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

In my other post today, I outlined ‘the facts’ of the Starwood Preferred Guest loyalty scheme.  This post 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, unrivalled 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

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.

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 10 x 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 internet and, if you choose it, free breakfast.

When you come to redeem, you have access to an unrivalled collection of 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.

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 (only UK option – the Sheraton at Heathrow!) is crazy.  The IHG Rewards Club Black 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, especially during promotions when it doubles to 20,000 points.

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.

Overall, though, 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 ….

What is the best hotel scheme? - Starwood Preferred Guest - The Facts
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  1. So instead of converting mr points directly with BA it’s better to convert them to SPG and then onto BA if the transfer is more than 20k?

  2. spg just upped the reward nights higher then Hilton did –some were upped 133% others 67% -all programs devalued there reward programs –Hilton just did it first
    I g
    et more from a hyatt and Hilton then spg (breakfast,internet)

  3. BrightlyBob says:

    Starwood undoubtably pushes it’s loyalty budget towards stay benefits and nothing exposes this better than a comparison between the benefits-free zone that is IHG Gold and benefits-fest that is SPG Gold. The stay requirements are similar but the benefits with SPG are stellar by comparison. Against that, using the abundance of IHG promos it’s easily possible to earn a 5* IHG night for £2000 spend, against the £4000 for an SPG 5* night.

    Nothing exposes the SPG meagre reward rate better than its travel package though, with a 75-night SPG Plat earning 6 points per £, this compares to Marriott Plat at 25 points per £. A 5 night SPG cat3 travel package with 50,000 miles costs 60,000 points, meaning a £10,000 spend, yet spending the same £10,000 at Marriott accumulates 250,000 points, redeeming for a 7 night cat5 travel package with 100,000 miles.

    As for the 1:1 mileage exchange offered by SPG, well it’s doesn’t look so good when one remembers that a Starwood Plat accumulates points at only 20% of Hilton, and 25% of IHG/Marriott.

    Mind you, I do like the hotels and the program really looks very attractive in terms of on-property benefits for heavy stayers, so much so that I would definitely give it a run if only there was an actual chain of them in the UK…

    • gnarlyoldgoatdude says:

      I’ve never received any particular benefit as a SPG Gold. In fact, I would say that IHG Gold, although thoroughly underwhelming compared with Hilton, is on a par with SPG.

      As an SPG Gold member, I receive points or a drink at check-in, same as IHG. And that’s it.
      The Elite bonus points on the stay vary by scheme, but then so do the exchange rates.

      I’ve never been upgraded on SPG but have on IHG.

      The one true advantage of the SPG scheme is the ability to earn points by just dining even if you are not a guest. I would often go for a meal at the Sheraton Skyline in Heathrow whilst staying next door at the HI Ariel. Typically I also get a 10% discount for my meal cost.
      The Quadro restaurant at the Westin in Malta offers 10% off and a free glass of champers for SPG Gold+ diners, but other locations will at least give you the points (keeps the account alive).

  4. I use SPG almost exclusively for airport hotel stays as there are several Sheratons situated within major European airports which have high revenue rates but pretty reasonable redemptions. I’ve saved a decent amount of money at places like CDG, BRU & MXP in the past few months.

  5. gnarlyoldgoatdude says:

    Would having 5 years of SPG Gold through Amex Plat lead to SPG Lifetime Gold?

  6. Andrew (@andrewseftel) says:

    You could do a Hilton Gold status challenge (4 stays in 90 days). Hilton are usually good at recognising status on third-party bookings (no points etc though). If you wanted to regularly stay at a Hilton it would be worth having the Hilton Gold status, but booking through Hotels.com.

    You should also look at IHG – the amount of bonus promotions out there means that you can get great value on your first stay every quarter or so (when a new tranche of codes is released). You could potentially get a top-tier redemption after only a few stays if you align with the bonuses.

    • Does Hilton recognise status benefits on stays booked through hotels.com though?

      I used to stay at one particular Hilton a lot for work and did very well out of mostly one night stays, particularly for Diamond status and miles on the old fixed miles offering.

      These days the only place I go regularly for work has little better than a Best Western, so to quote a certain former Prime Minister, “I agree with Nick”. 🙂

      Unless your leisure travel tends to be repeat visits to the same destination(s) where you know you’re going to want to stay at a particular chain it is difficult to see value of chasing hotel points and status against hotels.com Welcome Rewards.

      That said it will be interesting to see if any of the status benefits I get through my recently acquired Amex Platinum will trump that.

      • Hilton is general is good at recognising status benefits on 3rd party bookings, although you won’t get points for your room rate, or stay credit towards status renewal.

  7. gnarlyoldgoatdude says:

    SPG are currently running a double points for dining promo.

  8. I would say that you are exactly the sort of person who should use hotels.com, if you don’t do enough for status with any of the chains. I will cover Welcome Rewards on Thursday.

    • Thanks Raffles. I think I’ll stick with hotels.com and use the HHonours Barclaycard for a free night for now then, as that seems to be a very easy win. I had a quick look at the T&Cs for that card – it looks like you can only book cat 1-7 hotels:

      “Free Night Reward Certificate is good for one weekend night of accommodations (room rate and tax, plus resort fees if applicable) at most category 1-7 hotels and Waldorf Astoria Hotels & resorts in the Hilton Worldwide portfolio, with certain exceptions and subject to availability.”

      This would appear to be a significant devaluation from the position when you wrote your review and recommended using the voucher for the Conrad hotel in NY, which is cat. 9. A pity – but I’m getting a bit off-topic now!

      • I think that wording is a hangover from the old days, especially as W-A properties are mainly Category 9.

        • Excellent, thanks. I took it from the Barclaycard website. I’ve checked the HHonours website and there is no mention of the “category 1-7” rule, it just says you can use it at participating hotels.

        • Yep, you’ll be fine – Barclaycard are just thoroughly useless!