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TPG reader Rebecca asks:
“I’m trying to redeem SPG starpoints for a trip in late March for either San Francisco or San Diego. It looks like cash & points isn’t offered…like ever. Do you find this a lot, and can you call to see if there is actually C&P availability?”
Let me first start out by saying, that currently Starwood Cash & Points has to be one of the best hotel redemption values out there, especially if you’re a little short on points but have some extra cash sitting around, and because you can use this option at over 1,000 Starwood properties all over the world. Even though you are spending some money, you’re generally still getting a ton of value out of your points and saving a lot more cash than you’re spending.
The current redemption rates are:
Category 1: 1,200 Starpoints + $25 offered at Asia-Pacific, US and Canadian hotels only.
Category 2: 1,600 Starpoints + $30 offered at Asia-Pacific, US and Canadian hotels only
Category 3: 2,800 Starpoints + $45
Category 4: 4,000 Starpoints + $60
Category 5: 4,800 Starpoints + $90
Category 6: 8,000 Starpoints + $150
Category 7: 15,000 Starpoints + $275 (this is a relatively new redemption level)
However, Starwood announced this week the rates will be increasing for bookings after March 1, 2013:
Category 1: 1,500 Starpoints + $30
Category 2: 2,000 Starpoints + $35
Category 3: 3,500 Starpoints + $55
Category 4: 5,000 Starpoints + $75
Category 5: 6,000 Starpoints + $110
Category 6: 10,000 Starpoints + $180
Category 7: 15,000 Starpoints + $275
The first thing to understand about Cash & Points availability, though, is that it can be hit or miss since it’s up to the property to decide whether they want to offer it or not, and it’s often capacity controlled in a much stricter way than regular award nights SPG Free Nights,which are always available if the hotel is selling a standard room.
So the “no blackout” date rule does not apply. However, I’ve been able to book many Cash & Points awards by being persistent and flexible with my plans. Personally, I’ve had good luck redeeming Cash & Points at the Westin Cape Town, the Westin Palace Madrid,the Sheraton Edinburgh and the Westin Excelsior Rome in the last year.
However, in Rebecca’s case it doesn’t seem like she’s having much luck at any of the properties she’s looking at, and that could be because she wants to head to San Francisco or San Diego at a generally popular time of year. While you can call on the phone, generally the phone agents can only see the same availability that is showing online.
The first thing I’d recommend if you’re having trouble finding C&P availability is to take a look at the Cash & Points calendar, so you can look at two month’s worth of availability at once to search for dates that have availability. When entering your dates to make your reservation click the “Browse Dates/Rates” button on the search and select Cash & Points and you’ll be able to scan by month for Cash & Points availability. If nothing is coming up at your preferred hotel, keep trying because oftentimes availability isn’t loaded more than one or two months in advance, so you might have to wait until finding some redemptions that work for you, and you can even get some good Cash & Points deals last minute.
However, Starwood seems to be aware that there isn’t as much Cash & Points availability as members would like, which could be one of the reasons they announced the new change in redemption levels, including new pricing levels for Cash & Points redemptions for standard rooms. At first, you might think its bad that the redemption levels are going up (which I go agree about since it will make finding high-value redemptions more difficult) but these new prices are supposed to make it more appealing for hotels to start offering Cash & Points, so hopefully we will see a much greater amounts of hotels participating.
In addition, Starwood is adding the ability to redeem Cash & Points for upgraded rooms and suites, which means that if the hotel doesn’t have any standard rooms available, SPG members won’t necessarily be out of luck, since they can now redeem for room type options. To see if Cash & Points makes sense for you, I always recommend doing the math and making sure you’re getting enough value from your points to make it worth it to you. With Cash & Points I’d expect at least 3 cents per point in value, even with the new redemption levels, so crunch the numbers for yourself before booking and make sure that a redemption makes sense for you.
However, you can always call the hotel and ask the rooms manager to release C+P availability- they have the flexibility to do so and as I always say- it never hurts to ask. Starwood is also really active on social media and you can always try Tweeting @spg. They can get you in contact with the hotel and try to make something work for you. Otherwise, you can make an award or paid reservation and keep checking for cash and points- they may release more availability as time goes on.