Marriott International’s new loyalty program has received mixed reviews from experts and consumers.
The new Marriott Rewards will merge with its counterpart programs at Ritz-Carlton and Starwood. Marriott purchased Starwood in 2016.
Starting in August, members will be able to merge points and book across the entire slate of its more than 6,500 properties at Marriott.com. Marriott now has 29 brands.
Marriott will post a redemption chart when the changes are officially made. The company says it will eliminate blackout dates for loyalty rewards.
Elite status will be standardized, with members reaching Silver after 10 nights, Gold after 25 nights, Platinum at 50 and Platinum Premier at 75. Guests who stay 100 nights and spend $20,000 will reach the ambassador program. Lifetime status members will retain those perks.
Starwood loyalty members have been waiting anxiously to hear about the changes. The Starwood Preferred Guest program was wildly popular, offering such perks as free breakfast and room upgrades.
“There’s been a lot of anxiety when you bring programs of these sizes together,” says David Flueck, senior vice president of global loyalty for Marriott. “The concern is that you will make the programs less rich. We’ve brought the best of our programs together.”
Flueck says on average members will earn 20% more points than they do now.
In August, SPG members will see their points balance triple, he says.
SPG, Marriott Rewards and The Ritz-Carlton Rewards members will all earn 10 points for every dollar spent at all brands except for Residence Inn, TownePlace Suites and Element. Members who stay at those brands will earn five points per every dollar spent.
In August, all members will also begin earning points for food and beverage purchases and qualifying incidentals, rather than just the room rate.
The breakfast offering for Platinum and Platinum Premier members will be expanded to 23 participating brands.
“Gold elite and platinum elite got easier to attain for Marriott rewards members,” Flueck says.
The program name will not change until next year.
Other changes coming this year include new co-branded credit cards by JPMorgan Chase and American Express.
On May 3, Chase will launch the new Marriott Rewards Premier Plus Credit Card, and in August, American Express will introduce the new Starwood Preferred Guest American Express Luxury Card.
The new Chase Marriott Rewards Premier Plus Credit Card will give members six Marriott Rewards points per dollar spent at participating hotels, two points per dollar spent on all other eligible purchases, and more.
The new Starwood Preferred Guest American Express Luxury Card will offer members six points per dollar spent at participating hotels, three points per dollar spent on airfare and at U.S. restaurants, and two points per dollar spent on other eligible purchases.
“For most people, the new Marriott loyalty program will be better than the old options,” says Julian Kheel, a senior editor at The Points Guy. “There are a certain subset of customers who won’t be happy with the changes. Lower level SPG elites will lose some benefits like free breakfast and lounge access.”
Chekitan Dev, a professor at Cornell University’s School of Hotel Administration, says the program will be less lucrative for Ritz-Carlton Rewards members because they will now be competing with millions of Marriott and SPG members for a limited number Ritz-Carlton nights.
“The merged Marriott loyalty program is a mixed blessing for its members,” Dev says. “Whether the new program is better or worse in terms of its value will depend on the way it is structured. Starwood Preferred Guest Members are huge fans of the program, more so than Marriott Rewards members. So, Marriott would be well-served to make the new program as close to the Starwood program as possible.”
Customers such as Adam Jakowenko have mixed feelings about the changes.
“Overall it appears that Marriott tried to do their best to have a new program that would still work for most people,” he says. “Unfortunately they did make some negative changes that have impacted me directly.”
For instance, he uses his SPG American Express card for everyday expenses. To maintain the same value, the earn rate would have to be three points per dollar, he says. But the new card only offers a two points per dollar rate for purchases other than staying at hotels, airfare and restaurants.
“What Marriot and Amex don’t seem to realize or care about is that they have removed any incentives to spend money on their cards, given this devaluation,” he says.
Marcus Beier of Port Charlotte, Fla., says he has had 597 SPG nights since 2009.
“This is not good for consumers, and it’s a smack to our face that it’s being packaged that way,” he says.
Albert Pitts of North Syracuse, N.Y., is taking a more wait-and-see approach.
“I’m hearing that it’s supposed to be easier,” to redeem points, he says. “So that’s what I’m hoping for.”
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