Travel News: Marriott acquires Starwood

Marriott has finally received the approval from Chinese regulators for their proposed acquisition of Starwood, making the largest hotel company by rooms managed (Wyndham Worldwide is larger by the number of hotels), surpassing both Hilton and Intercontinental by a good margin. Marriott now has 30 brands with more than 5,700 hotels and 1.1 Million rooms in more than 110 countries! Find out what it means for your travel plans!

This merger is as much about competing with Online Travel Agents like hotels.com or booking.com as it is about competition with Hilton or IHG. The big hotel companies have all tried hard to lure travelers from the big internet booking sites with hundred-thousands of hotels to their own sites to avoid fees and build loyalty. And while even Marriott still pales in comparison to booking.com or hotels.com, they now have a lot better coverage, which will help especially with corporate travelers and the preferential agreements they might offer companies. If you travel a lot of business, your company is somewhat more likely to ask you to stay at Marriott and Starwood hotels in the future.

Between Marriott and Starwood there are 30 hotel brands. While there is a lot of overlap between the brands and there are some brands that are not very popular, they are likely to be around for a long time. Because most hotels these days are managed as franchises, it’s difficult to change or eliminate a hotel brand – chances are, your favorite brands are not going anywhere.

The most immediate impact is on the rewards programs, Marriott Rewards and SPG. Clearly, Marriott has been working on this while waiting for regulatory approval – and announced the changes on the first day, generally good news for travelers:

screen-shot-2016-09-26-at-4-09-26-pmStatus Match: Marriott is offering a status match between Marriott Rewards, Ritz Carlton Rewards and SPG, so if you have status in one of the programs, you get instant status in the other program. I’m Marriott Gold, for example, and got an immediate status upgrade to SPG Gold! The match is as follows:
Marriott Platinum – SPG Platinum
Marriott Gold – SPG Gold
Marriott Silver – SPG preferred plus
Marriott Basic – SPG preferred
You can link your accounts and request a status match here! It is effective immediately – I received a confirmation email in seconds and status showed on the account. At this point, this is great news for travelers as your elite benefits will now be honored at more hotels.
The status match is probably the best deal for current SPG Gold members. Gold with SPG doesn’t have a whole lot of benefits, while Marriott Gold gets you lounge access, including a free breakfast – that’s something I consider a high-value benefit!

Points Transfer: You can also transfer points between your accounts at a ratio of 3 Marriott Rewards points to 1 SPG point. I value Marriott points at .8 cents and SPG points at 2 cents ( some SPG fans value them at more), so this is a fair exchange ratio. While the exchange is not instant, it does give you more flexibility on how to use your points. If you have some “orphaned” points in one of the programs with little use for them, you can transfer them to the other program for a better redemption!
One of the features of the SPG program is the ability to transfer at decent rates to a number of airline programs. For the time being, you can transfer your points from Marriott to SPG and on to one of the airlines, for more flexibility.

All other features of both programs stay in place as they are so far with no changes. Marriott has previously said that the loyalty program is a key part of the acquisition and I expect them to move carefully not to loose the avid fan base of the Starwood program in the merger.
I’m impressed that Marriott moved so quickly and made the status match and points transfer available. Given their speed and thoughtfulness so far, I expect them to move ahead with the integration carefully, yet without undue delay. Many bloggers have been expecting the end of the SPG programs. As so often, the news of the death of SPG have been exaggerated and the news so far is positive.The joined program might be better than the two separate ones! I will keep you posted on other news on the merger going forward.

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