Marriott and Starwood points loyalists mark your calendars: On March 6, 2018, category changes will take effect for 276 Starwood properties and 1,331 Marriott properties worldwide. A category change means a difference in the number of points required to redeem a free night.
But it’s not all bad news. More than half of the Starwood category changes work in the consumer’s favor (read: less points for a free night) while Marriott’s changes are generally to the consumer’s loss (read: more points for a free night).
Here’s what you need to know about the upcoming changes.
I thought Marriott and Starwood merged. Why are redemption rates changing separately within Marriott and Starwood?
Though Marriott and Starwood have officially merged, their booking engines and loyalty rewards programs have not. Hence, the point structures of the two programs remain completely different. Though consumers can easily transfer points between the Marriott Rewards and Starwood Preferred Guest (SPG) loyalty programs at a ratio of 1:3, Marriott awards must still be booked on Marriott’s website, and Starwood’s on the SPG website.
How do Marriott’s and Starwood’s loyalty programs still differ?
SPG operates seven hotel categories with redemption values differing on weekdays and weekends. At the low end, a Category 1 hotel is 3,000 points per night on a weekday, and 2,000 on a weekend. At the high end, a Category 7 hotel ranges from 30,000 to 35,000 points on either weekdays or weekends, depending on the property. Here’s a complete list of how many SPG points it will cost you for a free night at each category level.
Outside of its Ritz-Carlton brand, Marriott operates nine hotel categories with redemption values differing between “Hotel Reward” and “PointSavers Reward,” the latter offered during low season or predicted dates of low hotel occupancy. At the low end, a Category 1 hotel is 7,500 points per night for a “Hotel Reward” redemption, and 6,000 points for a “PointSavers Reward” redemption. On the high end, a Category 9 hotel is 45,000 points per night for a “Hotel Reward” redemption, and 40,000 points per night for a “PointSavers Reward” redemption.
Ritz-Carlton properties, though bookable with Marriott Rewards points and on the Marriott website, are classified by five tiers, with redemption values also differing between “Hotel Reward” and “PointSavers Reward.” At the low end, a Tier 1 hotel is 30,00 points per night for a “Hotel Reward” redemption, and 20,000 points for a “PointSavers Reward” redemption. On the high end, a Tier 5 hotel is 70,000 points per night for a “Hotel Reward” redemption, and 60,000 points per night for a “PointSavers Reward” redemption.
Here’s a complete list of how many Marriott Rewards points it will cost you for a free night at each category level or Marriott properties and each tier of Ritz-Carlton properties.
Have any changes been made to link Marriott’s and Starwood’s loyalty programs?
At press time, the only major move to link the loyalty programs has been SPG decreasing its booking window from 550 days in advance to 350 days in advance, thus aligning with Marriott’s booking window.
What are the upcoming changes to redemption rates and how will they affect me?
On March 6, 2018, 276 Starwood and 1,331 Marriott/Ritz-Carlton properties will change categories. That’s 17% and 26% of the brands’ portfolios, respectively.
Here’s a complete list of the Starwood properties changing categories, both positive and negative. Here’s a complete list of Marriott/Ritz-Carlton properties changing categories, both positive and negative.
Some notable negative changes include an increase in category or tier for popular hotels such as San Francisco Marriott Marquis (Marriot category 8 to 9), The Ritz-Carlton Sarasota (Tier 3 to 4), Residence Inn Los Angeles L.A. LIVE (Marriott category 7 to 8), Walt Disney World Dolphin (SPG category 4 to 5), and Papaya Playa Project, Tulum, a Member of Design Hotels (SPG category 5 to 6).
Some notable positive changes include a decrease in category or tier for popular hotels such as W New York (SPG category 6 to 5), The Ritz-Carlton Key Biscayne, Miami (Tier 3 to 2), and Atlanta Marriott Suites Midtown (Marriott category 7 to 6).
Though not on everyone’s radar, two of our favorite properties in the world also happen to be decreasing in category: Kigali Marriott Hotel (Marriot category 3 to 2) and Skopje Marriott Hotel (Marriot category 3 to 2). In our opinion, these are arguably the nicest two Marriott-branded properties in the world and offer exceptional value.
Since these changes don’t go into effect until March 6, 2018, consumers can book until then and 350 days into the future at the current points rate. If you’ve been eyeing a particular property and that property’s category is slated to increase, book now! If you’ve been eyeing a particular property and that property’s category is slated to decrease, we suggest waiting until March 7, 2018, to book. (But please note that availability can change at anytime, so there’s a chance your desired dates may disappear between now and March 7.)
If you have already booked your award for a property that will decrease in category or tier after March 6, we suggest calling the loyalty program directly after the change and kindly asking for a refund of the point difference. There’s no guarantee this difference will be refunded, but showing kindness to customer service goes a long way!
How can I accumulate SPG and Marriott points with my premium credit card?
There are several ways to earn SPG and Marriott points. The primary method is to bank points through paid stays. Both programs also offer promotions and bonuses to earn extra points based on booking multiple stays and making purchases with award partners.
In terms of premium credit cards, SPG is a transfer partner of American Express’ Membership Rewards program, meaning holders of American Express Gold Cards and The Platinum Card® by American Express can transfer points to the program at a ratio of 3 Membership Rewards points to 1 SPG point.
Marriott is a transfer partner of Chase’s Ultimate Rewards program, meaning holders of the Chase Sapphire Preferred® and Chase Sapphire Reserve® Cards can transfer points to the program at a ratio of 1 Ultimate Reward to 1 Marriott point. (Pro Tip: Note that point bookings do not earn points.)
Premium credit card holders also have the option of booking hotel stays at Marriott or Starwood as unrestricted travel awards through the credit cards’ booking engines, accessible through their websites or travel concierges.
With this strategy of unrestricted award travel, holders of any of the three Luxury Cards—Mastercard® Gold Card™, Mastercard® Black Card™, and Mastercard® Titanium Card™—can redeem hotel stays at a rate of 2% of their points value. As an example, a $500 hotel can be booked by redeeming 25,000 points. (Pro Tip: This rate is the best in the premium credit card industry.)
Chase Sapphire Reserve Card and U.S. Bank Altitude Reserve Visa Infinite® Card can redeem for hotel stays at a value of 1.75%, Chase Sapphire Preferred Card at 1.25%, and American Express cards and Citi Prestige Card at 1%. (Pro Tip: Note that unrestricted award travel bookings do earn points.)