SPG is adding several changes to the program in the past few days that are worth pointing out. It is interesting that these changes should be announced just days after the merger with Marriott Hotels was approved by shareholders. We can only hope that these benefits and the many others offered by the SPG program will remain available as part of the “New” Marriott Rewards program.

First, SPG announced a new transfer partner, Virgin America. This news is not groundbreaking as SPG already has so many great airline transfer partners, but it adds yet another airline for SPG members and SPG credit card users to move points to if they do not wish to redeem points for hotel stays. Also, since Virgin America and Alaska Airlines are becoming one airline in the near future, SPG members may be better off just transferring points to Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan directly unless they have an upcoming redemption on Virgin America.

Second and arguably more importantly, is the official letter from Marriott CEO Arne Sorenson. In the letter, he addresses shareholders and Marriott Rewards members and explains what we can expect from the new combined loyalty program. He explains that Marriott plans to “draw upon the very best of both Marriott Rewards and Starwood Preferred Guest® (SPG®) to provide even more value to our members.”

This is fantastic news for Marriott Rewards members. Part of what makes the SPG program so valuable is the unique offering of transfer partners. SPG points transfer to most airline programs 1:1, unlike Marriott Rewards points. We can only hope that Marriott Rewards will adopt several of these transfer partners as part of the future combined program.

This letter also reveals a, albeit vague, date for a combined loyalty program. Marriott and SPG loyalty programs will become one at some point in 2018. This date allows member to finalize an earning strategy.

At this point, my plans will be the following: Apply for an SPG American Express Credit Card in early 2017 (hopefully Amex will re-introduce the 35,000 signup bonus). Continue staying at Marriott hotels to re-earn Platinum Status with Marriott Rewards for 2016. Once I reach 75 nights, I will switch to SPG properties to begin building a stash of SPG points. In 2017, I will try to stay exclusively at SPG properties to earn as many SPG points as I can. Hopefully, if I rack up 75 nights at SPG hotels in 2017, I will become a Marriott Platinum member again when the two programs merge in 2018.

If we discover the programs will not become one until late 2018, this program may have to be adjusted, but I think at this point it is reasonable to assume the programs will merge in early 2018. If I didn’t value Marriott Platinum Status so highly (guaranteed room), I would focus on earning as many SPG points as possible prior to the 2018 consolidation of the programs. Either way, prior to the consolidation, I think it is wise to convert all SPG points to an airline transfer partner to avoid a potential devaluation of SPG points to Marriott points.

Safe Travels!