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.
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.
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.
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