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As airlines and hotels programs devalue their points by increasing the amount of points needed for free flights and rooms, redeeming for non-travel experiences is becoming more and more appealing. Especially for road warriors, sometimes a vacation is not traveling. I’m in a similar situation where I have tons of points, but the real pleasure redeeming them isn’t always for a sweet suite- but for amazing experiences that I normally wouldn’t shell out crazy amounts of cash.
To celebrate my dad’s birthday last week, I redeemed 45,000 of my Starwood Preferred Guest Starpoints through SPG Moments program for two VIP tickets to for his beloved New York Knicks and the Utah Jazz, with seats in the SPG Luxury Suite at New York City’s Madison Square Garden.
Starwood’s SPG Moments program, which allows SPG members to make Starpoints bids or redeem directly for special-access experiences at concerts, plays, sporting events, Vegas shows and more, launched a partnership with major venue Madison Square Garden (MSG) in late 2013, but this game was the first SPG/MSG event that I attended. Within a few minutes of my redemption, I was sent a follow-up email with a comprehensive itinerary that included directions to Madison Square Garden, will call, and SPG Luxury Suite 6 itself.
My dad and I arrived at Madison Square Garden just before 6:30 p.m. and headed to the South Concierge will call at the building’s 7th Avenue entrance, where I flashed my driver’s license to pick up our two premium VIP tickets. You have to pick up your tickets in person between one hour prior to one hour after the start of an event, and must show a government-issued photo ID to prove your identity. There was no line and the suites entry is separate from regular entry- kind of like first class boarding (when it’s actually enforced!).
The Garden’s SPG Luxury Suite 6 opens at 6:30 p.m., so we went directly there. To give you an idea of its layout and cozy feel, I shot this (slightly shaky) video:
The suite’s wine-and-beer bar opens at 7:15 p.m., just 15 minutes before the 7:30 p.m. start time of most games, so we opted to head to our seats and take advantage of the suite’s hostess service. Seleka, our amazing hostess/bartender for the evening, cheerfully brought popcorn and drinks directly to our seats throughout the entire game.
Unlike some suites at MSG, SPG Luxury Suite 6 isn’t particularly close to the court, but even though we had to walk down a hall to reach our assigned seats in Row 6, Center Court, our close-up view of the action still made us feel like VIPs. The only seats at MSG with better views are those set courtside! All the while, we had a great time celeb-watching.
The game itself was a real nail-biter, but even though the Knicks ultimately lost, our overall experience was absolutely extraordinary. My dad felt like a rock star, I felt like a thoughtful son, and knowing that our evening didn’t break my bank financially made this over-the-top but not extravagant event feel even more relaxed and fun.
Generally, access to Madison Square Garden’s court-level Madison luxury suites during Knicks games costs between $9,000 and $30,000 per suite, with rates determined by opponent, day of the week, and availability. These suites provide lounge seating for 18 guests, a limited buffet and bar, a dedicated attendant and private restrooms. Individual court-area seats for games at MSG must be purchased separately, and MSG suggests that you reserve them via ticketmaster.com or by calling Ticketmaster New York at (866) 858-0008.
As an example of the worth of my SPG Moments Knicks-game experience at Madison Square Garden, the December 7, 2014 game between the Knicks and the Portland Trail Blazers (including luxury suite access and seats on the Center Court for two) would require a redemption of 45,000 Starpoints, the same amount I used for the Knicks vs. the Jazz. Since I presently value Starpoints at 2.3 cents apiece (though I plan on increasing it because these SPG Moments can be incredible values), the cash worth of this package would be $1,150. For the same December 7 game, rental of a Madison suite alone would cost $20,000, while two Row 6, Center Court seats would cost $1,413.60 (including all taxes and processing fees), for a total of $21,413,60 – a whopping $20,263 more than the worth of an SPG Moments redemption!
The per-point monetary value on all SPG Moments packages tend to be a bit lower than Starwood hotel redemptions, but some of the available events sound so fun and unique that you might still want to consider spending some of your Starpoints on them. Additional upcoming SPG Moments experiences include similar VIP access for two the Knicks vs. the Dallas Mavericks or the New York Rangers vs. Pittsburgh Penguins, both at Madison Square Garden for 50,000 Starpoints apiece; exclusive access to the Formula One Abu Dhabi Grand Prix in the United Arab Emirates for 101,000 Starpoints; private rounds of golf in South Carolina with big-name pros for 15,000 Starpoints; and a special package for the World Junior Hockey Championship in Montreal, Quebec, Canada for a starting bid of 10,000 Starpoints.
However, in the event that an SPG Moments experience appeals to you but you find yourself short on Starpoints, consider applying for the Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card from American Express or the Starwood Preferred Guest Business Credit Card from American Express, both of which offer 25,000 bonus SPG points after spending, $3,000 (personal card) and $5,000 (business card) in the first three months.
Have you ever redeemed your Starpoints for an SPG Moments event? Please share your experience in the comments below.