Marriott/Starwood Combined Loyalty Program – Big Questions Yet To Be Answered

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There’s no doubt that, right now, the big miles & points news surrounds the new Marriott loyalty program that’s beginning to emerge from the union of Marriott Reward and Starwood’s SPG program.

I’ve already taken a look at the facts behind what Marriott has told us so far, I’ve written about the new credit cards that are on the way (and the changes coming to the existing credit card portfolio) and I’ve taken a look at who I think the big winners and losers are in the shake up….but there are still things we don’t yet know.

The New Marriott Award Chart

Marriott has released its new award chart showing what categories we can expect and showing the difference between peak, standard and off-peak award pricing, but this is really only half the story – we need to be told a lot more before we know just how big a devaluation is on its way.

a table with numbers and a few pointsMarriott’s New Award Chart

This chart would appear to indicate that the top hotels will cost between 70,000 and 100,000 points per night starting in 2019 but that’s not actually the case.

Marriott has already confirmed that the new award chart doesn’t take into account pricing for all-suite properties like the St. Regis Vommuli Resort in the Maldives so 100,000 points is not the ceiling for award redemptions.

So what is the ceiling?

I suspect that the answer to that question won’t be one that any of us likes.

St Regis Vommuli MaldivesSt. Regis Vommuli Resort

While not knowing the maximum cost of an award night is irritating there are two more important award chart questions that are yet to be addressed:

  • What will be the split between peak, standard and off-peak dates?
  • Which properties will be populating which categories in the new award chart?

Peak/Off-Peak Question

Marriott’s existing award chart already has a version of peak and off-peak pricing (Standard and PointSavers) but I can name a lot of nice properties at which I have never seen award nights available at the PointSavers rate.

Will the new off-peak pricing be the same or will Marriott actually have proper seasons that are all about the same length?

If off-peak pricing is going to be as scarce as PointSavers availability (at the better properties) then we could be looking at a colossal devaluation in Marriott’s loyalty program. But, if off-peak pricing is as prevalent as standard and peak pricing then the devaluation may not be too bad.

a building with columns and a building with lightsI’ve never seen PointSaver pricing at he Grosvenor House JW Marriott

Which Properties In Which Categories?

Marriott has a big job on its hands to fit all of the properties it now controls into 8 new categories but how it goes about this job is crucial to miles & points enthusiasts.

Most Starwood properties are overpriced in the current SPG award chart (at least in my opinion) but there is quite a bit of value to be had out of the current Marriott charts….and most of us are keen not to lose this.

Here comes a bit of math.

If you combine the current Marriott & Ritz-Carlton award charts you get a hybrid chart that looks like this (I’ve ignored the PointSaver rates):

a table with numbers and a number on it

The top-tier Marriott branded properties (i.e the likes of the JW Marriott Hong Kong, Grosvenor House London etc..) cost 45,000 points per night which is approximately 65% of what the very top hotels cost in this hybrid chart.

But where will they fall in the new award chart?

Ignoring the all-suite properties the very top-tier properties in the new award chart cost 85,000 points (based on standard pricing) so, all things being equal, the current top JW Marriott properties should cost approximately 65% of that….which is ~55,000 points.

This falls right between category 6 and category 7 in the new award chart and which category Marriott chooses for these properties will be very important.

If the properties currently costing 45,000 points/night are placed into category 6 in the new award chart this is the situation we’ll have:

  • Under off-peak pricing awards will be 11% cheaper than before
  • Under standard pricing awards will be 11% more expensive than before
  • Under peak pricing awards will be 33% more expensive than before

The peak pricing is a big hit but as long as two-thirds of the year are priced at standard or off-peak rates things may be ok (the increased elite earnings will help offset the increases a little).

JW Marriott Hong KongJW Marriott Hong Kong

If, on the other hand, these properties are inserted into category 7 in the new award chart things look a LOT worse:

  • Under off-peak pricing awards will be 11% more expensive than before
  • Under standard pricing awards will be 33% more expensive than before
  • Under peak pricing awards will be 55% more expensive than before

During peak periods the top-level JW Marriotts would cost over 50% more than they do right now and that would be catastrophic.

The same sort of math can be done for properties at all levels of the Marriott award chart and it shows just how delicate the situation is – I could probably live with these properties being in category 6  but I’m certainly not going to be happy paying 55% more if they go into category 7.

When it comes to the very top Marriott properties (the Ritz-Carltons) the writing is already on the wall – we know that they’re almost certain to go into the very top category in the new award chart which means that, for at least part of the year, they will cost ~43% more per night than they do right now.

That’s one heck of a devaluation.

Ritz-Carlton Abu Dhabi Grand CanalRitz-Carlton Abu Dhabi Grand Canal

Travel Packages And Cash & Points Awards

Marriott may have released its new award chart but we still haven’t been given the new travel package charts or the new cash & points chart either.

Marriott’s travel packages are a very popular part of the Marriott Rewards program so how they’re treated in the new combined loyalty program will be important to a lot of people.

The big attraction of the travel packages is that they essentially allow you to convert Marriott Rewards points into airline miles/points at a ratio of 1:1.

I value Marriott rewards points at around 0.7 cents each so, as I value airline currencies starting at 1.0 cent and up, there’s a lot of value to be had here…value that Marriott may well destroy if we’re unlucky.

Cash and Point awards are a relatively new idea for Marriott (they were introduced in 2016) and I can’t say that I’ve ever used one…but I know a lot of people like them.

The premise of a cash and points awards is that you don’t have all the points you need to book an award night so you pay for the night with a combination of cash and points – the cash element essentially pays for the added points you need to book the award night – and there can be good value to be had here.

Here’s what the Marriott cash & points award chart looks like right now together with how much points cost to “buy” when booking such an award:

a table with numbers and points

I mentioned earlier that I value Marriott Rewards points at ~0.7 cents each and, if you look at the chart above, you can see that booking a cash & points award at category 4, 5, 6 & 7 properties would see you “buying” points for less than that valuation.

That’s a very good deal….but just how long will this good deal be around?

Marriott Lifetime Platinum/Platinum Premier Benefits

We already know all about who will get what Lifetime status in the new Marriott loyalty program (I wrote about it here) but there’s one important question that I don’t think has yet been answered definitively – will Lifetime Platinum and Platinum Premier members get 5/10 Suite Night Awards (SNAs) every year?

Marriott hasn’t been clear about this and the people who believe that Lifetime members won’t get SNAs point to the fact that Marriott’s new benefits chart mentions that the SNAs will be awarded with 50/75 qualifying nights.

That doesn’t look good for Lifetime members as it would seem to imply that they’ll have to achieve at least 50 qualifying nights to get the SNAs despite their Lifetime status…but it doesn’t end there.

In the literature Marriott recently released there was a small section dedicated to Lifetime status and in that section was this image:

a screenshot of a website

That clearly states that Lifetime Platinum members receive “all Platinum Elite benefits” and, as the SNAs are listed in the new benefits chart, doesn’t that mean that Lifetime Platinums get the SNAs regardless of how many nights they’ve stayed?

As someone looking to earn Lifetime Platinum Premier status in the next few months I’m particularly interested in the answer to this question.

Bottom Line

I’m sure there are other unanswered questions out there right now but I think these are the main ones that we really need to have answered sooner rather than later.

I’m on record as saying that I don’t think we could have asked for too much more from the combined loyalty program at this point but, when I look at things closely, I can see that we really only have information on the earning side of the new loyalty program.

Information on the spending side is definitely lacking and I’m starting to wonder if Marriott has given us the good news first and is holding back on the bad news for as long as it thinks it can get away with it.

I guess we’ll find out soon enough.


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