Maximizing Your Starwood Preferred Guest Points: Part One
There is little dispute in the miles and points community that Starwood Preferred Guest points are the most valuable type of point overall, but what is more useful than that general statement is how to actually squeeze the most value out of the points for your family. I think it would be a bit lengthy to describe all of the best uses in one post, so I will divide the post into two topics. This first post will be focused solely on using them for hotel nights, and the second post will explore some of the other options that center around transferring to airline miles or using a combo of airline miles and hotel nights.
Starwood Family of Hotels:
Let's start with the basics...the Starwood family of hotels includes many different brands including: Westin, Sheraton, Element, Aloft, Le Meridien, The Luxury Collection, Four Points, St. Regis, and W Hotels. They have a pretty good international footprint, meaning that you will often find a SPG hotel in many major cities. There are regular hotels and resorts within the Starwood family. My own personal favorite Starwood hotels are the Westin hotels and resorts. For my family they are the right balance of "nice" without being overly fancy or too trendy for us to feel comfortable. I have also stayed in some Sheratons that we enjoyed as well. That is just personal preference, but thought I would throw it out there.
Hotel Free Night Categories:
Starwood has seven categories of hotel that range from 2,000 points per night for a free standard room to 35,000 points per night for a free standard room. There are a few properties without standard rooms that cost even more points, but those really aren't all that important since I do not recommend using points at those properties anyway. I often find the best points values either in hotels that cost very few SPG points per night, or those that cost in the mid range of 10,000 - 12,000 points per night. I stay away from the Category 6 and 7 hotels in my own personal travels. We recently booked a rooms for this up-coming ski season at the Beaver Creek Resort and Spa near Vail, Colorado. It was 12,000 points per night for a room that sells for close to $500 per night during ski season. That means that for that redemption each point was worth over 4 cents each.
I have also stayed at Category 1 or 2 hotels that cost 2,000 or 3,000 points for a weekend night when the going rate was $100 or more. That means those points got me anywhere from 3 to 5 cents in value per point. I'll get back to the value per point in a minute, but I wanted to show that there is some huge value to be had in some categories.
No Blackout Dates:
One of the biggest myths for those outside the miles and points community is that you can never use your points due to blackout dates. With SPG that is very much not the case. If there are standard rooms available, you can book the rooms with points. In fact, this exchange on Milepoint about this very topic is one of the things that spurred me to write this post. It really is awesome to be able to use the points you earn where you want and when you want.
Cash and Points Awards:
This is my absolute favorite use for SPG points as it is often the most lucrative. With cash and points awards you spend a few points and a little cash together to get your free nights. To go back to my Beaver Creek example, last year we stayed during ski season on a cash and points reservation. It cost us 4,800 points plus $90 per night for the ~$500 per night room. That means that instead of paying 12,000 points per night and getting a value of around 4 cents per point, we were only spending 4,800 points and in return were getting about 8.5 cents per point value on the remaining $410 that the room would have cost per night. The points often stretch much further when you are able to go the "cash and points" route.
The only downside to cash and points is that they are not as readily available as award nights that are booked solely on points. This type of reward is restricted and is not always available, but when it is it is fantastic. I would guess that approximately 50-60% of my SPG award nights are booked using cash and points. I wish that it could be 100%, but it just doesn't always work out that way.
To search for cash and point awards, select "compare new rates" to include "cash and points awards" when you are searching for availability. Here is an example of what it will look like.
Fifth Night Free:
Another way to really stretch the value of your SPG points is to use the "fifth night free" option for Category 3, 4, 5, 6, and 7 hotels. Just like it sounds, you get the fifth night free by just being charged for what the point cost would have been for four nights.
Reward stays count toward elite status:
This only matters for those who travel enough to care about elite status, but I find it very handy that reward nights count toward elite status. That makes it easier to use points for vacations without feeling like you are missing out on qualifying or re-qualifying for valuable hotel elite status. I would not personally do this, but if you got one of the current 30,000 sign-up bonuses and wanted to just use it to get Platinum status with Starwood, then you could do 25 cash and points one night stays at a Category 1 hotels for $25 plus 1,200 SPG points per night. That would come to a total of 30,000 SPG points plus $625. Again, not how I plan to use my points, but it would work as a very inexpensive way to get top-tier status with SPG.
This post doesn't contain revolutionary information for those who are already very familiar with the SPG program, but might help some of the folks who are just now getting interested in SPG points due to the increased sign-up offers. In part 2 of this mini series I will look at how SPG points can also be very valuable for those who prefer to spend their miles and points to fly.
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