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This week hotel giant Marriott announced plans to acquire Starwood hotels, which includes Westin, Sheraton and several other big name hotels. While it had been known that Starwood was entertaining offers, it came as a surprise to many who had heard rumors that other large hotel chains were making a move to buy the smaller Starwood brand.
Why Hotel Credit Cards are Important to This Deal, and to Travelers
Just like airline programs, all of the major hotel chains offer their own loyalty program, complete with at least one co-branded credit card. The Marriott Rewards program boasts 54 million members and it offers its Marriott Rewards® Premier Plus Credit Card from Chase. Likewise, Starwood hotels, which has a mere 21 million members in its program, offers both a personal and business version of its Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express.
Earn 75,000 Bonus Points*
6 Points Per $1 spent at participating Marriott Rewards and SPG hotels.*
No Foreign Fees & a Free Night Award every year after account anniversary*
- Earn 75,000 Bonus Points after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening.
- Free Night Award (valued up to 35,000 points) every year after account anniversary.
- Earn 6X points per $1 spent at participating Marriott Rewards & SPG hotels.
- 2X points for every $1 spent on all other purchases.
- Guaranteed Silver Elite Status each account anniversary year.
- Path to Gold Status when you spend $35,000 on purchases each account year.
- Coming in 2019, 15 Elite Night Credits each calendar year.
- Earn unlimited Marriott Rewards points and get Free Night Stays faster.
See additional details for Marriott Rewards® Premier Plus Credit Card
75,000 Bonus Points after you use your new Card to make $3,000 in purchases within the first 3 months.
6 points for each dollar of eligible purchases at participating SPG® and Marriott Rewards® hotels and 2 points on all other eligible purchases.
No foreign transaction fees & free in-room internet access*
- Earn 75,000 Bonus Points after you use your new Card to make $3,000 in purchases within the first 3 months.
- Earn 6 points for each dollar of eligible purchases at participating SPG® and Marriott Rewards® hotels and 2 points on all other eligible purchases.
- No Foreign Transaction Fees on International purchases.
- Receive 1 Free Night Award every year after your Card account anniversary. Award can be used for one night (redemption level at or under 35,000 points) at a participating hotel. Select hotels have resort fees.
- Enjoy complimentary, unlimited Boingo Wi-Fi on up to four devices at more than 1,000,000 Boingo hotspots worldwide. Enrollment required.
- $0 introductory annual fee for the first year, then $95.
- Terms Apply.
- See Rates & Fees
See additional details for Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express
Yet for travel rewards enthusiasts, the Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express has always remained popular. Cardholders relish the chance to earn points in this program that can be redeemed for any unsold standard room, with no blackout dates or capacity controls, and are enthralled by the opportunities to transfer their points to miles with over 30 different airlines, mostly at a 1:1 ratio, with a 5,000 mile bonus for transferring 20,000 points at once.
On the other hand, most credit card experts regard the Marriott Rewards® Premier Plus Credit Card as a useful, but uninspired product. Cardholders earn five points per dollar spent at most Marriott hotels, and double points for purchasing airline tickets, car rentals, and at restaurants, but just one point per dollar spent elsewhere. The problem is that Marriott points are far less valuable than Starpoints®, as free night awards at comparable hotels can require at least four times as many points as Starwood does. But to make matters worse, the Marriott program has a very weak award availability policy, which technically has no blackout dates, but allows hotels to impose capacity controls that achieve the same result.
So if you are trying to use points for a free night stay at a popular location, during a holiday, or in a city that’s hosting a special event, you would much rather have points with Starwood than with Marriott.
What’s Going to Happen?
If you can imagine Starwood and Marriott as a happy couple, think of this week’s news as an engagement announcement with a wedding planned for the middle of 2016. And -as with any engagement- there is always a chance the couple will not make it to altar, but this seems unlikely. Until then, travelers and credit card holders should expect business as usual.
But, assuming the merger is completed on schedule, most observers expect that their two loyalty programs will be combined in some way, as has been the case with the frequent flier programs of previous airline mergers. The likelihood is that the Marriott Rewards® Premier Plus Credit Card or the Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express will be phased out. Apparently some are willing to bet that the larger Marriott Rewards program will survive, and the SPG® program will be phased out, along with the Amex credit card. Personally, I hold out some hope that they will stick with the Starwood program, as its strength may have been part of the reason that Marriott chose to seek its acquisition. As a big fan of the Starwood Preferred Guest program, this hope may be a case of wishful thinking.
While one program will certainly disappear, I think that there is some precedent for the new program to keep offering credit cards from both card issuers. Hilton offers credit cards from both Citi* and American Express, and has done so for many years. And at the very least, one would hope that the combined management of these two companies will be smart enough to incorporate the features of the SPG program (and its credit card) that have made it so popular.
At this early stage, there is no need for fans of either program to panic or to spend too much time speculating how this “marriage” will turn out. By this time next year, we will know for sure how the happy couple is doing, and what their plans are for the future.
This article originally appeared on caribjournal.com.