Marriott, Starwood, and Ritz-Carlton hotels will be considered. This is a big bummer for anyone who has qualified for status with stays, not nights, in the past.
New Limit of 15 Nights Earned From Credit Cards
Currently, if you have multiple Starwood or Marriott credit cards, you can add all of the elite nights and stays you get as a card perk together. For example, the personal and business versions of the Starwood Preferred Guest credit cards from American Express each earn 5 nights and 2 stays toward elite status, so if you have both, you would earn a total of 10 nights and 4 stays.
Starting in 2019, that will change to 15 nights toward elite status, and you will only be able to earn a maximum of 15 nights regardless of how many credit cards you have.
More Award Chart Changes
In 2019, Marriott will add new Peak and Off-Peak rates for all of its hotels, and they’ll add a new Category 8 (70,000 to 100,000 points per night) to the award chart. Depending on your travel patterns and plans, this may create new opportunities or make your favorite hotel more expensive. But even with the new Category 8, the most expensive hotels in the Starwood program will still cost fewer points than they do on the current Starwood award chart.
There are lots of changes are coming with the new Marriott program, but they’re mostly positive. Many folks, especially those loyal to the Starwood Preferred Guest program, were concerned about what Marriott was going to do. In most cases, they’ve taken the best pieces of both the current Marriott and Starwood programs to create the new Marriott Rewards, and even the parts that aren’t 100% ideal are fair compromises.
Keep an eye out for new announcements. Unless you might qualify for top-tier Lifetime Platinum Premier Elite status by the end of this year, there’s not really anything you need to do right now.
When we learn more about where hotels will land on the new award charts, there will be opportunities to lock in lower prices for hotel bookings made with points – and we’ll be sure to let you know when that happens.
How are the changes to the Marriott and Starwood programs affecting your points earning and hotel stay strategy? Please let us know in the comments!
Editorial Note: We're the Million Mile Secrets team. And we're proud of our content, opinions and analysis, and of our reader's comments. These haven’t been reviewed, approved or endorsed by any of the airlines, hotels, or credit card issuers which we often write about. And that’s just how we like it! :)