It is June 12. The programs combine on August 4. Marriott and Starwood still have many unanswered questions about how the new program will work. They say changes and explanations can be made at any time before the programs actually combine. Who the hell knows what the program will look like then. These are my thoughts.
Three years ago I reported my joy with achieving Lifetime Platinum status with the Starwood Preferred Guest (SPG) program.
As a new Lifetime Platinum, I became automatically entitled to entry-level platinum benefits in the SPG program for life (including suite upgrades based on availability, lounge access, and free breakfasts) without having to qualify for platinum status on an annual basis. SPG Platinum had four levels, 25-stay Platinum, SPG 50, SPG 75 and Ambassador (SPG 100).
In late 2015, Marriott and Starwood announced a deal whereby Marriott would acquire Starwood and merge the Marriott and Starwood frequent guest programs. One of the most important questions for me was how would the acquisition and program consolidation affect SPG lifetime status?
That prompted me to do a little digging into the details of the Marriott program. Although I was a member of the Marriott Rewards program and had qualified for Marriott elite status, including platinum, several times over the years, I had forgotten most of the program’s terms and conditions. Most of my stays the last few years had been with SPG and Hyatt. A merger between those two companies would have been sweet (pun).
Marriott and SPG both have platinum as the top level of their frequent guest programs and both offer lifetime platinum status. The key difference between the programs with respect to lifetime platinum is that Marriott requires 750 lifetime nights and SPG requires only 500 nights.
Several times while the merger was pending, SPG ambassadors and reps assured me that my lifetime status would be honored in the combined program. Nevertheless, I was still worried. I knew the discrepancy regarding lifetime platinum status would be a thorny issue when combining the programs.
A few weeks ago, Marriott announced proposed terms of the new program. Those terms take effect on August 1, 2018. The SPG program will cease to exist on January 1, 2019. By and large, the best features of each program were maintained. On the other hand, I found a couple of the proposed provisions in the new program troubling.
Marriott Moved My Cheese
Your24 lets high-level elites check in at any hour of the day, with hotel approval. The ambassador benefit is a dedicated representative who assists with any requests related to a hotel stay, including restaurant reservations, tours etc.. Marriott adopted these benefits in the new program but established new eligibility requirements.
Your24 was available to any SPG platinum who earned credit for at least 75 nights in a calendar year, and any SPG platinum credited with at least 100 nights received an Ambassador. Starting January 1, 2019, these benefits will both require earning credit for 100 nights or more in Marriott hotels plus generating at least $20,000 in Marriott revenue in a calendar year. Unfortunately, while I will likely receive credit for more than 100 nights in hotels in 2019 (especially with 15 nights credited through holding one or more Marriott credit cards), there is no way I can afford to spend $20,000+ out of pocket on Marriott hotels.
I will miss the Your24 benefit much more than the ambassador service because Your24 actually let me hang on to some dough. Many of my connecting flights between the U.S. and Asia arrive or depart in the wee hours of the morning. With Your24, I can save paying for an extra night by starting my stay when checking in at 02:00 and just pay for the day of check in rather than having to reserve and pay for a room for the previous day. For me, these savings have amounted to between $500 and $1,000 a year. The money was far more valuable to me than credits for extra nights and more Starpoints or the services of an ambassador.
A Poke in the Eye with a Sharp Stick
More importantly, Marriott did indeed “honor” my SPG lifetime platinum status. Marriott announced that all SPG lifetime platinums would become Lifetime Platinum in the new program. The kicker was that all Marriott lifetime platinums would have their status in the new program elevated to Lifetime Platinum Premiere. Some bloggers, including the OG himself, Gary Leff, host of View From The Wing, had no problem with the two groups being treated differently. I usually agree with Gary but not in this case.
Giving a legacy Marriott lifetime platinum a higher status than mine felt like a poke in the eye with a sharp stick — especially since some of those Marriott lifetime platinum members have stayed fewer lifetime nights. Recognizing the discrepancy in eligibility for lifetime platinum status, when the merger was announced I figured it would be a good idea to have at least 750 SPG nights by the time the programs merged. That would put me in the best position to receive the same status as Marriott Lifetime Platinums in the new program.
As of the date of this post, I have 831 SPG lifetime nights. For 2018, stays at Marriott and SPG properties all count toward annual and lifetime status after the new program takes effect on August 1, 2018. With 17 nights at Marriott so far this year, I’ll have no less than 848 lifetime nights even if I had zero SPG or Marriott stays the rest of the year. Counting the 364 Marriott nights prior to 2018, the total is 1,212 lifetime nights. No way a Marriott elite with say only 750 nights deserves a higher status! I complained to ambassador reps and a supervisor and joined a Facebook group of SPG Lifetime Platinums in the same boat.
That group was disappointing in the level of benefits most thought Lifetime Platinum Premiers should be entitled to. It is a crock that a Lifetime Platinum Premier does not get the same benefits (SNAs and gift option) as any entry level annual Platinum Premier. Lifetime Platinum Premiers have no suite night awards and no gift option. Annual Platinum and Platinum Premier does. Granted Lifetime Platinum Premier earns more points per night than Platinum.. The Facebook group totally bought into the Marriott concept of “decoupling.”
If a lifetime member does not have at least the same benefits as the lowest level annual member with the same title, then the lifetime member has status in name only. With SPG, a Lifetime Platinum received the same elite benefits as an entry-level annual Platinum without staying 25 nights each year.
Lifetime Platinum vs. Lifetime Platinum Premier
Under the new Marriott Rewards program, as originally explained, Lifetime Platinum status entitles those members to all of the benefits of basic platinum, including upgrades to “select” suites if available at check in, lounge access with breakfast, a 50% points bonus, and five suite night awards or a gift option. Lifetime Platinum Premier status comes with all of the benefits of Lifetime Platinum Premier plus one additional choice benefit of five additional suite night awards, one free night award, or gift options, and a 75% points bonus.
Having a second choice is great. Members can still get 10 suite night awards if that is their preference. I value the free night and maybe one of the to-be-announced gift options more than five suite night awards. Suite night awards are only confirmed within a few days of check in. They cannot be relied upon when booking a hotel. If they were confirmable when the reservation was made (as with some Hyatt Globalist upgrades), the value would increase substantially.
Marriott is leaving wiggle room to make changes in the program prior to August, but at first blush, differences between Lifetime Platinum and Lifetime Platinum Premiere seem small. SPG and Marriott ambassador and platinum reps have even said that Lifetime Platinum Premier entitles those members to Your24 and ambassador benefits each year. That’s not how I read it, but that makes a huge difference if that is the case. We will see how that ultimately turns out.
Why Lifetime Platinum Premier (Titanium) Is Much More Valuable Than Lifetime Platinum
Not counting the chance that Lifetime Platinum Premier might get Your24 and ambassador benefits, these are the seven reasons why I think being grandfathered as a Lifetime Platinum Premier rather than a Lifetime Platinum might be a big deal.
- Points Bonus. Lifetime Platinum Premier status earns a bonus that is 50% larger than the bonus for Lifetime Platinum.
- Additional Choice Benefit. Annually each Lifetime Platinum Premier member will have the flexibility to select five suite night awards, a free night, or other gift option (TBD).
- Priority for Suite Night Award upgrades. As explained by reps, a Lifetime Platinum Premier will have priority over a Platinum or Lifetime Platinum in receiving a suite upgrade through suite night awards.
- Priority for suite upgrades at check in. Similarly, a Lifetime Platinum Premier should have priority over a Platinum or Lifetime Platinum in receiving a suite upgrade at check in. The new program increases the number of elites entitled to an upgrade at any given hotel. The number of suites remains constant. That increased competition for suite upgrades (especially at the most desirable hotels) makes every advantage important.
- Status matches. In being matched to status in other programs, a Lifetime Platinum Premier might receive a higher status than a Lifetime Platinum. After all Lifetime Platinum Premier is a higher status and the benefits are different.
- Future Program Changes/Mergers/Divestitures. Program rules change. Companies and parts thereof are bought and sold. Higher status makes it more likely to get the good stuff and avoid the bad stuff when shit happens as it surely will at some point.
- After 2018, Lifetime Platinum Premiere will close. To receive Lifetime Platinum Premier one must be matched into or qualify for that status by December 31, 2018. The fact that Lifetime Platinum Premiere is a unique, finite, self-extinguishing group (like the Doolittle Raiders) could also help to insulate it from future cutbacks. I wonder how old the youngest Lifetime Platinum Premier member will be.
I’ll Be Damned – Marriott Does The Right Thing – Almost
In response to the petitions and complaints from SPG Lifetime Platinums, on May 9, 2018, Starwood and Marriott announced that any SPG Lifetime Platinum who achieved 750 or more lifetime nights in the Marriott or SPG programs by August 1, 2018, the date the programs combine or December 31, 2018, when the SPG program officially ends, will be grandfathered as a Marriott Lifetime Platinum Premier. That is a just and equitable outcome.
I commend Marriott for changing course. At least some in the corporate world know that treating customers fairly and correcting mistakes is not a sign of weakness. It creates loyalty in my book. While management personnel come and go, in the world of never-ending “enhancements” to loyalty programs, customers are wise to direct their business to a company with a record of fair dealing.
Update: What is not so great is that to get the suite night awards and gift options that every annual entry level Platinum Premier receives, Lifetime Platinum Premier members must qualify on nights for that status each year. So what’s the point of being a Platinum Premier if you don’t get all the benefits of even the lowest level without requalifying? You are either Platinum Premier or you aren’t! Marriott says Lifetime Platinum Premiers are less than an annual Platinum Premier. That fact destroys the loyalty that treating Marriott and SPG members equally created.
I hope Marriott Lifetime Platinum Premier comes with a thick metal membership card as SPG Lifetime Platinum did. Do you have corrections, thoughts, or questions about status and benefits under the New Marriott Program or the merger in general?