Points-obsessed business travelers are irate over the Marriott-Starwood merger

Do not mess with these people.
Do not mess with these people.
Image: Reuters/Mario Anzuoni
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Nearly two years after Marriott International bought Starwood Hotels, the brands have finally merged their rewards programs. It took this long for a reason: Loyalty program logistics are tricky, and when people have spent a lot of time and money amassing status, the last thing you want to do is mess with their points.

Yet the company has already managed to irk some of its best customers, who very often are business travelers—and the people who are perhaps the most pedantic about their points. Unsurprisingly, the aggrieved are having no trouble making their gripes known.

A former SPG Platinum status holder and current Platinum Elite under the new Marriott brand emailed Quartz to say that the entire transfer had been nothing short of a “fiasco,” noting that properties had been valued differently post merger at a disadvantage to former SPG-ers.

“The Marriott/SPG merger proved to feel like a hostile takeover, for many loyal SPG members,” she wrote. “If you can do math, you’ll quickly note that your former SPG points stays, and cash and points stays, have been devalued and now cost more. We feel duped. Marriott added insult to injury by playing games with the hotel categories.”

The most immediate problem directly after the merger was what appeared to be inaccurate stats regarding members’ elite status. As Skift reported on Aug. 20, “Multiple users on the web have found that upon logging in, the number of combined annual ‘stays’ earned annually for elite status between Marriott and Starwood has been wrong,” Skift noted. “Others reported that credits towards lifetime status had been tallied incorrectly.”

For a culture obsessed with elitism, being demoted overnight indeed reads as a pretty big blow.

Other lingering problems include difficulty transferring points to airline miles; points failing to post from credit-card purchases; and the need to manually combine an SPG account with a Marriott one, a step that the company requires members to do on their own, rather than integrating it automatically.

To be fair, all these problems seem to fall under the IT snafu variety—things that might be expected in a merger of this magnitude—and will be fixed in due course. But if temporarily insulting your most loyal and high-spending members can be recovered from, concerns like that of the aforementioned Platinum Elite member that emailed Quartz seem more enduring.

In the comments threads on either program’s Facebook page, SPG loyalists are venting similar frustrations with the post-merger world. Under an article about the combined accounts’ new perks, one commenter noted that “2 months ago I booked in Omaha for 3000 starpoints, which would be 9000 post the conversion. Yet when I look to book the same hotel, the points required for the stay is now 17500 points! That’s an insane inflation rate!!!! 100%!!!”

Another reasonably asked: “Why on earth would you post about the benefits of the merge (which I have yet to see because I’m missing stays and points) when you haven’t worked out the bugs yet?” Another user started a Facebook page titled Marriott Rewards Fraud, in regards to a conversion error for travel packages. It has handily amassed more than 3,000 followers since August 19, though Marriott told Quartz it has since rectified the issue.

In a statement to Quartz, Marriott insists that rewards members “now earn on average 20 percent more points per dollar spent and have their Elite status recognized consistently at every hotel as they indulge in the elevated benefits they’ve earned.”

Marriott did not specifically address the points-devaluation concerns of SPG-ers, but the company went on to note that it “knew the process would have some challenges – especially for our members who use the program on a daily or weekly basis. As issues have arisen, as they understandably do in a transition of this size, we worked quickly to resolve if it was technology related, and to educate or improve processes when there was an opportunity to do so.”

Nine days after the merger, on Aug. 27, David Flueck, Marriott’s senior vice president of global loyalty, told points blogger Gary Leff that the status problem had been addressed and “nearly all members should have status correct.”

No doubt they will keep hearing from the ones that don’t.