Marriott International is taking over Starwood Hotels & Resorts Friday morning, effectively creating the world’s largest hotel company. Here are five things to know about the $13.6 billion merger.
1. Platinum Starwood member? Now you’re a Platinum Marriott Rewards member too.
Among the biggest reasons Marriott was drawn to Starwood: It’s extensive rewards program, which includes 21 million members, many of whom are fiercely loyal to the company.
Beginning Friday, Marriott will match elite levels across brands. So in other words, if you’re a silver Starwood Preferred Guest member, you’ll also have silver status at Marriott.
“While they are technically still two separate programs, members will get functionality that allows them to get benefits of both,” Marriott chief executive Arne M. Sorenson said in an interview.
Hotel loyalties run deep, particularly for business travelers who spend much of their time away from home. Over time, those allegiances to specific companies pay off, allowing them perks such as free breakfast, suite upgrades and 4 p.m. late check-out. Now members of both rewards companies will have access to a wider range of perks.
2. Your Starwood rewards points can now be used for Marriott and Ritz-Carlton bookings, and vice versa.
Starwood and Marriott loyalty members will also be able to combine their points by logging in to members.marriott.com. They can transfer points from one account to the other (each Marriott Rewards point will get you one Starpoint) and book reward travel at 5,500 Marriott, Starwood or Ritz-Carlton properties around the world.
The combined program opens the door to a number of new properties. Marriott Rewards members can now use points to book rooms in the Maldives and Bora Bora, while SPG loyalists can book Marriott properties in Aruba, Tuscany’s Serchio Valley and Kruger National Park in South Africa.
3. Your favorite brand isn’t going anywhere, at least not yet.
Marriott now oversees 30 hotel brands, including St. Regis, Sheraton, Westin, and Courtyard by Marriott. Whether you’re a fan of the Ritz-Carlton or W Hotels, Sorenson says there’s no reason to panic. He’s planning on keeping all 30 options intact, at least for now.
“The expectation is that we will keep these brands and try to emphasize the distinctions between them,” he said. “We think having more choice in terms of brands and locations is a powerful advantage.”
Competitor Hilton Worldwide, in comparison, has 13 brands, while InterContinental Hotels Group oversees 12 brands, including Holiday Inn and Kimpton Hotels & Resorts.
4. It’ll be a while before you notice any big changes.
Marriott may have been courting Starwood for the better part of a year, but Sorenson says there are still a number of unknowns.
“There’s a ton of work to get done, obviously,” he said. “Until now, we’ve been two companies that are still competing against each other, so there’s only so much transparency we’ve been able to have.”
The first course of business, he said, will be figure out personnel matters: How to combine different teams and integrate employees from the two companies. (Post-merger, Marriott’s employee count, including workers in franchised and managed properties, exceeds 500,000.)
Longer-term projects, like merging the companies’ technology platforms and combining its computer systems may take another year or two, he said.
“Having said that, we’re going to move as quickly as we can,” he said. “That will be the focus here for the next couple of months.”
By 2018, he expects to save $250 million in annual costs as a result of the merger.
“By combining these two platforms, we will be a bigger buyer of tomatoes or reservations or systems,” Sorenson said in April. “All of the hotels will benefit from that.”
5. Marriott will keep its headquarters in Bethesda. Maryland. For the next few years, anyway.
The hotelier will continue to be based in the Washington suburbs, where it currently houses more than 2,000 employees in a sprawling complex. Sorenson said the company did not have any immediate plans to change Starwood’s headquarters in Stamford, Conn., or its offices in New York.
“Between the two companies, we have operations all around the world,” he said. “Over time, we’re going to have to figure out what the right decisions are from a space utilization perspective and collaboration perspective. Without doubt, there will be some members from Starwood’s headquarters that end up in Bethesda. By the same token, I think we’re likely to have some Marriott team members end up in, for example, Starwood’s offices in New York and probably in Stamford too, for that matter. But those will be decisions that we work out over time.”
That said, Marriott is actively looking to move from its 900,000-square-foot perch when its lease expires in 2022. The company has not indicated whether it plans to stay in Maryland.
“We’ve got a bunch of sites we’re looking at, but we have no idea where we’re going yet,” J. W. “Bill” Marriott Jr., the company’s executive chairman, told The Washington Post this spring.