Pros and Cons of Starwood Preferred Guest

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For some reason, it took me a while before I started to stay at Starwood properties. I warmed up for other hotel programs first. I have managed to accrue somewhere between 500 to 600 nights (paid & award) during the past five years and have met the lifetime SPG Gold requirements.

spg-life-time

I like to stay at Starwood properties when they have reasonable promotion(s). Outside of the promotional periods? Not so.

Here’s my take what I like about SPG and what I don’t. What is your opinion? Just leave your comment below.

Pros

– Customer Service

– Cash & points

– Chat

– Transfers to airlines

– Good value lower category awards

– Social media presence

– Different levels of Platinum 25/50/75/100

– Good coverage in certain cities i.e Bangkok

– Discount programs

– Best Rate Guarantee

– Property mix

– Stay/night credits on award stays & multiple rooms

– No blackout dates

– Feels most dynamic

– Lifetime status reasonable

– Suite upgrades for Platinum members

– Points for wining & dining when not staying

– Can redeem for suites, upgraded rooms and everything on folio

– Promotions

– Relatively Easy to hit Platinum

– Cash back

– iPhone and Android Apps

Cons

– Extremely expensive top awards

– Expanding high seasons

– Without promos not very good earnings

– Don’t always believe the communications

– Budget brand lacking

– Presence in smaller markets

– Breakfast (continental) vs Platinum Amenity

– Starwood Gold

– No benefits on third party bookings

– Platinum Suite Upgrades Somewhat Elusive

– Stay/night credit on awards etc

– Platinum fatigue especially in North America

– Relatively small compared to Hilton, InterContinental Hotels Group & Marriott

– Brand inconsistency

– “Resorts” & convention hotels late check out not guaranteed

– No Platinum benefits at Aloft & Element hotels

Positives of Starwood Preferred Guest

Customer Service

In general, I have found that the customer service is good and available 24 hours a day 365 days per year. I have not always been 100% confident of the call centers that pick up the calls once the US ones are closed, but typically they just manage.

Cash & Points Awards

This was first unique to Starwood and has now been implemented by Hilton and Priority Club as well, but not to the same extend. You can partly pay your award reservation in points and cash. Properties can decide, whether they make this available or not.

Chat

I am huge fan of using SPG chat to check things i.e. promo registration. Couple of years ago, there was something wrong with the website, but the SPG rep confirmed via chat that I had been registered for the promo. After the promo was over, they claimed that I wasn’t. Easy to prove, when you cal pull up the chat history with the SPG representative (remember to save the chats before you close the window).

Transfers to airlines

You can transfer Starpoints to number of airline partners. With most airlines, you get 25K miles for every 20K Starpoints converted after 5K conversion bonus.

Good value lower category awards

Starwood’s strength are the lower category awards that can be a very good deal at times. Note that the hotel award category doesn’t correlate with the official rating of the hotel.

Social media presence

You may not always agree with them as they can be witty at times, but you cannot deny that Starwood has number of employees monitoring various forums and replying to questions and PM’s. This is actually quite unique among the hotel chains.

Different levels of Platinum 25/50/75/100

Starwood introduced incentives to continue staying at their properties beyond the absolute minimum required to qualify in early 2012. 50 nights gets you Suite Nite Awards, 75 nights Your24 and 4th Starpoints, and 100 nights personal Starwood Ambassador.

Good coverage in certain cities i.e Bangkok

Starwood has very good coverage in some international cities such as Bangkok, where you can find nine Starwood properties alone compared to i.e. one Hyatt or two Hilton ones.

Discount programs

There are number of ways to lower the price of staying at SPG hotels. There are Starpicks, Beat the Timer, SPG50 etc. discount plans that you can and should always check.

Best Rate Guarantee

With Starwood’s BRG, you don’t have to book the hotel before you get a reply from the team, whether they will accept the claim or not. You can then choose bonus Starpoints or extra discount from the matched rates.

Property mix

You have St. Regis on the luxury segment, W/Westin/Sheraton/Le Meridien in the middle, and Aloft/Element/Four Points on the lower end. Something for everyone.

Stay/night credits on award stays & for multiple rooms

Unlike Hyatt, Priority Club or Marriott, you can get stay/night credit for award stays as well that will count towards your elite qualification. And Starwood has made it even better. You can get stay/night credit for up to three rooms at a time as long as they are under your SPG account number.

No award blackout dates

This is one of the better sides of SPG. As long as there is STANDARD room available for sale, you can have it using points as well. The key here is the word standard. There might be lots of non-standard rooms available for sale, but those won’t necessarily be available using points or they might be at the higher point price.

Feels most dynamic

SPG just feels the exact opposite of Marriott. It seems that the chain is present in today’s world.

Lifetime status reasonable

Starwood also introduced lifetime Gold and Platinum statuses in 2012. You need to have had Gold or Platinum elite status for certain number of years and meet the number of nights requirement as well.

Suite upgrades for Platinum members

Platinum members are eligible for unlimited space available upgrades to standard suites. Many of the properties do upgrade beyond what is the absolute minimum standard suite requirement.

Points for wining & dining when not staying

You can earn Starpoints for wining and dining at Starwood hotels even when you are not staying at them. Make sure that you give the waiter your SPG account number and hang on to that receipt. These rarely post without intervention.

Can redeem for suites, upgraded rooms and everything on folio

You can use your Starpoints for suites and upgraded rooms. These awards are not available online, but only through the call center. You can also use your Starpoints for payment towards your hotel folio (not likely the best use of points).

Promotions

Starwood tends to have continuous line up of promotions from very good to mediocre.

Relatively Easy to hit Platinum

Considering that pretty much all stays count, the 25 stay requirement is not that hard.

Cash back

You can earn some cash back for Starwood hotel reservations through the usual online malls.

iPhone and Android Apps

I am not normally huge fan of specialized travel apps, but SPG’s ones seems to work quite well. I probably wouldn’t use them for actual bookings, but I have for checking the status of reservations.

spg-android-app

Negatives of Starwood Preferred Guest

Extremely expensive top awards

The number of Starpoints required to redeem at top SPG properties is extremely high and redeeming for those properties make no sense at all.

Expanding high seasons

Category 5, 6 & 7 properties can have designated “high seasons” that can be months at a time. You need higher number of points to redeem during these “high season” periods.

Without promos not very good earnings

Especially, considering the number of points required for the top SPG properties, the number of points that you will earn from your stays may seem rather modest.

Budget brand lacking

Four Points is the lowest Starwood brand. Something comparable to Hyatt Place, Fairfield Inn by Marriott, and Candlewood Suites (Priority Club) is missing.

Presence in smaller markets

Starwood’s strength is not the smallest markets. If your travel takes you mostly to small town America, you are likely to find Hilton or Marriott property instead.

Breakfast (continental) vs Platinum Amenity

Hyatt, Hilton and Marriott won’t make you choose between your amenity points vs. breakfast as Starwood does. And Starwood only guarantees a continental breakfast in lieu for Platinum Welcome Amenity.

No benefits on third party bookings

Starwood explicitly denies all Gold/Platinum benefits on third party bookings (of course some properties may extend them regardless).

Platinum Suite Upgrades Somewhat Elusive

As the space available standard suite upgrades are such a big part of the Platinum benefits, it creates sometimes ambiguity. Some hotels claim that they don’t have any standard suites available and, when you check the availability on Starwood’s website, the property is happily still selling them.

Stay/night credit on awards etc

This is both positive and negative at the same time. While it has made qualifying for Platinum status easier, it has created more Platinum members.

Platinum fatigue especially in North America

There are hotels that are very Platinum heavy and it shows. It is difficult for the property to be very enthusiastic about Platinum guests if half of their guests are such.

Relatively small compared to Hilton, InterContinental Hotels Group & Marriott

Starwood has about double the number of properties compared to Hyatt. Hilton, InterContinental Hotels Group and Marriott each have three to four times the number of properties compared to Starwood, however.

Brand inconsistency

This is not just the problem with the Starwood, but with all other chains as well. Some Sheraton and Westin hotels are way past their prime, although Starwood has required owners to spend considerable amount of money to bring them up to brand standards.

Resorts” & convention hotels late check out not guaranteed

Platinum late check out benefit is based on availability at resort and convention hotels. You would be surprised what hotels Starwood has classified as resorts and convention hotels.

No Platinum benefits at Aloft & Element hotels

Platinum upgrade benefit does not apply for Aloft and Element hotels. They do not offer club lounges. Element has a basic breakfast for all and Aloft does not.

Conclusion

I have lot of friends that are “married” to the Starwood’s SPG program. They don’t even consider other options as long as there is SPG property.

The problem that I have with the program are the very expensive awards at top category properties compared to number of points that you earn from stays. I tend to use my points for aspirational properties and SPG has basically priced them out compared to Hyatt and Hilton.

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