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What Airline and Hotel Alliances Mean for Loyal Customers Tips on how to make the most of rewards programs, and an insider's look at what your loyalty points really mean.

By Bruce Schoenfeld

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Five hundred nights. That's how long it took me to attain lifetime Platinum status at Starwood Hotels, parent company of Sheraton, Westin, W and others. That's nearly a year and a half of key cards and bills slipped under the door--time (and some $100,000 in room charges) invested in the goal of locking in the amenities that top-tier loyalty earns.

More than anything, it means the suite upgrades that are all that's standing between a successful business trip and the stateroom scene from the Marx Brothers' A Night at the Opera. So when I heard that Delta Airlines customers who haven't ever stayed in a Starwood property might walk in and claim benefits similar to mine because of a new alliance between the two brands, I was miffed.

I called Mark Vondrasek, Starwood's senior vice president for distribution, loyalty and partner marketing, who assured me that I was still far more important to Starwood than the 5.3 million new Delta Medallion-level friends (as estimated by Randy Petersen of InsideFlyer magazine). "As an elite in Delta's program, you'll get selected benefits in our hotels," Vondrasek admits. "But it's not as if you are suddenly granted elite status in our program. We worked hard to differentiate the two."

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