New Opportunities from the Marriott/Starwood Merger
Remember when it was first announced that Marriott would be buying Starwood? It struck fear into the hearts of many travel hackers that the industry’s most valuable transferable point program might be ruined or even eliminated by a hotel chain with a low value rewards program. So far, those fears have been unfounded. Marriott and SPG recently announced the first major changes to their awards programs and the news is good!
Highlights of the Announcement
The first and most important point is that SPG and Marriott will continue to operate independent reward programs until at least 2018. That means we still have at least 15 months to enjoy the tremendous value offered by SPG, especially the ability to convert Starpoints to airline miles at a 1:1 ratio with a 5K bonus for every increment of 20K points. However, the merger has opened up some new opportunities and gives us even more flexibility. The highlights of the announcement are:
- You can freely transfer points between SPG and Marriott at a ratio of 1 SPG point to 3 Marriott points
- Point transfers are allowed in both directions
- You get reciprocal elite status between programs (SPG Gold = Marriott Gold, SPG Platinum = Marriott Platinum) again, in both directions
One of the benefits of Marriott Platinum status is that you automatically receive United Airlines Silver status. So if you are an SPG Platinum with no United elite status, be sure to link your SPG and Marriott accounts to begin receiving this benefit.
Converting Points to Miles with Marriott Travel Packages
One of the best ways to take advantage of the ability to transfer points between programs is to utilize Marriott’s travel packages (or flight and hotel packages). The way these packages work is you exchange a certain number of Marriott points for airline miles and a 7-night stay in a Marriott property. There are a wide variety of airlines from which to choose. The number of points required depends on the number of airline miles you choose to receive and the category of the hotel.
The reason this is such a great redemption is that airline miles tend to be worth far more than Marriott points. These packages allow you convert a significant number of Marriott points into airline miles at a 1:1 ratio or better. There are 13 airlines to choose from which convert at a 1:1 ratio including several of the major U.S. airlines such as American, Alaska, Delta, and Southwest. If you choose the “RewardsPlus” package, which converts your points into United miles, you receive 10% more miles. There are a large number of additional airlines to choose from which convert at a ratio of approximately 1:0.7.
The standard travel package costs are listed in the table below (“Category” refers to Marriott hotels, “Tier” refers to Ritz-Carlton hotels):
Points Required for Hotel Stay + Airline Miles
|7 Nights + 50,000 Miles||7 Nights + 70,000 Miles||7 Nights + 100,000 Miles||7 Nights + 120,000 Miles|
As an example, Marriott category 5 hotels normally go for 25K points per night and you get the 5th night free if you redeem enough points for at least 4 nights. Therefore, a 7-night stay would normally cost 150K points. So if we subtract that cost out of the total number of points required for travel packages, you can effectively convert anywhere from 50K to 120K Marriott points to airline miles at a 1:1 ratio.
Let’s do a comparison of generating airline miles with SPG points via transferring to Marriott and then using a travel package versus simply doing a direct transfer from SPG to an airline.
- Transferring 90K SPG points to Marriott will yield 270K points (due to the 1:3 transfer ratio). By using a travel package at the highest point level, you can get a 7-night stay in a category 1-5 hotel, plus 120K airline miles (or 132K miles if you choose United).
- Transferring the same 90K SPG points directly to an airline would yield 110K points, which includes a total of 20K bonus points (5K bonus points for each increment of 20K points that are transferred).
As you can see, for many people’s travel needs, transferring to Marriott first would be the better option. Keep in mind, you don’t even have to actually use the 7-night award stay. You could simply let it expire and use the miles whenever you want. The more you value the hotel stay, the more the Marriott option makes sense versus the direct transfer option.
The area where SPG still has an advantage over Marriott is in the sheer number of airline partners that transfer at a 1:1 ratio or better. There are currently 33 airlines to which you can transfer SPG points to miles at a 1:1 ratio or better, which becomes 1:1.25 if you use increments of 20K in order to get the 5K bonuses. So if the frequent flyer program you want to use is not one of the ones that Marriott offers, you may still be better off transferring directly from SPG. Don’t forget to check out reward pricing service to figure out the cheapest way to get to your desired destination.
Shortcut to the Southwest Companion Pass
The Southwest Companion is a favorite of travel enthusiasts. This pass gives you unlimited buy one get one free flights for you a companion on both paid and award flights. The pass is good until the end of the calendar year after the year it is earned. In order to earn the pass, you need to earn 110K Southwest Companion Pass Qualifying points in a calendar year. Points transferred to Southwest using the Marriott travel packages qualify toward earning the Companion Pass. So, if you used the same package as in our example above, you could convert 90K SPG points into 270K Marriott points, and then 120K Southwest points. If you use this option you would qualify for the Companion Pass instantly!