Pros and Cons of Starwood Preferred Guest

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Here are the pros and cons cons of the SPG (Starwood Preferred Guest) based on my 600 or so paid & award nights that I have spent at their properties in the past 7 years.

starwood-preferred-guest-pros-and-cons

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.

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

Pros

– Customer Service

– Cash & points (Getting worse)

– Chat

– Transfers to airlines

– Good value lower category awards (Category creep)

– Social media presence

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

– SPG & Delta Crossover Rewards (New)

– Good coverage in certain cities such as Bangkok

– Discount programs (Getting worse)

– Best Rate Guarantee

– SPG & Caesars partnership (New)

– Property mix

– Stay/night credits on award stays & multiple rooms

– Passionate membership (New)

– No blackout dates

– Marketing & communications (New)

– 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

– Suite Nights Awards (SNA), You24 & Ambassador (New)

– Breakfast (continental) vs Platinum Amenity

– Starwood Gold

– 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 (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

spg-life-time

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 (Getting worse)

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 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.

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.

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 (New)

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 (Getting worse)

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.

Starwood ended both the Starpicks and Beat the Timer in 2013 and brought the Hot Escapes (that has not been nowhere near as good as these two previously). You can read more about SPG Hot Escapes here and here.

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 (New)

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 (New)

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 (New)

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.

Cashback

You can earn some cashback 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 would not 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. 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 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.

Suite Nights Awards (SNA), You24 & Ambassador (New)

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.

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 (New)

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 (New)

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.

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 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.

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 to.

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