The Marriott-SPG loyalty program merger brings credit card benefits

 In August, existing Marriott loyalty programs will merge with Starwood Preferred Guest into a new Marriott Rewards

In August, existing Marriott loyalty programs will merge with Starwood Preferred Guest into a new Marriott Rewards

My summer hiatus is over! Over the last month, I traveled to France and Norway with a day in London. I mentioned this trip in several posts, but I did not want to be specific about the dates so I did not wind up on PleaseRobMe.com We had a great time and I have a lot of content to share with you in the coming months. Once home, I jumped right into my day job for month-end close and analysis - literally right in as I worked half of both the day after our return from London to Atlanta as well as July 4th. With my trip complete, month-end closed and having caught up on a backlog of personal tasks, I am able to get back into the Debrian Travels saddle!

My plan was to resume writing with material about the trip. However, as I was catching up on my favorite travel blog, I read a post that the enticing signup bonus on the Chase Marriott Premier Plus Visa was about to expire. I completed  my initial spend on my Chase Sapphire Reserve while in Europe - having spent four days in Norway, given prices there, I satisfied that spend and then some! - so the timing was ripe for a new card. In addition, in my virtual mound of email was a summary from American Express of changes to my Amex Starwood Preferred Guest Business Card. With the merger of the Marriott Rewards and Starwood Preferred Guest loyalty programs occurring in August, I wanted to highlight some of the practical benefits of that combination for moderate travelers like me.

Chase Marriott Premier Plus Visa

Chase Marriott Premier Plus Visa.jpg

Because I have eschewed breaking news on my blog, I have not written about the combination of the Marriott and Starwood reward programs. I was aware that the combined company will continue legacy relationships with both Chase (Marriott) and American Express (Starwood). You can read all the nitty gritty here, but one positive benefit is updated Marriott co-branded credit card portfolio. The Chase Marriott Premier Plus Visa debuted in May with a generous 100,000 point intro bonus (no longer available, now 75,000 points). One Mile at a Time pointed out that this offer would end on July 12. I applied and was instantly approved for the card on July 9 - just under the wire! That was quite an offer for a card with only a $95 annual fee!

To earn the 100,000 bonus, I have to spend a $5,000 in the first three months of card membership. The card offers 6x Marriott Reward Points for spending at Marriott properties and 2x points on all other spending, so $5,000 will earn at least an additional 10,000 points. At a value of 0.9 cents/point, those points are worth $900, which translates into an 18% return - not too shabby!

Because the revamped Marriott Rewards program will adopt what I consider to be the most valuable feature of Starwood Preferred Guest, the ability to convert points to a broad variety of airline frequent flyer miles, the signup bonus offers far more flexibility than do those from other hotel chains' co-branded cards. Under SPG, Starpoints could be converted to airline miles, generally on a 1-to-1 basis. When transferring 20,000 points, you received an additional 5,000 miles for an effective transfer ratio of 1.25 miles per point. Since Starpoints can be converted to Marriott Rewards on a 3-to-1 basis, this same ratio holds with combined loyalty program: points will transfer on a three points to one mile ratio, with 5,000 bonus miles when transferring 60,000 points. The 110,000 Marriott Rewards Points you will have after completing initial spend on the new Chase Visa will be worth as many as 41,667 airline miles. Whether a premier hotel experience or a premium airline cabin is your preferred travel experience, the Chase Marriott Premier Plus has you covered!

The card also comes with Silver Elite Status but this perk carries no value to me since I will receive Gold Elite Status from my American Express Business Platinum Card beginning in August. Starting in 2019, the Chase card will offer 15 annual Elite Night Credits. These credits nudge you toward higher status levels, but, since I am not a road warrior, earning any level above Gold is unlikely. Even if I had a shot at Platinum status, I will also receive 15 nights from my tweaked American Express Starwood Preferred Guess Card. Because you won’t be able to credit more than 15 nights from credit cards no matter how many cards you have, there is no incremental benefit from Premier Plus so long as I hold the Amex product. That might sound like a good reason to close one of these two accounts prior to my next annual fee, but I have saved the best benefit for last! This benefit assures that I will hold the Chase Marriott Premier Plus Visa indefinitely even if I never charge a single dollar to the card - and this perk is also being added to my Amex SPG Business card!

Annual Free Night Certificate

The Chase Marriott Premier Plus Visa includes an annual Free Night Award "every year after your account anniversary." You receive the free night upon paying your annual fee, so you won’t get until the start of your second year of card membership. I love hotel-branded credit cards that offer free nights simply for holding the card. So long as the fee is moderate, that is sufficient reason for anyone who pays for hotel rooms to obtain and keep the account open. I have written about a similar free night from my Chase IHG Rewards Card and I am thrilled to get additional free stays from the Premier Plus and SPG Business cards! 

The Free Night Awards can be used for a one-night stay at a property with a redemption level of 35,000 points, a total which covers the vast majority of Marriott properties.  I don’t know about you, but I cannot remember the last time I paid $95, so using the certificate effectively pays justifies the annual fee (the Amex SPG Business has the same annual fee). So long as the free night continues to be offered and the annual fee remains less than the typical cost for a one night hotel stay, I cannot foresee closing either account.

I should note that some of the changes coming in August to the American Express SPG cards are not positive - earning rates will no longer be as attractive as they are now - but the Annual Free Night Award more than offsets these downgrades. I somewhat regret canceling my standard Amex SPG card after my reviewing my open credit card accounts earlier this year, but I needed to clear space in my Amex portfolio so I could apply for other cards.

Conclusion

While some may more thoroughly analyze the nuances of the upcoming Marriott Rewards-Starwood Preferred Guest merger, for the majority of us, there are pluses and minuses but no earth-shattering changes. The launch of the new Chase Marriott Premier Plus Visa is one of those pluses. For me, the long term value would be minimal if not for the annual Free Night Award. However, that perk, both on the new Chase product and my existing American Express Starwood Preferred Guest Card, is clear improvement that I plan to use for years to come!