I'm glad to see that Aaron and I don't agree on everything. I have been a faithful participant in Marriott Rewards for many years and had little worry that Marriott's acquisition of Starwood Hotels and Resorts would negatively impact me. That is a left-handed way to say that I thought the acquiring hotel brand would dominate the loyalty migration discussion.
By Bill Hanifin
As a business traveler, the one feature of a combined program that I thought would be a plus would be to broaden the choices available to me when choosing a hotel. As Aaron accurately notes, business travelers tend to adopt habitual behaviors, and consistent execution of those behaviors reinforces the value of the habit. In loyalty program terms, once a pattern of travel emerges in the life of a road warrior (whether intentional or environmental), it makes sense to consolidate the benefits of that pattern by accumulating stays in one program. Paraphrasing Julian Rotter, the psychologist who pioneered thought in Social Learning, "The likelihood of behavior change (now and in the future) is a function of the Expectancy (of reaching a reward) and Reinforcement of the desirability of that reward".
While I've been actively loyal to Marriott properties over the years, there are times when I must choose another brand. Having a combined program with access to universal reservations would allow me to view hotel options from the combined portfolio of brands, and earn the same currency across all properties. This would add significant value to the combined program, but it is a feature which seems to have been deferred for the moment.
When the acquisition was originally announced and the option to link respective loyalty programs together was made available, I found it difficult to accomplish this specific task. The accounts are linked now, but I still view my interactions through the window of Marriott Rewards and have to seek out space at a Starwood property just as I would any other competitor.
Due to the passion exhibited by fans of each brand and the need to carefully align differences in elite benefits, this interim announcement makes sense as a way to soften the impact of eventual changes to program members. But rather than do much hand-wringing over this announcement, I am reserving opinion about the outcome of this big merger until, as the article states "By early next year, the company expects to debut a new loyalty brand that will replace the three, as well as a new single reservations system.
Bill Hanifin is CEO of The Wise Marketer and is a Certified Loyalty Marketing Professional (CLMP).