Reward possibilities soar with Starwood-Marriott merger

Cashing In columnist Tony Mecia
Tony Mecia is a business journalist who writes for a number of trade and general-interest publications. He writes "Cashing In," a weekly column about credit card rewards programs, for

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Question Dear Cashing In,
Is there any reason I wouldn't be able to take the 80,000-point sign-up bonus for a Marriott credit card, convert those points to Starpoints and then convert those to American Airlines miles? I figure the clock is running on the Starpoints program, so I should probably go ahead and do that if possible. – Rachel

Answer Dear Rachel,
The merger of Marriott and Starwood, two major hotel chains, opens up a lot of reward possibilities. The two closed on their deal in September 2016 to become the world’s largest hotel operator.

As with most mergers, integrating the operations takes time. In a letter to Marriott loyalty program members, the CEO of the combined company said it would “run parallel loyalty programs while we engage in the complicated work of integration,” and that the programs probably would not be combined until 2018.

In the meantime, the company has created a way for customers to link their Marriott and Starwood accounts and transfer points between the two programs. That opens a lot more possibilities for redeeming points accrued through hotel stays or through affiliated credit cards.

Be aware that the transfer is not on a 1:1 basis – it is 3 Marriott points for 1 Starwood point, or the other way around. Starwood points can be especially valuable, because you can convert them to frequent flier miles with more than 30 airlines, including most of the major U.S. airlines (American, Delta and United).

So in your case, if you enjoy having American miles, but you already have received the sign-up bonus for American Airlines credit cards (offered by Citi and Barclaycard) and the Starwood Preferred Guest card (American Express), you now have another option, as you mention.

You can sign up for the Chase Marriott Rewards Visa (annual fee: $85), spend at least $3,000 in the first three months, and receive 80,000 Marriott points. You then transfer those points to your linked Starwood account, so that’s roughly 28,000 Starwood points (when you factor in the $3,000 you have spent).

Those Starwood points then transfer to American on a one-to-one basis, and you also receive a bonus 5,000 miles when you transfer Starwood points to American, so you wind up with about 33,000 American miles. Most domestic round-trip awards cost 25,000 miles, so you would have enough for one of those.

It would probably take a mathematician to figure out just how many award possibilities you now have with the linking of the Marriott and Starwood, since they are still distinct programs and have many different kinds of rewards besides hotel rooms.

For instance, Marriott’s program has a relationship with United that allows transfers at a favorable rate – perhaps more favorable than Starwood’s. And Starwood allows you to use points to book travel through its online travel portal.

As usual, the trend in rewards redemption is to give the consumer choices – and there are certainly plenty of them here.

Of course, people reach different determinations on which rewards are the most valuable to them.

See related: Making the most of flexible travel rewards programs, Saving on a spa getaway with credit card points


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Updated: 11-16-2018