I have come to praise Marriott--Starwood--Ritz-Carlton, not to bury him

Friends, travelers, countrymen, lend me your ears.

There has been an awful lot written about the announced changes to the Marriott--Starwood-Ritz-Carlton loyalty program; how the program undermines its own loyalty goals while also probably being the best of all possible outcomes; how the new AMEX super-premium card is already not competitive with other cards, but it also might be; and frequently how Hilton's new program is a total winner compared to this and (reaching back) Hyatt's new programs. Breathless, sometimes profanity-laced, usually misspelled proclamations that this is the last straw, and it's on to a new loyalty program!

I have not come to praise this new program, which took two of the more popular business traveler hotel loyalty programs and combine them into something people would still want, a process that can go either as a gourmet meal from some pretty solid ingredients, or that tray of brown mashed together mess everyone dared you to eat in middle school1. The hydra that's been formed from the merging has done their damndest to make their new program gourmet.

You all did love them once, and not without cause

SPG was the darling of the frequent traveler's eye for a few reasons: (1) their top tier was incredibly generous, offering a personal Ambassador to keep an eye on your travels; (2) their top-end aspirational properties are properly aspirational; (3) you could transfer their points to a ton of airlines so you could get your travel on in style with some really solid award redemptions.

But SPG had its down sides. The aspirational properties were eye-wateringly expensive and kinda hard to get to2.

Marriott was the reliable chain frequent travelers would go back to, and for good reason: the per-dollar earnings for Marriott are solid if not spectacular3, there's a Marriott in just about any place you'd need one, they have some pretty solid redemption options like the seven night Hotel + Air packages, and their high end properties go to the fucking moon, but in a different way from SPG4. Those redemptions were also a lot cheaper than SPG. Fr'instance: that UAE tent paradise I described above would cost 105,000 Marriott points under the current transfer, whereas the most expensive Marriott/R-C properties top out at, say, 70,000.

Marriott also has its problems. Most of their hotels are sorta frumpy and staid. The earnings rate is fine but not spectacular. You can transfer from Chase to Marriott at 1:1, but if you look at the topped out properties on a per-night basis and compare Marriott--Ritz-Carlton to, say, Hyatt, you're getting about half the value there, which is therefore usually unwise, so unlike Hyatt you pretty much gotta earn your hotel redemptions the old fashioned way.

You all did see that on the Lupercal, I thrice presented him a kingly crown, Which he did thrice refuse: was this ambition? Yet Brutus says he was ambitious; And, sure, he is an honourable man.

Much of the wailing has been that the new program doesn't compare to Hilton's earnings or that the new AMEX super premium card doesn't compare with Hilton's super premium card, and indeed on paper this seems true. With the automatic top-tier status you're getting crazy returns from Hilton on regular spend, automatic suite upgrades when available, etc. But there's two problems with this argument, one is mathematical and the other is aesthetic.

Hilton's done away with an award chart, and basically charge you points based on the room rate. This means that there are no sweet spots in the award chart anymore, there's no great value to be had. Marriott doesn't have this problem (yet, we think, until they deploy the standard/off-peak/peak chart next year, which could hose this argument, but let's not jump to conclusions.), as a room will cost what a room costs. This also remedies the SPG problem where some of their most aspirational properties would cost your firstborn, if your firstborn were SPG points, instead of what the chart said it should cost.

Hilton also lacks what Marriott lacked until it bought Starwood -- aspirational properties that were actually aspirational. A few Ritz-Carlton hotels aside, they didn't have the sort of unique, high-end properties that make going out of our way to rack up these points worthwhile in the first place. You could stay at a Conrad or Curio hotel, and pay like 100,000 Hilton points (or about $3,000 in spend with top tier status on their big credit card) or more, or you can stay at some classic hotel in Vienna for 50,000 Marriott points (or, assuming you have the new Gold status and put your spend on the card, about $2,700, less if you qualify for the new Platinum).

I speak not to disprove what The Internet spoke, But here I am to speak what I do know.

Before we go wailing and tearing our hair out and screaming about the death of a thing we love because it's changing, we should step back and see what people are doing. For the first time in the history of mergers that reduce competition, the MSPGRC folks are actually trying to make their loyal customers happy while doing the plate juggling act merging two big, complicated, non-commensurate loyalty programs involves. A few people are getting screwed. A few people will benefit. The new credit cards aren't the most inspiring thing to ever hit the world of travel points5. Platinum status for 35 nights after 15 from one of the co-branded cards, meaning suite upgrades and extra points and late check-out, is not an onerous burden for frequent travelers to reach. If you're already loyal to MarrRitzCarlWoodPreferredGuest, it probably isn't the end of the world. If you're already loyal to Hyatt, you're probably not going to switch (although maybe, because 35 nights w/ possibility of suite upgrades is better than the 30 nights for four lounge upgrades). If you're loyal to Hilton, you're delusional and probably fevered, but you're also okay as a human and probably have your reasons. Chill guys. Everything is fine.

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  1. You ate it, because you weren't cool enough to not. You still weren't cool afterward, but at least you didn't look like a wimp. Just a total dorkwad.

  2. Consider: the most expensive Hyatt property for an award night costs 30,000 points, you earned base 5 going up to 6.5 points/$ for Hyatt spend , and you can 1:1 transfer into Hyatt from Chase; the most expensive SPG properties involve, like, desert luxury tents in the UAE and cost more than the 35,000 points on the top tier, and you're earning base 2 going up to 3 points/$ for SPG spend, and you could up to recently transfer at a 3:1 to ratio from AMEX.

  3. i.e. 10 points/$ base which are 3:1 SPG means SPG is earning max 9 points/$ spent which is a whole 10% better

  4. Where with SPG you'll ride a camel to a blinged out tent in the desert, with Marriott--Ritz-Carlton you'll get some serious old world buttoned down James Bond style redemptions, like the Ritz-Carlton Tokyo.

  5. Nothing, but nothing, will ever compare with the blood-in-the-water feeding frenzy of churners after the Chase Sapphire Reserve came out.