This is the sixth of our overview series of the main hotel loyalty schemes. Each scheme will be covered over two posts on consecutive days. One will list the basic facts of the scheme, the other will be my subjective view of what is of particular merit.
Important: Marriott bought Starwood Hotels & Resorts in 2016. From 2018, Marriott Rewards and Starwood Preferred Guest will be merged into a new combined programme. This article covers the existing Starwood Preferred Guest programme only. However, you can transfer Starwood points into Marriott Rewards (at a 1:3 ratio) and vice versa so you should also look at Marriott Rewards redemption options.
Starwood Preferred Guest covers 1,200 hotels globally. It operates a variety of brands – The Luxury Collection, St Regis, W, Le Meridien, Sheraton, Westin, Four Points, Tribute, Design Hotels, Aloft and Element. The SPG home page is here.
What is the geographic spread? Just over half of SPG’s properties are in the US. UK coverage is weak with only 11 hotels, eight of which are in London, one in Liverpool and the remaining two in Scotland. The latest, The Westbury in Mayfair, only joined Starwood this month as a member of The Luxury Collection. There are an additional 6 hotels in London which are part of the independent Design Hotels or Tribute chains, including the Great Northern at Kings Cross, and which use Starwood for reservations – these hotels also accept bookings using SPG points.
For comparison, there are more hotels (18) in Dubai than the UK. Coverage across Europe is varied, with a strong presence in Germany. The European hotels are skewed heavily towards the luxury sector.
Do I use them? Yes. Recent stays include the excellent St Regis Istanbul, which I reviewed for HFP. Le Meridien Hamburg is a regular haunt when visiting family. The Westin in Dublin is a lovely conversion in a great location and my default choice there. We also reviewed the refurbished Sheraton Grand Park Lane in London which looks beautiful. Here is my review of the Aloft at London Excel which is a promising ‘stylish budget’ brand with a decent pool. We also reviewed the two European ‘Element’ hotels (environmentally focussed long-stay properties) and the Aloft Liverpool last year. I have SPG Gold status via my American Express Platinum charge card.
Elite membership levels
Gold – requires 10 stays or 25 nights. Benefits are 50% bonus on base points, 4pm late check-out, upgrade to an ‘enhanced’ room, welcome gift (free high-speed internet, bonus SPG points or a drink)
Platinum – requires 25 stays or 50 nights. Benefits are 50% bonus on base points, 4pm late check-out, free high-speed internet, upgrade at most chains to the best available room including selected suites, welcome gift (free – continental only – breakfast, bonus SPG gifts, local gift), lounge access.
SPG offers additional benefits beyond Platinum. At 50 nights, you will receive a choice of rewards including 10 suite upgrade certificates. At 75 nights, your elite bonus doubles to 100% and you can access ‘Your24’. This allows you to check-in and check-out at any point during the day or night – check in at 9pm and leave at 9pm, for example. At 100 nights, you will receive access to an SPG ambassador who will liaise with you personally to arrange future stays to your specific needs.
Suite upgrades ARE an elite benefit for Platinum members.
You can now match your Marriott Rewards status into SPG status, instantly, via either of the scheme websites.
Reward nights count towards elite status qualification and requalification. You can book up to three rooms per night and all count towards status.
SPG offers lifetime status. Lifetime Gold requires 250 eligible nights and 5 years of SPG Gold status. Lifetime Platinum requires 500 eligible nights and 10 years of SPG Platinum status.
SPG points generally have a lower base than other schemes. You will earn fewer points per $ spent but also require fewer for a redemption.
The base level of earning is 2 points per $1. You will also receive an elite status bonus if applicable – even for Gold members this is 50%.
Starwood runs regular promotions but they are rarely exceptionally generous and now appear to exact copies of the current Marriott Rewards promotion. See our ‘Hotel Promos’ page for any current offers.
Starwood has a partnership Delta Airways called ‘Crossover Rewards’. This allows SPG members to earn additional points when flying with Delta, based on cost of your ticket, and vice versa. Further details are in this article.
It also has a similar partnership Emirates called ‘Your World Rewards’, allowing you to earn SPG points when flying on Emirates. Details are here.
Starwood also has a partnership with Uber which lets you earn SPG points on every ride as long as you have had an SPG stay in the current calendar year.
The Starwood partnership with Caesars in Las Vegas has recently been wound down.
Redemption rates for hotels run from 3,000 points in Category 1 (generally obscure US properties or in developing countries) to 35,000 points in Category 7. The full chart is here. Of the UK hotels, the Aloft in Liverpool is an excellent deal as a Category 2.
You receive ‘fifth night free’ on all redemptions in Category 3-7 properties. This does not apply to ‘cash and points’ redemptions.
Starwood operates a genuine ‘no blackout’ policy. If a standard room is available for cash, it is available for redemption. This is not the case with the majority of other chains. However, a handful of SPG properties play games with their definition of ‘standard room’, such as making it a single-bed room which does not allow two guests. There are also some Starwood properties which do not participate in SPG at all, either for earning or spending points, although this list is slowly reducing.
A 5-star 20,000 point redemption in Category 6 would typically require a Gold member to spend $6,666. This is exceptionally high when you compare it to the $1,700 of spend required for a Club Carlson 50,000 point 5-star redemption.
Some hotels offer ‘in hotel’ rewards (upgrades, meals, airport transfers, spa treatments) via SPG Instant Awards but this is on an ad-hoc basis. If available, it will include the option to use points to settle some or part of your bill at a rate of $5 = 375 SPG points.
SPG also has SPG Moments which allows you to use your points to bid for tickets on exclusive sporting and cultural events around the world. SPG has a suite at the 02 Arena in London and offers tickets for events there via SPG Moments. These are generally priced at 15,000 SPG points per pair, including food and drink.
If you do not have any activity at all on your account within a 12 month period (this does not necessarily require a stay) then your points will expire. Starwood has historically been willing to reinstate expired points if you reactivate your account.
Can you upgrade using points?
Yes, but only within five days of arrival.
Rooms can only be upgraded when on a cash reservation at specific rates. Suite upgrades are available, albeit at a substantial points premium. Rates vary by hotel category as per this chart.
Are ‘cash and points’ redemptions available?
Yes, although not all hotels offer them.
‘Cash and points’ rooms generally offer better value than an ‘all points’ redemption. The reward chart compares both ‘all points’ and ‘cash and points’ options. I discussed ‘cash and points’ in this post.
Since 2013, ‘cash and points’ redemptions have also been available for suites and higher room categories, not just standard rooms. These must be booked by telephone, except for the cheapest Category 1 and 2 properties.
Airline redemption options
This is the strongest part of the SPG programme. Starwood points can be transferred to an extensive number of airlines including Avios.
The conversion rate is an excellent 1:1 in most cases. In addition, Starwood will give you an additional 5,000 airline miles for every 20,000 SPG points you convert.
The minimum transfer level depends on your status in the programme. Base level members require 2,500 points.
You can also redeem for packages called ‘SPG Nights and Flights‘ although these are limited to Category 3 and Category 4 hotels. They are similar to Marriott travel packages. 60,000 points gets you 50,000 airline miles and five nights at a Category 3 hotel (total cost usually 68,000 points) whilst 70,000 points gets you the same at a Category 4 (usually 80,000 points).
SPG also offers an additional reward option called ‘SPG Flights’. This allows you to redeem your SPG points for a cash airline ticket, at effectively 1.0p per SPG point. More details are in this post.
Can I earn Avios directly without collecting points?
Yes, see ba.com here. You can earn 2-3 Avios per $1 spent, depending on brand, by showing your British Airways Executive Club card at check-in.
You will not earn Starwood Preferred Guest points. You must, however, be a member of Starwood Preferred Guest to do this.
Credit card partnerships
Can you get elite status with a UK credit card? Yes, American Express Platinum members receive Gold status for as long as they retain the card. You can also earn Gold status by spending £15,000 per year on the SPG American Express card. SPG Gold also gives you instant Marriott Gold as well.
Is there a SPG credit card in the UK? Yes, the Starwood Preferred Guest American Express. See my review here. All holders of this card automatically receive ‘Preferred Guest Plus’ status in the SPG programme, which gives many of the benefits of Gold.
Is SPG an Amex Membership Rewards partner? Yes, although the conversion rate is only 2:1
Purchasing and transferring points
You can buy Starwood Preferred Guest points for $35 per 1,000 via this link. Occasional promotions offer a modest bonus for buying points. In some cases it may be cheaper to buy SPG points for conversion to airline miles than buying airline miles directly. With Miles & More, it is the only way to ‘buy’ miles as the scheme does not sell them directly.
Points can be transferred to other members who share your address, without charge. Details are here, scroll to the bottom. One benefit of this is that you and your partner can both open an SPG American Express card, combine you 10,000 point sign-up bonuses and then redeem them for 25,000 Avios. This is because you trigger the extra 5,000 mile bonus for redeeming 20,000 points at once.
Part 2 of this article tomorrow will give you my personal view on Starwood Preferred Guest.