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The time has finally arrived! Today is the day Marriott and Starwood merge their loyalty programs.

In 2016 Marriott International acquired Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide for $13.6 billion in a deal that created the world’s largest hotel chain. The deal brings Starwood’s Sheraton, Westin, W, and St Regis brands under the same umbrella as Marriott, Courtyard, and Ritz-Carlton branded hotels. The three rewards programs affected were the Starwood points program called SPG, the Ritz-Carlton Rewards, and Marriott Rewards. Fans of the points programs have closely watched to see what would happen to their respective rewards points and if they would lose any of the perks they hold near and dear.

What’s happening?

Today, all three programs will be unified under Marriott Rewards – though, the unified program may be given a new name next year. Using your points will become easier with a single membership, log in, and password to remember, and one place to make and manage reservations with a ton more choice.

Under the new system, the standard earnings rate will be 10 points per dollar spent at all stays at Starwood, Ritz-Carlton, and Marriott brands (except for Residence Inns, TownePlace Suites, and Element, which will earn 5 points per dollar). Members are also eligible to earn points with spending through partners, such as Hertz rental. Despite some concerns about rate increases, almost 70% of the rooms available under the old rewards systems are available for the same, or fewer points, under the new system. There is some nuance, however, and the Points Guy crunched the numbers.

Points loyal status-holders for each program were fearful of losing benefits but the long-and-short-of-it is this: If you held status at either SPG or Marriott you’re either going to maintain that status or earn an upgrade. Although it’s worth noting that the rules around status are being tightened, it used to take just 25 stays for Starwood members to reach platinum status, now platinum status will require 50 nights. But, perks such as 4 pm checkout, club lounge access and suite upgrades for those who attain the status will stay the same.

SPG fans probably had the most to fear from this merger as Starwood points have long been revered for their redemption value. In April, nervous SPG members found out that their current points will convert at a 1:3 rate. Previously, SPG members had earned 2 Starpoints for every dollar spent, the new rewards structure is 10 points for every dollar. Under the overhauled system points don’t have quite the spending power as they did with SPG – actually, about a third less – but overall, the changes weren’t quite as bad as many had feared. Crucially, unlike many points-preoccupied people had anticipated, Marriott made the decision to link status to the number of nights rather than the amount of money spent.

Marriott members holding status (Gold, Platinum, and Lifetime Platinum) all benefit in that the rewards system is remaining pretty much as it was but these members will be getting additional benefits such as enhanced earnings rates and expanded breakfast offerings.

The combined membership for the three rewards programs is a staggering 110 million members. On the plus side, with a great merge comes great options: Points holders will get access to more than 6,500 hotels across 29 brands, and 127 countries.

What do you need to know?

When SPG members log into their accounts they will see a new 9-digit account number for the combined program. Their passwords will stay the same unless the account holder changes it.

Even though the points program has unified, the rewards credit cards will remain separate…. for now. The Marriott Rewards® Premier Credit Card from Chase and the Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express will continue to operate separately until next year when the brands will be unified and Chase and American Express will “redistribute responsibilities.”

Though the cards remained the same the issuers have somewhat refreshed the offering in anticipation of the merge. Here’s what we know:

Refreshed co-branded credit cards

Serious travel-rewards nuts know that the maximum rewards value comes from combining travel spending with everyday spending using co-branded rewards cards. Starwood and Marriott both offered rewards credit cards, which have been updated in anticipation of the merger. The Starwood Preferred Guest® and Business Preferred Guest® cards just got a bit of a facelift. Marriot replaced the Marriott Rewards® Premier Card with the Marriott Rewards® Premier Plus. The only truly new card will be available on August 23, 2018, and that’s the Starwood Preferred Guest® American Express Luxury Credit Cards.

Here’s everything you need to know about each card:

American Express will release its first new Starwood product on August 23, 2018 – the Starwood Preferred Guest® American Express Luxury Card. Clearly aimed at high-spenders the card’s perks and rewards are generous with an annual fee of $450. For that annual charge, the card is packed full of benefits. Like $300 in statement credit for purchases at participating Marriott or SPG hotels for each cardmember each year, and one free night each year on the anniversary of opening your account (50,000 points redemption value). It has a lot of perks you would expect from a high-value travel rewards card like Priority Pass Select membership which grants you access to over 1,200 airport lounges across the world, and a lot of other compelling benefits.

 More details:

  • 6x points on eligible spend with SPG and Marriott hotels.
  • 3x points at U.S. restaurants and on flights booked directly with the airlines.
  • 2x for all other purchases.
  • $85 TSA PreCheck or $100 Global Entry fee credit.
  • Free and unlimited Boingo Wi-Fi and free in-room internet access at participating hotels.
  • 15 elite night credit beginning in 2019 (limited to once per member per year, not per card).

The Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express has been refreshed and now offers a very generous 75,000 bonus points when you spend $3,000 on your card within the first 3 months of opening. This welcome offer alone makes up for the cards annual fee of $95, which is waived for the first year. However, this card is also packed with perks. You now get a complimentary night stay every year on the anniversary of opening the card (for properties with a redemption level at or under 35,000 points). Here’s how the rewards break down on the Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card:

More details:

  • 6x points for every dollar at eligible purchases – includes things like food and drink at the hotel restaurant – at participating Starwood and Marriott hotels.
  • 2x points on everything else.
  • Complimentary night.
  • Automatic Silver Elite status.
  • No foreign transaction fee.
  • Free in-room WiFi.

If you’re a business traveler and SPG fan the Starwood Preferred Guest® Business Credit Card from American Express also has a bigger welcome bonus. The card now offers 75,000 bonus points if you spend $3,000 within the first three months of opening the card. This card also has a $95 annual fee, waived for the first year, and a lot of similar perks to the non-business card including complimentary Silver Elite status but it includes some business categories for bonus rewards and is overall designed for higher spenders. Business travelers might particularly appreciate the SPG Air+Car® transfer program which allows cardholders to redeem points for flights with over 300 airlines and transfer points to over 40 airline frequent flyer programs.

More details:

  • 6x points per dollar of eligible spend.
  • 4x points on select business and travel categories such as U.S. restaurants and gas stations, wireless phone services and shipping.
  • 2x points on everything else.
  • Free night award.
  • Complimentary silver status.
  • Free in-room WiFi.

The Marriott Rewards® Premier Plus Credit Card was released in May and replaced the previous Marriott Rewards Premier Credit Card. The new card sports a refreshed welcome offer, charges $10 more per year for its annual fee – which is now $95 – but offers more points value than the previous version. You can now earn 75,000 bonus points after you spend $3,000 in the first 3 months of opening the account.

More details:

  • 6x points for every dollar at Marriott and SPG hotels.
  • 2x points on all other purchases.
  • Free night on the anniversary of opening the account (up to 35,000 in points).
  • Automatic Silver Elite status.
  • If you spend $35,000 per year you can enjoy Gold Elite benefits.
  • Free in-room WiFi.

There are some restrictions on who can earn the welcome bonus. You won’t be eligible if you’ve had the card before, or if you’ve opened any Chase-issued Marriott or Ritz-Carlton cards in the last 30 days. The Marriott Rewards Premier Plus Card is also subject to the Chase 5/24 rule.

Bottom-line

The newly-united hotel powerhouse offers compelling value for travelers. Marriott Rewards points can be redeemed at over 30 hotel brands in the Marriott-Starwood-Ritz-Carlton umbrella and, with the SPG branded cards, transferred to 30 airline partners at a 1:1 ratio. The Starwood Preferred Guest Cards from American Express really stand out as it’s unusual for branded rewards card to have such flexible redemption.

Despite concerns, and some peculiarities, the new rewards structure generally has something to offer everyone. The bottom-line – if you want the maximum choice and easy redemption, the Marriott-Starwood-Ritz-Carlton unified chain might be hard to beat.

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