Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Travelers are expecting the worst.
The announcement that Marriott is purchasing Starwood,
thereby creating the world's largest hotel company, has surprised many
travelers—and the move has gotten rewards members worried that the points
they've earned over the years could soon be worth a lot less.
Officially, Marriott stated that the merger will mean great things, at least
in the business sense: "Today, Marriott Rewards, with 54 million members,
and Starwood Preferred Guest, with 21 million members, are among the
industry's most-awarded loyalty programs, driving significant repeat
business.
They should be even stronger when the companies merge.
How travelers—and rewards club members in particular—might benefit
from such a merger remains a mystery.
The consensus holds that the recent
history of airline mergers has resulted in higher fares and less rewarding
frequent flier programs, as well as a generally less competitive
marketplace.
Travel experts expect more of the same in the hotel category now
that Marriott is purchasing Starwood, with members of Starwood's Preferred
Guest program most likely faring the worst down the road." "I definitely
see the merger hurting Starwood SPG members," Matt Kepnes, who runs the travel
site Nomadic Matt and frequently writes about using reward points for free
travel, said via email.
"SPG is a much better rewards program, with great
airline partners, quality redemptions, and way better perks.
If it gets
gobbled into Marriott without them carrying some of the perks over, it's going
to bad for members." MONEY has named the Starwood credit card as the best
for compiling points that will translate into the most hotel stays.
How the
merger with Marriott will affect Starwood credit cards is anyone's guess at
this point—including the possibility that there will be no Starwood credit
card at all in the future.
Most of the commenters at the frequent flier forum FlyerTalk believe that
the Marriott-Starwood merger is particularly bad for travelers with lots of
SPG points, and they expect that the move will kick off a new era of mergers
in the hotel world.
"We all remember how the domino effect started with the
airline mergers," one observer noted.
</embed> Similarly, Boarding Area, another insider travel site, expects
the merger to hurt consumers and inspire more mergers: "We've seen what
less competition has done to the airline industry, and I have no reason to
believe it'll be any different for the hotel industry.
I wouldn't be surprised
if this leads to further consolidation among the remaining 'major' hotel
chains." Likewise, LoyaltyLobby, a site focused on loyalty programs,
chimed in with its own take that travelers have good reason to be worried
about their reward points: "Let's hope this merger won't go like the
United-Continental one where the worst of both worlds was mixed to a giant
mess.
Only time will tell." Still, while the most likely outcome for
travelers is a devaluation of reward points and perhaps the disappearance of
some hotel brands and their reward programs entirely, travel experts say that
there's no need to use up your reward points in a hurry.
The merger isn't
scheduled to become official until mid-2016, and these deals are often
complicated and wind up being delayed.
For the time being, and for many months
(if not years) to come, both Marriott's and Starwood's reward programs are
active and can be used like normal.
If and when changes are coming, reward
members will surely get some notice—these companies don't want to alienate
their most loyal customers, of course.
"No need to panic or hurry to burn your points," Boarding Area advised.
"If I was an SPG user (and I am), I would hold and wait to see how the
merger will affect the program, as you'll have some time before your SPG
points become Marriott points," said Kepnes.
"I'm not optimistic," he
noted.
Even so, "I'll keep earning points until the very last second I have to
spend them all!" This story originally appeared on Money.
More good reads from Money:
• 4 Reasons This Holiday Shopping Season Will Be Different from the Past
• Gas Prices Are Plummeting, $1.50 Per Gallon Coming Soon
• Black Friday Madness Expands Overseas, Even Without Thanksgiving
The announcement that Marriott is purchasing Starwood, thereby
creating the world's largest hotel company, has surprised many
travelers—and the move has gotten rewards members worried that the points
they've earned over the years could soon be worth a lot less.

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