This morning, Marriott International announced that it was acquiring the Starwood chain of hotels and resorts for $12.2 billion, in a deal that will create the largest hotel company in the world.
Mergers between hotel chains and airlines often bring big changes to those companies' loyalty programs. And almost immediately after the Marriott-Starwood deal was announced, travelers began worrying that the merger would jeopardize their status with SPG, Starwood's loyalty program, which is a favorite of elite road warriors (and a significant part of the value of Starwood).
Over on The Points Guy, a blog popular with the frequent-flier crowd, commenters gnashed their teeth over the merger as well.
Starwood loyalists are particularly worried that Marriott will dilute their SPG points by turning them into Marriott Rewards points. SPG, which has 21 million members, is widely seen as the best loyalty program in the hotel industry, with a vast suite of benefits and a partnership with American Express. In some ways, Marriott would be foolish to mess with SPG and anger the heavy-spending frequent-flier crowd. But Marriott has a history of devaluing its loyalty points, making it harder for frequent travelers to redeem them for free stays and other perks.
Travel blogger Gary Leff summed up the worries:
This is an opportunity for Marriott to really up its game and learn from Starwood Preferred Guest. However the more generous programs tend to be the smaller ones for a reason. It does not take any effort to be loyal to Marriott or IHG. If you walk down the street in any city you can wind up in one of their hotels. It takes effort to be loyal to Starwood or to Hyatt, and so they must give you a reason to do so.
The Marriott-Starwood deal isn't expected to close until next year, and we don't yet know what the company has planned for SPG. (The company didn't respond to a request for comment.) In a news release today, Marriott promised that it would "take the best of both of these programs and make sure that those bests are preserved and that the program is enhanced." And its corporate Twitter account has spent some time this morning trying to reassure frequent SPG travelers that their status isn't in jeopardy.
But it looks like Marriott has a lot more reassuring to do.