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To get the most out of your hotel points, it helps to know the ins and outs for earning and redeeming award stays. TPG Contributor Richard Kerr shows you how to get the most of out the popular Starwood Preferred Guest program.
It’s interesting to me how often I’m met with a blank stare when I mention the Starwood Preferred Guest program to (non-TPG) colleagues. When I change the wording of the question and ask if they have Sheraton points, they immediately respond back “of course.” Given that SPG points are widely regarded as the most valuable loyalty currency, far too many road warriors are unfamiliar with the basics of the program and all it has to offer. Today, I’ll continue my series of comprehensive hotel program guides and show you how to get the most out of your Starpoints, elite status and more.
The Starwood portfolio contains the following hotel chains: Aloft, Element, Four Points, Le Meridien, Sheraton, St. Regis, The Luxury Collection, W Hotels, Westin and the brand-new Tribute Portfolio properties.
Let’s start by looking at the benefits of being a loyal Starwood customer — first in terms of elite status and then in terms of earning and redeeming points.
SPG offers two levels of elite status: Gold Preferred and Platinum Preferred. You can achieve lifetime status by racking up 250 nights and five years of elite status for lifetime Gold, or 500 nights and 10 years of Platinum status for lifetime Platinum. Luckily, both paid stays and award bookings count toward elite status.
Gold Preferred Guest membership is earned after 10 eligible stays or 25 eligible nights in a calendar year. Gold status earns you three Starpoints per eligible dollar spent instead of the regular two; a welcome gift that’s a choice of in-room premium internet (already received if you book on SPG.com), bonus Starpoints (500 and 250 at full-service and discount properties) or a free drink; and late 4pm checkout and an upgrade to an enhanced room at check-in (not including the lounge level or suites), which is subject to availability.
Platinum Preferred Guest membership is awarded after 25 eligible stays or 50 eligible nights in a calendar year. In addition to Gold benefits, Platinums receive a welcome gift consisting of a local amenity, continental breakfast or the same bonus Starpoints; club lounge access; upgrade to best available room at check-in (including standard suites) and health club access; and a guaranteed room if you’re booking 72 hours in advance. There are technically four levels of Platinum status with SPG. If, for example, you have 25 stays and only 30 nights, you can continue to stay at SPG properties and once you hit 50, 75 and 100 eligible nights, you’ll earn additional perks.
Once you reach 50 eligible nights, you’ll receive 10 Suite Night Awards, each good for a single night, to be used on paid or award stays. (As Nick Ewen explains, these can be a hit-or-miss experience.) After 75 nights, you’re eligible for Your24, where you can pick your check-in time. This is great for destinations like Abu Dhabi, where flights routinely land and depart at 4am. At 100 nights, you’ll receive SPG Ambassador service, which underwhelmed TPG in 2012, but I’m sure is useful to some.
Platinum guests also receive some reciprocal benefits at Caesar’s Entertainment hotels in Las Vegas, including VIP lines for check-in, casino cages, restaurants and nightclubs. Platinum guests also receive benefits with Delta Airlines through Crossover Rewards and Emirates through Your World Rewards, including perks such as priority check-in, priority boarding and first checked bag for free.
SPG functions like most hotel loyalty programs: You earn the majority of your points by staying at Starwood properties or through credit card spending, and you redeem points for free hotel nights. One reason why Starpoints carry such a high value is because it’s difficult to earn large quantities of them, but luckily you’ll find plenty of redemption options at the lower levels.
Here are the ways to earn Starpoints:
1. Hotel Stays — Non-elite guests earn two points and Gold and Platinum guests earn three points for every eligible dollar spent when staying at SPG properties. You’ll also earn two points per dollar charged to your hotel folio at Caesar’s Entertainment hotels like Caesar’s Palace, Harrah’s, Paris, Planet Hollywood and Rio. You can earn credit for up to three guest rooms per eligible stay if you pay all the room bills and are staying in one of the rooms.
2. Dining — Even when you’re not staying at a property, you can earn Starpoints at the same rate as above when your in-property restaurant or bar tab is at least $10 and you present your membership number.
3. Credit Card Spending — There are only two credit cards that earn you Starpoints: Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card from American Express and the Starwood Preferred Guest Business Credit Card from American Express. The good news is that these cards have new added benefits, including (finally) no foreign transaction fees and Sheraton club access for non-Platinum members. The standard sign-up bonus for the personal card is 25,000 Starpoints after spending $3,000 ($5,000 for the business) in the first three months of account opening (occasionally increasing to 30,000 points). There are no spending category bonuses, so it’s tough to rack up a ton of points unless you’re a big spender. If you are already an SPG Amex cardholder, you can refer friends and family to the card and earn 5,000 miles for each successful applicant.
You can transfer American Express Membership Rewards to SPG at a normal ratio of 3:1. There’s currently a targeted transfer bonus offer making the ratio a more tolerable 2:1. My favorite cards to earn Membership Rewards with are The Amex Everyday Preferred Credit Card from American Express with multiple category bonuses and 50% more points after 30 transactions in a month, as well as the American Express Gold Card. I don’t recommend using your Membership Rewards this way unless you need to top off your SPG account.
You can also transfer Diners Club Rewards to SPG at a 5:3 ratio. Earn points with the Diners Club Card Premier and Diners Club Card Elite. The Elite card earns three points per dollar at gas stations, grocery stores and drug stores.
4. Rental Cars — Earn 50 Starpoints per rental day with Avis and 250 Starpoints per rental with SIXT rent a car.
5. Uber — Earn anywhere from 1-4 Starpoints per dollar spent with Uber, depending on your elite status and if you’re using Uber during an SPG stay.
6. Airline Partnerships — SPG has partnered with Delta and Emirates to provide guests a way to earn Starpoints when flying the airlines/earn air miles when staying at SPG properties. Elites also receive reciprocal benefits. With Delta Crossover Rewards and Emirates Your World Rewards, SPG Platinum and Gold members earn one Starpoint for every dollar spent on eligible Delta and Emirates flights. Emirates and Delta elite members earn one mile per dollar spent at SPG properties on top of normal Starpoint earnings.
7. SPG Pro — I recently partook in this new program, which awards meeting and event planners bonus Starpoints and stayed night credit based upon the revenue your meeting brings to the property. I booked 76 room nights for colleagues at the Le Meridien Kuala Lumpur and earned 6,000 points for organizing the stay.
8. Broadway Tickets — Earn between 350 and 2,500 Starpoints per Broadway ticket when buying through Audience Rewards.
9. Buy/Transfer — Buy up to 20,000 Starpoints per year in 500-point increments for $17.50. You can also transfer Starpoints for free to any member who resides at the same address as you. This is a great perk, as my wife and I can combine all our credit card sign-up bonuses for free.
In lieu of earning Starpoints, you can elect to earn air miles. You’ll earn two Starpoints per dollar spent at your hotel, which will then be automatically transferred to the airline program of your choice normally at a 1:1 ratio, but some vary. But, as I’m about to discuss, given the generosity of transferring Starpoints to any of 32 airlines at your discretion, this would not be a smart move.
Award Chart and Redemption Options
1. Free Nights — SPG divides its properties into seven categories, costing from 2,000 to 35,000 Starpoints per night. The terms and conditions of free nights actually state there are some properties where higher redemption rates occur due to the properties not having standard rooms or full board being a requirement in peak season. A free night at one of these properties can cost up to 140,000 points a night. Don’t forget you can also redeem points for free nights at Caesar Entertainment properties.
When redeeming four nights at a Category 3-7 property, you’ll receive the fifth night free. Tax and service charges are included on free night redemption, and SPG claims there are no blackout dates. What that means in practice is that as long as a standard room is available for the night, you should be able to book it with points. Properties have played a few games in the past, which is why you should be aware of what the property considers a standard room and know when to contact SPG if an award night should be available.
2. Room/Club/Suite Upgrades — The above chart shows the number of points required for room and suite upgrades depending on your property’s category.
3. Cash & Points — Starting at 1,500 points and $30, you can redeem a cash surcharge on top of 50% of the usually required points for a standard room at any participating property. I redeem cash & points for rooms far more often than completely free nights to make my points balance go further. You can now also use cash & points for upgrade rooms and suites – an even better deal!
4. Nights & Flights — Redeem Starpoints for five free nights and 50,000 air miles at Category 3 and 4 properties. Five nights and 50,000 air miles at a Category 3 property will cost 60,000 Starpoints, and 70,000 Starpoints at a Category 4 property. This is really a heck of a deal when you find a Category 3 or 4 property to visit.
5. 50% off Rack Rates — For 1,000 Starpoints, you can call a property in advance and request Rate ID: SPG50. If it’s available, you can exchange 1,000 Starpoints and pay 50% off the rack rate for the hotel on up to five consecutive nights.
6. SPG Flights — Not to be confused with transferring points to airline programs, with SPG Flights you book directly through an online travel agency and exchange Starpoints based on the revenue fare. In some cases it would it cost less Starpoints to book a flight using this route, so it never hurts to search in case there’s a particularly good fare that costs less than a free ticket. Starpoints redeemed here seem to be valued around 1.3 cents per point, but increase the more expensive your ticket is. There’s a chart available if you scroll down on this page.
7. Transfer to Airlines/Amtrak — A huge value aspect of the program is that you can transfer your Starpoints to one of 32 different airline programs or Amtrak. For every 20,000 Starpoints transferred, SPG will add a 5,000-mile bonus. Most airlines have a 1:1 transfer ratio, while some like United and Air New Zealand have worse rates and should be avoided. The number of options here means you can book an award ticket on any alliance and almost any airline given the number of partners covered by the group.
8. Car Rentals — Redeem 3,500 points for a $50 gift certificate to Avis or SIXT rent a car. I would avoid this option.
9. SPG Moments — This program allows you to turn your points into cultural, music or sporting experiences that otherwise wouldn’t be possible for most of us. Grab a courtside seat, attend a celebrity chef cooking lesson or grab a luxury suite for the Taylor Swift concert. The wonderful thing is that most of these packages are reasonably priced.
10. Gift Cards/Tickets — Starting at 2,800 points for a $25 gift card, you can redeem your points to one of 13 different stores, including Amazon, Starbucks, Banana Republic and iTunes. $150 gift cards will cost you 14,000 points. You can also utilize the Audience Rewards program to redeem points or cash & points for Broadway tickets.
11. Donate – Donate between 500 and 20,000 Starpoints to Clean the World, The American Red Cross or the United Nations Children’s Fund. Your points could provide a one-month supply of soap to a classroom or school materials to classroom for an entire year.
Leveraging Starwood Preferred Guest
With the Starwood Preferred Guest program, not all redemptions are created equal. There are some bad ways to use your points, so be careful to avoid the pitfalls if you’re new to the program. Here are some of the strategies I use to get the most out of SPG:
- 5,000-Mile Bonus — I have a hard time looking at my SPG balance as anything other than airline miles in 20,000-block increments. The peace of mind I have knowing I’m never going to be short of the miles needed allows me to search every avenue I know of when I need an award ticket. Plus, 5,000 bonus miles for every 20,000 transferred is just about the greatest thing in our points and miles world.
- Cash & Points — Just as with Hyatt, the reasonable SPG Cash & Points chart allows my points to go a long way and to really save my wallet with the higher categories. $275 and 15,000 points is a wonderful deal for hotels that go for more than $800 a night.
- SPG Moments — TPG has written before about SPG Moments perhaps being his favorite use of points ever. Routinely, you’ll find great experiences at reasonable prices through this program. SPG Moments has lets me do things I’d otherwise never be able to afford or arrange.
A reasonable free night award chart and the ability to transfer to 30+ airline programs with a 5,000-mile bonus make SPG a very valuable asset in your loyalty wallet. All the other aspects of the program are really just icing on the cake and are the motivation behind my visit to SPG.com before every one of my trips.
The increasing partnerships, in conjunction with my average credit card spend, allow my balance to grow at a steady rate. SPG Pro is a great addition to the program and is the reason my whole office knows to stop by before a group travels anywhere. Let’s hope a devaluation isn’t around the corner, because as it is, SPG has plenty to offer.
What’s your favorite aspect of Starwood Preferred Guest?
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