At long last, the speculation and worry can be put to rest. The Marriott Starwood deal is done. 5,700 hotels and 85 million loyalty members are now all under the same umbrella.
What can we expect?
First off, I think we’ll see higher hotel prices. Think of all the big cities or suburbs where there is now a Marriott or Renaissance on one side of the street and a Westin or Sheraton on the other, both monitoring each others rates and vigorously competing on price. Without that keen competition, travelers can expect prices to rise. That’s basic economics.
Marriott has a powerful reputation as a tough negotiator. Just ask any corporate travel manager or event planner and you’ll hear that Marriott drives a hard bargain, and that Starwood is usually willing to wheel and deal. With the merger, our companies are left with one giant, hard bargainer.
So, with one less competitor in the market, expect higher rates for corporations as well as individual travelers. Of course, we still have Best Western, Hilton, Hyatt and IHG and smaller players out there who will compete on price.
But low prices only go so far– the Marriott/Starwood behemoth has another huge advantage: its combined loyalty program is going to be tough for travelers to resist. And that’s why Marriott is putting such a strong emphasis on making sure the combined program keeps business travelers happy.
And therein lies the good news for members of the Starwood Preferred Guest and Marriott Rewards programs.
Yesterday, TravelSkills sat down with the heads of Marriott Rewards and Starwood Preferred Guest, Thom Kozik and David Flueck, to preview what this means to frequent travelers. What I picked up from that conversation is that the status quo will continue for quite some time: The combined company will continue to operate 30 separate brands and two loyalty programs.
The biggest change is that these programs are now linked and offer reciprocal benefits to members. That’s hugely powerful.
Here are the details:
LINK UP: Starting now, Marriott, Starwood and Ritz-Carlton members can link their accounts at members.marriott.com to enjoy the benefits, recognition and experiences the three programs offer.
STATUS MATCH: Elite status will be matched immediately across all three programs, and members will get reciprocal benefits.
REDEEM: Once your’ve linked your accounts, you can transfer and redeem points across all three programs.
BRANDS: Currently there are no concrete plans to combine or eliminate any of the combined giant’s 30 brands. Regarding merging of the two loyalty programs, Marriott says, “Your Marriott Rewards points will live in your Rewards account and your Starpoints live in your SPG account. The programs will continue to operate as separate entities for some time. In fact, we don’t expect the programs to merge until 2018.”
PROGRAM SEPARATION: Don’t go flashing your SPG elite credentials at a Marriott counter. Despite all the noise about a merger, the programs and hotels will operate as separate entities for a while. That means you’ll continue to receive SPG benefits at hotels participating in the SPG program and Rewards benefits at hotels participating in the Rewards program. But you can’t earn or use benefits across programs — SPG hotels will not offer Rewards benefits, and Rewards hotels will not offer SPG benefits. You’ll only get your points and benefits at a hotel if you’re enrolled in the program in which that hotel participates, so it’s a good idea to sign up for both SPG and Rewards if you haven’t already.
PARTNERSHIPS: With reciprocity, members of Marriott Rewards will enjoy the benefits of Starwood’s Crossover Rewards partnership with Delta. Similarly, SPG members get partnership perks with the United-Marriott RewardsPlus partnership.
CREDIT CARDS: “Both of our credit card partnerships will continue to run as is for the foreseeable future,” said Kozik.
NEW PLACES: Marriott and Ritz-Carlton members can now use points in new destinations such as the Maldives, Santorini and Bora Bora. SPG members can now use their points for stays in Aruba, Tuscany and Kruger National Park in South Africa. Marriott coverage is generally a lot stronger in the Caribbean than Starwood. And on the other hand, Starwood’s properties in Asia generally outshine Marriotts.
RATES: Members-only rates will also apply across all brands– but as usual, you’ll have to book directly on Marriott.com or SPG.com or their associated apps to get the discounts.
APPS: For the time being, you’ll still use your Marriott app for stays at Marriott brands and the SPG app when staying at Starwood brands.
Marriott has put together a very helpful FAQ here. Be sure to check the FAQ out before you ask questions in the comments! There’s a LOT to digest here and we’ll be following it for you! For now, go link your accounts at members.marriott.com.
Soooo, what do you think? Please let us know in the comments.
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