How the Marriott/Starwood merger will affect your hotel points

Starwood and Marriott are still operating two separate rewards programs for now, but that will change soon. 

Charles Sykes/AP Images for Marriott International/FIle
Bill Marriott, Executive Chairman of Marriott International, and Arne Sorenson, President & CEO, join with the Marriott executive team and associates in Times Square to celebrate the company's acquisition of Starwood in New York in September.

The deal is done, and Marriott and Starwood are now officially one company. For the time being, they're still operating two separate rewards programs, but things are a-changing. Here's my guide to the programs' new features to help you strategize your future frugal travels.

The basics: points now transfer!

The Marriott, Starwood, and Ritz-Carlton programs are now able to transfer pointsbetween each other. Marriott and Ritz-Carlton operate under what is essentially the same program: you just have to choose if you'd like to have a Marriott Rewards account or a Ritz-Carlton account. SPG points transfer into Marriott at a 1:3 ratio. That means that for every 1,000 SPG points you have, you can have 3,000 Marriott Rewards points. These transfers are limited in multiples of 1,000 and have no limits, which means you can transfer freely back and forth. In my experience, points have transferred instantly. To get started, you can link your accounts here.

If you're an elite with one program, you're also now reciprocally an elite in the other program! Marriott Platinum and SPG Platinum match, as well as Marriott Gold and SPG Gold. This is handy for a number of reasons. As an SPG Platinum member, I now have Marriott Platinum, which gets me top-tier status at over a dozen new brands around the world. This means free breakfast, room upgrades, and more, but my favorite new benefit is United MileagePlus Silver status. Yes, because I was matched to Marriott's Platinum Status, I received one of their coolest benefits free until January 2018! This could theoretically get me an upgrade on my next United flight.

If you're using one of the brand's co-branded credit cards, you're in luck. Now you'll earn reciprocal points on spending at all the new merged brands. The Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card by American Express now earns two points for every dollar at Starwood, Marriott, and Ritz-Carlton properties. This means that, with the transfer ratio of 1:3, the SPG card is better to use at Marriott and Ritz-Carlton properties than the Marriott Card!

When should I transfer points between programs?

I'm all about using my points and miles efficiently, so it's been a lot of fun to see what hotels are available in whatever city I'm traveling to next. Analyzing the award charts between the two programs, there are some clear benefits for transferring between the two.

For one, top-tier Marriott properties become a good deal when transferring SPG points. I just transferred points from SPG to Marriott to stay at the Surfers Paradise Marriott Resort and Spa in Queensland, Australia. Hotels are pretty expensive in Australia, so I definitely wanted to use my stockpile of SPG points on the trip. The other branded hotel I was eyeing in the area was the Sheraton Grand Mirage Resort. Per night, the Marriott is 35,000 points and the Sheraton is either 12,000 or 16,000 points, depending on the season. Because I'm visiting in high season, my redemption rate was 16,000 points, and if you do the math, you find it takes 23,333 SPG points to stay for two nights at the Marriott, and 32,000 points to stay at the Sheraton. It was a no-brainer for me to stay at the Marriott by transferring my Starpoints.

Another no-brainer: if you are a mid-tier Starwood Gold member and like free breakfast, Marriott Gold offers that as a benefit when staying at Marriott hotels. If this is important to you, I'd book Marriott.

To sum it all up:

There are lots new opportunities for members of either program, and so far, this merger is not the end of the world. While it might be a different story after the programs merge in 2018, we elite members will just have to wait and find out.

This article first appeared in Brad's Deals. 

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