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Marriott, Starwood Merger: Where Loyalty Programs Stand in 2017

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Marriott–Starwood Deal Leaves Rewards Points in Question

Marriott International’s recent acquisition of Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide creates a giant hotel conglomerate with two massive loyalty programs, driven in part by several popular hotel credit cards.

While Marriott doesn’t expect to introduce a new, combined loyalty program until 2018, it made a few changes after the deal closed in September 2016 that are important for cardholders.

What’s different

  • Account linking: Customers can choose to link their accounts in the Marriott Rewards and Starwood Preferred Guest (SPG) loyalty programs and redeem rewards in both. However, the accounts remain separate for now.
  • Point transfers: After those who belong to both programs link their online accounts, they can transfer and redeem unlimited points at a ratio of 3 Marriott Rewards points to 1 SPG Starpoint. Free-night credits can’t be transferred.
  • Status matching: Members of Marriott Rewards, which includes the Ritz-Carlton Rewards, and SPG will have their highest elite status matched in the other program.
  • Cardholder point bonuses for hotel stays:
    • With the Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express, which NerdWallet considers the best value in hotel co-branded credit cards, cardholders earn up to 5 Starpoints per dollar spent at participating SPG hotels and 2 Starpoints per dollar at Marriott Rewards properties.
    • With the Marriott Rewards® Premier Credit Card, which NerdWallet considers the best card for Marriott devotees, cardholders earn 5 Marriott Rewards points per dollar spent at Marriott Rewards or SPG hotels.

Regardless of which card you carry or want to apply for, the merger gives cardholders access to a wider range of hotels for earning and using points, now 5,700 hotels across 30 brands in 110 countries. Total membership in the programs — SPG, Marriott Rewards and Ritz-Carlton Rewards — numbers 85 million, according to Marriott.

What’s the same

Most other features of the programs — websites, apps, transfer partners, upgrades — will remain separate until Marriott announces a joint loyalty program.

Co-branded credit cards will continue to earn points only in the program they’re associated with. But again, if you link your accounts, you can transfer points between the programs at a 3:1 ratio. The application processes for credit cards remain separate.

Information about the merger and its impact on loyalty-program members is available at a special Marriott website, which includes an extensive FAQ. Still, many details are yet to come, although Marriott has promised to “draw upon the very best each program offers.”

A side-by-side comparison

The Marriott Rewards and Starwood Preferred Guest programs are very different in terms of point value and elite perks. As of 2016, the Starwood Preferred Guest program offered the most valuable rewards points of any hotel chain, according to NerdWallet calculations. Members get an average value of 2.3 cents per Starpoint when redeeming for free night stays, with a range of 1 to 4 cents per Starpoint, depending on the hotel and time of booking.

» MORE: Starwood Preferred Guest program review

On the other hand, the Nerds value Marriott Rewards points at only 1 cent apiece on average, with a range of 0.5 to 1.7 cents per point. The table below, showing how many points each program requires for a free night stay by hotel category, is another testament to SPG’s value.

» MORE: Marriott Rewards program review

Hotel Category


Marriott Rewards


Starwood Preferred Guest


Information current as of November 2015

Hotel Reward


PointSavers Reward


Weekdays


Weekends


1

7,500

6,000

3,000

2,000

2

10,000

7,500

4,000

3,000

3

15,000

10,000

7,000

7,000

4

20,000

15,000

10,000

10,000

5

25,000

20,000

12,000 - 16,000

12,000 - 16,000

6

30,000

25,000

20,000 - 25,000

20,000 - 25,000

7

35,000

30,000

30,000 - 35,000

30,000 - 35,000

8

40,000

35,000

N/A

N/A

9

45,000

40,000

N/A

N/A

This article has been updated. It was originally published in November 2015. 

Gregory Karp is a staff writer at NerdWallet, a personal finance website. Email: gkarp@nerdwallet.com. Twitter: @spendingsmart. NerdWallet staff writer Ben Luthi contributed to this article.