United scared me on Friday, and I wrote about that fear on Sunday, by saying changes were coming to the MileagePlus program.
That fear was unfounded as United introduced unambiguously good changes to MileagePlus, though very minor changes from my perspective, in the form of a partnership with Marriott.
What does this mean for you?
If you’re United Gold or higher, you’ll get Marriott Gold Status through January 2014. If you’re a Marriott Platinum member, you’ll get United Silver through January 2014.
Sweet, free status!
Marriott Gold gets you: “guaranteed lounge access and free breakfast at JW Marriott®, Renaissance Hotels®, Marriott® Hotels and Autograph Collection® Hotels, room upgrades (available on a space-available basis), complimentary high-speed internet access at more than 3,700 hotels globally, a 25 percent point bonus on all Marriott stays, priority late check-out (when available) and Gold Elite customized offers and awards. ”
United Silver gets you: “complimentary access to Economy Plus® seating at check-in (when available), complimentary Premier Upgrades on domestic flights (when available), Premier Access travel services (which include designated ticket counter check-in lines, priority security lines and priority boarding and baggage handling), one complimentary standard checked bag and 25 percent Premier bonus award miles on United flights.”
I have United Silver, and it’s a nice way to skip the line and get an Economy Plus seat at check in. I haven’t sniffed a free upgrade, and I doubt I will.
These status matches aren’t worth much, but they’re worth something. And enterprising folks will match this unearned status to other airlines and hotels for even more free status.
Better Mileage Transfer Rate
The other touted benefit may be worth more: better mileage transfer rates.
United will begin to offer the opportunity for its elites to transfer United miles to Marriott at a 1:1 rate, and you can transfer up to 50k miles per year.
You might think “1:1″, a maximum number of miles you can transfer, and the limitation that only elites can transfer means this is a good deal, but transferring United miles 1:1 to Marriott is an awful deal, since United miles are worth much more than Marriott points are worth.
Luckily, the better benefit an improved transfer rate from Marriott to United is open to all.
These are Marriott’s rates for transferring its points to United miles that it’s had since before today’s announcement.
Marriott’s top conversion option, 140k Marriott to 50k United, is a 2.8:1 exchange ratio. Today’s announcement says “all MileagePlus and Marriott Rewards members will receive a 20 percent discount when converting Marriott Rewards points into MileagePlus miles,” so that must mean 112k Marriott will equal 50k United miles, a 2.24:1 ratio.
Whether 2.24 Marriott to 1 United is a good trade depends on your valuation of the two currencies. I would value one Marriott point at about half a cent and one United mile at about 1.8 cents. That means I thought the old transfer ratio was good and the new one is even better!
It’s possible that neither new transfer ratio will intrigue you, but it’s not possible both will. I will stick to converting Marriott points to United miles and will be happy with the improved ratio.
Today’s announcement of a Marriott/United partnership is excellent news. Not because the partnership is particularly exciting, it really isn’t, but because there weren’t negative changes to MileagePlus today, which many of us feared. In 2013, not taking a huge loss to the value of your points is a big win.
Full Statement from United Hub:
United MileagePlus® has joined forces with Marriott Rewards®, an award-winning, industry-leading program for over 3,700 hotels and resorts worldwide, to provide unprecedented travel benefits to their most loyal members. Starting today, through “RewardsPlus,” United Global Services, Premier 1K, Premier Platinum and Premier Gold members can register for Marriott Rewards Gold Elite status, and all of the benefits that come with it, while Marriott Rewards Platinum Elite members can register for MileagePlus Premier Silver status, featuring some of our most popular Premier perks. Status offerings will be effective until Jan. 31, 2014.