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Update: Some offers mentioned below are no longer available – Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express
Today I want to share a story from TPG reader Drew, who opportunistically redeemed Starpoints for an upcoming family vacation. Here’s what he had to say:
My wife and I like to travel with our three young daughters despite our limited travel budget. We normally stockpile and stretch our points with inexpensive Hyatt, IHG and Hilton properties that are friendly to families of five, which leaves more cash for activities once we reach our destination. However, our frugal lifestyle seemed to put one destination squarely out of reach: Walt Disney World.
Only a longer stay would justify the drive to Orlando from our midwestern home, and that would mean spending multiple nights in a hotel. Tickets to the park and attractions are expensive, so we’d have to stay significantly further away from the park to keep such a trip affordable. We worried that would kill some of the magic of going to Disney in the first place.
Then I read your article about the looming SPG category changes, which highlighted the Walt Disney World Dolphin property — one that was previously unknown to us. It’s currently a category 4 property costing 10,000 points per night, but it will soon cost 12,000 to 16,000 points per night when it moves to category 5. I had signed up for the Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express when the SPG/Marriott deal was announced, and had stashed 40,000 points for future use. Knowing we could use those points for a stay at the Dolphin, we decided to jump on it.
We booked five nights (with the fifth night free) for a trip later this year, and paid the current rate instead of the post-devaluation rate, which would only get us two to three nights. The cash rate for our dates is $476 per night — more than I’ve ever paid for a hotel! I netted a redemption value of 5.95 cents per point, which far exceeds anything I would expect to get by converting my Starpoints to airline miles. Thanks for giving us a heads up about this great property and the SPG Amex; now we can now save our cash for the rest of the trip!
Category changes are an unfortunate fact of life for most hotel programs. I understand the need to tweak award pricing as demand for various properties waxes and wanes, but these periodic updates often feel like thinly-cloaked devaluations rather than modest and occasional adjustments. Earlier this year, for example, IHG raised award rates at nearly 500 properties (while lowering rates at only around 200) and added a new top tier costing 70,000 points per night. That’s bad news for award travelers, and it prompted me to lower the value of IHG Rewards points in my most recent monthly valuations.
I credit Starwood for historically having more balanced changes. The most recent batch of adjustments for 2018 actually saw more properties going down in price than going up, and only a handful increased or decreased by more than one category. That’s not an anomaly either — changes over the past few years have also been reasonably friendly to SPG members. It’s smart to check these lists when they’re announced to see if there are any properties you should book before the new pricing goes into effect. By booking early, you may be able to save on an upcoming stay like Drew did.
I love this story and I want to hear more like it! To thank Drew for sharing his experience (and for allowing me to post it online), I’m sending him a $200 airline gift card to enjoy on future travels, and I’d like to do the same for you. Please email your own award travel success stories to firstname.lastname@example.org; be sure to include details about how you earned and redeemed your rewards, and put “Reader Success Story” in the subject line. Feel free to also submit your most woeful travel mistakes. If your story is published in either case, I’ll send you a gift to jump-start your next adventure.
Safe and happy travels to all, and I look forward to hearing from you!
Featured photo courtesy Walt Disney World Dolphin Hotel
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