Starwood v. Marriott

It’s been a wild ride since Marriott and Starwood first announced their proposed merger. After a few dalliances and weird engagement/disengagement with Anbang, it looks like the merger is now back on, according to the communication Starwood sent out today to its points program members:

“Nearly five months ago we shared the news that Starwood Hotels & Resorts is joining with Marriott International to create the world’s biggest and best hotel company — with 5,500 hotels and resorts in more than 100 countries. Today we’re pleased to announce that the shareholders of each company have approved the merger.

Since the original announcement, our members have asked many questions about the future of Starwood Preferred Guest® (SPG®). Soon we will begin the long journey to integrate the very best of SPG and Marriott Rewards®. Through this process, your perspective will help guide these discussions as we consider the following:

  • How do we continue to deliver the unique experiences, benefits and rewards you’ve come to expect both in and out of our hotels and resorts?
  • How do we take full advantage of the extraordinary new range of hotels, resorts and destinations that will be the hallmark of a combined Starwood and Marriott to add new recognition and benefits for you?
  • How do we protect the value of your currency and status, whether your Starpoints® balance, lifetime status or membership level?

Getting answers to these complicated, important questions will take time. In fact, we don’t anticipate launching a newly combined program until 2018. This means SPG will continue to run separately until then. In the meantime, we’re actively exploring ways to build bridges between the two programs to further enhance your experience.

In addition, we are not standing still: Among other things, we’re bringing you new access to one-of-a-kind hotels from Tribute Portfolio™ and Design Hotels™, plus exciting new SPG MomentsSM experiences through our unique partnerships with Major League Baseball®, Mercedes AMG Petronas and more.

Know that we’re listening to your feedback, and we value your input. Our merger is on track to close midyear, and as we have more news to share, we will reach out to you. You can also find the latest updates at spg.com/updates and via Twitter (@spg). Our members are at the core of everything we do, and that will not change. We remain at your service wherever you need us — in our hotels, at spg.com, on the SPG apps or via our Customer Contact Centers.

Thank you for sharing your travels with SPG.”

I’m a member of both programs, although I use Starwood more frequently in part due to its greater presence outside the US. Within the last two weeks I’ve stayed at both companies’ properties; while each have their virtues, overall there are a number of Starwood rewards program aspects that are heads above Marriott. For example:

1. Starwood has a vastly better, more navigable and user-friendly website, as well as phone/iPad app. Marriott’s website is cumbersome and hard to operate, especially if you are trying to use award nights or certificates for discounts. Marriott does not seem to want to make it easy for you, whether you are cashing in points for a free room or paying full freight.

2. And speaking of award nights . . . Marriot makes you pay taxes and fees and booking charges when you redeem points for a room. Starwood doesn’t charge you at all. In addition, Starwood lets you cancel easily if you need to do so online – Marriott . . . well, let’s just say I’ve never been able to effectively get that done with the website or app.

3. High point values for even modest properties – Courtyard by Marriott, for example, — in pretty moderately priced cities – make Marriott very discouraging.  Whereas you can get the St. Regis in New York City for 30,000 points per night quite often with Starwood, a Marriott (not a Ritz Carlton!) property in Richmond, Virginia, or St. Louis, Missouri can regularly cost that much.

4. Deals and special offers are hard to come by with Marriott – Starwood’s “pay full rate for one night and your birth year for the next night” and “buy three nights get one free” run frequently. Marriott is stingier with its deals and discounts, that is, when you can find them. And restrictions apply – as in, the restrictions are so difficult that you can hardly ever take advantage of the deals.

5. Customer service for SPG members is so much better than customer service for Marriott Elite members. The SPG reps I’ve spoken with on the phone truly go out of their way to help, and are so pleasant and nice. Marriott, on the other hand, makes me feel as though they are doing me a favor by even taking my calls.

Don’t get me wrong – I’m not a Marriott hater by any means. I love many of their properties and have had wonderful experiences  with staff on site as well. But the points program could use some work, and for those of us who work hard to be SPG Platinum every year because of how that program treats us, we have to wonder if the merger will help or hurt.

Coming Home

I’ve been on the road traveling pretty much constantly since mid-2014 and I am just now able to breathe. Hence, the hiatus in posting on this blog. One weekend recently, I was with my family at our weekend place; my brother-in-law traveled separately from the rest of us, taking the train. In the little town where we are, the train stops not too far from the house, and there is always a busy if small gathering of people waiting to meet the travelers who are arriving. The station is one of those where you can park right next to the tracks and the platform, so you can even sit in the car and see the train coming in and the passengers alight. Sometimes the train is late, as it was that evening, but there is always a tableau. Some families with balloons for college kids returning home. A few kids waiting for their dad or mom. And just people in transit, moving through the old-fashioned station with its covered portico and flickering lights.

A little Norman Rockwell, I’ll admit but there is indeed something moving about it. Many singers and musicians have written about trains and what they mean to us as a sense of place and travel in time – think of Merle Haggard and Train Whistle Blues (“Every time I see that lonesome railroad train, It makes we wish I was going home again”) or Peter, Paul and Mary and 500 Miles (“If you miss the train I’m on you will know that I am gone”). Or one of my favorites, from Marc Cohn, Ghost Train:

Some trains they leave in the morning

Some leave in the afternoon

Some trains they leave here

Right on time

And some they just leave too soon

A few years back, the UK Telegraph even had an article about great train-related songs – you can find it at http://www.telegraph.co.uk/travel/journeysbyrail/6406122/Music-on-the-train-Great-rail-related-songs.html

In a world where plane travel is the fastest way to go, and where the automobile is still viewed as the easiest freedom on the road, there is something special about the train, even when it’s just passing through the station in your town, on the way to another place.

– Laura Flippin

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