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4 Takeaways from the Completed Marriott-Starwood Merger

The deal has created the world's largest hotel company. Here's what you need to know.

U.S. News & World Report

4 Takeaways from the Completed Marriott-Starwood Merger

Hotel Vela - Hotel W

How will the merger impact how you earn and redeem points and elite status benefits? Here's a primer. (Getty Images)

"Keep what you have. Add more of what you love." That's the motto you'll see when you visit Marriott.com, and for good reason. With the Marriott-Starwood merger officially completed, combining two of the world's largest hotel chains, loyalists can now pick from 1.1 million rooms at more than 5,700 hotels in more than 110 countries around the world.

Ever since the final approval of the deal, the top concern for Starwood Preferred Guest program members has been losing status and the extra benefits available through the program. If you've visited any major online travel forum over the last few months, the sense of dread was palpable.

Fortunately, Starwood and Marriott made it clear when the merger was made official in September 2016 that their distinctive programs will operate separately for now. While it's clear that eventually Marriott will incorporate SPG's beloved benefits into the Marriott Rewards program over time, when the two programs will merge into one program remains uncertain. The upside: Members in both programs can enjoy reciprocal benefits and link their accounts, transfer points between programs and take advantage of status matching between programs. Here's what you need to know about the merger and top reasons the partnership might just be a win-win situation for elite members in both programs.

You Can Link Your Membership Accounts

Start by going to members.marriott.com. You will find options designated for the Marriott Rewards program and the Starwood Preferred Guest program. Once you've navigated to your respective membership section, you will be asked to sign into your account. From there, you will see your account overview and a "Link" button. The linking process is instantaneous, and you will receive an on-screen confirmation of the accounts being joined and what your current membership status will get you on the new account. For example, if you're a Platinum Elite member (the highest status tier in the program), you will now earn top-tier privileges with Starwood with Starwood Platinum Platinum Preferred Guest status.

Though much of the focus has been on the benefits SPG members stand to lose, happily there's one area where you'll gain added perks. Top-tier SPG elite guests can reap generous partnership benefits when flying with United Airlines, such as free seat upgrades, bonus miles, Premier Access and free checked bags thanks to Marriott's alliance with United. Marriott members linking with Starwood will see similar benefits with Delta Air Lines.

You Can Transfer Your Points to Different Accounts

Transferring your points between programs is also a smooth and simple process. Marriott points will transfer on a three-to-one ratio, meaning you'll get one Starpoint for every three Marriott points you transfer to SPG. Likewise, you'll get three Marriott points for every one Starpoint you transfer to Marriott Rewards. There's even an on-screen calculator to make the conversion rate very simple for you before you hit "Continue" to move forward with the transfer.

You will have the option of receiving a text or an email with a confirmation code to confirm your membership details identity. Once you enter that information, the transfer is completed. This process is also instant, meaning you won't need to wait weeks for transfers to take effect and be showcased in the proper account unlike some airline rewards programs.

You Can Collect Bonus Benefits

Marriott has been preparing for the merger for months to quell loyalists' concerns. In April, the company released three new incentives that are very similar to perks offered to SPG members.

First, Marriott introduced the Experiences Marketplace, where members can use their points to bid on or buy curated special events, such as an insider Broadway experience at "Hamilton," epic experiences with your favorite sports team, VIP tickets to the presidential inauguration or private cooking lessons with the world's top chefs. Options are broken down into four categories – culinary, lifestyle, sports and entertainment. This is similar to the SPG Moments platform – another relief for die-hard SPG members.

Marriott also introduced the Elite concierge service, which translates well for SPG members familiar with the program's Ambassador service. As its name suggests, this benefit grants elite members a personalized concierge to take care of their every whim during their stay. Plus, Marriott has introduced late checkout times for Gold and Platinum members, another perk that made the SPG program stand out from the competition. Those with top-tier status can check out as late as 4 p.m. on departure day.

There's More in Store for the Future

While the full marriage of the two programs and respective 30 brands combined is still shaking out, most of the integration issues will impact members with top-tier elite privileges. For example, SPG Platinum members will get the equivalent of the 10 Suite Night upgrade awards – allowing for, you guessed it, upgrades from normal rooms to the top-level suites at select hotels. Still, many loyalists are wondering whether it a smart idea to keep loyalty points within Marriott Rewards or Starwood to optimize value and perks. If you have top SPG status, you're going to want to stay within the SPG program as long as Marriott allows it, because SPG Platinum members have value-added bonuses that add up to nearly $4,000 in perks – more than Marriott Rewards elite members, to be fair. In short: SPG members are going to want to wait for Marriott to beef up their own program before considering a full-on switch.

The Bottom Line

The most important thing for you, the consumer to do, is link your accounts and start exploring the benefits within each program for yourself.

About En Route

Practical advice on the art of traveling smarter with tips, tricks and intel from En Route's panel of experts.

Contributors have experience in areas ranging from family travel, adventure travel, experiential travel and budget travel to hotels, cruises and travel rewards and include Amy Whitley, Claire Volkman, Holly Johnson, Marsha Dubrow, Lyn Mettler, Sery Kim, Kyle McCarthy, Erica Lamberg, Jess Moss, Sheryl Nance-Nash, Sherry Laskin, Katie Jackson, Erin Gifford, Roger Sands, Steve Larese, Gwen Pratesi, Erin Block, Dave Parfitt, Kacey Mya, Kimberly Wilson, Susan Portnoy, Donna Tabbert Long and Kitty Bean Yancey.

Edited by Liz Weiss.

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