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Maximizing Starwood Points for Room and Suite Upgrades

Aug. 13, 2012
9 min read
Maximizing Starwood Points for Room and Suite Upgrades
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In light of the current 30,000-point sign-up bonus for the Starwood Amex and my recent giveaway of 60,000 Starpoints, I thought I'd go through some of the Starwood hotel redemption opportunities that aren't just free-night redemptions, or my favorite value proposition, Cash & Points. So today I wanted to talk about using Starpoints for room and suite upgrades.

Sort of like Hilton's premium room rewards and upgrades, SPG members can use Starpoints to upgrade to premium rooms and suites. However, also similar to Hilton, one of the biggest issues with these options is the lack of consistency from property to property on what type of room or suite you'll get for your upgrade. Some redemption rates even vary across different dates at the same hotel, meaning one day they might allow for an upgrade to a large suite, but another day they would only upgrade to a junior suite, yet the upgrade price would still be the same in terms of points.

On top of this, it can be very difficult to reap real value out of these upgrades, so always be sure to do the math and evaluate your options carefully when booking.

The Rules
Room upgrades start at 1,000 Starpoints per night and suite upgrades start at 3,000 points depending on hotel category. With both, upgrades can only be requested and confirmed 5 days prior to arrival if space is available, and you must be booked with a flexible rate which include RACK, COR, SET, or BAR rates.

Starwood upgrade award chart

However, you can use points to book premium rooms and suites on point stays when you make your reservation at a rate that's equivalent to the number of points necessary for a free night redemption plus the points necessary for an upgrade.

So, for instance, if you wanted to stay at the Category 4 Sheraton Keauhou Resort in Hawaii, you'd need 10,000 Starpoints for a standard Mountain View room, but could get a Partial Ocean View room one category up for 11,000 points at the time of booking - again, though, you have to make this reservation over the phone.

Starwood's site mentions that upgrade types may include larger rooms, a Club Room, Westin Guest Office, Corporate Club Room, Smart Room, or a room on a floor that may include Club Lounge Services or Concierge Services. Suites can range from small junior suites, to some very large suites depending on the property.

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The Process
In order to check upgrade availability, you must call Starwood at 888-625-4988 to see what each property offers for upgrade options, since each hotel determines what they consider an upgraded room or suite. I wanted to check a few properties from different categories to get an idea of the value and the type of rooms or suites that were available.

Category Scenarios
Category 4: At the W Atlanta Midtown, a Category 4 property where free room rates cost 10,000 points, SPG members can upgrade for 10,000 Starpoints to a Fantastic Suite, which on the dates I checked in August cost an additional $200, meaning you'd be getting 2 cents per point in value. If you didn't want to shell out 10,000 SPG points, you could use 1,000 points for a room upgrade and at this property it would be to a Spectacular Room - these same dates, that room cost $30 more than a Wonderful room, so your points for this upgrade would be worth 3 cents each.

The W Atlanta Midtown's, a Category 4 hotel, lowest flexible rate was $239 for a Wonderful Room.

A Fantastic Suite is the suite upgrade option at this property using points, and 10,000 Starpoints equates to an extra $200 in room rate.

Category 5: At the Westin Michigan Avenue Chicago, a Category 5 property where free night redemptions are 12,000-16,000 points, you could use 2,500 points to upgrade to a Deluxe room (it cost about $30 more than a standard room, so 1.2 cents per point in value), or opt to spend 12,000 points per night for an upgrade to an Executive Suite, which was going for about $540 - $271 more than a standard room. So in this case, your points would be worth 2.26 cents each.

Lowest prices room at the Westin Michigan Avenue, a Category 5 property was $269 a night.

An upgrade to an Executive Suite would be 12,000 SPG points.

Category 6: Next up was the St. Regis Princeville, a Category 6 property (that I love!) which normally costs 20,000-25,000 points for a free-night redemption for a standard room. This resort actually has a few decent room upgrade deals. Standard rooms were going for $400 on the dates I checked.

The lowest-priced room at the St. Regis Princeville was $400 a night.

On the same dates, the resort would allow guests to upgrade an ocean view room for only 2,500 points per night instead of the $175 upcharge, so points equate to 7 cents each in value.

You can upgrade for 2,500 per night vs. $175 a night. A great use of Starpoints.

If you wanted a suite, the best you could hope for would be a junior suite. It was going for $650 on the nights I checked, so $250 more than a standard room. However, this upgrade would cost a whopping 20,000 Starpoints, meaning you'd be getting a measly 1.25 cents of value out of each of your points. I think I would save my points on the suite upgrade and use one of my Suite Night Awards here in that case, since for that amount I would only get a junior suite anyways.

A junior suite at the St. Regis Princeville goes for $250 more than a standard room, but would require 20,000 more Starpoints - not a good value.

Category 7: Last, I wanted to see the options at a Category 7 property in my own backyard, the W South Beach. Here, free nights go for 30,000-35,000 points a night. For the dates I checked in November, a Wonderful Studio was the lowest-priced room for $429 per night.

The W South Beach lowest rate was $429 for a Wonderful Studio.

A room upgrade at this property is to a Fantastic Suite - don't let the name confuse you, this still just counts as a room upgrade, and would cost either $50, or 2,500 points a night, so you'd get 2 cents per point in value.

A room upgrade at the W South Beach is to a Fantastic Suite, and 2,500 points equates to just $50 in value.

My thoughts
Though outright free night redemptions and especially Cash & Points redemptions with Starwood can present fantastic value opportunities, room and suite upgrades do not offer the same value for your points. That's most true for suite upgrades where you basically have to spend the same number of points as for redeeming for a room outright, the suites you're allowed to upgrade to are usually on the lower end of the suite category spectrum, and it makes more sense to just pay the price difference or use Suite Night Awards rather than using thousands of extra points for a minimal upgrade.

Even more than most point redemptions, the value you get from upgrading to a better room or suite depends completely on the property. That's because the categories of rooms/suites to which you are allowed to upgrade vary from hotel to hotel, and the paid rate differentials are constantly changing, meaning you have to check back every time you want to upgrade to make sure you are getting sufficient value from your points. In general, though, it seems like the room upgrades, when you use 1,000-2,750 points per night do offer some potential to maximize Starpoints.

The other issue I have with Starwood's upgrade policy is that even if you want to use your points for an upgrade when you want to make the reservation, you can't confirm an upgrade until 5 days prior to arrival, so you'd have to take a chance and hope the room category you wanted was still available close in.

I do like the flexibility of upgrading from both paid or award stays and the fact that if it's an award stay, you can upgrade at the time of your booking, so you don't have to leave anything to chance.

Have any of you taken advantage of Starwood upgrade awards? Feel free to share your personal experiences in the comments section!
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