I’m between flights right now. Got back from the Fincon (Financial Bloggers) conference in San Diego on Sunday and already packing for my next Asia trip on Saturday (later about that). Maybe it’s not all that unusual for you, vagabonds, but I’m not one of you. I usually spread out my flights throughout the year, but not this time. I’m going to the TBEX (Travel Blogger) conference in Manila and so decided to visit two other places along the way: Hong Kong that I’ve never been to, and Bangkok that I’ve been to a few times but always want to come back for more. Hello, the land of coy smiles and $5 massages. I’ve been missing you!
What does all of that have to do with the SPG Marriott merger, you wonder? Absolutely nothing. 🙂
SPG Marriott merger is doing great (so far)
As you already know, the Chinese approval of the SPG Marriott merger has led to a surprisingly fast first step — allowing us to transfer points to either program right now, and with matching status to boot. You can transfer points both ways at 1:3; one SPG points to 3 Marriott points and vice versa. While I personally value an SPG point higher than 3 Marriott points, it does have me scratch my head. At this point, I’m not sure which way I want to go.
Valuations don’t always work
I value Starwood Preferred Guest points so much for hotel stays that I almost never transfer them to an airline. I only stay at Cat. 1-5 properties, and 12,000 points is the limit of how much I’m prepared to pay for a Cat 5 hotel. Whenever I can get a Cat. 1-3 SPG hotel I go for it in lieu of more expensive properties, unless a cash price is more attractive. Seriously, I”m that stingy with Starwood Preferred Guest points, and I feel bad when I can’t derive more than 2X-2.5X value out of them.
And that brings up the question: do I feel that 1:3 transfer rate is fair?
If I believe an SPG point is worth at least 2 pennies (I do) and a Marriott point is worth around 0.5 pennies (I do), then it stands to reason to advocate transferring Marriott points to SPG and not the other way around. Right?
Well, not necessarily. 35,000 Marriott points can buy you a night at a very nice Cat. 7 hotel in a major, popular vacation market, like New York or Paris. Transferred to Starwood Preferred Guest, it would get you a Cat. 5 hotel, and that’s maybe, because it can cost 12,000-16,000 points. But that’s not the only thing.
How SPG Marriott merger can screw the equation
I’m SPG Gold and Marriott Silver. I used to be Marriott Gold, courtesy of my Chase Ritz Carlton card for the first year, but then I failed to spend $10,000 in the second year, partly because I didn’t plan any Marriott stays anyway and partly because I was lazy. This transfer will give me my status back.
But here is a kicker. Starwood Gold has rarely been useful to me. Sometimes, at some properties, being Gold would get you an upgrade, breakfast, or access to the lounge. But very, very rarely. In the Marriott Rewards program, an upgrade (not guaranteed, of course), breakfast and lounge access are stated benefits. And that can be huge in expensive markets.
UPDATE: As Tony in the comments has mentioned, not all Marriott brands offer these benefits. Here is some T&C language. Click on the T&C link in the quote for more information.
Based on room availability at check-in, we’ll do our best to upgrade your room. Upgrades are subject to availability identified by each hotel and limited to your personal guestroom. See terms and conditions for details.
Lounge Access/Free Breakfast
Free daily continental breakfast, light snacks and beverages for members and one guest in the Executive Lounge at JW Marriott®, Autograph Collection®, Renaissance® and Marriott Hotels® (resorts excluded), Delta Hotels®. In the U.S. and Canada, select hotels will provide 750 or 1,000 points in lieu of breakfast in the event the lounge is closed.
At JW Marriott®, Autograph Collection®, Renaissance Hotels® and Marriott Hotels® (Resorts, Courtyard Hotels, EDITION® Hotels and AC Hotels are excluded).
I don’t know about you, but a good buffet breakfast can carry me throughout the day. In expensive markets, breakfast, evening munchies and alcohol in the lounge can save you so much dough that all these theoretical valuations go up in smoke.
Sometimes, you find that status gets you much more than you’ve bargained for. It has happened for me at Hilton, Club Carlson, and Marriott. This is the room they gave me at JW Marriott in Hanoi.
Not only the status
Here is what I found. I’ve found that I haven’t checked the charts and new Starwood and Marriott properties for quite a while.
I thought it would be easy. If you’re OK with a cheap, Cat. 1-2 Starwood Preferred Guest redemption, transfer Marriott points to Starwood. For luxury stays in popular markets go the opposite way. But it’s not that easy. I mean, definitely transfer Starwood to Marriott for ultra-luxury stays. 15,000 SPG points will get you a room at a top Cat. 9 Marriott hotel anywhere in the world. While I reiterate that I wouldn’t use more than 12,000 points to pay for a Cat. 5 Starwood hotel, I would pay it for a top of the line property.
Unfortunately, you would need at least 30,000 SPG points for a top of the line Starwood hotel, which is, I don’t know, silly?
So, it’s sorted with luxurious hotels in popular places. But that takes us back to the square 1. I’ve always believed that low Cat. 1-2 SPG properties give you a better bang for the buck than Low Cat. hotels from any other chain because there are more low category Starwood hotels in better, more interesting places. That’s what I thought, until I stumbled upon this.
Are you seeing what I’m seeing?
This Cat. 1 hotel in Livingstone near Victoria Falls goes for 7,500 points a night, and yet, it carries a price tag of $180. And there is another thing that should go into your calculations. Yes, Starwood Cat. 1-2 hotels start at 2,000 points on weekends, but for the first two categories you don’t get the 5th night free, whereas Marriott gives you a fifth night free on all award stays. So let’s try to see how far SPG points would take us on a 5-night stay in Livingstone.
7,500 points a night X 4 nights = 30,000 Marriott points (1 night free).
30,000 Marriott points = 10,000 SPG points.
1 night is 2,000 SPG points.
1 SPG is worth 9 pennies for this redemption!
Error? No, not an error. I have a calculator and I’m not afraid to use it. 🙂
Protea is a chain Marriott acquired a couple of years ago, and I must tell you — if you’re dreaming about Africa, this is your chance. Marriott has a crapload of low-category hotels in Africa. I’m not saying this kind of value can be found everywhere, but I wouldn’t be surprised if you made out like a bandit by combing the charts. Maybe you’ll suddenly discover one of your bucket list bullet points in them, who knows?
All Starwood hotels from each category are here.
All Marriott hotels from each category are here.
What does the SPG Marriott merger mean for you?