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Since Marriott Rewards and Starwood Preferred Guest are two of the most popular hotel loyalty programs, it's no surprise that the program-affiliated credit cards, including the Marriott Rewards Premier Card, issued by JPMorgan Chase, and the Starwood Preferred Guest Card from American Express are among the most popular travel-rewards credit cards as well.

As do the programs themselves, both cards have their particular strengths and weaknesses, and their respective fan bases.

Marriott's acquisition of Starwood naturally raised the question: Which of the two credit card families would remain, when Marriott finally consolidated the two loyalty programs into a single scheme?

That mystery was solved on December 5, when Marriott issued a news release announcing that the hotelier would maintain credit-card relationships with both Chase and American Express, with each company granted the right to issue a particular type of card, as follows:

  • American Express will issue cards targeting "super-premium consumers" and small businesses.
  • Chase will issue cards targeting "mass consumers" and "premium consumers."

The card split mirrors the different markets that Starwood and Marriott have traditionally catered to, with Starwood patronized by a more upscale customer, on average, than Marriott. Beyond that very vague market segmentation, however, the details of the two companies' respective cards remain fuzzy, and won't be brought into sharper focus until sometime in 2018.

While it's likely that the new cards will be very much like the current cards, there's no guarantee that will be the case.

What to Do Now

For those who already have one or both of the cards, the savvy move is probably no move at all. Assuming the cards have proved their worth thus far, they should continue to do so, at least until details of the new consolidated program are announced.

For those who don't have one or both cards and consider themselves suitable customers, this is as good a time as any to sign up. In particular, the current welcome bonus for the Marriott card—80,000 points after spending $3,000 within the first 3 months—is as generous as it's ever likely to be.

Marriott Rewards Premier Credit Card from Chase

  • Welcome offer: 80,000 points after spending $3,000 within the first 3 months of account opening, plus an additional 7,500 points for adding an authorized user who uses the card within 3 months.
  • Annual fee: $85.
  • Comment: Good program, solid card, big bonus.

While the 25,000-point sign-up bonus for the Starwood card may appear substantially less lucrative than the bonus for the Marriott card, in the run-up to the two programs' merger, one Starwood point may be converted to three Marriott points. So those 25,000 Starwood points are convertible to 75,000 Marriott points.

Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card from American Express

  • Welcome offer: 25,000 points after spending $3,000 within the first 3 months of account opening.
  • Annual fee: $95, waived the first year.
  • Comment: Starwood points are among the most valuable loyalty currencies, as they're transferable to 30-plus airline frequent flyer programs, mostly on a 1:1 basis, and there's a 5,000-point bonus when transferring 20,000 points to a participating airline program.

With the future version of the Starwood card now set to target the top tier of the market, it's a safe bet that the annual fee will be raised, and it won't be waived for the first year. For both those reasons, it might be wise to get the card sooner rather than later.

Editor's Note: This content is not provided by any bank, credit card issuer, airline, or hotel chain. Any opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed here are those of the author's alone, and have not been reviewed, approved, or otherwise endorsed by the aforementioned entities.

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