Travel Guru: United MileagePlus + Marriott Rewards: RewardsPlus

Today Marriott and United announced a new joint-venture of sorts, RewardsPlus. Other than a clever play on program names, what on earth does that actually mean?

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Essentially, Premier Gold and above on United (50,000 miles/year flown) qualify for a match to Marriott Gold, and Marriott Platinums (75 nights/year stayed) qualify for a match to United Silver.

United Premier Silver offers the following benefits:

  • 25% mileage bonus
  • Eligible for space-available, complimentary upgrades – 24 hours out
  • Free Economy Plus selection at 24-hours prior to departure via online check-in
  • Premier Access: Priority checkin, security, and boarding.
  • Reduced fees for award redemptions and changes
  • 1 free checked bag
  • Priority reservations line

Marriott Gold offers the following benefits:

  • 25% points bonus
  • Eligible for space-available, complimentary upgrades – at checkin
  • Complimentary lounge access
  • Complimentary continental breakfast

Though the marketing brands differ, the status levels are quite equal in terms of benefits–though I’d argue United Silver offers slightly more than Marriott Gold. An upgrade to a nicer room might be nice, but priority check-in, security, boarding, and free extra legroom seating at check-in (with the shot of an upgrade to first class) seems much more appealing to me.

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United Economy Plus offers up to 5 inches of extra legroom

Either way, a great program. Eligible members should definitely match. For those without United Silver, I suggest the United Club credit card, which offers many of the benefits (some excluded–including upgrades and free E+) and more (United Club access, 2 free checked bags, for example ), for a relatively reasonable annual fee.

United Boarding groups. Premier Silvers board ahead of the crowd with “Group 2″ and can use the lane as a bypass at any point in the boarding process to board at their leisure.

Update:

The interwebs are still abuzz about this offer, with United frequent fliers generally happy and Marriott members (especially Golds) mostly unhappy. Marriott Golds who earn the status the hard way (50 nights/year), are about to compete against far more United-matched Gold members for benefits. Lounges might be more crowded, and upgrades to a better room at check-in might be available less. My view on this is that most frequent flyers are hotel elites anyway, and the few that aren’t are not for a reason. Then again, my loyalties lie with Hyatt, but as a United 1K (100,000/year flown) this offer does mean that I’ll consider Marriott more often.

In retrospect, it does seem like Marriot Golds are getting the shaft here. They are competing against more members who are “matched,” but they aren’t getting anything in return; only Marriott Platinums are eligible for the status match to United Silver. Marriott should have at least offerred Marriot Golds “Premier Access” on their United itineraries; priority check-in, security, and boarding. But short of full “Premier Silver” status as reserved for Marriott Platinums. It probably wouldn’t have been that hard to implement, seeing as United Club credit card holders are entitled to a similar Silver “lite” status.

And finally, I shared a link to the United Club card that offers benefits that approximate Silver status; it turns out Marriott offers a similar card, but through their co-branded hotel chain, Ritz Carlton, which is part of the Marriott Rewards program. See here for a great overview (and for general points advice in general). The Ritz Carlton Rewards credit card (issued by Chase bank) offers Gold status the first year, which can be maintained through credit card spend year over year. In addition, the card offers a few free upgrades to the Ritz’ Club level, which is by far the best lounge offering worldwide–free food and drinks all day.

Ritz Carlton Club Level

Also, it offers a $200 airline fee credit, which can be used to offset any airline charges up to that level (think checked bag, drinks, club access, change fees, for example).