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Maximizing Starwood Preferred Guest Points: Cash and Points Awards

by on August 19, 2011 · 47 comments

in American Express, Starwood

Update: The bonus is now 25,000 points for the Starwood Amex business and personal cards, 10,000 points after first purchase and 15,000 after $5,000 spend within the first 6 months.

Offer expired September 3, 2013.

I’ve earned hundreds of thousands of Starpoints over the years and my favorite way to use them is with Cash & Points awards. I generally feel like it gives you the most bang for your buck – especially when staying at higher end properties in Europe.

The great thing about Cash & Points is that the cash value is pegged in dollars and most taxes and fees are included.

Key things to understand about these rewards:
-The fifth night free option does not apply to Cash & Points.
-The “no blackout” date rule does not apply – these are capacity controlled, though I’ve been able to book many C+P awards by being persistent and flexible with my plans.
- You do not earn elite status when redeeming Cash & Points (though Platinum members do still get the amenity and all other elite benefits do apply).
- There is a C+P calendar, so you can search for date that have availability. Just click the “Browse Dates/Rates” button on the search and select Cash & Points and you’ll be able to scan by month for C+P availability.
- Often hotels don’t load C+P availability for the entire next year. You’ll see in the example below that the entire month of January is blocked out. Clearly January is not a peak time for Pittsburgh – it’s just a matter of the hotel not loading the inventory.

The C+P calendar view … as you can see many hotels don’t load availability for the next year, so you need to keep checking until its loaded (or contact the hotel and ask them to load it for you)

To see if Cash & Points makes sense for you, I always recommend doing a cost/benefit analysis. With C+P I’d expect at least 3 cents per point in value. For example, let’s check out a high end and lower end example.
Westin Paris for a random date in March: Lowest rate, 395 Euros ($565) or 20,000 SPG or 8,000 SPG and $150 under C+P:

Westin Paris rate options

If we used 20,000 points to save $565, we’d be getting 2.8 cents in value.
If we did Cash & Points, we’d pay $150, so 8,000 points would save us $415 ($565-$150), 5.2 cents in value.
You need to take into account that you don’t earn points or elite status on award stays, but for the sake of these examples, we won’t try to factor in that “lost value” into the examples.

On the other end of the spectrum let’s check out the LAX Sheraton, which is a category 2 hotel: Lowest rate, $119 or 3,000 SPG or 1,600 SPG and $30 under C+P
If we used 3,000 points to save $135 (amount of the room after taxes), we’d be getting 4.5 cents in value.
If we did Cash & Points, we’d pay $30, so 1,600 points would save us $105 ($135-$30) 6.6 cents in value.

Either way, C+P beats out regular points redemptions. This isn’t always the case, but it has been my experience over the years.

These are just two isolated examples, but you can see why serious points enthusiasts love Starwood points. For me, the ability to pay a measly $150 for a world class hotel like the Westin Paris is the reason why I’m in the points game – it opens doors I’d never normally be able to walk through.

Hopefully these examples will help you craft an entry in my 100,000 Starpoints giveaway which ends this Saturday, so submit your entry now!

I also hope this makes you think about the potential value of the 30,000 Starwood American Express limited time offer, which ends August 22, 2011. Those 30,000 points would equal $1,980 if you redeemed them at the C+P rate at the Sheraton LAX!

 

Disclaimer: This content is not provided or commissioned by the credit card issuer. Opinions expressed here are author.s alone, not those of the credit card issuer, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the credit card issuer. This site may be compensated through the credit card issuer Affiliate Program.

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  • Jack

    Good post. When you mention having success with C&P by “being persistent”, what exactly do you mean? Do SPG agents have flexibility to grant C&P availability where the site does not show it? I’m looking to go skiing in Colorado at peak time in December and cannot find any hotel that offers C&P option.

  • DG

    Nice post on the C&P – unfortunately, it seems whenever I go to use a reward stay it is not available for the property that I want to stay at, but I’ll keep looking.

    By the way, for the SPG 30k sign-up bonus is something available for a “business card” to get the 30k for someone who already has the regular personal Amex?

  • Anonymous

    Yep- 30k as well for business card http://thepointsguy.com/go/StarwoodBiz/

  • Anonymous

    Being persistent as in keep checking. Especially if your stay is in 2012, the hotel may have not loaded it yet. You can also ask the hotel to release space. It never hurts to ask!

  • Heather ✈

    I love these posts! So helpful and very detailed!

  • Nyyanks9191

    C&P and buy 4 award nights, get one free are my favorite uses of Starpoints. But, I really do LOVE C&P. You mention the ability to use C&P on high end properties as a great use…and, I agree. But, I love using C&P for low tier properties and getting the 500 point amenity bonus. Take a Level 3 property, instead of 2,800 points and $45, the price becomes 2,300 and $45. And, the effective cost of a Level 2 property is 1,100 and $30!! Take the Westin LAX, for example. I stayed there this past year for several nights on C&P and it was so incredibly inexpensive.

    Love C&P!!!

  • Dan

    Last December, my wife and I spent 5 weeks traveling across Thailand and Bali with a stop in Kuala Lumpur. Our original plan was to stay exclusively at SPG properties, and I was able to find C&P availability when I wanted it at every single hotel. I thought that was downright amazing.

  • Ron B.

    So if I do a C&P, is it an “Eligible Stay” so that I will be considered an “Active Member” for the next 12 months? Trying to keep my points from expiring in the near future.

  • Anonymous

    Yes

  • http://twitter.com/trentswanson Trent Swanson

    Thanks, TPG for post.. Especially love the “value of a point” conversions..Regarding AMEX SPG, due to so many competing lucrative signup bonuses over last 30 days, I believe this card cannot compete with the BA Chase, Sapphire, Citi AA AMEX, Citi AA Visa cards due to the AMEX SPG’s point value being lower than its competitors (despite its flexibility) and also its fairly stiff minimum spend requirements. Maybe am missing something when comparing to other recent offers? I already have AMEX SPG from years back and don’t believe closing/reopening makes sense

  • Skoropi

    Hi, is the Business card offer also going to expire on the 22nd? I just got the personal one last month and can’t swing the spend on both cards at the same time, so was hoping to apply for the business card in October… Thanks.

  • Zan

    I love C+P rates but in my experiences I haven’t see those rates available for anything but the cheapest rooms. Now if your SPG Plat that might not be a big deal with the potential for upgrades. But for a non Plat who wants to stay in a suite..

    C+P is still usually an amazing value though!

  • Dan

    I love the “value of a point” conversations too…

    You are correct, there have been some very lucrative sign-up bonuses over the last few months. Historically, my SPG card has been my go to card for every-day spend. But, with all of these sign-up offers requiring minimum spend, I haven’t put much more than a token charge on that card in several months.

    However, once I’ve passed the bonus thresholds, I’m not entirely sure the SPG card is a loser. I can comfortably value an SPG point at 3 cents/point, if not slightly higher. With airline points, it can be a bit more difficult.

    In some senses, I don’t know that one can compare airline currency to hotel currency, even though many hotel programs let you transfer to an airline program. Airline points are most useful for international premium cabin travel, and valuations of 8 cents/mile on up aren’t unusual. However, domestic awards can easily yield a value of less than 1 cent/mile. Can one take an average of that to determine the value? I don’t think so.

    However, even picking one type of award and making a value determination from that isn’t straightforward either. If you need 100,000 BA miles for a NA-Asia J award, you need 100,000 BA miles. Not 99,000. Not 50,000. You need a lot of points to get this great award. If you’re doing it just on credit card spend, well, good luck.

    Now, one of the things I really like about SPG awards is that one can redeem as little as 1200 points. (The points portion of a Category 1 cash and points award.) Oddly enough, some of the better SPG redemption values are for lower tiered properties, requiring relatively fewer points. (Contrast that to an airline award, where the “best” values require gobs of points.) One can gets awards of meaningful value from “normal” credit card spend. My wife and I spent 15 nights in Thailand (and Kuala Lumpur) on C&P awards. 10 nights were Cat 2, and 5 nights were Cat 3, costing us 30,000 points.

    Personally, I run about $1200/mo or so through my AmEx. (I can charge my rent, but I have to pay a fee and they don’t take AmEx. Came in handy for the 100,000 AA bonus requiring 10k spend.) That’s about $14,400 in spend or 14,400 in points annually. By itself, 14,000 points is probably most useful to me in SPG. Those points, alone, would be totally useless in another program.

    While I haven’t made any decisions yet, when I get to the point where I’ve exhausted all of my spend thresholds, the SPG AmEx may return as my go-to card.

  • Jason

    Brian,

    The personal SPG AMEX link does not appear to be working correctly. It is not the same as the Business Card link that clearly shows the min. spend and bonus?

    Jason

  • Anonymous

    You need to be logged out of your Amex account or use a new browser

  • DG

    TPG – thanks for your reply and the business card link below. However, I just read the following in the T&C: “Bonus Starpoints are for first-time Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Cardmembers only. Bonus Starpoints can only be received once per Cardmember, regardless of the number of Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card accounts the Cardmember may have or had.”

    Do they hold to that so that if someone has a personal SPG card, they won’t get the 30k bonus for the business one? Seems pretty clear in the terms – though perhaps not unlike AA Visa regular and business where I think it says the same thing and supposedly you can sign-up for the business and get the bonus at a later time….anyone have experience with this?

  • ZA

    If you use C&P for 1 night and then reward night for a second night, do most hotels upgrade you (as a Plat) if available or few or none? I have 4 FRN that I will use in December at STR Princeville and I was wondering if maybe I should C&P the first night.

  • Anonymous

    I like the option cash+points and sometime is better if you use 1k for 50%off regular rack rate when is available ;-)

  • Michael

    Tried to book NYC October 6-9 and not one single hotel in the city has C+P! Boo!

  • Anonymous

    Thank you very much for the discussion of this topic. I am new to this hobby and just got my SPG card a few weeks ago and this is very helpful to me to understand how to use and get the most of Starwood points.

  • Imssc1

    For the Westin Madrid with C+P they state that you are responsible for the VAT taxes. In this case the cash is 90USD plus 30USD(tax). With just points the tax is NOT collected. Are you including this in your cost/benefit analysis?

  • Benthelefty

    Great question! I now have the same one :)

  • MJLouise

    I’m going to Detroit for three weeks in a row (long story) and found their Four Points at the airport a Cat 1 — a bargain for 1,200 pts + 25 $!

  • Sergey

    TPG, is it worth to get this card for the person who didn’t stay in SPG properties? I had 30K Starpoints from the last year deal, but didn’t use them so far. I cancelled this card few months ago, since the earning rate is just 1 point/$, while Amex Premier Gold is much attractive. Do you recommend to get this card just for the bonus?

  • MJLouise

    Absolutely the bonus is worth it. Nice to be able to transfer points to airlines for last-minute flexible awards.

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  • gray

    I have found that a phone call to SPG reservations reveals cash and points rooms that did not appear to be available on the property’s website.

  • dan

    I am new to your blog. Great information. Keep up the good work.

    I am SPG loyal and have a different way of valuing points that your readers may find useful. Take your the LAX Sheraton example Lowest rate, $119 ($135 total) or 3,000 SPG or 1,600 SPG and $30 under C+P. In addition to cents per dollar, I also want to know how much total I am really spending. I would take the 4.5 cents points value multipled by the number of points needed in the C+P option which is 1,600. That comes out to $72. Add that to the $30 you have to pay and you get a total cost of $102, a savings of $33. Is there a flaw to this formula?

  • Jenny

    Just an update: Your value calculation may get even more interesting now that award and C&P stays count towards status!

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  • CJ

    Great article. Thank you.

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