As regular Tricks of the Trade readers will know, the Marriott/Starwood merger has been drawing to a close over the last few months. The 18th of August was D-day as the newly combined (and as of yet nameless) loyalty scheme launched and it became possible to book Starwood hotels on the Marriott website and vice versa.
It also marked the start of a highly lucrative window of opportunity.
From 18th of August until early 2019, no hotel in the Marriott/Starwood portfolio will cost more than 60,000 Marriott points (worth 20,000 Starwood points) per night for a standard redemption.
And as I noted back in July, this includes incredible ‘all-suite’ properties such as the St. Regis Resort Bora Bora, W Maldives and The St. Regis Maldives Vommuli Resort. Historically, these properties required an eye-watering number of Starwood points for a free night redemption, so the opportunity to stay at one of these resorts for just 20,000 Starwood points per night – or 16,000 points on a five-night stay – is an amazing bargain.
As a reminder: there’s no need for your hotel stay(s) to take place by early 2019 – you just need to book by then to secure the low rates.
My pre 18th August plans
We’ve known about this lucrative window for some months now, and my biggest worry was hotels restricting the number of rooms available on points or availability simply disappearing as people rushed to lock in the temporarily low rates.
I’ve had my eye on the St. Regis New York for some time now. When I was last in New York a couple of years ago, points availability at the St. Regis just didn’t materialise, much to my disappointment.
So I wasn’t taking any chances.
A couple of days before the new program went live, I called Starwood Preferred Guest (SPG) and locked in a reservation at the old rates.
A standard redemption for the base level Superior room (which you can book online) used to cost between 30,000-35,000 SPG points per night. The problem is that Superior rooms cannot accommodate more than 2 adults which wasn’t much use to me or anyone else travelling with kids.
So I called SPG and was offered a Grand Luxe room (which is the third room category and one below a suite) for 37,750 SPG points per night.
Now that’s a huge amount of points, but it guaranteed me enough space for all of us and I was hoping to be able to rebook at lower rates once the merger kicked in.
The rebooking fun begins!
While the programs merged on Saturday 18th August – and the websites were back up and accepting bookings pretty quickly, I decided to allow the dust to settle before attempting any changes my reservation.
I could see there was standard room availability using points but of course, I couldn’t rebook this particular reservation online myself.
So I bided my time and 6 days later on Friday 24th August, I decided it was time to try and rebook.
Call 1 to SPG
I rang SPG Reservations in Cork, Ireland and the first thing I noticed was the long hold times – something I’d not experienced with this call centre before. I finally got through to an advisor and gave him my dates and room requirements. And then the line went dead. Not a great start.
Call 2 to SPG
After a further 15-minute hold I got through to another representative. Not only could he see reward availability but a Grand Luxe room was available at just 60,000 Marriott points per night – the same rate as the base level Superior room.
Except he couldn’t book it. He tried three times but the system kept throwing up an error at the final stage. Hugely frustrating but he suggested they were having problems with their systems and I should give it a couple of days.
Call 3 to SPG
So I left it a few days and on Monday, I thought I’d try again. This time their systems were suggesting that Superior, Deluxe and Grand Luxe rooms as well as the Astor Suite were all bookable for just 60,000 Marriott points per night.
We tried the Grand Luxe and the Astor Suite but just could not get a booking to stick.
Trying Marriott instead
Before giving up, I decided to ring Marriott and see if perhaps they would have more luck, even though I was trying to book a legacy Starwood hotel.
The representative told me that they couldn’t book legacy Starwood hotels, and I’d need to talk to Starwood for that. She offered to transfer me.
I agreed but asked to be transferred to the Malaysian call centre. This piece from The Points Guy suggested that the Malaysian SPG call centre had successfully been able to make bookings and I thought it worth a try. I was on hold for quite a while and it turned out that I’d in fact been transferred…back to SPG in Cork.
Call 4 to SPG
Although their systems hadn’t been working as of a few minutes earlier, I decided to give it one last go. And it’s a good thing I did. The agent I spoke to was finally able to confirm a new reservation for the equivalent of just 64,000 Marriott points per night!
At the time of booking, cash rates for this same room were:
Once taxes are factored in, the total for my 3-night stay comes in at more than $4,800. That gives me an outstanding value of 2.5p per Marriott point. Now, of course, I don’t consider this a genuine $4,800 saving because I wouldn’t consider paying anything like that for this stay, but it remains a superb deal.
By rebooking following the merger, I saved a total of 147,750 Marriott points (equivalent to 49,250 SPG points) on my 3-night booking – that’s huge!
The most frustrating aspect of this whole process is undoubtedly the fact that the agents can’t know whether the system is functioning or not until the very last stage of the booking. This meant that I needed to provide each person I spoke to with the dates/location/guest details and payment information before finding out whether we could even make the booking.
When it does work, however, there is clearly some phenomenal value to be had.