UPDATE | Earlier advice and commentary provided by Marriott International to Australian Business Traveller has proven to be incorrect. Specifically, this relates to a statement from the company that SPG Gold members would be granted Platinum Elite status under the new program by way of their linked Marriott Rewards tier.
Marriott International has confirmed that the information it publicised in April 2018 was incorrect, but has declined to comment further on the matter.
For more information on this correction, please read: Marriott downgrades elite status for SPG Gold members.
PREVIOUS | With Marriott unveiling its new global hotel loyalty program this week, members will find their existing Marriott Rewards, Ritz-Carlton Rewards and Starwood Preferred Guest account benefits harmonised across all hotel chains from August, in the lead-up to an all-new program which debuts in 2019.
Marriott has explained how much of the transition will take place – and broadly, how the new program will work – but Australian Business Traveller noticed some gaps in the detail, and put questions to top Marriott executives to find out more about these changes.
We sat down with Marriott International’s Chief Sales and Marketing Officer for Asia Pacific, Peggy Fang Roe (pictured below), and Marriott International’s Director of Strategic Alliances and Partnerships for Asia Pacific, Vibhore Saraswat, to dig into more details of Marriott’s new rewards program.
1. Your highest status today determines your status in the new scheme
Note: The information Marriott provided in this section was later proven to be incorrect. We have now confirmed that SPG Gold members will only receive Gold Elite under the new scheme, unless their travel habits would qualify them for the higher Platinum Elite tier anyway. See the note above for further information.
Do you have both an SPG Gold card and a Marriott Rewards Gold card – even if that Marriott Gold status was really earned by linking your account to SPG Gold?
Under the new program, you’ll be matched to Platinum Elite, Marriott has confirmed, following initial confusion around Marriott Rewards Gold members being given Platinum Elite status in the new program, but SPG Gold members only getting Gold Elite status going forward, when under the current system, having SPG Gold gets your Marriott Gold when you link your accounts.
It’s a bit of a ‘status shortcut’, but as Peggy Fang Roe explains, “as long as you’re a Gold in Marriott, you’re going to become a Platinum Elite (in the new program): that’s the rule, so even if you were to link your (SPG and Marriott) accounts now, you would (get Platinum status in August).”
“It’s just to keep it fair. Our intent is to create more benefits for members, and we want them to be happy and excited about the program. If we need to give (them) more benefits in the short term, we’re happy to do that.”
If you’re an SPG Gold member and haven’t already linked your account to Marriott, do this today so that you get Marriott Rewards Gold status before the new program kicks in: that way, you’ll become Platinum Elite under the new scheme, instead of Gold Elite from your Starwood status alone.
2. Changes to ‘free’ status for American Express Platinum cardholders
Currently, an Australian AMEX Platinum Charge Card is all you need for a free bump to SPG Gold status – and by extension, Marriott Rewards Gold status – which as above, will get you Platinum Elite membership in the new program.
Saraswat confirmed to Australian Business Traveller that there will be no changes to the ability to opt-in for this status through AMEX until August when the new program kicks in, so if you haven’t already taken advantage of this, there’s still time.
Regarding status for AMEX cardholders beyond August, Saraswat assures that Marriott is “not planning to remove anything, we’ll just be making enhancements in the way the programs are right now.”
“As you would imagine, the American Express partnership was respective to SPG only, and with our (new) program, we’ll have a bigger portfolio, so we will try to enhance those benefits,” but it’s not yet known which tier AMEX cardholders will be assigned to when requesting their hotel status after the new program kicks in.
The same unknown applies to converting AMEX Membership Rewards points into Starwood Preferred Guest Starpoints, but when there’s news on this, you can be sure we'll report it.
3. Nights booked using points will count as eligible ‘nights’ for status
It’s a small detail, but one that many business travellers make use of when booking personal trips – and that’s that any hotel nights booked using reward points under the new program will continue to earn ‘nights’ towards elite status.
This is a different approach to how most airlines work, where if you use your points to book a flight, you generally miss out on status credits, so whether your hotel stay is paid for with points or cash, the nights you spend in hotels will count towards keeping your status or attaining a new tier.
While Marriott has outlined how many points will be needed to book hotel stays under the new program, what hasn’t been shared is which category each hotel will belong to: information Marriott plans to release closer to August 2018.
4. You’ll still be able to buy points in the new program
A favourite trick of savvy travellers is to buy points in the Starwood Preferred Guest program during lucrative discount or bonus point deals, and convert these into airline frequent flyer points to fly business class at economy-like prices.
Saraswat wouldn’t be drawn on whether the new program would continue offer such rewarding promotions, but did say that Marriott is “not planning to remove the ability for members to buy points” under the new scheme.
“We will be having more details on what that arrangement is going to be in the future, but that benefit is going to stay on,” he adds, sharing also that “for simplification we would like that every (airline) partner should have a 3:1 conversion ratio” on points transfers from the new scheme.
5. There’ll be no more ‘secret’ VIP membership level
SPG currently has an invitation-only ‘VIP Preferred Guest’ tier, while Marriott Rewards has its own by-invitation Platinum Premier Elite tier – but in the new program, there’ll be no VIP rank: anybody can qualify for any tier with the right number of nights: it just happens that the name of the highest public tier in the new program uses the same name as the current VIP tier.
Members who earn 75 nights under the new scheme will receive a Platinum Premier Elite, and those who reach 100 nights will get Platinum Premier Elite with Ambassador service for a more personalised travel experience, mixing the best of Marriott Rewards and SPG.
Existing VIPs from both Marriott and SPG will be transitioned to the new program’s Platinum Premier Elite (75-night) tier, except for those with 100 nights or more to their name this year, who will naturally get a Platinum Premier Elite with Ambassador membership.