United & Marriott introduce RewardsPlus, offer elite reciprocity


Welcome to RewardsPlus, the new partnership announced today between United Airlines and Marriott. The program offers elite reciprocity between the two programs as well as improved rates for transferring points between the two programs. It is a similar arrangement to the Delta/SPG Crossover Rewards program which was announced in February this year, but different in many ways.

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Reciprocity for elites

Members of the MileagePlus program holding Gold Elite status or higher can now match that to Marriott Rewards Gold Elite status, the base middle elite level in the program. In the other direction Marriott Platinum Elite members will receive the base elite status on United, Premier Silver. In both cases the benefits on the match side of the equation aren’t all that great – bottom tier elite status rarely is – but it isn’t a completely worthless offering. Registration is required for this aspect of the program.

My initial view on the offering was that, as a United elite, the Marriott benefit was of almost no value, mostly because I place very little value on the "free" breakfast/internet options generally associated with that level. At the same time, Silver Premier isn’t all that special, though it does allow you access to shorter lines, earlier boarding and a free checked bag. For someone who doesn’t use the partner often enough to get status naturally I actually think that the Marriott Platinums will get better value for a couple uses of the United elite status than a United elite will get for the occasional Marriott stay.

Point fungibility

The partnership will allow members on both sides to move points back and forth between the two programs with better rates than those available to other programs. For United elites MileagePlus points can move to Marriott Rewards at a 1:1 rate (max 50K annually). Going the other direction Marriott points will earn a 20% bonus, though the basic rate on which those bonuses apply is pretty bad. The only reasonably solid benefit coming from the partnership is the 10% bonus on miles credited to United when redeeming a Marriott Rewards Travel Package which includes both airline points and hotel nights. Those are quite expensive points-wise but they can be a good deal in some circumstances and the bonus points add to that.

RewardsPlus v Crossover Rewards

Compared to the Delta/Starwood program there are some significant differences in the RewardsPlus program. Crossover Rewards offers up some benefits based on your status in the partner program but doesn’t actually match the status over to the other program. RewardsPlus simply matches the status. In that regard I think that the benefits of RewardsPlus are better in that they are the full set of benefits, not a subset. On the other side, Crossover rewards offer better earning options in that spend on either program earns credit in both while RewardsPlus only offers earning in the program where the activity is happening, though that earning will earn the elite bonus from the program. I’m not sure which is better there; I suppose it will largely depend on the travel patterns and rates paid.

Overall this is another step towards changing the loyalty landscape. It isn’t the first time status match programs for top elites have rolled out. Such matches were not all that uncommon over the past decade (and probably longer). This time around, however, the hotels and airlines are cooperating even more tightly. It will be quite interesting to see how these partnerships skew the programs over the longer term. It has the potential to skew things towards these stronger partnerships and limit the value of the broader arrangements the hotels and airlines have historically had. Such a change could result in the value to elites growing further while the general members lose out on options. Interesting days, indeed.

Some interesting comments on the program from Food, Wine & Miles here as well.

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Seth Miller

I'm Seth, also known as the Wandering Aramean. I was bit by the travel bug 30 years ago and there's no sign of a cure. I fly ~200,000 miles annually; these are my stories. You can connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.

13 Comments

  1. Thanks for the link.

    I do think it’s interesting to look at the differences between the structures of these two programs. I need to think about it some more, but I have to believe that there’s a reason why United/Marriott structured this one the way they did vs. the “earn more points” structure of Crossover Rewards.

  2. The obvious reason for this structure is that it is way easier to implement. They don’t have to deal with tracking revenue on the other side and being able to issue credit into the other systems; it is just status matching when they need it to happen. Plus it is much easier to explain, “You get Marriott Gold” rather than you get some UA points plus some MR points plus free internet but not upgrades and no express check-in nor upgraded room but free breakfast sometimes. By letting each side continue to deliver the benefits based on their existing programs the implementation is much easier.

    The flip side is that they run the risk of disenfranchising those who earn those levels naturally or making it harder to convince customers of the value of earning status as the pool gets so large that delivering the benefits is too challenging/expensive. The again, many say such about that UA Silver these days anyways.

  3. Isn’t silver the base for Marriott?… So you essentially get mid tier status if marched to gold..

  4. Gold is mid-tier status with Mariott and includes free wifi, club access, and at some properties, free breakfast.

  5. Silver (or whatever the base level) is certainly being devalued with airlines and hotels, where you can often get similar benefits or that status by virtue of having the branded credit card.

    My Marriott Silver is pretty easy to maintain with one-off stays and rollover nights and nets me a thank you upon check-in, and 10% extra points. That’s it, as far as I know. It did get me an “upgrade” to a “suite” at a Fairfield Inn once. Marriott Gold will actually be helpful, especially in those properties where my MiFi gets a crappy signal.

  6. As a 1k and a Marriott Plat this has decreased my incentive to stay at Marriott, poor design decision.

  7. Passed this info on to DIL as they are top tier Marriott and looking to start status with UAL. Thanks for the info

  8. Does this new ability to shuffle points between the programs open some new creative ways to move points through several programs to gain points in either United or Marriott’s programs?

  9. Yes, there are ways to move points through now. Most notably is that UR now transfer 1:1 to Marriott via United if you have United elite status. Otherwise nothing particularly promising in the points conversion game that I see.

  10. Marriott Gold does get one Concierge Lounge access at full-service properties, which is only available at the Platinum level at SPG. (And gobluetwo, you actually get a 20% bonus as a Silver. Gold gets you 25%.)

    United Silver gets you an Economy Plus seat at check-in. As long as you don’t mind middle seats, that’s not too bad. Beats a middle seat in E- any day.

    So there are benefits to be had on either side.

  11. They seem to have ignored Premier 1Ks and Marriott Platinum Elites altogether…maybe, good idea to stick with SPG at least for allowing double dipping

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