I've been traveling all week, but followed with interest the announcement that Marriott will be rebooting their credit card lineup, with "mass consumer," "premium," and "super premium" credit cards offered by Chase and American Express. Having no interest in speculating about what the cards will actually look like, but wanting to say something about it, here's my take on what to look for in the credit card reboot.
The problem with Marriott credit cards
I haven't carried a Marriott credit card for years, because despite Marriott's broad global footprint, the cards stink:
- The earning rate of 1 Marriott Rewards point per dollar translates into an imputed redemption value of $900 for top-tier properties, which cost 45,000 points per night. That's absurd compared to any other hotel rewards program besides IHG Rewards Club.
- The annual free night certificates offered by the Marriott Rewards Premier credit card are limited to Category 1-5 properties. Marriott has experienced enormous category creep in the last several years, so there simply aren't any Category 5 properties available in the medium and large cities I typically visit. Even IHG Rewards Club credit cards offer free night certificates you can use at all IHG properties worldwide.
- While not impossible, it's outlandishly expensive to manufacture mid- and top-tier status through the Marriott Rewards Premier credit card, requiring as it does $105,000 in spend (in addition to the 15 free elite qualifying nights) to earn mid-tier Gold status.
I'm not in the prediction business, so I don't expect Chase and Marriott to implement my suggestions, but here's the absolute minimum I would look for to even begin to be interested in one of the rebooted credit cards.
An earning rate of 1.5 points per dollar
The fundamental problem with the Marriott Rewards co-branded credit cards has always been the same: their redemption rates top out at 45,000 Marriott Rewards points, which is higher than Hyatt (30,000) or Starwood (35,000), but the earning rate on their co-branded credit cards is the same (one point per dollar). Hilton properties top out at 95,000 points per night, but their credit cards earn a minimum of 3 points per dollar (and offer bonus points in easily-manufactured categories).
The problem was made even more ridiculous when Starpoints became transferrable to Marriott Rewards at a 1:3 ratio, so the same top-tier hotel award night required $15,000 in spend on a Starwood Preferred Guest American Express, but $45,000 in spend on a Marriott Rewards co-branded credit card.
Besides that, anyone can earn 1.5 Marriott Rewards point per dollar with a Chase Freedom Unlimited credit card paired with a $95 Sapphire Preferred, Ink Plus, Ink Bold, or Ink Preferred credit card. Why would they pay anything at all for a Marriott Rewards co-branded credit card that earns less than that?
If a premium or "super-premium" Marriott Rewards co-branded credit card earned 1.5 or 2 points per dollar on unbonused spend, or on easily-manufactured bonused spend, it would begin to look competitive with other cards and combinations of cards already on the market.
Anniversary free nights redeemable at any Marriott property
If a Marriott Rewards co-branded card wants to be taken seriously, it has to get rid of the category limit on anniversary free nights. A natural compromise would be to limit the free night certificate to weekend nights as the Citi Hilton Honors cards do, but in any case the category limitation of Marriott Rewards free night certificates is a pure liability for them at this point.
Gold or Platinum status after a reasonable amount of spend
Any decent co-branded credit card would have to offer at least mid-tier Marriott Rewards Gold status after spending a lot, but not too much, money on the card. Hilton offers top-tier Diamond status for spending $40,000 on its premium co-branded credit cards, and mid-tier Gold status just for carrying them. I understand that Marriott wants to preserve its most valuable elite status for its most valuable customers, but that's not our problem. If it wants people to carry its co-branded credit card, it has to make it worth our while.
To be clear, these aren't three separate suggestions for things Marriott could do to improve their co-branded card lineup. Marriott, Chase, and American Express would have to do all three of these things before I'd consider applying for one of their credit cards.
Who wants to pay an annual fee for a card with inferior earning, an inferior anniversary bonus, and a nominal elite status?