How to Get the Best Value for Starwood Hotel Redemptions

by on June 27, 2014 · 32 comments

in American Express, Sheraton, Starwood, TPG Contributors, Westin

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TPG contributor Jason Steele returns this Friday to talk maximizing Starwood Preferred Guest promotions, just in time before the limited time 30,000 point offer on the personal and business Amex cards ends on June 30, 2104. 

According to TPG’s most recent monthly valuations, Starwood points continue to be the single most valuable point or mile offered. Certainly, a huge part of this value is based on their many airline transfer partners and the 5,000 point bonus that you receive when transferring 20,000 points at once.

Starwood points are so useful for transfer purposes that it’s easy to forget they can also be quite valuable for hotel award stays. There are four main reasons why Starwood points used for hotels can rival the value of airline transfers:

  • Reasonable award chart for mid-range hotels. Award nights start at just 2,000 points per night for a Category 1 property (though there aren’t many of those). Hotels in Categories 2-4 are easy to find, and cost just 4,000, 7,000, and 10,000 points per night, respectively. Competing hotel chains often price award nights at similar properties much higher.
  • Fifth night free. When you book four consecutive award nights, Starwood lets you stay the fifth night for free. This can increase the value of your points by 25%.
  • No blackout dates or capacity controls on standard room awards. Unlike most airline awards, Starwood will let you redeem your points for any available standard room. That said, some hotels maintain a large quantity of rooms that they label “superior” in order to circumvent this rule.
  • Few taxes and fees. Booking an international award flight can involve hundreds of dollars of taxes and fees, and even more expensive fuel surcharges. On the other hand, governments typically impose hotel taxes based on the rate paid, so an award night is often truly free. With Starwood, the exceptions include properties classified as “resorts”, which add a resort fee to award bookings, as well as any location where an occupancy tax is collected based on the number of persons in a room.
W South Beach, Miami

A room at the W South Beach in Miami can cost $1,479 a night (with taxes and fees), or 35,000 points.

How much value can you realize from Starwood free night awards?

To try to quantify the value of Starpoints used for free night awards, I researched five different properties within each of Starwood’s seven redemption categories, and compared the points needed to the range of prices at each property. The prices used are the lowest non-refundable rates, and I made sure to include taxes and fees that would not be paid if using an award night. On the other hand, I didn’t add “resort fees” that are still paid by those on award stays.


Before doing this research, it had been my experience that the best hotel award values in the Starwood program were actually at the low end of their categories. There aren’t too many “bad” properties among the Starwood brands, and 2,000 – 4,000 points per night can return a lot of value per point redeemed.

A room at the Aloft Jacksonville Florida airport can cost $133 (with taxes and fees), or just 3,000 points.

A room at the Aloft Jacksonville Florida airport can cost $133 (with taxes and fees), or just 3,000 points.

This seemed largely true for Category 1 and 2 hotels. I saw value as high as seven cents per point at the Le Méridien Dahab Resort in Egypt for a weeknight stay over the winter holiday season at only 2,000 points a night. In fact, I was almost always able to do better than 2 cents per Starwood point booking category 1 and 2 hotels, which is the break even point where you’re better off using either the Barclaycard Arrival Plus or Capital One Venture card.

In Categories 3 and 4, which represent the bulk of Starwood’s properties, the results were mixed. It wasn’t too hard to find 2-3 cents in value per point, but there were plenty of instances where rooms were heavily discounted during off-peak times, yet the number of points required stayed the same. In those cases you’re likely to see just 1 or 2 cents in value per point redeemed, and those who closely guard their Starpoints might decide to pay cash instead and earn more of them. On the other hand, some properties like the Westin in downtown Denver returned a phenomenal 5.22 cents in value per point redeemed. For example, I found a mid-week stay in September that was going for $522 per night or just 10,000 Starpoints.

A room at the Westin in downtown Denver can sell for $552 per night with taxes and fees, or just 10,000 points.

A room at the Westin in downtown Denver can sell for $552 per night with taxes and fees, or just 10,000 points.

Category 5 was also a letdown, since many of those properties have higher, “Peak Season” rates that often failed to correspond with the room rates I looked at. The standard rate is 12,000  Starpoints, but the Peak Season rate is 33% higher at 16,000 Starpoints. Furthermore, many of these properties impose resort fees, which further devalues any award redemption. For instance, the Sheraton Princess Kaiulani seems to sell for between $209 and $277 per night, which works out to about 1.75 cents in value, and you still have to pay a resort fee of $26.18 per night.

In Categories 6 and 7 you start to see some ultra-luxury properties, and the redemption value can be all over the map. For instance, the St. Regis in Aspen, Colorado can charge as much as $1,353 during the ski season, although it might not be a designated part of Starwood’s “Peak Season.” So if you really value that room at that price (I’ve stayed there, and it is very nice), then you’re getting 4.51 cents per point from your 30,000 Starpoints. On the other hand, a stay in mid-May (when Aspen is almost a ghost town) costs $349 or 35,000 Starpoints, returning a mere penny in value per point.

A room in the St. Regis Aspen, Colorado sells for $1,353 during ski season, or 30,000 points.

A room in the St. Regis Aspen, Colorado sells for $1,353 during ski season, or 30,000 points.

Ultimately, I found that the price in Starpoints correlates poorly with the price in dollars, which sets up both some great deals and some mediocre ones. Of the 35 hotels I sampled, I found an average value of 2.8 cents per point for room redemptions. The values you find will always depend on where and when you stay.

What has been your best Starwood hotel redemption (in terms of either dollar or enjoyment value)? Please share in the comments below.

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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    I have a points and cash award stay coming up in Ann Arbor, Michigan. I am saving about $100 a night with this option.

  • John Rielly

    We stayed in the W Hotel in Washington DC over the Easter Weekend this year. The gentleman in the reservation department spent about thirty minutes with me going over room selection and maximizing my reward. I cannot get over the level of customer service! We are Diamond Hilton Honors Members and Gold Marriott, but I would spend every night at a Starwood if I could.

  • clayd333

    St. Regis NY with Suite night upgrade last summer. $3500/night suite on 5th Ave for 20k points.. Honorable mention for St. Regis Bali lagoon villa. Had to pay a bit for the upgrade (~$200 as i remember) but the 3 of 4 cpp felt like 100 in that paradise!

  • Marnie

    We stayed at the St Regis in Punta Mita in late April. It is a wonderful resort, used the car service to pick us up from the airport – a nice Lincoln Navigator and the r/t cost was about $260 US. We didn’t want to drive in Mexico and the resort is a good 45 minutes to an hour away from Puerto Vallarta. The driver even stopped at the bank and store for us on the way,

    Great resort – the food was better than average and a lot of freebies, like the Friday night champagne saber toast: they served endless Veuve Clicquot and canapes unlike the St. Regis in Kauai (which is great too but not a lot of guest perks). Cool daily classes for guest. Rooms were amazing, each has an outdoor shower – and the rooms are a nice size.

    Generally, I prefer Starwood or Hyatt hotels when traveling.

  • Matt

    It would take a bit more time, but it would be interesting to know what these “points per dollar” values would look like when broken down by both category hotel and location. Is there much variation from these above averages? For those who travel frequently, it would be helpful to know which category hotel points give you the most value in different countries/regions. For instance, categories 1-2 might offer the best value in the U.S., but categories 5-6 might instead offer the best value in SE Asia or Europe.

  • Kevin

    I have about 510k membership rewards pts. Looking for best way to use for 2 FC and 3 coach RT from STL to HNL. Delta seems to have the best flights. Suggestions?

  • Joe

    Only somewhat relevant to this post: One thing I am having a hard time understanding as folks say the break even point against Arrival or Venture is .02 per point is earning potential. This goes for SPG Amex somewhat because you can earn at a higher rate when staying at Starwood hotels, but more so with UR earning cards. Wouldn’t the break even point be well below .02 per point if I can earn those points at a rate of 2-5 times what I can on the Venture/Arrival?

    In other words, lets say I spent $1000 at JCPenney on the Venture card and ended up with 2,000 miles ($20.00). Let’s say I put that same spend on a CSP through the UR Mall and got 8 UR points per dollar spent or 8,000 UR points. I would no longer need to get .02 to break even because I got 4X the amount of points for the same spend. So my break even point would actually be 1/2 cent per point to match the 2,000 miles I’d of earned with Venture.

    In my estimation, the only time a 1:1 comparison should be made to flat rate cards is with another flat rate card. So long as you can earn at a higher rate, the redemption value doesn’t seem to matter as much.

  • taryn

    I stayed in that NY St Regis prior to the recent renovations. It was superb. I was in a regular room, I would love to upgrade to a suite there without completely destroying my travel budget! I just recently signed up for the SPG AmEx, I was intending to transfer points to AA but now I might hang on to them and use them for hotel upgrades.

  • clayd333

    It was completely over the top! I wonder who would pay for this? A few days after we stayed last year Rafa Nadal tweeted @spg a pic from the same type of suite. At breakfast we winced as an unnamed CNN anchor was a complete birtch to the wait staff.. Funny to see how the other .0005% live.

    The renovation is beautiful, the service is incredible and the concierge is the best.. It is insanely indulgent and beyond anything I would pay for but for a weekend in NYC with the wife it is fairy tale perfect..

  • Joe

    Helpful post, but the pricing in Denver really shocked me. I wonder how much more expensive that is than competitors there like Marriott or Hyatt, which often have great elite or AAA rates. I’m wondering if part of the reason why SPG are so valuable is actually because the rates are more inflated …

  • Guest

    I love Starwood for their hotel redemptions, the points and cash options can get you some pretty insane redemption rates. Booked 2 nights at the Excelsior in Rome and 3 nights at the Grand Bretagne in Athens for my honeymoon this summer and got 3 cents/point and 5 cents/point respectively.

  • yourPFpro

    I love Starwood for their hotel redemptions, the points and cash options can get you some pretty insane redemption rates. Booked 2 nights at the Excelsior in Rome and 3 nights at the Grand Bretagne in Athens for my honeymoon this summer and got 3 cents/point and 5 cents/point respectively.

  • taryn

    I was just looking at the Park Tower Knightsbridge in London as a possibility for my off-peak trip later this year. I’ve stayed there twice before, I’m kind of surprised that it’s category 6 but I assume the location factors heavily. SPG Free Nights and Cash + Points are available only for the lowest quality room. For my dates the Free Nights are 16,666 points/night for a £332/night (prepaid) room, so that’s 2.8 cents/point at the current exchange rate. A month later the price drops to £279/night (prepaid) but the points stay the same. It looks like 16,666 (satanic!) points is the best you can do at that hotel. I’m picky about my room type, without any ability to use points for a higher quality room there I’ll stay elsewhere.

  • Dr. C

    OI find it interesting that that a primary benefit is “Reasonable award chart for mid-range hotels” when the big plus everyone touts is the “aspirational” hotels. Each chain has some aspirational properties, but the onerous award amounts for all of them make it almost pointless to aspire.

  • Shana

    I prefer to use my points at aspirational properties, so I don’t think SPG is a good choice. For example, I once saw that the St Regis Bora Bora had rooms for 120k points per night. It would take 5 years for me to save up that many SPG points!

    Also, other hotel chains give more points/$ spent, so it makes since that a free night at their properties would cost more points. For example, even though Hilton may charge 95k points for a night at the Conrad Maldives, they give 10 points/$ spent (up to 25 points/$ spent if I double dip and use the credit card), whereas SPG only gives 2 – 5 points/$ spent, if I remember correctly.

    If using only credit card points and not points from hotel stays, then I think Hyatt is better because I can transfer Ultimate Rewards points to use at the Park Hyatt Maldives at 25k (or is it 30k?) points/night.

    I agree that SPG is excellent for transferring to airlines, except that it doesn’t happen instantly!

  • Ryan Prillman

    I recently called american express because I have the spg amex when the bonus was 25000 star points. They gave me a good will offer of 3000 star points for my trouble. Not bad. I think Ill call back to see if they will give me more. I really did not have to fight with them

  • taryn

    I”m looking at the web site photos and the renovated rooms look amazing! That hotel has such an elegant atmosphere. Even pre-renovations my room was beautifully decorated. It was large too, with big windows and a tall ceiling, and the bathroom was amazing. And so quiet. I didn’t feel like I was in the middle of Manhattan, I felt like I was in some wealthy person’s European estate. I can only imagine how great it is to stay in a suite there. I think if I could stay in a suite there I wouldn’t want to go out at all. :)

  • Brisbane Golfer

    Stayed at the W Seminyak (Bali) in May. Used my platinum gift, 35% off points redemption, plus stayed 5 nights. Total of 54,000 points around 6 cents per point after upgraded to ocean facing room. Platinum breakfast was great value, one of the best in Asia.

  • Angus

    About to do 5 night at st regis aspen on points. With 5th night free. I am getting 4.5 cents per point and that’s before any potential platinum upgrade!!

  • Bill Rubin

    We will be staying 3 nights at the Westin Paris Vendome in October for 70,000 points (2 nights at 25k and 1 night at 20k)…but the starting room rate during that period for 3 nights is 2,170 Euro with tax. That comes to 3.1 cents per SPG point. My SPG Plat status likely gets us upgraded to a junior suite, which is my preferred room at the hotel (I like it even better than the true suites). The junior suite sells for 3,030 Euro with tax, so that would come to 4.3 cents per SPG point. Aside from saving us plenty of money, we’re getting great value from our SPG points in a great room in a nice hotel in our favorite location in Paris.

  • Bill Rubin

    Actually, those are wrong as I counted Euros not Dollars! So the redemption for just the starting room is 4.2 cents per SPG point, and the redemption for the junior suite will be 5.8 cents per SPG point. Excellent value for my SPG points!

  • Mike

    We booked St Regis Bal Harbour for 4 nights x 30k in points (5th night free). For 5 nights, it was 120k total points. Did suite upgrade and then upgraded to another level because of my wife’s birthday = deluxe ocean front suite. 1500 sq ft, two private balconies, living room, dining room and 2 full bathrooms = $1749/night 1749 x 5 = $8,745 / 120k points = .073 cents per point

  • Credit card Joint

    Keeping in mind the 5k bonus you get with SPG transfers, IMHO it’s worth the wait!

  • Joe

    Can you please clarify how you did a suite upgrade and then upgraded to another level without affecting the cost (120k points)?

  • Kalboz

    @Mike, it is more like 7.3 cents per point. Great redemption especially when I value those points at 2.3 cents each.

  • Derek

    We did the same at bal harbour at the end of March for our five year anniversary / babymoon. What an incredible property and room! The special elevator for those rooms is hilarious, made us feel like we owned one of the Bentleys out front :) even worked out next to justin timberlake one morning!

    Aside from the room, platinum breakfast is amazing, full buffet for two, ~$90.

    Great hotel to be platinum.

  • Andy K

    I signed up for the SPG Amex Biz card in May right before they upgraded the signon bonus from 25K pts to 30K pts. Called Amex today to see if they would credit an additional 5K points, but no dice. I’ve been a member since 1994 and this was one of the worst customer service experiences I’ve ever had with Amex. Will cancel my card when this billing cycle ends.

  • Ryan

    Its like they want you to pay for the higher-end properties. Element in houston was 68 bucks on a hot escape. Thats much much better than paying with 7000 points.

  • Noel

    Keep in mind that there is a HUGE service quality difference at some of these 4000 point properties. I tried to redeem “no blackout” point nights at Four Points Minneapolis Airport and was told by the front desk manager they didn’t have any points rooms available but I was welcome to pay the standard rate, contrary to Starwoods No Blackout Policy. Filing a complaint to Starwood Customer Service only amounted a response letting me know that they would make hotel management aware. Pretty disappointing when I have 20 Starwood hotel stays through July and have spent over $34,000 to date on my SPG AMEX.

  • Alan

    So you’ve been a satisfied customer for 20 years, but you will cancel a credit card because you got exactly what you expected to get? *confused*

  • Alan

    Very nice! I’ve noticed some pretty great SPG values in hotels in emerging markets. Though I haven’t stayed there, I’ve found great redemption ratios in Morocco, Indonesia, Cambodia, and Thailand.

  • Michael

    How many people apply for this card every year. My annual fee is due right now and I am contemplating canceling it as did a round of apps for this card and others about a year ago. Thank for the advice. Have 2% cash back cards that I use routinely over points.

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