The good news is that the merger between two hotel giants, Marriott and Starwood, is a done deal. But the better news is that, while the two loyalty programs will not be formally combined until 2018 at the earliest, you can take advantage of the new union immediately. Here is what you should do right now to score big.
Merge your accounts
Nearly 100,000 people per day are merging their Marriott Rewards (or Ritz-Carlton Rewards) and Starwood Preferred Guest (SPG) accounts, says Marriott CEO Arne Sorenson. It is simple to do at members.marriott.com. Once the accounts are linked, you can transfer points between programs and redeem points from one program for awards with another. Three Marriott or Ritz-Carlton Rewards points are equal to one SPG point. Keep in mind that you can only link your SPG account with either Marriott’s or Ritz-Carlton’s program; most will fare better by connecting SPG with Marriott Rewards since the latter has more properties.
Earn reciprocal elite status
If you are elite in one program, you will earn the equivalent status in the other by linking your accounts. Marriott Platinums will become Starwood Platinums and vice versa, for example. There are still kinks that need ironing out, however, and reciprocal benefits may not always be as generous on the other side. For example, Marriott Gold members receive free breakfast or access to a club lounge at many properties while SPG Gold members do not. Nonetheless, it’s worth taking advantage of the overall status similarities, as well as perks like 4 p.m. late checkout and bonus points.
While the status is instantly matched, it doesn’t mean that elite nights or stays will pool together for elite status renewal. You will continue to earn points and status within one program the same way as before and should move points between programs only when you want to redeem them.
What if you don’t have elite status?
Are you sure about that? American Express Platinum gives cardholders automatic SPG Gold status, which you can then match to Marriott Gold. The Ritz-Carlton Rewards card comes with gold status in the first year of having the card, which can be matched to SPG Gold. You might be more status-rich than you thought!
Take advantage of current promotions
A full page ad in the Wall Street Journal touted the benefits of the merger on its first day and ran a large photo of the St. Regis Bora Bora in French Polynesia. This is one of Starwood’s most photographed and sought-after hotel redemptions, and reservations agents for the hotel were taking calls from Marriott Rewards members as soon as the merger was announced, according to the hotel. Typically, it takes 60,000 Starpoints per night there, but a current promotion is offering stays for 39,000 points per night. Marriott Rewards members can transfer points to SPG and redeem at this 35 percent discount through the end of February. At the present, both programs have great packages that allow you to bundle hotel nights and airline miles, which can provide real value. Plus, there’s SPG Cravings, which offers dining discounts at select properties, and you can earn points for dining at a Starwood property by providing your loyalty program number, even if you’re not a guest at the hotel.
Don’t forget about SPG’s huge frequent-flier benefit
SPG has one of the most generous offers out there, which allows you to turn 20,000 points into 25,000 airline miles with a number of different airline rewards programs. This means that you can move Marriott points to SPG and then transfer them again to an airline, allowing you to top up an account or take advantage of an award that was otherwise out of reach.
Credit cards remain unequal
The Starwood Preferred Guest American Express card is more valuable than the Chase Marriott Rewards Visa at the moment. Until the combined hotel program settles on a single credit card partnership, it is best to earn points with the SPG Amex because both cards earn one point per dollar spent. Since one Starpoint equals three Marriott points, the SPG Amex can help you rack up more, quickly.
Linked brand partnerships take status and points further
Marriott Rewards has a partnership with United Airlines giving Marriott Platinum members instant United Premier Silver status, while United Premier Gold, Platinum, and 1K members automatically receive Marriott Gold status. This means lounge access and free breakfast when staying in hotels and a chance at first-class upgrades and priority boarding when flying. Thanks to the merger, Starwood members with equivalent status now earn United elite status, as well. Additionally, United Premier Silver and Gold members score Five Star service with Hertz when renting a car, while United Premier Platinum and 1K earn President’s Circle status from Hertz.
Starwood has a similar partnership with Delta known as Crossover Rewards. Members earn one Starpoint for every dollar spent on Delta flights and one SkyMile for every dollar you spend with Starwood. There is also a unique partnership between Starwood and Uber that allows you to earn one Starpoint for every dollar you spend with Uber as long as you have stayed at a Starwood property during the course of the year.
For something that takes just a few minutes, linking your accounts can create a deluge of new benefits that you didn’t know you had. Although there are certainly some unanswered questions about the programs and more news to come, now is the time to get a head start on those special perks!
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Ramsey Qubein Ramsey Qubein is a freelance travel journalist covering hotels, cruises, airlines, and loyalty programs from around the globe.