Marriott has announced a deal to buy Starwood Hotels. The deal still has to get shareholder and regulatory approval, so this is not a done deal, but I thought I’d offer some preliminary thoughts.
Marriott buying Starwood is bad for miles and points enthusiasts.
Starwood has a far more lucrative program, SPG. I value SPG Starpoints at 2.5 cents each because they can be used on a very cheap award chart for free nights, starting at 2,000 points per night; used for Cash & Points nights, which offer some good values to stretch your points for more hotel nights at the cost of a cash co-pay; or transferred at a rate of 20,000 Starpoints to 25,000 American Airlines, Alaska, and Asiana miles to just name my three favorite options.
Marriott’s points are worth 0.8 cents each to me. They can be used on a much more expensive award chart or transferred at a worse rate than Starpoints to airline miles.
We don’t know for sure what Marriott would do with the SPG program. It could continue to run SPG independently of Marriott Rewards, keeping SPG’s value intact. However, I highly doubt Marriott would keep SPG around for two reasons related to the two companies’ current sizes and one reason common to all mergers.
- As the bigger program and surviving brand, Marriott Rewards would probably swallow SPG.
- Because SPG was so small, it needed to engender loyalty, since it couldn’t compete on the number of hotel options it offered in each city. This is why SPG was the most valuable program, because it had to be. As part of the largest hotel chain in the world (the new Marriott), the loyalty program would no longer need to be so lucrative.
- Mergers mean less competition, which means less need to offer a lucrative program.
Instead I anticipate SPG to operate as a separate program in much the same form as it does now until integration between the two companies. At that point, your SPG account will merge with your Marriott Rewards account and your SPG Starpoints will be forcibly converted to Marriott points. The ratio is harder to predict.
If Marriott tried to convert Starpoints to Marriott points at a 1:1 rate, people would revolt since SPG points are about three times as valuable as Marriott points. Instead, I could see Marriott converting SPG points to Starpoints at a 2:3 or 1:2 ratio. They could spin at as a great deal (“we’ll give you 50% more Marriott points when we convert your Starpoints”) while actually offering a terrible deal.
I will keep abreast of the latest news on the purchase of Starwood by Marriott and continue to share it here.