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How the Marriott, Starwood merger will affect loyalty program members

Marriott International (MAR) and Starwood Hotels (HOT) officially joined forces Friday, creating the largest lodging company in the world. As far as business is concerned, this is a big deal involving two huge brands and a lot of money. For consumers, it doesn’t really mean much — unless you belong to one of the brand’s loyalty programs.

Before joining forces, Starwood Preferred Guest (SPG) loyalty members had access to 1,300 hotels and resorts around the world. Now that Marriott and Starwood have joined forces, members of both loyalty programs can now access 5,700 hotels and 1.1 million rooms in more than 110 countries. This includes 30 of the world’s most popular brands, like The Ritz Carlton, JW Marriott and W Hotels.

Starting Friday, members of SPG, Marriott Rewards and The Ritz-Carlton Rewards are able to link their accounts at members.marriott.com. By doing this, members of the three programs will be able to experience perks and benefits not previously available to them.

“Marriott’s and Starwood’s guests have shown tremendous loyalty to our brands and now that we are one company, we are seizing the opportunity to reinforce our loyalty to them,” said Stephanie Linnartz, executive vice president and global chief commercial officer. “Beginning now, we’re drawing upon the best of our loyalty programs by enabling members to join or link their accounts and immediately receive reciprocal status and benefits.”

Marriott International doesn’t expect to have a fully combined loyalty program until 2018. Until then, here are a five major things loyal members should know:

1. Two does not become one

Even though the two companies have merged, the loyalty programs are still separate. In other words, you can only earn Marriott Rewards points at Rewards participating hotels, and Starpoints at SPG participating hotels. You still need two accounts — one for each program.  

2. Your points will go further

Members who link their accounts will be able to transfer points on a three-to-one ratio, or three Marriott Rewards points for one SPG starpoint. This means you could pile all of your points into one account and redeem them for stays at Marriott or Starwood properties around the world. On the flipside, you can keep the accounts totally separate … It’s up to you. One important thing to note is that only points can be transferred. So, if you’ve received an elite night credit stay, or a promotional item (like free breakfast or resort credit), it must be used in the program that you earned it.

3. You won’t lose status

After linking your accounts, your status will be matched across programs. This means if you have Gold status on SPG, then you will instantly receive Gold status on Marriott Rewards. This only applies to your highest non-promotional status level. If you’re one of the lucky travelers who has attained lifetime status in one of the loyalty programs, you will continue to reap those benefits.

4. Lower room rates

One of the perks of joining a loyalty program is accessing lower member rates — that won’t change. When users book directly on the Marriott app, SPG app, online, or over the phone, they are guaranteed the lowest possible rates at all 5,700 hotels.

5. Credit cards won’t change

If you have a Marriott Rewards, Ritz Carlton Rewards, or SPG credit card, absolutely nothing will change. Users can continue to use their credit card to accumulate points towards the program it is affiliated with. One perk is that members will be able to transfer points earned on their credit card from one program to another.

Enrollment for the hotel branded credit cards will stay open until the programs merge in 2018.

Brittany is a writer at Yahoo Finance.

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