As executive vice president and chief marketing and commercial officer for Marriott International, Stephanie Linnartz oversees everything from technology to sales across the Marriott portfolio of hotels.
In late September, that portfolio grew to 30 hotel brands from 19 when Marriott acquired Starwood Hotels & Resorts in a $13 million deal that makes Marriott the largest hotel company in the world, managing over 5,700 hotels and 1.1 million rooms.
Marriott runs the luxury-level Ritz-Carlton as well as Courtyard by Marriott, among others, while Starwood brings its stylish W Hotels, Westin and tech-forward Aloft properties.
For travelers, the biggest issue posed by the deal is the marriage of two different loyalty programs. The following are edited excerpts from a conversation with Linnartz.
Q. What does the acquisition mean for travelers who have Starwood Preferred Guest (SPG) points? Will the loyalty programs be merged?
A. Minutes after closing this deal we announced this site — members.marriott.com. It will allow members of each respective program to link their accounts. If you have gold status in SPG, you are automatically matched with gold status in Marriott Rewards and all the benefits that come along with being an elite. You’ll be able to transfer points from Marriott Rewards to SPG and vice versa.
For example, if you’re an SPG member and you’re traveling to a location such as Tuscany or Aruba, places where Starwood doesn’t have a property, you can transfer your SPG points to Marriott Rewards and then use them for a stay at a Marriott property. Likewise, if you’re a Marriott Rewards member you can transfer your Marriott Rewards points to SPG for a stay in the Maldives or Bora Bora, to think of some glamorous spots where Marriott has not had a property. Every three Marriott Rewards points is equal to one SPG point.
Q. It sounds as if I’m getting fewer points. Is it a matter of different rate structures?
A. Before we closed on the deal, we worked with a very well-known consulting firm.
Each company submitted their data independently for this company to look at to determine what would be a fair exchange rate. We looked at things like how you earned points and how you redeemed points, how bonuses work, how promotions work, and quite a number of other factors. This firm concluded that a 3:1 exchange rate was absolutely appropriate. The points bloggers out there have been speaking very favorably about the exchange rate.
Q. The merger makes Marriott the biggest hotel company in the world. Should consumers worry about your strength in the market? Will rates go up, for example?
A. No. This deal is about giving consumers more choice, more options, more experiences in different locations. The pricing is done at the individual hotel level.
Q. What will happen when Starwood and Marriott brands compete? Will some brands disappear?
A. Our plan is to keep all 30 brands. They have distinct customers that they are positioned against. Starwood has been a real innovator over the years and has done things like the Westin’s Heavenly Bed and the launch of W. Likewise Marriott was the first hotel company to roll out mobile check-in and checkout across all of our hotels globally. We were the first to launch mobile guest services. By having a larger company and more efficiencies in how we spend money on technology, I think we’ll be able to invest more in consumer-facing technology and more experiences for our guests.
Q. Some travelers are looking for a deal or convenience and may not be loyalty members. For them, what are the benefits of a big company?
A. We’re seeing people are looking for value. So the same person may go to a Ritz-Carlton for a special occasion and is perfectly happy at a Courtyard by Marriott for a soccer tournament. What consumers are looking for is the experience. Travel is such a robust opportunity for people to have unique experiences. Even if you don’t travel quite as frequently, you still want that special occasion, that amazing experience, and we’ll be able to deliver that across the spectrum.