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Starwood Follows Marriott in Raising Prices for Award Nights

SmarterTravel

With Marriott’s pending acquisition of Starwood, there’s reason to expect that as the former goes, so will go the latter.

Marriott announced its award-price changes for 2016 earlier this week; the next day, Starwood announced its changes.

Marriott’s were a significant downgrade, with 13 percent of its properties rising in price. Starwood’s are less significant, but a downgrade nonetheless.

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In all, 282 hotels, 22 percent of Starwood’s network of 1,270 properties, will be repriced, most rising or falling by a single category. While award stays will be cheaper at 114 hotels, they will be more expensive at 168 hotels. That means price increases at 13 percent of Starwood’s hotels (the same percentage increase as Marriott’s), versus price cuts at 9 percent.

So, on balance, a net devaluation. Starwood Preferred Guest members’ points will buy fewer free nights in 2016 than they did in 2015.

The new prices take effect on March 1.

What to Do Now, and Later

As always with imminent price changes, program members should consult the list of affected hotels and book upcoming award stays at properties increasing in price before the category changes take effect, and defer booking stays at properties that will decrease in price until the lower prices become available.

Longer term, such devaluations should always be viewed as reminders to regularly reassess one’s loyalty. That’s a particularly difficult exercise in Starwood’s case, because of the impending merger with Marriott and the uncertainty surrounding the future of the surviving program.

In remarks after a recent company earnings call, Marriott CEO Arne Sorenson took pains to reassure Starwood loyalists that they will be well taken care of. “We’ve heard from SPG members loud and clear when they say ‘Tell me I’ll be OK.’ You’ll be OK. I want to make sure we continue to earn that loyalty.” Without giving any details, Sorenson promised them “something that is even more powerful for our customers so they’ll say ‘Why should I get a card with anyone else?'”

Just how powerful that something is remains to be seen.

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After 20 years working in the travel industry, and 15 years writing about it, Tim Winship knows a thing or two about travel. Follow him on Twitter @twinship.

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