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We have been watching the merger of Starwood Preferred Guest and Marriott, and the details of what that merger will mean for both of those loyalty programs’ members, unfold for a long time now. We first thought the merger would happen August 1, and then Marriott changed the wording of all their marketing/press releases to a more ambiguous “August”. But now we have a hard date. Yesterday I received an email from Marriott announcing Saturday, August 18, 2018 as the official merger.

Knowing the specific date the merger of the loyalty programs will happen is important because–depending on your specific situation–there are actions that should be taken before August 18, versus post merger.

But first, a brief historical index of the Marriott & SPG merger:

  • First we learned how these changes will affect both SPG and Marriott members in regards to the new elite status qualifications and benefits, how earning points from hotel stays will change, and what redeeming points for hotel stays will look like in the future in What August 2018 Holds For Marriott/SPG: Part I
  • Then we took a look at how earning points through credit card spend would change, the new Marriott credit cards, and how redeeming points as airline miles would look in the future in What August 2018 Holds For Marriott/SPG: Part II
  • In Book Top Tier SPG Properties Between August & December 2018 we explored the huge window of opportunity this fall and winter will present for booking current Category 7 SPG hotels for massive (10k to 15k SPG point) discounts
  • I covered the new Marriott category assignments, how the new unified program’s prices compare to the old, and strategies to employ now/in August to make the most of it in New Marriott Award Category Assignments.
  • Earlier in July we examined the fate of Marriott Travel Packages which are being majorly devalued come August. Unfortunately we still don’t know what will happen to existing hotel certificates from these travel packages that haven’t been redeemed by August 18.

Now that we have a hard date, let’s go over what is actually happening August 18, and actions you should take before or post-merger. Much of what is below are reminders of important info I’ve already gone over in the previous posts listed above, except for the pooling points section which I haven’t written about yet in regards to the merger. If you and someone else in your household collect Marriott and/or SPG points, pay attention to that section.

Technical Details about the Migration

The italicized texts below are excerpts from the email I received from Marriott.

“All SPG members will receive a new 9-digit account number that aligns with the specifications of the new system.  The new account number will appear through a pop-up when they log into their account. Passwords will stay the same (unless the member elects to change it themselves). Some members of Marriott Rewards will also receive a new account number. These members will receive an email with their new account information or a call from our customer engagement centers”.

And don’t expect to be able to do anything the morning of August 18.

“Important to note, on August 18 starting early morning (U.S. Eastern Time) our sites and apps will periodically be unavailable as we migrate our systems to one, new platform. This means during this planned system transition there will be times when no one can make a booking, and times when we will only be accepting credit card bookings. As a result of those particular instances, members will not be able to book a redemption stay or have their member number attached to their reservation.”

So you don’t need to be hovering over your computer ready to book/rebook cheaper properties at 5 am. I think it’s likely their systems for booking award nights will be down all day, but I wouldn’t expect to get anything accomplished until at least the afternoon. I will let you guys know via MileValue’s email newsletter, Twitter, and Facebook as soon as I hear word that all systems are go.

If you want to pool points between household members, do it within the SPG program to avoid the Marriott fee and cap before August 18.

All existing SPG points will be converted to Marriott points on August 18 at a rate of 1:3. You do not need to do anything to ensure that this happens. The only action you may want to consider taking with the movement of your points is if you want to pool Marriott or SPG points with someone else in your household.

  • You can transfer your SPG Starpoints to another person’s SPG account as long as you and that person have had the same address on both of your accounts for the last 30 days. You don’t need to be married, just living together. There is no cap to how many points you can transfer. The only restriction is that points must be transferred in 1,000 point increments.
  • Pooling Marriott points incurs a $10 fee, and more annoyingly, you are capped at only transferring 50k per calendar year. That is only the equivalent of about 16k SPG points. There is one exception to this rule, and you are only allowed to do it once per calendar year: You can transfer more than 50k, but only up to the amount you need for a specific redemption. The only positive aspect to Marriott’s Sharing Points policy is that you do not need to live with someone to transfer points to them. You can transfer to any Marriott Rewards member.

The Marriott rep I spoke to on the phone today could not confirm that the new merged loyalty program will keep the existing (crappier) Marriott policy. I would guess that they will, as oppose to adopting SPG’s much more lenient one, but I could be wrong. Either way, I don’t see a downside to protecting yourself from the fallout if they do keep Marriott’s current policy.

Here’s how to do that: If you and someone else in your household both collect SPG or Marriott points, I would pool your points within the SPG program (converting first from Marriott to SPG if needed) to avoid that cap and fee. Pooling points is obviously useful for getting a balance high enough for a redemption, but as well as for utilizing the benefits of one person’s status if the other doesn’t have any as award reservations will get elite benefits if booked with an elite member’s points.

The Gritti Palace, a Luxury Collection Hotel, Venice costs 35k SPG/115kk Marriott Rewards to book now. As of August 18 (and through December), it will cost 60k Marriott Rewards a night to book.
The Gritti Palace, a Luxury Collection Hotel, Venice costs 35k SPG/115kk Marriott Rewards to book now. As of August 18, it will cost 60k Marriott Rewards a night to book.

Booking Free Nights

Check for properties you’d like to book that are going up in price August 18, and book them before.

Check for properties you’d like to book that are going down in price August 18, and be ready to book them after the merger. As I said above, I will try to be as timely as possible letting you guys know when you can start booking/making changes August 18 (although it could very well be be August 19). Don’t forget about the current top-tier SPG properties that cost 30k to 35k SPG points–the equivalent of 90 to 105k Marriott Rewards–as well as the most expensive all-suite SPG properties that don’t even price on their current award chart. They will ALL cost 60k Marriott Rewards a night August 18 – December 2019. Booking these crazy expensive SPG hotels, like the St. Regis Maldives Vommuli Resort pictured below, is probably the single biggest way to take advantage of the merger. 

St Regis Maldives Vommuli Resort, currently prices off the SPG chart but will bookable for 60k Marriott Rewards in August!

  • If you have enough points to book an SPG property that will drop in price, then go ahead and book to essentially hold the award space. You can call in after the merger and get the difference in points refunded. Note that the difference in points will NOT be refunded automatically and that you will have to call in to get them back. I previously wrote that there was a slight risk in doing this because you’d have to cancel and then re-book. I no longer think this is the case after speaking to a Marriott rep today, who told me that if you book pre-merger and then call in to collect the difference in points you are owed on for property dropping in price August 18, there will be no cancellation (and therefore no re-entry of the award space into the award space pool) necessary, so no risk of losing your award nights. The rep did point out that if this is your circumstance, you should call in for the points refund as opposed to doing it online to ensure you keep your reservation.
  • If it’s a Marriott property you want that’s dropping in price come August 18, you don’t even need the full amount of points necessary right now to book thanks to their Points Advance system. Marriott’s policy is that a member can book free nights as long as they have earned the points two weeks prior to the stay.

Marriott Travel Packages

Book Marriott Hotel + Air packages before August 18 if you’re interested. The deals are getting worse post-merger. I wish I had more information to tell you about what’s going to happen to the hotel certificate portion of travel packages that haven’t been redeemed yet, but no one really knows.

This is the advice I previously shared regarding “floater certificates”,  unbooked hotel certificates tfrom a Hotel + Air Travel Package, and how to handle them considering the lack of information we have right now as to how they will convert:

I would wait out booking a hotel until we hear more from Marriott. We don’t know what’s going to happen to existing but unbooked Travel Package hotel certificates next month. They may announce what they’re going to do with what are being called “floater certificates” before the merger, and you can make a better decision as to whether to book now or wait until after the merger based on how they will be treated moving forward. Maybe they’ll turn the certificates back into Marriott Rewards, at a favorable rate (which would be a huge win if you don’t care about the hotel certificate part and that was just a bonus for buying airline miles). Or maybe not. Maybe they’ll turn your certificate into a certificate redeemable at even better properties. Or maybe not.

If we don’t hear any more news from Marriott regarding “floater” certificates before August 18, then if you know which hotel you want then it’s smart to go ahead and book. And certainly book if the award price of your desired hotel is shooting up post merger. If you didn’t care about the hotel certificate part of the package to begin with, or are willing to roll the dice in hopes of a win, then I would wait to see what happens.

Earning Power of SPG Cards Decreases August 1

Right now, non-bonused spend on the Starwood Preferred Guest consumer and business Amex cards earns 1 SPG point per dollar. 1 SPG = 1 airline mile, 1 SPG point = 3 Marriott Rewards, and 3 Marriott Rewards = 1 airline mile. Post-merger, 3 Marriott Rewards will still equal 1 airline mile (and the5k SPG point/15k Marriott Rewards bonus you’ll get for every increment of 20k SPG points/60k Marriott Rewards will stick around as well). One airline mile for one dollar is nothing special, but when you consider that SPG points transfer to a myriad of airline partners–all of whom the merged program is keeping, and even adding to–you can see where the high valuation of SPG points comes from.

But on August 1, both of the SPG Amex cards earning rates will fall to a meager 2 Marriott Rewards per dollar (equivalent of .66 SPG points per dollar). That’s not good enough for me to keep them in my wallet as my go-to for non-bonused spend. Granted, I collect SPG points with the intention of transferring them to airline partners.

August 1 is next Wednesday. If you have an SPG card in your wallet for non-bonused spend like I do, it’s time to reevaluate that decision.

Bottom Line

August 18, 2018 is the day. If you haven’t already, it’s time to take stock of your current Marriott / SPG situation and decide if there are any actions you should take before August 18, or wait to do post-merger. In brief:

  • If you want to pool points with someone in your household, do it in the SPG program before August 18 to avoid any caps on max amount of points transferrable and/or fees.
  • Identify SPG and Marriott hotels you want to book, and check if they are going up or down in price with the merger. Make reservations accordingly. If you have enough SPG points for a property going down in price post-merger, book it now to reserve award space. You’ll need to call in after August 18 to get points refunded, but this should work as a means of holding the space. You can do this with Marriott properties as well, and even book nights you don’t have enough points for yet. You’ll need to earn them within two weeks of the stay though to keep the reservation.
  • Book Marriott travel packages before August 18.
  • SPG Amex cardholders should consider whether or not to keep these cards in their wallet for everyday non-bonused spending.

And finally, don’t expect to be able to do anything early in the day August 18 during the migration. Stay tuned for updates about when you can act…especially if you’re aiming to book a top-tier SPG property dropping in price that will surely have a ton of demand as soon as award prices fall.

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