Pros and Cons of Starwood Preferred Guest

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Here are the pros and cons of the SPG (Starwood Preferred Guest) program based on the developments over the past 12 months.

Pros and Cons Starwood Preferred Guest

The number of points that you earn from paid stays compared to price of awards is weak. I like to stay at Starwood properties when they have reasonable promotion(s). Outside of the promotional periods? Not so, unless there are Best Rate Guarantee opportunities for an extra 2,000 Starpoints per stay.

You can access SPG’s website for member benefits here.

What do you think about SPG? Please leave your comments below.

Pros

– Customer Service

– Cash & points

– Chat

– Transfers to airlines

– Good value lower category awards (Category creep)

– Social media presence

– SPG & Emirates “Your World Rewards” partnership (NEW)

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

– SPG & Delta Crossover Rewards

– Good coverage in certain cities such as Bangkok

– Discount programs

– Best Rate Guarantee

– SPG & Caesars partnership

– Property mix

– Stay/night credits on award stays & multiple rooms

– Passionate membership

– No blackout dates

– Marketing & communications

– 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

– Cashback

– 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

– Properties opting out from promotions (NEW)

– Suite Nights Awards (SNA), You24 & Ambassador

– Breakfast (continental) vs Platinum Amenity

– SPG Gold

– Resort fees on award stays (NEW)

– No benefits on third party bookings

– Over promising and under delivering (New)

– Platinum suite upgrades somewhat elusive

– Stay/night credit on awards etc

– Worst earn & burn ratio

– Social profiling (NEW)

– 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

Pros and Cons Starwood Preferred Guest Brands

Positives of Starwood Preferred Guest

Customer Service

In general, I have found that SPG 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, IHG Rewards Club, Club Carlson and Hyatt as well. You can partly pay your award reservation in points and cash. Properties can decide, whether they make this available or not.

This award type was negatively enhanced in 2013 by changing the number of points and cash required. You can read more about this change here.

Chat

I am huge fan of using SPG chat to check things i.e. promo registration. A 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 can 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 a 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 (Category creep)

Starwood’s strengths 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.

The ever continuing yearly category creep has led to fewer and fewer good value lower category properties left.

Social media presence

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

SPG & Emirates “Your World Rewards” partnership (NEW)

Starwood Preferred Guest and Emirates launched a similar partnership that SPG has had with Delta. SPG elite members get certain benefits on Emirates flights and Emirates elites benefits on their stays at Starwood affiliated hotels.

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 a personal Starwood Ambassador.

SPG & Delta Crossover Rewards

SPG and Delta launched Crossover Rewards in 2013. SPG Gold and Platinum members are eligible some benefits on Delta flights and Delta elite members get SPG Gold level benefits when staying at Starwood properties. You can read more about this partnership here.

Good coverage in certain cities such as 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 four Hilton ones.

Discount programs

There are a number of ways to lower the price of staying at SPG hotels. There are Hot Escapes, 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.

SPG & Caesars partnership

SPG and Ceasars launched a new program after Hyatt and MGM had launched theirs. You can earn and redeem Starpoints at Caesars affiliated hotels/casinos. You can read more about this partnership here.

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.

Passionate membership

I haven’t seen other hotel loyalty programs having as vocal and passionate members.

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.

Marketing & communications

In general, I would say that I like the marketing that SPG produces. It is very high quality.

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. You can learn more about the lifetime status requirements here.

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).

You can read more about SPG Instant Awards here.

Promotions

Starwood tends to have a 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.

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 would not use them for actual bookings, but I have for checking the status of reservations.

Pros and Cons Starwood Preferred US To Global

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. See more here.

Expanding high seasons

Category 5, 6 & 7 properties can have designated “high seasons” that can be months at a time. You need a 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 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.

Properties opting our from promotions (NEW)

Properties can opt out and many do from the “global” promotions. If hotels feel that they are doing well and don’t need any additional business, why would they pay extra giving bonus Starpoints for SPG member stays?

Suite Nights Awards (SNA), You24 & Ambassador

SPG has not done a good job with launching of the Suite Night Awards (SNA’s) read more here, You24 or the expansion of the Ambassador program (read more here).

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.

SPG Gold

SPG Gold is worth having for 4PM check out, but otherwise there are no much benefits. It is very easy status to get, however.

Resort fees on award stays (NEW)

SPG members that use Starpoints for awards at resorts that charge resort fees don’t get those waived (unlike with Hyatt). These fees can really ad up without providing anything extra.

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).

Over promising and under delivering

All the loyalty programs are over promising and under delivering to some extent. Due to SPG’s brilliant marketing touting the benefits, it is more visible with SPG.

I am just shaking my head, when I see SPG pushing the Suite Night Awards and the Ambassador program fully knowing how dysfunctional both are.

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 . When you check the availability on Starwood’s website, the property is happily 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.

Worst earn & burn ratio

I did a study in the spring of 2013 comparing the earning and burning of Club Carlson, Hilton, Hyatt, IHG, Marriott and SPG programs. Starwood’s awards very a lot more expensive compared to number of points earned compared to the other five factoring in the promotions. You can read more about the study here.

Social profiling (NEW)

Starwood tries to link your SPG and real life Facebook, Twitter and other social media profiles. Some may think that it is positive and cool but not everyone.

I don’t think that it is genuine if someone that I have never met previously refers to me by my name.

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 Starwood, but with all other chains as well. Some Sheraton and Westin hotels are way past their prime, although Starwood has tried to get 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.

Pros and Cons Starwood Preferred Global Compared To Competitors

Conclusion

SPG is a solid program. I like the fact that they are trying be innovative and introduce new benefits for their members, but sometimes the delivery and implementation of these benefits could be way better.

The main problem that I have with the SPG is the number of points required for awards, when you factor in the number of points that you earn by staying at their hotels. It is way out line compared to all the other programs that I participate in.

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  • disqust101

    Think an update on your EXCELLENT 2013 hotel comparison study is needed. I think that should be an annual event as nobody comes close to the quality of your analysis (which proved that almost all the pimps and charlatans, er, “experts”, were almost all wrong about which hotel chains offered best value).

    These sorts of in-depth analysis without the obscene pimping of credit cards is what makes your blog a welcome rarity. Keep it up! I read you almost every day. Can’t say that about the pimps and charlatans that infest BoardingArea and Prior2Boarding…

    • I will do an update this spring after all the hotel category moves for 2015 have taken place.

  • Anonymous

    Does a hotel have the ability if they so choose to give a stay and or night credit for a booking through an online travel agency? Can they also give a platinum 500 points per such stay if they so choose?

    Do the 500 points that one gets as a platinum for an spg booking come out of the hotels pocket or out of spg property. If out of spg property, approximately how much does it cost the hotel.

    If a hotel gives one say a few thousand points because there was a problem with the room, do you think the points cost the hotel a lot or a little ? Thanks

    • Techtonic

      There are some properties I stay at that typically give me both the amenity and the breakfast, and they also do it as if it were the absolute normal thing to do.

      • Yes. Some properties do give you both. There is nothing that prevents them doing that. Up to them really.

    • The stays that come from the OTA’s are coded in the hotel system in a way that doesn’t yield in points or stay credits (99% of the time).

      The hotels pay for the customer service points that they issue. Cannot be more than roughly a cent in case of Starwood.

  • David Crane

    Haven’t been Platinum for several years. However, back then the Platinum Concierge was the best that I have experienced. I was in a focus group for Hertz. I told them they should become SPG Platinum so they can find out how to answer the phone. Main reason I left for Hyatt and Marriott: I resent the choice of amenity or breakfast. I always feel I can justify higher hotel bills if I save the $30 for a hotel breakfast. Resort fees for the business traveler are always a source of irritation. To pay resort fees for an award stay is terrible.

    • Yeah. The breakfast issue and the resort fees on awards are just SPG being cheap.

  • Phong Huynh

    Used to be my favourite when I was still living and working in Singapore and traveling around Asia for work. They had the best choice and coverage in most cities and, as you mentioned, Bangkok is the easiest place for mattress run without even having to carry the suitcase too far: just going from the Aloft to the Four Points was as easy as 1,2,3. Too bad they have so little properties here in Europe and Switzerland…. makes me bank more points with IHG now…. or worse… Accor….

    • Accor’s strength certainly is Europe.

  • Gerry

    There is Platinum 25? I thought you had to have 25 eligible stays or 50 eligible nights in a calendar year to qualify for Platinum.

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  • With respect.
    These rewards programs regardless of the hotel chains are scams.
    Any heavily discounted room 35% + is a non qualifying stay.

    I’m sorry but I’d rather save on bookings by using a 3rd party rate, con a manager into doing a 80% off at the desk at 1am with a crisp Benjamin.

    What reason can be given to take the rewards programs over say paying $69 a night in room that should be $200+

    Cheers

  • Anonymous

    dont forget to factor in superiority of SPG credit card’s earning power relative to others