Marriott Rewards vs. Starwood Preferred Guest: Is the Acquisition Really That Bad?

IHG is about to get dethroned as the world’s largest hotel company (talk about Priceless Surprises – and not in a good way). I woke up to a flurry of tweets yesterday about SPG and by the tone of  things, it clearly wasn’t good. Literally the worst thing, outside of Delta buying out Alaska Airlines, has happened: Marriott is acquiring Starwood Hotels for $12.2 billion. This has generated a huge outcry among loyal SPG members who don’t want to lose their reasonable award chart and generous elite benefits. The two programs actually have a great deal in common and Marriott Rewards isn’t as terrible as everyone assumes. How do the two loyalty programs stack up against each other? Below is a breakdown of 9 key categories along with which program comes out on top in each one:

Hotel entrance

1. Credit Card Sign-up Bonuses – Marriott Rewards

When it comes to credit card sign-up bonuses, Marriott has an advantage over Starwood. That’s because there are just two Starwood Preferred Guest credit cards, both of them issued by American Express – which limits card sign-up bonuses to just one per lifetime. So once you’ve banked the sign-up bonus from the personal and business Starwood credit cards (with some exceptions), you can’t earn them again. Chase, which issues the three Marriott-branded credit cards, allows each sign-up bonus to be earned once every 24 months. When it comes to credit card sign-up bonuses alone, Marriott has the advantage because there are more credit cards to choose from and they are in fact churnable. Plus, Marriott is an Ultimate Rewards transfer partner, which gives you even more ways to acquire Marriott points (not that it’s a good use of points, except when you’re topping off an account).

2. Point Earning Opportunities – Marriott Rewards

Outside of rewards credit cards and loyalty program earnings, there are limited ways to earn Starpoints. There’s Starwood’s partnership with Uber, which allows members to earn bonus Starpoints on their Uber rides during qualifying stays. There are airline partnerships, which I’ll get into later, but otherwise earning options are limited with SPG.

Meanwhile, Marriott offers tons of options for stocking up on points. There’s the refer-a-friend program, which allows existing members to earn up to 50,000 points per year by referring others to the program (shameless plug: shoot me an email if you’d like me to refer you to Marriott Rewards). Marriott Rewards has a shopping portal and lots of partnerships with car rental companies and other merchants that offer additional opportunities to earn points. Marriott also offers discounted awards, which certainly helps make their inflated award chart a little less awful.

3. Earning Free Nights – Starwood Preferred Guest

The level of ease (or difficulty) when it comes to earning free nights from paid stays is pretty important when choosing a loyalty program. Marriott offers 2.5 – 10 points per $1 on hotel stays and a free night ranges between 6,000 – 45,000 points per night. It would take $600 – $18,000 worth of paid stays to earn a free night at Marriott.

Meanwhile, Starwood Preferred Guest pays out 2 points per $1 and free nights range between 2,000 – 35,000 points, which requires $1,000 – $17,000 worth of paid stays. The difference isn’t quite as massive as I had imagined. Yes, Starwood comes out ahead in this category, but the difference isn’t huge. 

4. Hotel + Air Packages – Marriott Rewards

Both Marriott Rewards and Starwood Preferred Guest offer hotel and air package awards. Starwood’s Nights & Flights is somewhat limited, since it’s only available at Category 3 and 4 hotels. A Category 3 Nights & Flights award gets you five nights and 50,000 airline miles for 60,000 Starpoints. A Category 4 Nights & Flights award includes five nights and 50,000 miles for 70,000 Starpoints. 

Marriott Rewards’ Hotel + Air awards are a bit more complex, with just three currency options: United MileagePlus, British Airways Avios, and Southwest Rapid Rewards. Hotel + Air packages include seven nights and a variable number of airline miles and the number of points required depend on which hotel category you’re redeeming for. This gives you more options to choose from and it’s a good way to essentially transfer your Marriott points to airline miles at a favorable ratio. Factoring in the ease of earning Marriott points through credit card sign-up bonuses, Marriott’s Hotel + Air packages have an advantage over Starwood’s Nights & Flights.

5. Transferring Points – Marriott Rewards

Starwood Preferred Guest allows members to transfer points to others in their households free of charge. Meanwhile, Marriott Rewards allows point transfers between any members, though there is a $10 transaction fee which is waived for Gold and Platinum elite members.

6. Earning Elite Status – Starwood Preferred Guest

Marriott has three elite level tiers, while Starwood has just two:

Marriott Rewards 

  • Silver after 10 nights 
  • Gold after 50 nights 
  • Platinum after 75 nights 

Starwood Preferred Guest

  • Gold Preferred after 10 stays/25 nights 
  • Platinum Preferred after 25 stays/50 nights 

Starwood has a definite advantage here because it takes 25 – 50 fewer nights to earn top-tier status in the Starwood Preferred Guest program. The huge difference in award night requirements is one of the reasons people are so upset about the buy-out. On the plus side, both Marriott Rewards and Starwood Preferred Guest count award nights towards elite status. Marriott enacted this policy on November 1, but it’s a positive step that puts both loyalty programs on the same level in at least one category. 

7. Elite Membership Benefits – Starwood Preferred Guest

Starwood clearly has the advantage when it comes to earning elite status, but how do their elite benefits stack up against Marriott Rewards? Starwood Gold is pretty useless, the only distinctive benefit being 50% bonus points, a room upgrade upon availability and a welcome amenity. Marriott Rewards Silver members earn 20% bonus points along with a 10% discount on hotel gift shop purchases and weekend room rates at Courtyard and SpringHill Suites hotels. Marriott Silver members also get access to special elite-only award redemptions. It really depends on what you’re looking for, but I can see Marriott Silver being more useful than Starwood Preferred Guest Gold. 

Top-tier Starwood Preferred Guest Platinum members get a 50% point bonus, room upgrades when available (including suites), club room access, as well as extra perks for staying 50, 75, and 100 nights each year. The most popular award for completing 50 nights is 10 suite night awards, which can be used to guarantee a suite upgrade for up to ten nights.

Meanwhile, the Marriott Gold elite level (which requires the same number of nights as SPG Platinum) gets members room upgrades upon availability (including suites), club lounge access or breakfast for two, Hertz #1 Gold membership, and 20th century “benefits” like free local fax and phone calls, plus discounted long distance calls. Marriott Rewards Platinum membership comes with slightly more substantial perks, like United MileagePlus Silver status and a guaranteed Platinum Arrival gift. It’s certainly not worth 25 extra nights. If it’s elite status you’re after, Starwood is definitely the better program.

8. Airline Partnerships – Tie

Both Marriott and Starwood have partnerships with airlines that offer reciprocal benefits to members. Marriott and United partnered up for RewardsPlus, which grants MileagePlus members with Premier Gold status or higher, Marriott Gold status. Marriott Platinum members get United Premier Silver status. Members also get slightly better value when transferring their points, though that’s barely worth mentioning.

Starwood on the other hand, has partnered with Delta SkyMiles and Emirates Skywards. Both partnerships allow members to earn points while flying with either airline, or miles when staying at Starwood hotels.

This is a category in which your travel preferences will determine which program offers better benefits. Personally, I’d go with MileagePlus since I don’t fly with Emirates or Delta much (or ever).

9. Lifetime Status – Starwood Preferred Guest

Both Marriott Rewards and Starwood Preferred Guest offer Lifetime elite status. The requirements are as follows:


  • Gold: 250 nights and five years of Gold status
  • Platinum: 500 nights and 10 years of Platinum status


  • Silver: 250 nights and 1.2 million points
  • Gold: 500 nights and 1.6 million points
  • Platinum: 750 nights and 2 million points

Earning lifetime elite status is currently easier with Starwood than Marriott. It’s worth noting that Marriott counts points earned through credit card spending towards the 1.2 – 2 million point requirement for achieving status. Still, the night requirements are lower for Starwood than Marriott and that’s what ultimately matters. 

One major loss, if in fact the Starwood Preferred Guest program is disbanded or severely devalued, would be the ability to transfer Starpoints to airline programs at a 1:1 value with a 5,000 mile bonus for every 20,000 points transferred. Again, we don’t know what will happen: Marriott may keep Starwood Preferred Guest as a separate program, much like IHG has done with Kimpton so far. Or they’ll merge, remove the best features of both programs, and cause a post-Lakers game-style riot.

The way I see it, Marriott Rewards isn’t entirely terrible. In fact, as you can see above, it actually comes out ahead of Starwood in several categories. Here’s hoping the best features of each program are preserved post-acquisition.

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Ariana Arghandewal


  1. There is one big thing that you didn’t cover. While I agree that for most people, the merger isn’t a big deal and I’d argue that Marriott rewards people who stay at their hotels pretty regularly (the amount of money spent on hotel stays in order to earn a free night is actually much better for Marriott that SPG), their rate of return on credit cards is terrible. not even close to what Starwood offers, which is a pretty big deal for travel hackers and people who MS for hotel stays.

    Now if Marriott would offer at least 3 points per dollar as the standard (non-bonused) reward for credit card spend, I’d agree that the merger isn’t a big deal (and offer Chase UR transfers at the same rate), That way, you’d get roughly the same value for credit card spend as you do with the SPG card and you’d get roughly the same airline miles to hotel miles transfer rate.

    I think the only reason why people don’t really talk about the Marriott program is precisely because it is really not lucrative to manufacture Marriott points (other than churning the credit card bonus).

    • Ehhh…I don’t think most people cared at all about the Starwood hotels lineup. People used the SPG card to do 1.25 mile transfers to basically most airline partners. Unless you travel a lot for business or pleasure and need to stay in hotels, this is a horrible deal. The airlines gave you the most bang for the buck.

  2. Thought I was reading Devils Advocate! Great article though 🙂

    For us non-hotelers, SPG points are simply a mileage currency. I don’t expect that stick around. And remember that Amex biz cards can be churned.

    • I’m the same – I mostly use SPG points for airline mile transfers, but Marriott’s Hotel + Flight awards also allow you to transfer points to miles at a favorable ratio. Love the Devil’s Advocate and am looking forward to that column’s take on the merger.

  3. My biggest issue is that Marriott is horrible with point redemptions for hotels. A Marriott hotel near LAX costs 25-30,000 points a night. A Starwood hotel by LAX for the same nights is only 7,000. Last summer I stayed in some nice SPG hotels for as low as 3,000 points a night. It is easier to earn Marriott points than SPG, but it still ends up costing more to use those Marriott points. Plus Marriott has really stripped the best promotions from their program. They used to have the quarterly promotions of getting a free night certificate after 2 stays. That’s gone. Or the promotion where you could get up to 12,000 Southwest points by purchasing Marriott gift cards. That’s gone. I used to primarily stay at Marriotts because of these promotions, and I earned enough points for a Southwest companion pass and 7 nights at a hotel in Hawaii. I haven’t stayed at a Marriott in almost a year now because they just have nothing left to entice me.

    • I agree – Marriott’s promotions have deteriorated, but SPG’s aren’t terrible exciting either(double points, extra 1k points, etc.). I think on the surface people see this huge disparity between the two programs, but they’re actually not that different in some regards. As for award redemptions, Marriott’s award chart is definitely inflated but you can earn up to 10 points per $1 as a non-elite member, which brings the required spend for a free night (especially at a top-tier hotel) significantly lower.

      • Don’t forget Marriott does not have a true blocked date on award redemption , they’re actually letting the properties to decide. Which puts another huge negative from Marriott loyalty program.

  4. You miss the whole point…The reason SPG points are the best and so valuable is because they are so hard to get. It is not an “advantage” that you can get Marriott points everywhere, with multiple cards, etc. The less points available in the marketplace, makes them more valuable. That’s why all the perks, always an available room with points, all the upgrades, suites, etc exist. The moment there are tons of points available is when the programs are devalued.
    If you dont use the program for its hotels benefits (like you say you dont do), I think you cant hardly understand why us SPG loyalists are sad and afraid.

    • It is an advantage if Marriott makes points more easy to accrue. You can’t MS very much with SPG cards and sign-up bonuses are limited to once per lifetime (with some exceptions for targeted business card offers). The ability to earn points easily is a very important feature of a good award program and that’s one point that I think even loyal members would agree on. As for elite benefits, it’s unfortunate that Marriott doesn’t offer the same ones – especially confirmed upgrades. However, I hear nothing but glowing reviews about elite treatment from loyal Marriott members, so I’m inclined to think they’re not as terrible as they’re made out to be.

      • “It is an advantage if Marriott makes points more easy to accrue”

        No it isn’t. If both points were comparable then I would agree with you. But the same hotel that costs 3000 or 4000 or 7000 points with SPG (a category 2 or 3 Sheraton), could cost up to 25000 points with Marriott (a Courtyard). It is a about value and strenght of the currency and what you can do with it. Not to mention that half of the times, that room is not available with Marriott and with SPG is available 98% of the times….Lets say it is easy to accrue 500 afghanis. Do you prefer that to $10?

        Also Marriott does not make it easier to accrue them in the MS world as you say. Both credit cards only give you 1 point per $ spent….maybe the virtual mall is an advantage? But again…if you have the choice of buying something online, do you go for Marriott points or lets say AA miles, United, or other?…There is your answer.As for the one time bonus for CC, Chase is closing that gap.

        Read Frequentmiler blog for today. It is clear and right to the point the way it is.


        Believe me. I have played this game a lot longer than you. Unless somehow Marriott adopts SPG rewards program , converts SPG points into a radio 4 for 1 or better, and makes the Chase Marriot card give you at least 3 points per dollar spent, there is no way way to spin this merger as a good thing for SPG loyalists.

        • If you’re comparing the SPG award chart to Marriott’s, you have to take accrual rates into account. As I’ve explained, it takes a non-elite member $2,400 – $18,000 worth of paid stays to get a free night at Marriott and $1,000 – $17,000 at SPG. That’s not a huge difference. Even in terms of manufactured spending, you can’t accrue SPG points at the same rate as Marriott, unless you want to risk a financial review from Amex. Do I prefer SPG? Yes, but my point is that Marriott’s program isn’t that terrible when you analyze redemption rates based on the rate of point accrual through the rewards program.

          I agree with you on the shopping portal (though I have on occasion found higher rates offered by Marriott’s portal).

      • The SPG card is a good card to MS with. I MS about 10k SPG points per month at Simon Mall for a cost of slightly less than 80 bucks. I recently booked a room at the Westin in Atlanta that would’ve cost $220.00 after taxes for 10k points. I got a $220.00 room for $80.00. There are motel 6’s that cost more than that. Its as good as, if not a little better than, a 2% cashback card. Its not hard to find a $200 plus room for 10k SPG points that cost $80.00 to manufacture. The only other hotel card that’s worth MSing with that I know of is the Chase Hyatt. The Marriott cards are worthless for MS beyond meeting minimum spend.

        • You can’t quite ms with Amex cards as much as with Chase cards unless you want to risk a financial review. Though I agree, SPG has some decent low-category hotels that are easy to earn through ms.

  5. Umm, a little surprised that nobody pointed out your issue with math. The lowest Marriott reward is 6000 points and the accrual rate is 10 points/ dollar, therefore, the lowest amount of spend required is $600, not $2400. Also, although it is possible to spend $18,000 to get a top level Marriott stay, a more accurate measure would be comparing a Ritz Carlton stay (70,000 points) with the earn rate at just about all of the Marriott hotels (10 points), making the top requirement typically $7000. As with a comparison between hotel earn rates at SPG and any other company, SPG is consistently the worst, and by a large margin.

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