With the merger of Starwood, Marriott and Ritz-Carlton continuing at pace, we have now found that changes as a result of the merger process mean that American Express Membership Rewards cardholders can no longer transfer their points to Starwood, having to wait until the new Marriott Rewards partnership kicks in on 21 August.
Since first published in April, this comprehensive guide has been revised numerous times to include the latest news and updated advice.
What’s happening with American Express points transfers to Starwood and Marriott Rewards?
Over the weekend we started seeing reports from readers that the American Express Membership Rewards website no longer offered the option to make points transfers to Starwood. It turns out this was disabled on July 27th, the day after the August 18th combined program date was announced by Marriott.
On logging into Membership Rewards you’ll now see SPG transfers are not available with the “Transfer my points” button removed:
American Express have confirmed to us that this option will not be available again until the Marriott Rewards transfer option is available, which should be on August 21st – after the combined program is launched.
As we outlined previously this means you will receive much less value from these transfers than you previously enjoyed. Previously, you could transfer at:
1 Amex Membership Rewards point = 0.5 Starpoints = 1.5 Marriott Rewards points
From 21 August, the transfer rate will change to:
3 Amex Membership Rewards points = 2 Marriott Rewards points
or put another way:
1 Amex Membership Rewards point = ⅔ Marriott Rewards points
That is a devaluation of more than half for this particular partner. Note that it applies to all variants of Membership Rewards points, including Gateway, Ascent, Ascent Premium and David Jones.
What can you do if you were waiting to transfer your balance to Starwood until the last possible moment and haven’t made the transfer? As far as we know, not much, with this option becoming unavailable both online and over the phone until after the program merger.
To be clear – according to American Express’ Membership Reward terms, this change seems to be within the terms of the program. That doesn’t mean it’s customer-friendly. While details of the merged program have generally been well communicated by Marriott, this aspect would definitely have best been communicated to members and cardholders in advance of the option being removed so that Membership Rewards cardholders could have planned accordingly.
To be clear, none of this impacts your Membership Rewards points if you want to transfer to one of the other Amex frequent flyer partners, including Velocity, Asia Miles or KrisFlyer — transfer rates to these partners are not changing.
What is happening on 18 August?
- SPG and Marriott Rewards will combine on Saturday 18 August, covering 6,500+ properties across 29 brands in 127 countries
- The new award chart will come into effect—if the price for a property you are looking at is going up, then book before this date; if it is going down and you want to lock in availability, then book now and request a refund of the points difference later on; if it is going down and you can hold off on booking, then do just that
- If you want to book a top-tier property that will temporarily be a lot cheaper, be aware that the system may be down for the whole day of 18 August as the transition occurs, so do not expect to be able to lock in a booking straight away; rather, check back periodically
The luxurious Al Maha, Dubai will drop in price but room availability is expected to be very tight so be quick!
- Some members may receive a new SPG and/or Marriott Rewards account number—to simplify this, link your accounts now
- Your SPG points will automatically transfer over to Marriott Rewards at a rate of 1 Starpoint = 3 Marriott Rewards points—you can still manually move your points back and forth until this date
- If you want to redeem your points for a Hotel + Air Package, you have until 17 August to do this but you may want to complete this a few days before in case the systems get overloaded. There is still no official word on what will happen to outstanding hotel certificates (that is: those issued but not yet redeemed by 18 August). There is a gamble: many bloggers predict that Marriott will reward these holders generously with points back into their account or certificates valid at the same category in the new program; others say that they will be reimbursed in points but not so generously—my take is that the former will occur but there are no promises of that
- Three hotel loyalty programs—Starwood Preferred Guest, Marriott Rewards and Ritz-Carlton Rewards—will combine into one in 18 August 2018
- There will be a transition period until the end of 2018 during which each will still exist but they will be linked together
- You have been able to transfer your points between SPG and Marriott as well as match elite status for some time now
- The new combined program name and website is slated to launch sometime in January 2019
What is staying the same?
- Fifth night on award stays free
- Cash and points awards
- SPG 25% transfer bonus to frequent flyer programs (effectively—see below)
New award chart
There will be eight categories instead of the current nine in Marriott Rewards. From 2019, the award chart will differentiate between peak and off-peak rates, which are slated to be more or less evenly split over the year.
There will be no blackout dates at any property.
There is a searchable table of all 6,500+ Marriott, Starwood and Ritz-Carlton properties with their current and future pricing. Here is the timeline:
- From now until 17 August: separate Marriott and SPG award charts
- From 18 August until 31 December 2018: Categories 1-7 under one unified award chart
- From 1 January 2019: Category 8 added into award chart
Almost 70% of properties will require the same or fewer points, meaning that over 30% are increasing in price.
For example, currently The Old Clare Hotel in Sydney costs 12,000 Starpoints/36,000 Marriott points (remember: 1 Starpoint = 3 Marriott Rewards points), and this will drop by 1,000 points to 35,000 in the new program.
The Aloft Perth will drop from 21,000 Marriott points to 17,500 points.
The W Brisbane is the only one of the 20 Australian properties in the combined program that will increase in price, from 30,000 Marriott points to 35,000 points.
But—and a big but is that—the new amounts are for ‘standard’ pricing. From January 2019, there will be a pricing difference between off-peak and peak dates and we don’t have information on those dates yet.
Further afield, families holidaying at Disneyworld Orlando will see a significant price increase from 36,000 Marriott points to 50,000 points for the two Disney properties there.
Other examples include a room at the W London staying the same—60,000 points, whilst the Waikiki Beach Marriott Resort & Spa will increase from 50,000 Marriott points to 60,000 points.
There will also be a rotating PointSavers list, with 20% off points redemptions at select hotels.
Book top-tier Starwood hotels (including all-suite properties) for over 40% off from August
For the first time, all-suite SPG properties like The St. Regis Bora Bora will be bookable at standard rates.
Currently, the highest tier in the Starwood Preferred Guest program is Category 7, costing 90,000/105,000 (off-peak/peak) Marriott Rewards points per night (= 30,000-35,000 Starpoints with the 3:1 transfer ratio between the two programs).
However, during the transition period from August to December 2018, whilst this category will remain the highest, it will drop to only 60,000 Marriott points (20,000 Starpoints) per night. When the full merger comes into effect in January 2019, these properties will move to a new, higher Category 8 and cost 70,000/100,000 Marriott points (off-peak/peak).
That means that for bookings made between 18 August and 31 December 2018, both for stays during that period and for stays into 2019, these properties will be 43% off the current price and 40% off the post-merger price!
Here is the full list of Category 7 properties, with some highlights for Australia-based travellers being:
- W Bali Seminyak
- W Koh Samui
- W South Beach
- The St. Regis Maldives
- The St. Regis San Francisco
- The St. Regis New York
- The St. Regis Aspen
- The St. Regis Florence
- Santa Marina, a Luxury Collection Resort, Mykonos
- Al Maha, a Luxury Collection Desert Resort & Spa, Dubai
If we take the example of the W Bali Seminyak, a five-night stay during peak dates currently costs you 140,000 Starpoints/420,000 Marriott points—with the free fifth night on award stays benefit available both now and in the new program.
However, if you held out until after 18 August to make your booking, the cost would drop to 80,000 Starpoints, which is almost half off!
If you wait until January next year to book, the price will increase to ~133,000 Starpoints/400,000 Marriott points, which is only slightly cheaper than the current price.
But note that these properties are most likely going to experience a dramatic drop in availability for booking with points both due to a lot of demand from travellers as well as a (most probably tighter) reclassification of what a ‘standard’ room is.
For example, a standard room at The St. Regis Maldives is reported to be a Garden Villa rather than an Overwater Villa, which is a downgrade but still offers good value.
Hotel + Air Packages
This has historically been a really popular points redemption avenue for Marriott Rewards members and, as an extension, SPG members.
Transferring your Starpoints to Marriott Rewards and then into a Hotel + Air Package with Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan opens up great-value redemptions on Alaska but, more importantly, its partner airlines
Most Marriott Hotel + Air Packages will now be priced the same, regardless of the airline you are transferring your points to, rather than split into five tables. The only exception is United MileagePlus, with whom you’ll get a 10% bonus.
This new table is a devaluation but still offers better value than just a straight Marriott points to airline transfer.
Elite status will be recognised across all three programs with five elite tiers—basically like SPG has now plus a Marriott Silver tier.
Marriott Rewards and Ritz-Carlton Rewards Gold will translate into Platinum Elite—this will be the main elite status to aim for—whilst Platinum will become Platinum Premier Elite.
More brands will offer breakfast, notably Courtyard and resort properties, but Ritz-Carltons and some others will still not feed you for free.
How do the changes affect me if I hold SPG Gold status?
From 21 August, SPG Gold has will become SPG Gold Elite.
SPG Gold Elite members lose out with reduction of guaranteed 4pm late check-out to 2pm late check-out subject to availability, and only bonus points as arrival gift instead of choice between that and a welcome drink.
The backdoor access route to free breakfast for SPG Gold Elite members (no breakfast) through status matching to Marriott Gold Elite for free breakfast at Marriott properties disappears.
Your earn rate on stays will increase from 3 Starpoints (= 9 Marriott Rewards points) per US$1 spent to 12.5 points, which is a positive change.
It is reasonable to expect the American Express Platinum Charge card to continue offering automatic Gold Elite status after the changes come into effect.
How do the changes affect me if I hold SPG Platinum status?
SPG Platinum members will become Platinum Elite in the new program.
You will get complimentary suite upgrades subject to availability, as well as five confirmed Suite Night Awards each year.
Your earn rate on stays will increase from 3 Starpoints (9 Marriott Rewards points) per US$1 spent to 15 points, which is a substantial increase.
The base rate of 10 points per US$1 spent is the same as the current Marriott Rewards program, with that rate halved at Residence Inn, TownePlace Suites and Element properties.
Points will transfer from Marriott Rewards and Ritz-Carlton Rewards to the new program at a 1:1 ratio and Starpoints at 1:3—that is the same as the current transfer rate. For example, if you have 10,000 Starpoints, that will equal 30,000 points in the new program.
Redeeming points by transferring to frequent flyer partners
Here are two bits of great news!
Firstly, the new program will keep the same ratio as the current sweet spot in transferring from SPG in increments of 20,000 Starpoints to get a 5,000-point bonus. Under the new scheme, if you transfer 60,000 rewards points to a frequent flyer partner, you’ll get a 15,000-point bonus, which will equal 20,000 + 5,000 bonus = 25,000 frequent flyer points.
The new program will have 3:1 transfer ratio to frequent flyer partners, meaning it will basically work the same as the current SPG program.
Secondly, all current SPG and Marriott Rewards transfer partners will be kept, which increases the versatility of your points. Notably, Qantas Frequent Flyer will be included as one of the transfer partners—it is not currently an SPG partner but is available through Marriott—and Velocity is currently an SPG partner but not Marriott partner and will also be included in the new program. Apart from that, I see no notable/useful additional partners coming on.
Using your Qantas Points for Emirates Business Class travel is a great redemption
These changes are about the best we could have hoped for, with the bones of the excellent Starwood Preferred Guest program being preserved in the new version covering the largest hotel chain in the world.
SPG Gold Elite members lose their guaranteed late check-out and backdoor to free breakfast at Marriott properties but gain higher points earn, as do SPG Platinum status holders. If you are a Marriott elite, you will get more status recognition.
Both SPG and Marriott members get more properties at which to earn and redeem their points.
You can find more details about the new program here.
What is your take on the changes? And how do you think they will affect your travel plans?