With the Starwood Preferred Guest (SPG) program winding down in August, SPG members will soon be moved across to a new, giant loyalty program under the Marriott banner, bringing with it a fresh set of rules, benefits and status levels, as one of the final stages of the Marriott+SPG merger.
For a few travellers, that’ll be great news – but for most SPG cardholders, not so much. Australian Business Traveller compares the current SPG program to the as-yet-unnamed scheme coming into play on August 1, to reveal the winners and losers on the Starwood side.
(If you currently hold Marriott Rewards status earned directly through Marriott Rewards – rather than matched across from SPG – click here to see how the new program stacks up for you instead.)
Biggest winners: Guests staying 10-24 nights per year
As Starwood Preferred Guest doesn’t have a public status level between its base tier and SPG Gold, guests who spend 24 nights in hotels per year currently get the same recognition as a new member checking-in for the very first time, unless they’re able to earn SPG Gold via a different channel.
Once the programs merge, guests staying for 10-24 nights per year will start being rewarded as a regular with Silver Elite status, gaining priority late check-out (subject to availability), and can earn more points with every stay.
That’s because SPG’s current earning rate of 2 Starpoints per US$1 spent for these members will be replaced with an earning rate of 11 reward points per US$1 spent at most hotels across the Marriott, Starwood and Ritz-Carlton portfolio, being a base earn of 10 points per US$1, plus a 10% elite bonus.
When converted into airline frequent flyer points, 2 Starpoints are equal to 2 frequent flyer points in programs like Virgin Australia Velocity and Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer – while under the new program, 11 reward points equals 3.66 frequent flyer points with those same airlines: almost twice as many points per US$1 spent as you’d earn today.
Biggest losers: Guests who earn status from ‘stays’, rather than ‘nights’
Tiers and perks aside, the biggest change between SPG and the new program is that you’ll no longer be able to earn status by counting ‘stays’ – that is, the number of times you check-in to a hotel – with the new program considering only the total number of nights you’ve spent instead.
That’s a considerable blow for business travellers who routinely stay for only one night in each hotel, because doing that 10 times a year under SPG grants SPG Gold status, with 25 overnight stays returning SPG Platinum.
Under the new scheme, making 10 one-night stays would only provide Silver Elite – losing valuable perks like room upgrades and a guaranteed 4pm late check-out – while 25 overnight stays would only give Gold Elite, which lacks perks like hotel lounge access as SPG Platinum currently offers.
To soften the blow, Marriott will initially match SPG Gold members to Gold Elite in the new program and SPG Platinum members to Platinum Elite under the new scheme, but in future years, your status will drop unless you can earn the required number of nights, as ‘stays’ will no longer be considered.
Other key losers: AMEX Platinum cardholders with free SPG Gold status
One great perk attached to the top-of-the-line American Express Platinum charge card is complimentary SPG Gold status, which can currently be matched to Marriott Rewards Gold Elite to enjoy perks like free breakfast and hotel lounge access at a range of Marriott hotels.
That ‘status shortcut’ comes to an end on August 1, because under the new program, members who hold Gold status on the SPG side will only get Gold Elite under the new scheme, while travellers who have earned (not matched to) Marriott Rewards Gold status will become Platinum Elite.
While your new status tier sounds the same as the old one, it’ll actually have fewer benefits, because Marriott is moving lounge access and daily brekky to become Platinum-only perks on the same date.
That’s not a concern for members who’ve earned today’s Marriott Rewards Gold status in their own right – they’ll be bumped to Platinum, to keep enjoying the same benefits – but for those currently enjoying Marriott status courtesy of AMEX and SPG, it’ll mean fewer benefits on future Marriott stays.
It’s a mixed bag: Guests who stay for 75-99 nights per year
For travellers spending 75-99 nights per year at hotels, there’s one big gain and one big loss between SPG and the new program, with the rest of the perks you enjoy today continuing from August – including the biggies of hotel lounge access and daily breakfast.
On the plus side, the current earn rate for these members of 4 Starpoints per US$1 spent (equal to 4 frequent flyer points per US$1) becomes 17.5 reward points per US$1 spent at most hotels from August, equal to a higher 5.83 frequent flyer points earned from the same spend.
However, the great ‘Your 24’ perk – which allows you to check-in at a hotel and check-out 24 hours later while paying for only one room night – will no longer be available, mostly affecting those who book airport hotels and enjoy the flexibility of checking-in at 9pm and leaving at 9pm the next day, for example, without incurring any late check-out fees or the cost of paying for an extra night.
The other key difference is that under SPG, members currently earn 10 Suite Night Awards (confirmed suite upgrades) after 50 nights, while the new scheme gives you five Suite Night Awards at 50 nights and another five at 75 nights: still 10 per year if staying 75+ nights, just delivered differently.
Losers: Guests staying for 50-74 nights per year
Speaking of that change to Suite Night Awards, it’ll affect guests who stay for 50-74 nights/year the most, because they’ll only earn five of these at the 50-night level, as opposed to 10 under the current SPG program.
Today’s SPG program also provides a choice of perks upon reaching 50 nights – you could pocket those 10 Suite Night Awards, or opt for other rewards like gifting SPG Gold to a friend or family member, one free room night award, a boost of five extra qualifying nights to get you to the next tier, and more. Come August, you’ll get only five Suite Night Awards, with no other options.
The only upside is the increase to your points earning rate, which is the case for most SPG members, with your current earn rate of 3 Starpoints per US$1 spent (=3 frequent flyer points) amended to 15 reward points per US$1 spent at most hotels in the new program, on-par with 5 frequent flyer points per US$1.
Benefits like high-speed internet, 4pm check-out, room upgrades including suites, hotel lounge access and a choice of welcome gift between bonus points, breakfast or a hotel amenity remain the same.
Winners: Occasional guests staying 1-9 nights per year
Enrolling in today's SPG scheme gives all members complimentary in-room Internet access when booking their stay directly through the hotel (rather than through online travel agents) – a valuable perk, and one that remains free under the new program.
What's changing though is the points earning rate, ramping up from 2 Starpoints per US$1 spent (2 frequent flyer points) to 10 reward points per US$1 spent instead with most hotels: equal to a higher 3.33 frequent flyer points.
These occasional guests may also find themselves bumped up to Silver Elite when the Starwood Preferred Guest, Marriott Rewards and Ritz-Carlton Rewards programs are combined, based on the total number of nights they've spent with each chain this year.
For example, a member may have stayed five nights at Starwood hotels this year, and another five nights at Marriott hotels this year: which, under the current arrangements, gives no status or elite recognition in either program.
On August 1, the nights you've accrued in all three programs will be pooled together, and if your tally reaches the requirements of a higher level, you'll move up automatically: so under that same scenario, the traveller would climb from entry-level status to Silver Elite in the new program overnight, for recognition across the portfolio.
The same pooling system will apply to members of all other tiers, but is most beneficial for those at the lowest rung, where moving up the ladder requires the fewest number of nights.
Losers: Guests staying for 25-49 nights per year
The news isn't as good for guests spending 25 to 49 nights in hotels every year, with benefits cut back under the new loyalty program, to be offset only by a modest increase to their points earning rate.
The much-loved perk of a guaranteed 4pm late check-out at most hotels is whittled back to a 2pm late check-out subject to availability, which can realistically mean no late check-out at all when staying during busy periods or when the hotel is fully-booked.
Space-available room upgrades and premium in-room Internet remain available, although the current choice between bonus points or a free drink voucher at check-in is also being withdrawn, replaced by a welcome gift of bonus points only.
On the brighter side, the current earn rate for these guests of 3 Starpoints per US$1 spent (equal to three frequent flyer points when converted at a 1:1 rate) nudges up to 12.5 reward points per US$1 spent in the new scheme at most hotels, worth 4.16 frequent flyer points following a 3:1 conversion.
It’s a draw: Guests staying 100+ nights per year
Starwood Preferred Guest currently rewards its most loyal customers with ‘Ambassador service’ after staying for 100 nights each year, giving access to a personal travel assistant to help with all your bookings and special requests, and a direct point of contact when help is required.
Under the new scheme, guests still need 100 hotel nights per year to reach this tier, but will also require a qualifying hotel spend of at least US$20,000 over that same period to get over the line: averaging US$200 (A$270) per night for a guest staying exactly 100 nights.
Reach this level and you’ll qualify for the only membership tier that still gets access to ‘Your 24’, and as with members staying for 75-99 nights, your earning rate also increases from 4 Starpoints per US$1 spent to 17.5 reward points per US$1 spent: that’s 5.83 frequent flyer points per US$1 as opposed to 4/US$1.