New Marriott Loyalty Program to Launch August 18

It’s been about three months now since the Marriott/SPG combined loyalty program was first announced, and the August transition date is fast approaching.

Today, Marriott has updated their mini-site to once again unveil important information about the upcoming change. Also, my friend Barry from Money We Have has conducted another an interview with Marriott’s VP of Loyalty, David Flueck, which reveals quite a few important new details about the merger. And lastly, there’s been important information recently from American Express as they try to navigate the twilight days of their partnership with SPG.

In this post, I’ll sum up all the tidbits of additional information that we’ve received and outline the important actions you should take to set yourself up for success when the new program kicks in.

As you might expect, the updates have recently coming thick and fast in Marriott’s neck of the woods. Don't let this shock you, but there are other things I enjoy writing about as well; therefore, unless something truly groundbreaking is announced in the coming weeks, this will be my final post on the matter before August 18, when the new program officially launches.

In case you missed it, here are the previous articles on the Marriott/Starwood merger:


Official Launch Date: August 18

Marriott has confirmed that August 18, 2018 will be the official launch date of the new program. In all previous communications, Marriott has indicated that changes will merely take place “in August”, so it’s great that an exact date has finally been pinpointed. 

All of the updates to elite status, earning & redeeming, and hotel categories will therefore take effect after 6am EST on this date. Your SPG and Marriott points balances, elite nights, and lifetime totals will all be merged, and your points will be redeemable at all 6,500+ properties under the umbrella from this point onwards.

Marriott has indicated that their systems may be down for long periods on the 18th, and that booking paid or award stays may be difficult or impossible during this time. Executing a merger on this scale is an exceedingly involved task, so that doesn’t surprise me one bit.

This also means that August 18 will be the date to mark on your calendar if you want to book some of the world’s best hotels at a killer discount. From August 18 until the end of the year, you’ll be able to secure a free night at dazzling properties like the New York Gramercy Park, the W Koh Samui, or the Al Maha Desert Resort for just 60,000 points per night, in some cases representing a 40% discount from current levels. The competition will be intensely fierce, so I’d caution that even if you plan on being extremely diligent about this, you should expect to perhaps secure a few reservations but potentially miss out on a few as well.

 Gramercy Park Hotel, New York, a Member of Design Hotels™

Gramercy Park Hotel, New York, a Member of Design Hotels™

Remember that if you have any stays currently booked for dates after August 18, you’ll be able to call Marriott to get a points refund if the stay happens to cost fewer points after the transition. On the other hand, if the current rate is more favourable, it will be honoured as long as you don’t make any changes to your reservation.

And the good news here is that the August 18 changeover date buys you more time to take advantage of the old program while it's here. For example, you have up until August 18 to hustle together enough points to get the Travel Packages before they're devalued, or to book an upcoming stay at a hotel that's going up in cost. 


New Transfer Ratio from Amex MR

Last week, the following notice appeared on the American Express Membership Rewards page:

Indeed, as was widely speculated, the transfer ratio from American Express to the new program will be devalued compared to the status quo. As it stands, you can convert 1,000 MR points into 500 Starpoints, which is equivalent to 1,500 Marriott Rewards points. This effective transfer ratio of 1:1.5 between American Express and Marriott Rewards is set to change to 1:1.2, with 1,000 MR points converting into 1,200 points in the new program.

While a 20% devaluation is always unsavoury, it is in fact a better outcome than most of us were expecting. Many thought it was likely that Amex would take this opportunity to introduce a 1:1 transfer ratio – which would be a 33% devaluation – and bring things in line with our American counterparts. With the 1:1.2 ratio, we still have a more favourable transfer proposition than those who hold US-issued Amex MR points, which is surprising given our relatively unfavourable exchange rate.

The ability to transfer Membership Rewards to SPG will be shut down between July 27 and August 9 while Amex prepares its back-end for the new transfer scheme in place. Therefore, if you want to pre-emptively transfer Membership Rewards points to the new program under the current regime, the time remaining for you to do so is a matter of days. 

 
 

Note that holders of the American Express Cobalt Card who possess MR Select points should strongly consider transferring all their holdings, since it’s hard to imagine a better use of your MR Select points. Indeed, the Cobalt continues to be a great card to use for its bonus categories, as you’ll effectively be able to earn 6 points in the new program per dollar spent on food and drinks. While that’s not as good as before, it’s still an incredible return on a category of daily spending that tends to be quite significant for Canadian households.

Meanwhile, holders of regular MR points will need to think carefully about the value they could get out of one last favourable transfer to the Marriott/Starwood ecosystem, and weigh that value against the alternative (i.e., transferring to Aeroplan or Avios at a 1:1 ratio, etc.) If you think you’ll be using the extra hotel points in the near future, and can reliably replenish your balance of MR points going forward, it may be a good idea to lock in one last transfer at the 1:1.5 ratio.

Overall, while it would’ve been nice to see the 1:1.5 ratio live on, a 1:1.2 ratio to the new program is certainly something I can live with. After all, transferring MR points were one of the quickest ways to fund your Starpoints balance, and it’s a relief to see that option sticking around post-merger, even if it’s in a slightly reduced form.


Changes to the Canadian Amex SPG Cards

I’ve previously written about the future of the Amex SPG Card and the Amex Business SPG Card. They will now have updated points earning rates and an annual free night certificate.

 
 

It’s been confirmed that these changes take effect on August 4, even though the program itself doesn’t launch until August 18. For example, starting on August 4, you’ll be earning 2 points in the new program per dollar spent on everyday purchases, rather than the old rate of 1 Starpoint per dollar spent. 

This gap between these two dates raises the question of what happens to the points earned in the interim. The answer is that if your statement date falls between August 1 and August 18, your points earnings for the month of August will be held and deposited after August 18. This makes sense if you think about it, since Amex can’t deposit points in an existing Marriott Rewards account, as their partnership is in fact with SPG. 

Of course, the biggest question on people’s minds regarding the future of these cards is the signup bonus, annual fee, and referral bonus. In this regard, I fully expect that a valuable signup bonus will arrive on this card in the near future, replacing the existing paltry offer of $250 in statement credits and enticing people to get involved in what will be the world’s largest hotel rewards program.


Conclusion

After years of planning, the new Marriott loyalty program is almost here, and only the final kinks remain to be ironed out. Let's maximize the current editions of SPG and Marriott Rewards before they become old news on August 18. With some incredible sweet spots coming up and seemingly all things in place for a new and improved signup bonus to arrive on the Canadian cards, I'm sure the new program is something we're all eager to be a part of.