What is the best hotel scheme? – Starwood Preferred Guest – The Opinion

In my article yesterday, I outlined ‘the facts’ of the Starwood Preferred Guest loyalty scheme. This article is my personal opinion, highlighting areas where I think you might want to focus.

The 10-second summary:

Strong points – excellent top-tier Platinum benefits, unrivalled airline mile conversion rate, good range of aspirational redemption hotels, ‘no blackout dates’ reward availability, many redemption options (upgrades, cash and points, SPG Flights, SPG Moments, SPG Instant Awards)

Weak points – relatively modest portfolio, crazy pricing of high-end properties compared to earning rate, St Regis is not a true luxury brand

Gritti Palace

The longer version:

Starwood Preferred Guest is very well regarded in the loyalty world. The programme has remained relatively constant for many, many years, giving guests the certainty that the reward they are after will not be pulled away from under them. You will never see SPG making unannounced changes overnight or adding 75% to its top redemption rates as Hilton did in 2013.  The reason is simple – SPG is a small chain, and people need to go out of their way to stay with them.

If you can manage the 25 stays or 50 nights required to make Platinum – and that isn’t easy, given their thin UK and European city centre portfolio – then the benefits are great. Do 50 nights and the Suite Night Upgrade awards are very useful. Every stay will see you getting (subject to availability) lounge access, a good upgrade – often a suite, free high-speed internet and, if you choose it, free breakfast.

(If you are getting close to Platinum, remember that you can credit up to three rooms per night.  If you are staying somewhere cheap, it might be worth booking two or three rooms instead of one!)

When you come to redeem, you have access to an unrivalled collection of historic and luxury properties. The Gritti Palace in Venice (photo above) is among them, along with two Maldives resorts and plenty of family-friendly European resorts such as St Regis Mardavall in Majorca and Pine Cliffs in Portugal.  Only Park Hyatt can compete among the chains with loyalty schemes.

If you can’t face another night in a hotel, the list of airline partners is unrivalled, as is the 1 : 1 transfer rate (rising to 1 : 1.25 when you convert 20,000 points). Many people use SPG simply to move American Express Membership Rewards points into non-Amex airline partners, such as American Airlines and Miles & More.

The UK SPG credit card is, frankly, underpowered. Making you spend £25,000 just to get a free night in a Category 1-4 hotel (such as the Sheraton at Heathrow!) is crazy. The IHG Rewards Club Premium card, for example, gives you a free night anywhere for spending just £10,000. You also do not get any bonus points for spending in Starwood properties. The sign-up bonus is very good, though.

The major downside, apart from the lack of UK properties outside London, is the redemption pricing for high end hotels. Category 7 hotels are 30,000 or 35,000 points per night – that requires $10,000 – $12,500 of hotel spend for one free night for a Gold or Platinum member. You would also be sacrificing 35,000 or 40,000 airline miles by redeeming for a free Category 7 night.

Mid-tier redemptions are better value.  I have a spreadsheet which shows that I consistently get around 1.5p per SPG point of value from my redemptions at, say, Le Meridien in Hamburg or the Westin in Dublin.  I also value SPG Moments, especially now that they have a box available at the 02 Arena.  20,000 SPG points for a pair of tickets is a good deal.

What I don’t like is the limited functionality of the SPG website.  You can do a lot with your points – upgrade a cash room to a club room, upgrade a cash room to a suite, use 100% points for a club room, suite or just a bigger room – but none of this can be done via the website.  All it offers are ‘plain vanilla’ redemptions into entry level rooms.  Anything else requires you to call SPG.

Overall, SPG offers an impressive package. And I forgot to mention the upgrade and 4pm check-out which comes with Gold status (free to American Express Platinum holders) and Preferred Guest Plus status (free to Starwood Amex cardholders). If only there were more of them ….

(To see our complete list of current Starwood promotions, click here to visit our ‘Hotel Promos’ page or use the link in the menu bar at the top of the page.)

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Comments

  1. Would agree that there are a number of things you can’t do on the site, but for me this is well compensated for by the excellent SPG Online Chat function for Platinums. Staffed by knowledgeable and helpful people who 99% of the time can do what you want them to without having to get into the call centre loop.

  2. I am surprised that you state that St Regis is not a true luxury hotel brand. I don’t know what your standards are, but I stayed at most St Regis properties worldwide, and all of them are ultraluxurious hotels (e.g. Bal Harbour, Bangkok, Florence, Mauritius, San Francisco, Lhasa, Istanbul, New York). I rank them amongst the top 10 most exclusive hotel chains in the world, on pair with brands such as Amanresorts, Four Seasons, Rosewood and Mandarin Oriental: http://wp.me/p4d1XU-eYW. So I am very curious: why is St Regis not a true luxury hotel brand for you?

    • Can’t argue with you there. The Lanesborough, pre-renovation, was the most expensive hotel in London, at around £495/n and was part of the St. Regis. Although the hotel definitely needed a refurb, it was a beautiful hotel with fantastic service. Extra nice touches such as the butlers and even receiving your own business cards when you stayed. Maybe because it’s haunted (according to the staff) it gets marked down a few points by Raffles.

      • It wasn’t. Rosewood ran the hotel and there was only a tenuous marketing link with Starwood. It never had the St Regis branding. You could neither earn nor redeem SPG points at The Lanesborough. When it reopens it will have nothing to do with SPG.

    • I think Raffles is basing his opinion on his experience in one of the Middle Eastern states – he did a review of his stay there some time ago. I’m not sure that it is really representative, though, but Dubai seems to be the benchmark on this site…

      • I have not stayed in St Regis any where else other than abu dhabi and that property is anything other than luxury, coupled with raffles review of the doha St Regis and I think we have an issue with the middle eastern take on the brand.
        I’m sure other continents do offer a true 5 star experience whilst staying at the St Regis, strange since the ME has a reputation for extremely high standards.

        • Camille says:

          I had a great stay at the SR Doha – upgraded to an Empire 2 bed suite, which was huge and very helpful as was travelling with family. Also given full breakfast for the entire party as a Platinum, as well as a number of other nice touches, e.g. private cabana with plunge pool.

          SR is very much a luxury brand based on my experience of SR Doha & the Lanesborough. Looking forward to exploring more SR properties soon.

          • No, it’s a dump! All of the signage looks like the Fawlty Towers opening sequence. You go through a fire exit to get to the beach and pool. The gift shop / sundries shop is in an empty meeting room in the business centre which itself is shoved in the basement. They sell you rooms with views where you can’t see the view because of the balcony. The beds are on the wrong side of the rooms so you can’t see out. I could go on.

            It is difficult to compare it with other Qatar hotels – for all I know it may have the best beach of any Qatar hotel (although their tourist industry is doomed is that’s true!) but there are at least 20 beachside hotels in Dubai I would choose above the St Regis. Take a look at my review of Jumeirah Etihad Towers in Abu Dhabi which is a very similar property (essentially a business hotel which happens to have a beach) but which is incredibly well run.

            If you compare it to Dar Al Masyaf at Madinat Jumeirah in Dubai where I was for the last two weeks, the difference is so huge you can’t even measure it.

            PS. Remember that SPG is taking me to the Paul Simon / Sting concert tomorrow night and giving me a hotel room and paying me to attend a discussion group on Friday. And yet I am still so convinced by the dumpiness of St Regis Doha that I am happy to slate it today :-)

          • Smileymiley says:

            I have just returned from a five night stay at the St Regis Saadiyat Island in Abu Dhabi. It is a beautiful hotel offering excellent service levels. I booked using my points, and given that I was staying over the Easter break managed to get around 2.2p for each point compared to the cost of a cash booking.

          • Camille says:

            Agree on the access issue to the beach/pool. Also on the beach itself, which is small. Did not see the gift shop.

            Placing of the beds…..fine in the Empire Suite. Service was very good for us, cots placed in our rooms as requested, cute SR teddies for the kids, etc,. Also complimentary use of the supervised kids playroom (though we didn’t try it).

            In Doha, can only compare it to the Sheraton Doha, which I believe is currently being refurbed, I think. Pre-refurb, the SR was an oasis of luxury compared to the SD. Eg it has, I think, 2 x Gordon Ramsay restaurants.

            Raffles, you clearly had a bad experience, but I don’t see it as a dump! Lets agree to disagree :-)

            Re your impending discussion group, please STRONGLY (!) suggest to them improvements to the spg Amex in line with your recent article. In particular, lowering the spend threshold for a free weekend night or raising to at least Cat 5 usage and double points at spg hotels. Thanks.

            c55

    • If we take The Gallivanters Guide newsletter as a benchmark, I don’t think they have every featured a St Regis. If you look at the Luxury Hotels forum on Flyertalk – which is probably the most comprehensive luxury hotels discussion group on the web – St Regis is also noticeable by its absence from the discussion.

      Let’s say I see them on a par with Ritz-Carlton these days.