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Major Starwood Preferred Guest Enhancements: Confirmed Suite Upgrades, Breakfast, Lifetime Status and More

by on February 1, 2012 · 73 comments

in Starwood

Update: The offer mentioned below for the Platinum Card from American Express has expired. View the current offer here

Starwood is announcing major changes to their Starwood Preferred Guest program today and, get ready for it… they are pretty much all positive. As I wrote about recently, Starwood recently made the change to count award stays towards elite status, which I personally think was a great move. Following that move are a bunch of new benefits coming March 1, 2012.

Yesterday I got a chance to visit Starwood’s new Stamford, Connecticut headquarters and learn about these new program changes directly from the SPG team, which was great because we got to dig into the nitty gritty details of the new benefits with the people who created them. If you are unclear about any of the details outlined in this post comment and I’ll get the answer to your questions.

There are three main categories of enhancement: Elite Amenities, Platinum Status Perks and Lifetime Status. These new benefits will be available on all eligible (point earning) paid and award stays.

New Elite amenities:

SPG Gold Members (achieved after 25 nights or 10 stays, Complimentary with the Platinum Amex or with $30,000 in spend on the Starwood Amex) will now be able to select an amenity when checking into a hotel:

1)  250 points (125 at aloft, Four Points and Element)
or
2) High speed internet access for the entire stay
or
3) A complimentary beverage at the restaurant/bar- not in room. Max value of $15 USD/Euro

SPG Platinum Members (50 nights or 25 stays) will also have a new amenity choice:

1) Continental breakfast for the entire length of stay, including one in-room guest. This will be eligible at all brands and all hotels. Must be in the on-site restaurant (not room service). Hotels have flexibility to determine what this means, but generally continental breakfast is juice/coffee/breads/cereals – they will be allowed to offer a full breakfast for an up-charge beyond $15. If property has a club that serves food, you still have access as a platinum guest, so you could also choose the 500 Starpoints.
or
2) 500 Starpoints (250 at aloft, Four Points and Element)
or
3) Local gift (For ex. wine, olive oil, artisan piece)

New Platinum Perks at 50, 75 and 100 nights per calendar year

50 nights: 10 Suite night awards. You can use them to confirm certain suites and premium rooms beginning 5 nights prior to arrival, subject to availability. This is intended to be an upgrade to a suite, but some hotels wont be able due to capacity so there will be many options to choose from- including the most desirable oceanfront rooms at some resorts. Hotels have been encouraged to include premium suites as well. Members will have the choice to select exact room they will be on the list for and you will be able to see all options on SPG.com -> My Stays. There you can check the box for multiple rooms and starting at 5 days before your stay it will automatically search to see if they can confirm you in the most premium room and then going down. Members have the choice. Starwood did not disclose how the upgrade list would be prioritized, but I’d guess it’s based on your projected value to Starwood – including past loyalty and average nightly rate you pay. The great thing is that this whole process will be automatically by Starwood so you don’t have to worry about showing up at the hotel and trying to argue your way into a suite. The automatic system will keep checking for availability up until 2pm the day before arrival and at that point you’d get the upgrades back and you’d go for an on-site upgrade like every other Platinum.

75 Nights- Two benefits:
1) 4 Starpoints per dollar spent- 2 base points that all SPG members get, plus 2 points for being a “75 nighter” (regular Platinum members get one extra points per dollar). As always, you can bank an extra 2 Starpoints per dollar if you put your stay on  the Starwood American Express card.

2) YOUR 24- The ability to check in any time you want and check out 24 hours later. For example, if your flight arrives at 1am, you can confirm that arrival time and check out at 1am the next day, as long as you confirm it within 48 hours. This benefit is based on availability and will be managed online and through the Platinum line. A pilot ran with certain members this past year and nearly every single stay was accommodated. If you check in anytime 9am and after, you still get 4pm late checkout. If you check in before 9am, your 4pm late check-out will not be guaranteed.

If your room type isn’t available for early check-in, you can downgrade/change it- you will just have to work with the Platinum line to work it all out since they won’t automatically downgrade you. Unfortunately you have to confirm at least 48 hours in advance- for example if your flight is delayed and you arrive at a crazy time- you can’t just walk up and ask for this benefit (you can always ask for an early check-in, but in my experience getting really early ones is rare).

100 Nights: You’ll receive a Starwood Ambassador. These Ambassadors are the highest level of Starwood phone reps and will act as your personal concierge to make sure your reservations are exactly what you want and will even help you plan activities and resolve any customer service issues. If you currently have an Ambassador through the trial program, they won’t be going away.

Qualification: People will get credit for their 2011 activity! Those with 50 nights in 2011 will automatically get 10 suite nights on March 1, 2012 and they will be good until December 31, 2013. Same for those who hit 50 nights in 2012- you will get 10 awards and they will be good until December 31, 2013. Everyone should get emails this week stating whether they qualified for this benefit.

Lifetime Status

250 nights and 5 years of elite= Lifetime Gold Status

500 nights and 10 years of Platinum (not consecutive) = Lifetime Platinum

Your current qualifications will be emailed to you this week (along with your 2011 qualification) and will be online starting March 1. If you are impatient, you can call before March 1 and the phone agents will have access to that information.

 My Thoughts
Overall, I think this is a big net positive for a program that I thought was long overdue for some “refreshing”.  After seeing so much devaluation in the airline space, it’s nice to see improvements without any real give back in benefits. Simply put, benefits like free internet for Gold (though I believe internet should be free for everyone) and Free breakfast for Platinum can save you tons of money- especially when traveling in Europe when those costs can rack up quickly.

While these are nice additions, in my opinion there are other hotel programs that lead in certain areas:
Mid tier (Gold) benefits: Hilton Gold offers both high speed internet and a choice of continental breakfast or 1,000 points.
Top Tier Breakfast: Hyatt offers a full-breakfast, often available via room service, for all registered guests in addition to a 1,000 point amenity.
Suite upgrades: Hyatt offers their top tier 4 upgrade certificates that are confirmable for a suite at the time of booking for up to a weeklong stay each. Granted, these are only on paid stays (Starwood allows upgrade on awards as well), but the beauty of the suite upgrade is knowing in advance you’ll have a suite for that special occasion. Waiting until 5 days before check-in can be a nail-biter.
Confirmed early check-in: Intercontinental offers their top tier Royal Ambassadors confirmed 8am check-in at time of booking.

This being said, each of those programs have major holes like Intercontinental’s lack of benefits on award stays, Hyatt’s poor airline conversion rates and lack of Cash & Points and Hilton’s recent devaluation in points.

I do think this move will force the other chains to re-think their lifetime elite status programs. Hyatt currently makes you accrue 1,000,000 base points in order to get lifetime Diamond (that’s $200,000 in spend on hotel rooms!). I personally think Starwood’s 500 nights/ 10 years of Platinum is much more attainable, especially since award stays count. Even if you paid $300 a night for all 500 nights, you’ still be spending $50,000 less than Hyatt’s threshold.

The biggest question mark for me will be implementation, so I’m going to hold off on complete judgement until I see how this all goes into action. Will upgrades be easy to confirm in advance? Will it really be possible to confirm check-ins at 9am? Will this impact the average Platinum member (which I am, though I may decide to go for 50 nights this year)? It seems like the SPG team has been working on these changes for a long time and have the buy-in of hotel management, but only time will tell.

What are your thoughts on these new benefits?

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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  • Gary Leff

    “Suzanne Rubin was cajoled into handing out some more bonus miles to all of us ”

    Actually, it was her idea. The thought was to award whatever miles would equal the amount raised for charity during the delay. Ed and I challenged that the amount should be 10,000 and we would make up the difference in donations if we fell short of 10k in the auctions. Fortunately he and I aren’t coming out of pocket more than a few hundred bucks in donations :)

  • Gary Leff

    Ok I’m an idiot, I somehow posted this comment to the SPG post rather than the MegaDO one! :)

  • Eggss4

    Very intelligent program changes – all of these are exciting and useful. Also a great customer service move to provide the suite upgrades to those who hit platinum last year – without this they’d risk some negative publicity for platinums who’d like to use them in the next few months before they requalify for 2013.

  • Anonymous

    Wait I’m confused. So will platinums still be eligible for Suite Upgrade at Check in even of I am the lower tier of Platinum?

  • Cindy

    Well it’s good news, but I still like Hilton. SPG, if you want to pull Hilton business travelers here’s how: hotel loyal programs target business travelers bc we spend a lot of time on the road, of course. And when I’m traveling for work, I don’t care if breakfast is included bc my company pays for it anyway. But when I’m traveling with my family on award stays, that’s when I am looking to save money. How about gold (and up) gets breakfast on award stays? That’s the benefit of my Hilton gold (ok gold gets it on all stays but my point is that I don’t care so much on business stays).

    Also, how about breakfast for two adults and two kids rather than just two? Again, when I’m away from my family for work, I like that I can provide my family a benefit (vacation). I use my points to take my family on vacation, so breakfast on award stays would be great for me, and I think a lot of business travelers feel the same way. These changes would pull me from Hilton!

  • StevenS

    Sounds positive but one thing pisses me off. Starwood is basically admitting that they themselves can have control/input over the Platinum upgrade process and will now be proactive in it – but only for the Super Platinums. My strong sense is that the lowly Platinums (like me!) will have to fight even more for that which the program mandates.

  • PJ

    hey finally I can get internet free at Sheraton thanks to the AMEX Platinum card ..translation: it is silly that free internet is not available to all guests.

  • http://www.facebook.com/ric.garrido Ric Garrido

    Brian – you mention Hyatt’s poor airline conversion rate as a hole in the program, yet Hyatt has the same airline conversion rate as Starwood when the rate of earning points is compared for base members.

    20,000 starpoints = 25,000 airline miles. That is $10,000 in hotel spend for a base member earning 2 points/$1 or $6,667 for elite member earning 3 points/$1.

    Hyatt 50,000 points = 25,000 miles. That is $10,000 in hotel spend for a base member earning 5 points/$1 or $7,692 for Gold Passport Platinum member earning 6.5 points/$1.

    The only difference is due to the higher elite bonus rate for SPG elite members compared to Hyatt. And I’d argue Hyatt has the better opportunities for earning bonus points.

    The SPG credit card earning rate is the primary edge Starwood has for airline miles, but that is not a factor in the points-to-miles conversion rates.

  • sil

    I have SPG Gold from my AMEX PLAT. Does this mean I won’t be able to receive my free breakfast anymore since I don’t have higher status. Sheraton Lima specify complimentary breakfast and club lounge for snacks for preferred floor which is what i booked with cash and points.

  • Oskinner

    With regard to lifetime status: 250 nights + 5 years of status for gold. Will Amex Platinum gold count toward the 5 years of status or does it only count “earned” status ?

  • Guest

    Any word on if any of these changes will be put in place for Preferred Guest Plus members?

  • Anonymous

    These benefits are just for Gold and Platinum members

  • Anonymous

    If you reserved a room on the club lounge with cash & points, nothing will change. You will now also have the option of selecting another amenity, like 250 points

  • Anonymous

    Yes.

  • Mike

    This is weak. Hilton free bfast for gold. Internet use ur phone or link ur pc to ur phone. This bores me as mentioned in other places.

  • Anonymous

    That is my question as well. From their FAQ, each year you earn gold from spending 30K on the Starwood Amex counts towards the lifetime membership, it would be great if they was also true for us Amex Platinum people.

  • jessica

    will the 5 years of gold status for lifetime gold need to be consecutive?

  • Anonymous

    No and it doesn’t need to just be Gold.. you could be platinum for 2 and Gold for 3 and that would qualify.

  • Anonymous

    Brian, any word on if the two nights a year earned through having the Starwood Amex card will count toward lifetime elite?

  • Anonymous

    Lol

  • HoKo

    I was wondering the same thing but I believe it’s 5 nights not 2 for having the amex cc

  • Anonymous

    Great question- let me find out. And it is 5 nights and 2 stays towards elite status with the SPG Amex.

  • Solo3

    Perfect timing…. my SPG Platinum Challenge starts today (1 Feb).

  • SLOCouple

    Do you think perhaps adding a breakfast (albeit Continental) option is a move to drift away from having lounges? That would be a definite negative, IMO, especially in Asia.

  • Anonymous

    What, you find one free drink during an extended stay after $30K in spend on AMEX, or a free bottle of olive oil per stay for Platinum, boring? Whats the matter with you? LOL….

  • Mooper

    Brian – Do *past* award nights (from previous years, retroactively) count towards Lifetime totals? Same question regarding past nights earned by holding the Amex CC or other promos/bonuses. It seems they will both count going forward, but I’m wondering specifically if, for example, five nights earned from having the CC and seven nights from an award stay in 2008 will show up as 12 more nights in my Lifetime total.

  • Greg

    I think this is a big change for the SPG program and is a step towards bringing the elite program closer to Hyatt’s program in particular.

    As a SPG platinum member when I stay at a hotel without a lounge and don’t get a suite, I really see very little for my loyalty. A free breakfast will go a long way.

    I find the SPG platinum especially disappointing at W hotels. This will be a very big change especially at those. Also I would like to see if the W SoBe will confirm a suite 5 days out…..hmmm, will wait and see how they impliment this.

  • Krishna

    Hi TPG,

    Calculation mistake : ( Even if you paid $300 a night for all 500 nights, you’ still be spending $50,000 ) IT should be $ 150,000 ( $300 x 500 ) and not $50,000 as you mentioned..Thanks. Kris

  • kris

    Pls ignore this as you are correct as you have said spending $50,000 less .. sorry abt it ..

  • Monica Bocaner

    As I was reading my first thought was, “I have to pick one of these? With Hyatt I get ALL of them.” I also have a personal rep with only 25 stays a year. As much as I like Starwoods, Hyatt’s loyalty program is still superior.

    (If you watch for points bonuses and are diamond you can accumulate free nights very quickly; Starwood takes awhile. That’s why I don’t care about the airline conversion with Hyatt.)

    I do like that Starwood counts award stays towards status. That’s awesome.

  • Anonymous

    Ur right. I agree.

  • Scott in ATL

    Just received a call from Starwood to inform me of my Platinum for Life status….AWESOME!!

  • Curious George

    Interesting. I’m already contemplating changing my upcoming points stay in HKG from the Sheraton to the W because of the breakfast amenity that Plats will receive. I’ll have to email them to see if it is a continental breakfast or if they will provide a full breakfast.

  • KCHN

    I see that $30k in annual spend gets you Gold (was unaware of that – assumed I got it through my Platinum AX card) Marriott offers Platinum @ $225k in spend on their CC. Do you know if Starwood plans to implement a second level tier to Platinum based on spend. Through work I spend a signficant amount annually on my CC ($1 million+/- annually). Shifting for a Perk like this for me is well worth it. Currently most of my spend goes to PenFed and the the Gold Premier Rewards AX. However if they had a Platinum tier at $225k or in that area – would be a great switch for me. Any insight on that?

  • al

    I don’t think you can get plat via spending–you can get Hilton Diamond and possibly Hyatt Diamond through CC spending

  • AndrewC

    With the new free internet for SPG Gold, do we get access to the higher speed option for free if the hotel offers multiple speeds? e.g. with HHonors when staying at a property with multiple internet options, HHonors Gold get the higher option for free (“If two or more high speed offerings are available at a hotel, the Gold HHonors guest is provided access to a higher connection speed offering.”)

  • AndrewC

    Also, when setting HHonors ‘myway’ preferences I cannot override these at check-in. Will the SPG Gold Welcome Gift (points, internet or complimentary beverage) be something we decide at check-in, when booking or in SPG preferences? Can it be modified at check-in?

  • constant flyer

    I’m an SPG member and Amex Plat card holder, my SPG account does not reflect the Gold status. How so i link the accounts?

  • Anonymous

    You need to call Amex. Google search Amex platinum Starwood
    Gold and in the first link there should be a phone number to call. You have to do this annually. It takes about an hour to show up on your SPG account after they have confirmed it.

  • Anonymous

    Any word from Starwood on this?

  • Walt K

    When you view your Amex Platinum benefits, there is a number listed to call to activate the SPG Gold status. They’ll initiate a call with SPG and take care of it. I think there are ways to do it by calling SPG directly as well, e.g., faxing them proof that you are a Platinum cardholder or something like that. But it took about 2 minutes when I called the number on Amex’s website and they transferred me over to SPG.

  • TimIAH

    So, what happens if you are SPG Platinum qualified via 25 stays per year?

  • HoKo

    Hi Brian, any word yet?

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  • Zane

    I saw the answeron another site–the nights and stays count toward Gold and Platinum status but don’t get credited toward lifetime.

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  • TBONE

    So if I have SPG Gold via AMEX Platinum for 5 years for example, does it mean I will get Life Time SPG Gold?

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  • Allan

    Thanks. Can someone please reconfirm out of the 3 welcome Platinum choices we can select “Continental breakfast for the ENTIRE length of stay”? Not just one (1) day? I asked SPG Platinum concierge and got contradictory answers. One agent said for the entire stay and another agent said for only one day. They do not even know for sure. :-)

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