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Marriott-Starwood merger could hurt frequent traveler program

Marriott has more hotels and more loyalty customers than Stawood, leading to speculation the Starwood rewards program could end.

By Ed Adamczyk
Marriott's acquisition of Starwood Hotels could spell a big change for members of the two chains' respective loyalty programs. File photo by Hanoi Photography/Shutterstock
Marriott's acquisition of Starwood Hotels could spell a big change for members of the two chains' respective loyalty programs. File photo by Hanoi Photography/Shutterstock

BETHESDA, Md., Nov. 16 (UPI) -- Marriott announced plans to acquire Starwood hotels on Monday, a move that could be bad news for members of the latter's more lucrative, but smaller rewards program, analysts say.

Marriott's $12.2 billion merger with Starwood Hotels and Resorts Worldwide, which includes 11 hotel brands, is expected to be completed by the middle of 2016. The deal will create the world's largest hotel company, with more than 500 hotels, and more than 1 million rooms, in dozens of countries.

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More than 75 million members belong to the loyalty programs offered by the two companies, leaving some customers to question just how the merger will affect their account.

The 21 million people with Starwood accounts could see their points accumulations -- which can get them free hotel stays and other benefits -- folded into Marriot's accounts. Starwood's Preferred Guest Program, which is partnered with American Express and 32 airlines, is regarded as the more attractive package compared to Marriott Rewards, analysts say. Starwood points can be used for airline flights, accommodations, hotel upgrades and other perks.

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In fact, the Starwoods program has the reputation of as one of the most elite travel points package among all programs for frequent fliers. Analysts say, though, it is unlikely to survive the merger with Marriott, which is the larger program.

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Travel points blog One Mile at a Time speculates Starwood will either be be folded into Marriott's program or the two could continue to exist independently.

"It's possible Starwood Preferred Guest will be merged into Marriott Rewards, and perhaps a few Starwood elite benefits will trickle their way into the Marriott Rewards program," blogger Ben Schlappig wrote. "If this is the case I think we can say bye-bye to suite upgrades, as many Marriott properties have very few suites."

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During a conference call Monday, Marriott President and CEO Arne Sorenson said his company interested in Starwood Hotels in part "because of the strength" of its loyalty program."

"We will take the best of both of these programs and make sure that those bests are preserved and that the program is enhanced," he said.

Travel blogger The Points Guy said Marriott has incentive to preserve the value of the Starwood Preferred Guest program because of its attractive partnerships with airlines and credit card issuers.

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