I was a little surprised this morning to hear that United Airlines MileagePlus and Marriott Rewards were forming a partnership. Here are the particulars, then a few initial thoughts from me:
- United Gold, Platinum, 1K and Global Services members will now receive complimentary Gold status in the Marriott Rewards program.
- Marriott Gold status includes free internet access, 25% bonus points on stays, priority request for late check-outs as well as limited lounge access at some properties.
- Marriott Gold status does not include any real upgrades. Sometimes you might get a higher floor or similar, but don’t expect suites.
- Marriott Rewards Platinum and Platinum Premier Elite members will be granted complimentary United Silver status.
- United Silver status will earn you a 25% bonus on miles flown, a free checked bag, free Economy Plus seats at check-in as well as priority check-in and boarding and complimentary domestic upgrades (though most Silver elites don’t sniff any upgrades).
- All elite members on both sides will be able to convert Marriott Rewards points to MileagePlus miles at a 20% discount.
- All members will be able to transfer MileagePlus miles to Marriott Rewards points at a 1:1 ratio.
Now, what does this really mean?
First, I think the Marriott Rewards folks end up doing okay in this deal. Those Platinum and Platinum Elites now get free access to Economy Plus seating at check-in. No doubt that’s not always a great option, but since E+ seating can easily cost $50 a pop I can see this being one of the more lucrative benefits for the infrequent flier (or frequent Delta or American flier who now flies United occasionally). The 25% bonus on miles flown is meaningful and a free checked bag when traveling is worth $25.
Compare that to those United elites who now get Marriott Gold. Maybe it’s just me, but free internet and the possibility of a late check-out don’t seem terribly valuable to me, especially with so many limited service or extended stay properties offering free internet.
Second, I think you can count on very little in the way of seat or room upgrades for either program. United folks aren’t going to start getting lavish suites with their new Marriott Gold status. And, Marriott folks aren’t going to see a slew up domestic upgrades as a United Silver.
But, it certainly beats a sharp stick in the eye. Delta and Starwood Preferred Guest announced a similar program not too long ago. My initial thoughts there were, “Wow. Great hotel chain pairs up with meh airline.” I can’t say my thoughts are exactly reversed on the United/Marriott partnership, but I do think the pairing of United and Marriott scores higher for me than Delta and SPG if only because I still fly United a ton and could see the occasional time I would use the Marriott benefits.
But, the Marriott chain is not one I have a lot of fondness for. I find the benefits from Hyatt and to a slightly lesser degree Starwood to be much more beneficial.
Overall, I think that this a good thing for both United and Marriott. Gary likes to talk about business at the margin being so profitable for the airlines. If someone is a Marriott elite but doesn’t already have at least Silver status with United then I believe United really does pick up business at the margin. That was either an occasional flyer or someone loyal to another airline. If United ends up giving them a free E+ seat on the day of flight or a free checked bag but they fill a seat with a paying passenger that would have otherwise gone empty, that’s a win.
Similarly, someone with no Marriott status probably isn’t choosing Marriott on a regular basis for 3 or 4 stays a year. They could be, but that United elite who now gets Gold status is probably bringing incremental revenue to Marriott.
I certainly don’t know the economics of the deal as it relates to what United and Marriott will pay each other in exchange for customers who actually use these benefits. But, I suspect it’s small peanuts in the grand scheme of things and we may or may not see these relationships grow to be more beneficial to the customers. I lean against them becoming more rewarding just because I do think the separate programs want to maintain the best benefits for their own elite members, not those who are only occasional customers. So, unlikely Marriott folks see United Premier Gold status in the future.
The silver lining for me in this deal is that United and Delta are already tied up with two hotel chains (Starwood and Marriott). That leaves my favorite airline (American Airlines) and my favorite hotel chain (Hyatt) still on the sidelines in a business where the legacy airlines are all copycats. Sure, it’s possible American ends up married to Hilton instead, but hope springs eternal…..