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Spotlight on Starwood Elite Status and Why I Continue To Requalify for Platinum

by on August 14, 2013 · 30 comments

in American Express, Elite Status, Starwood

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Update: Offers for the Starwood Amex cards have changed. Visit these links to see the current offers for the Starwood business and personal cards.

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

When it comes to hotel elite status, there’s a lot to consider among the various chains. Most offer standard benefits to their elite members such as free internet, points-earning bonuses and even complimentary breakfast and welcome gifts. But Starwood Preferred Guest has a few benefits that set it apart and make it my favorite program for top-tier hotel elite status, including a few that were introduced last year when SPG updated its elite benefits – and the fact that there are over 1,000 properties (with more coming online every month) in brands I enjoy like St. Regis, Westin, the W and Sheraton where I can enjoy those benefits puts Starwood Preferred Guest firmly in first place in my hotel elite status quest.

That’s part of the reason I keep both the personal and business versions of the Starwood Preferred Guest Amex in my wallet since each of them gets me 2 stays or 5 nights closer to requalifying for elite status each year, and if you’ve been considering them, from now until September 3, 2013, the sign-up bonus has been raised to 30,000 points when you spend $5,000 within 6 months of account opening – which is 20% higher than the usual bonus on this card.

The SPG American Express is offering a 30K sign-up bonus currently.

SPG updated its elite benefits last year.

Tiers & Benefits

As a quick refresher Starwood offers three tiers of membership – Preferred (regular), Gold and Platinum, though Platinum is further subdivided into members who complete the 25 stays or 50 nights, 50 Night members, 75 Night members and 100+ Night members. Here’s what you get at each level.

Starwood Preferred Guest program is broken down into basic, gold and platinum.

Starwood Preferred Guest program is broken down into basic, gold and platinum (which is then subdivided).

Preferred

Earn 2 Starpoints for every $1 you spend at Starwood hotels. Just your standard earning level without too many bells or whistles.

Gold

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 one of the following amenities when checking into a hotel:

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

As well as standard benefits like room upgrades and 4pm late check-out subject to availability.

Platinum

In addition to those gifts, SPG Platinum Members (50 nights or 25 stays) will also have a new welcome amenity where they can choose one from the following list:

Starwood breakfast

Platinum members get complimentary continental breakfast.

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.

2. 500 Starpoints (250 at aloft, Four Points and Element)

3. Local gift (For ex. wine, olive oil, artisan piece)

Sherton Delfina Suite

Suite upgrades such as at the Sherton Delfina in Santa Monica are available to Platinum members.

50 Night Platinums

Platinum members who surpass the 50-night mark earn 10 Suite night awards. You can use them to confirm certain suites and premium rooms beginning 5 nights prior to arrival, subject to availability. For more information on these awards and how to maximize them, check out this post.

75 Night Platinums

When you hit this threshold, you get still more perks, including a lucrative earning bonus bump to 4 Starpoints per dollar.

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.

100+ Night Platinums

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.

Credit Card Elite Boost and Earning Bonus

Like many other hotel co-branded credit cards, the Starwood Preferred Guest personal and business American Express cards both offer a little boost when it comes to achieving elite status. Though some competing cards offer status outright, like the Hyatt Visa (Platinum status), and the Citi Hilton HHonors Reserve card (Gold status), both SPG cards give you 2 stays or 5 nights worth of credit towards elite status qualification.

By carrying both of these cards myself, I get 4 stays’ or 10 nights’ credit towards elite status requalification right off the bat every year. If I were just going for Gold status, I’d also have the option of spending $30,000 in a calendar year on either card, and that would earn it for me automatically. I also carry the Mercedes-Benz Platinum card from Amex, which, like the personal Platinum card and the Business Platinum card both confer automatic SPG Gold status on cardholders.

But I’m a 100-Night Platinum, and I enjoy the benefit of having an Ambassador as well as the 75-Night perks like YOUR24 (when it works) that allow me to get to the hotel and right into my room when I occasionally show up at odd times thanks to global flight connections (like arriving in Europe or Asia first thing in the morning), so having the elite stay/night credit from both cards is a real boost to my bottom line.

Starwood's member perks mean that I will be keeping the SPG credit card in my wallet for the foreseeable future.

Starwood’s member perks mean that I will be keeping the SPG credit card in my wallet for the foreseeable future.

That’s the primary reason why, though other hotel credit cards may come and go, these two will be sticking around my wallet permanently. Not only that, but when I use either to pay for my Starwood stays, I earn 2 more Starpoints per dollar on top of my elite bonus for a total of 6 Starpoints per dollar. I value Starpoints at about 2.5 cents each, so for me, that’s like getting 15 percent back on my hotel spending. The one drawback is that the Starwood Amex cards both charge a 2.7% foreign transaction fee, so I avoid using them abroad, even on Starwood stays.

On the other hand, the business version has a variety of key perks since it is part of American Express’s OPEN program, which is a series of benefits and savings unique to Amex’s line of business credit cards that can really add up to huge savings. Recently there was a major covert overhaul of the program where you can earn up to either a 10% discount or 4 bonus Membership Rewards points per dollar when shopping at various merchants. This card isn’t eligible for Membership Rewards points, so I get the discounts including 5% off at Hertz, 5% off at Hyatt and up to 10% off at Office Max. Because of those discounts, it can even make sense to charge my stays at Starwood’s competitors, like Hyatt, to this card!

Suite Night Awards

This is probably my favorite top-tier elite perk from Starwood. You can use these suite night awards 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 won’t be able to fulfill it due to capacity, so there will be other options to choose from including  oceanfront rooms at some resorts. In some cases, you can even select the exact room you want to be on the list for and will be able to see all options on SPG.com -> My Stays.

The great thing is that this whole process will be automatically done by Starwood so you don’t have to worry about showing up at the hotel and trying to argue your way into a suite at check-in. The automatic system will keep checking for availability up until 2pm the day before arrival and at that point if there’s no suite available, you get the upgrades back and try for an on-site upgrade like every other Platinum.

Using these wisely means potentially getting 10 nights a year upgraded to a suite several categories above the room you book, which can be worth thousands of dollars – and you can use these on award stays as well as paid stays, making them super versatile.

This status sticks with you for life.

This status sticks with you for life.

Lifetime Status

Among the new enhancements to the program that SPG introduced last year was lifetime status, which is achieved at the following thresholds.

250 nights and 5 years of elite = Lifetime Gold Status

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

Though other chains do offer lifetime elite status, Starwood gets extra points (so to speak) in my book thanks to the simple formula for achieving it and the reasonable qualification thresholds.

Breakfast

I actually think Starwood could be a little more generous with this benefit, especially compared to other chains since you have to hit 50 nights (not just 25 stays) to earn it, and it’s only a continental breakfast. For instance Hilton Gold status (20 stays/40 nights) offers both high-speed internet and a choice of continental breakfast or 1,000 points while Hyatt Diamond (25 stays or 50 nights) offers a full-breakfast, often available via room service, for all registered guests in addition to a 1,000-point amenity.

Still, it’s nice to know that breakfast – even if it’s basic – is taken care of on a stay, especially in destinations like Europe where it can get quite expensive.

YOUR24

Although room availability can be spotty with this benefit, I still like having the option and have put it to good use on my travels to far-flung places when my plane gets in super early or super late and I want to be able to get to my room immediately.

YOUR 24 is the ability to check in any time you want and check out 24 hours later (or at the same time on your check-out date). For example, if your flight arrives at 4:00 am, you can confirm that arrival time and check out at 4:00 am on your departure day, which could be a good benefit if you have a late-night flight. You just need to confirm it within 48 hours.  Plus, 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.

It definitely came in handy for my stay at Le Meridien Monaco last October.

Ambassador

Reserved for the very top-tier of elites, a Starwood Ambassador is basically your one-stop helper with all things Starwood, who can help you with everything from reservations and booking issues to concierge questions. I am in touch with mine all the time and she is usually on top of my stay activity, quick to offer suggestions from on-the-ground staff where I am heading and the person I turn to first when anything goes awry with my SPG stays.

Granted, I wish she were a little more empowered to make things right when things do go wrong – as they inevitably do with travel – but she is usually good about staying informed of my situation and helping me resolve any issues.

Elite Gifts

One of the other unique features of SPG is that Starwood offers elites who requalify for their tier in 2013 a choice of elite gifts. Golds who requalify (10 stays/25 nights) get the choice of a 25% discount on one award stay or double points for a month, and Platinums (25 stays/50 nights) get the choice of a 35% discount on one award stay or double points for a month.

spg

I recently requalified for Platinum with 50 nights year-to-date thanks in part to starting the year with 10 elite nights thanks to my SPG Personal and Business Amex cards which give 2 stays/5 nights each towards elite status (as I mentioned above). These Elite Gifts aren’t mind-blowing, but they are a nice way for SPG to say thank you to its loyal customers and some of those discounts can really save you a ton of points. To get notification of your elite gift, make sure you’re opted in to Starwood’s promotional emails.

For more information, see these posts:

Major Starwood Preferred Guest Enhancements
Maximizing Starwood Preferred Guest Platinum Suite Night Awards
Starwood’s YOUR24 Platinum Benefit
Analyzing the Benefits of the Starwood Preferred Guest Business Card

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

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  • Jerry

    too bad this card is only available for North America and the UK

    any way to get while being an Amex cardholder in another country ? (France in my case)

  • clayd333

    An upgrade to a $3049/night suite at the St. Regis, NY last weekend on an award stay? Free breakfast at said hotel? Butler? SOLD!!!

  • Matt

    Do you have any experience with the Preferred Business accounts, do chains upgrade you just as likely as if you were SPG Gold? I have both but may not requalify for Gold.

  • Little Tea Blog

    From my understanding, Marriott is no longer part of the OPEN savings program.

  • dwrecked

    You didn’t mention my favorite SPG benefit, which is available at both Gold and Platinum levels: 4 PM check-out.

  • RWH

    I’ve been a SPG gold, through AMEX platinum card for 8 years or so. I’ve never met the normal requirements for gold status. If I drop my platinum card, will I still have lifetime gold status?

  • Danny

    SPG has some great perks, but I also think they’re played up more than they should be sometimes, TPG. Making you choose between internet, breakfast and a bonus gift is bizarre to me for high-level elites. With Marriott, you get free internet, free breakfast and a welcome gift of points/hotel cash every single time. And the 6 starpoints per dollar spent are good, but so is the 20 points per dollar you can get as a marriott platinum (10 base per dollar, + 5 extra per dollar for Platinum, plus 5 per dollar on a Marriott Visa card) for about 20% back on each dollar you spend.

    SPG is great (suite nights are very cool), but it’s strange to me how much love they get to the exclusion of other good programs.

  • Noah

    Wouldn’t it still make sense to use it aboard (even with the fx fees) since you are earning all the starpoints? Using the math above you’d be getting 15%-2.7% return on the stay. Or are there other cards available with a better overall return?

  • Scott

    I’ve been a longtime SPG fan and I love the Lifetime Platinum status!! If only the airlines (Delta!!) could understand how important it is to truly thank their longtime customers. They could learn a LOT from SPG.

  • http://www.travelwithgrant.com/ Grant Thomas

    Definitely, gotta love late check out

  • kestie

    While I appreciated being an SPG gold, in the end, they did not have enough properties where I wanted to travel and so I let this status lapse in favor of Hilton Gold. So far I have not regretted it.

  • Fanfoot

    Okay, so my only question is whether to keep both cards or just one full time.

    In my case I decided to cancel the Business SPG Card shortly after my 2 stay/5 night credit posted to my SPG account in early January. As I understand it, it is possible to reapply in about a year after canceling it. And the credits post shortly thereafter, e.g. I should be able to get the full 4 stay/10 night credit next year even though I won’t have a Business SPG Card at the start of the year. Plus, I should be eligible to earn another bonus when I apply. Given that the 30,000 bonus has tended to re-appear in late Summer, I might want until then hoping it will show up again. Regardless, I’ll probably get some kind of bonus that I wouldn’t if I didn’t cancel the card and reapply.

    I can’t cancel both cards since I want to earn the 2 extra points per dollar on SPG stays, but I could either alternate which card to cancel and thus only get each card about once every 2 years, or simply keep the personal forever (helping to extend my credit history say) and try for a Business card about every year.

    Is there anything wrong with this plan? Why not do this?

  • Gantrioch

    One thing about Starwood which is very annoying to me is that they have way fewer hotels than many of their competitors. In the areas that I travel and stay in, there’s almost never a convenient Starwood hotel.

  • UAPhil

    Note that the SPG Biz card’s car rental coverage is weaker than the Pers card. (Biz covers US rentals only; Pers covers most rentals worldwide.) I’d never use the Biz card to rent overseas – lack of coverage is a much bigger deal than the Hertz 5% rebate.

    I’ve used SPG Amex as my go-to card for everyday spend for many years, and have no plans to change. In places like Manhattan and London, 5 night Cat 5 stays for 48,000 points provides great value. (With points valued at 2.5 cents each, it’s like paying $240/night for a decent to good room when revenue prices are often $400/night or more.)

  • jacob

    I have the biz and the personal version of this card. But they have 2 separate spg account numbers. Is there a benefit of keeping them separate or should I rather combine them to 1 spg number ?

  • thepointsguy

    Definitely call Starwood and consolidate to one account and call Amex and tell them to relink the correct one so you get the Kate benefits all in one account

  • Brian

    I also requalified for Platinum recently. I’m curious, which option did you choose — 35% off on redemption, or 2x points for a month? I chose 2x for month, though, I was disappointed that September wasn’t an option for the month bonus, particularly as I have at least 4 trips booked.

  • BostonGeorge

    SPG is also the clear winner in terms of USING points…how many points do you need for a free night at Marriott? Minimum 7,500? THAT’S why they give you the up to 20 points per dollar spent.

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  • Danny

    Obviously different point systems are calibrated differently – it’s about value for your point.

    You can pretty easily get 1 cent per point at marriott (or more) if you’re trying, meaning you get 20 cents back per dollar spent. At SPG, you generally top out at earning 6 points per dollar. If you are very generous and value those at 2.5 cents per point, it’s 15 cents back per dollar spent and still not quite as good.

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  • thereviewhubdotcom

    Hi Jerry,

    The only way I could think of doing this is to get a US Address. (Possibly a P.O. Box or UPS address, etc).

    In doing so, you would probably also want to have the mail forwarded to your overseas address. I’m not 100% sure if this would work so ymmv.

    Good luck & maybe do more research on this question.

  • thereviewhubdotcom

    As a regular SPG Plat, I am forcing myself to finally start to enjoy my benefits! I have to rush to start booking trips in order to maintain my status! Great card. In fact, these cards are some of my faves. I have both the Personal & Business cards in my wallet.

    Does anyone know if whether or not payments that you make through AMEX bill pay earn you SPG points every month? I’m desperately trying to find the answer to this question. Thanks.

  • thereviewhubdotcom

    I couldn’t agree more with the both of you!

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  • Lauren

    Thanks for the great post! I just recently signed up to receive your newsletter and find it fascinating. Wish I had known about all the benefits of these loyalty cards and strategies when I first started doing regular business travel years ago.

    I had a quick question that I have not been able to find the answer to for some reason…If you were to travel to Denver and stay in 3 different hotels for 3 different nights, would that count as 3 stays?

    Thanks again for the great blog!

    Lauren

  • Alfred

    As a Platinum, how many points do you earn per dollar charged to the card, excluding the SPG hotel stays? Is it one or four?

  • TerpZ

    2.5 cents per point is generous? 2.0 is my MINIMUM, 2.5 is my average, and I’ve gotten up to 6.0… that’s a massive 30% cashback when using my amex card.

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