A quick preview of my hotel in Cape Town, South Africa.
Good or bad, we live in a world where big companies seem to be buying up all of their competition. US Airways becoming American Airlines was a huge loss for the US airline market. Competition dropped from 4 major air carriers to 3, and American Airlines gained status as the largest airline in the world. Marriott has just bought Starwood and the same exact thing has happened, Marriott is now the worlds largest hotel brand.
We all see the problems with reduced competition, it is abundantly clear. When Marriott first announced the planned takeover of Starwood hotels, those of us who have been a part of Starwood as a very loyal customer knew this would not end well for us. Despite these reservations, Marriott management attempted to sell us the story that they would make Marriott Rewards better. Interviews showed executive officers talking about how they knew that the SPG program was highly valued, much more so than their own program.
Did any of us actually believe that Marriott would change their lower value program to match the value of SPG? I know that my expectations were set quite low, and for good reason it seems. Marriott is now merged with Starwood and the most we've seen added to their program is some events like SPG Moments, something I have yet to take advantage of, and guaranteed late checkout. Despite these additions, we still see Marriott playing games with late checkout, and there's serious questions on if they'll actually honor it without charging customers. I've never had a single issue with late or early checkout/check-in at an SPG hotel.
This highlights the problems with mergers like this. Marriott is merely giving SPG customers lip service and promising things they never deliver or do deliver, just poorly. We've seen no hints of additional value being added to Marriott points, or partnering with airlines in the way that Starwood has. There in lies the biggest slap in the face too. One of the single most valuable parts of the SPG program is their partnership with airlines, and Marriott has one good partnership with United, outside of that it is pretty lackluster.
So here we stand as loyal customers to Starwood. Our loyalty thrown out the window to satisfy the need to grow bigger and bigger. We still have over a year for Marriott to add value, but I do not expect to see much from Marriott. They've played their hand, and I'm not impressed, which is why I will not remain loyal with them.
The reality of the currently hotel climate is that Starwood is going away as they get absorbed by the Marriott behemoth. The days of the SPG program being the best loyalty program out there are certainly numbered. Exact time frames are a little up in the air at the moment, what we do know is that SPG is safe through the end of 2017. After that point, I have to look at the reality of what Marriott offers versus other companies.
The problem with Marriott is one that you'll find at any really large hotel chain, their loyalty levels are much harder to hit than smaller chains like Starwood and Hyatt. Despite them being much harder to achieve in the way of nights stayed, they don't offer much over their competitors with lower thresholds. Once Starwood goes the way of the dinosaurs, Hyatt is most likely where I'll go.
Hyatt like Starwood, is a smaller chain. They are harder to stay with, but easier to hit those high level elite thresholds if you do stay with them regularly. Marriott promises upgrades to suites and better rooms for high level elites, but this is completely arbitrary and dependent on the hotel you go to, you may go an entire year without a single upgrade if you choose the wrong hotels. Then there are the hotels in Marriott that don't allow certain perks like the free breakfast, or some other excuse to not give you what is promised by the company for your loyalty.
On the flip side, Hyatt has a system of suite upgrades in place for Diamond members, their highest status level. Hyatt gives 4 suite upgrades a year to Diamond members, that allows you to pay for a lower tier room, and bump yourself up to a suite. This is a great perk, and you get to choose where to apply it. If you're gone for a week to a hotel, that would be a great upgrade instead of a single night layover. This may not seem on paper to be as good as upgrades available at any Marriott at any time, but in real world situations, you may get more upgrades out of Hyatt than Marriott, since it is at the discretion of each hotel in the Marriott chain.
Hyatt is a smaller chain, I like the idea of a smaller chain that isn't a dime a dozen. The bigger chains just seem to value their customers less and that means I move on to where they treat customers better.
Starwood has always had one of the best loyalty programs out there. The hotel company has partnered with over 30 airlines to give really great points transfers to many of those airlines. Almost all airline partners have a 1:1 point transfer rate, nothing quite beats the 1:1 transfer rate when it comes to points and miles.
Up until the merger with Marriott though, Starwood did not have a good transfer rate to United. Transferring to United came at a soul crushing 2 Starpoints to 1 United mile. When almost every airline that Starwood partnered with was offering a 1:1 transfer rate, the idea of transferring to United was terrible, you'd have to spend twice as many points to get the same number of miles that a rival airline would give you.
Now that has changed with the linking of accounts between Marriott and Starwood since Marriott has a very good partnership with United.
Using Marriott points, you can convert 112,000 Marriott Rewards points to 50,000 United miles, this is quite good for Marriott hotel rewards. However, when you look at the SPG points to Marriott rewards points conversion, things look even better.
SPG points now convert to Marriott rewards points at a 1:3 ratio, for every 1 Starpoint you transfer, you get 3 Marriott Rewards points. That means for 37334 Starpoints, you can transfer those to Marriott Rewards points and then to United MilagePlus miles. So for 37,334 Starpoints, you get 50,000 United miles! That's better than the 1:1 ratio that is offered by SPG to most other airlines, even when you factor in the free 5,000 miles SPG gives for every 25,000 points transferred.
This is the best way to use your Starwood points toward United. It might very well be one of the best redemptions possible on SPG all together now. If you have a trip you are planning on united, this may be a great way to boost your miles.
Yesterday Marriott and Starwood hotels officially linked their reward programs almost immediately after gaining merger approval. Now the largest hotel chain in the world, the two loyalty programs will stand alone for a while, but can be linked together. In linking your accounts, each program will match the other if you have Gold or Platinum status.
Many Marriott elite customers have been a little miffed about the status matching. Their issue with the status match is that Gold Status on Marriott requires 50 nights, where on SPG it only requires 25 nights.
On the surface this is true, but throw us a bone on the SPG side of the equation, our program is getting eliminated in 2018, theirs isn't. Giving us status for a year is little to ask for, and honestly is probably how Marriott is attempting to win us over. Really, I'm not interested in spending 50 nights just to get mid level status. I'm likely going to Hyatt after SPG goes away, Marriott bores me and I don't see them making too many changes to keep me loyal with them.
Lets dive a little deeper though. Marriott Gold status and SPG Gold status are pretty equal in terms of what is being offered to each of their status levels. While SPG Gold may be easier to reach, Starwood properties are also much harder to find. I can throw a stone in any direction and hit a Marriott, they are almost everywhere. Starwood hotels are not everywhere like Marriotts. For a real world example of this, when I search Marriott's website for hotels around Cape Town, it returns 12 hotels. If you search Starwood, you find 1 hotel. Marriott is easier to be loyal to, plain and simple.
Really in the end, it's not going to matter. Come 2018, those of use who love the SPG program will be left without a program. We'll either have to switch to permanently using Marriott, which I won't do, or go to a competing company. In my case, I like the looks of Hyatt. Fingers crossed someone doesn't buy them before that point.