Here are the pros and cons of the SPG (Starwood Preferred Guest) program based on the developments over the past 12 months.
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.
– Customer Service
– Cash & points
– 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
– Relatively Easy to hit Platinum
– iPhone and Android Apps
– 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
Positives of Starwood Preferred Guest
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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 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.
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.
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.