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

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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.

This article now has little long-term value given that the programme will cease to exist in its current form in three months!  I wanted to run it in order to keep the series complete.  From August 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.  Nothing in this article should be assumed to remain beyond August 2018.

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 15 hotels, most of which are in London with one in Liverpool and the remaining two in Scotland.  The latest, The Westbury in Mayfair, joined Starwood last year as a member of The Luxury Collection.  Many 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 (25 by mid-year) in Dubai than in 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.  Stays in recent years 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 is 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 in 2016.  I have SPG Gold status via my American Express Platinum charge card.

SPG

Elite membership levels

This will all change in August 2018, but for now:

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.

Click here for the full list of Gold and Platinum benefits.

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.

Earning points

Again, most of this will change in August 2018.  However, for now:

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.  This scheme will close on 15th July 2018.

It also has a similar partnership Emirates called ‘Your World Rewards’, allowing you to earn SPG points when flying on Emirates. Details are here.  Registration for ‘Your World Rewards’ will close on 15th July 2018 but the scheme will continue for those who have opted in.

Spending points

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 $2,800 of spend required for a Radisson Rewards 70,000 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 to 25,000 SPG points per pair, including food and drink.

Points expiry

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. I wrote a full article on stopping your Starwood points expiring here.

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.

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.

My opinion

Part 2 of this article – click here – gives you my personal view on Starwood Preferred Guest.  If you are an email subscriber you have not been sent Part 2 and should click here to read it on the Head for Points website.

(Want to earn more hotel points?  Click here to see our complete list of promotions from the major hotel chains or use the ‘Hotel Promos’ link in the menu bar at the top of the page.)

Bits: Get double or triple Accor points on UK stays, 75% bonus buying Radisson points, Peakpoints closing
What is the best hotel scheme? - Starwood Preferred Guest - The Opinion
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Comments

  1. Andrew Fitton says:

    I’ve found that my SPG gold (through Amex) gave me a decent discount on food in a number of SPG properties around SE Asia

    The last time i was in Bangkok it was 50% off the excellent buffet in the Sheraton and a smaller discount in Hanoi

    • TGLoyalty says:

      Just being an SPG member gets you up to 20% off at many of their restaurants and you can earn points without a stay.

      Really hope that stays

  2. Worth noting that you can also use points to “buy” lounge access at Starwood Guest Hotels giving you breakfast and evening snacks. Very good value.

    • Mr Dee says:

      how many points did you require?

      • It was a few years ago but if I recall correctly it was about 10000 points for four days. It was at the Sheraton universal in Los Angeles. It is something you need to do with Starwood Guest over the phone, not with the hotel

  3. I’ve been looking more closely at the SPG website today. Is the 50% off rack rate for 1,000 points worth investigating? And how do you identify the rack rate anyway?

    • Problem is you can only book these by calling and very few hotels make them available. Rack is ‘Best Flexible’ rate.

  4. Alan Baikie says:

    Thanks for the info Rob. Was just wondering if you or anyone else has any idea as to how long it takes to move Starpoints to Emirates Skywards?

    • No idea. Some SPG transfers can be monumentally slow, my record is 28 days to Lufthansa.

      Amex MR to Emirates is instant.

      • Alan Baikie says:

        Thanks – I’ll keep waiting – I transferred the Amex MR first and did indeed find out it was instantaneous

  5. Not much use after August, but if you were thinking of transferring over American Express Membership Rewards to Starwood SPG points, I found it to be super quick.

    It was the first time I was transferring. As the online system wasn’t working, I rang Amex on Sunday. They registered my card over the phone, and also took my transfer order.

    I got an email on Tuesday that my SPG number had been successfully linked.
    The points were showing in my SPG account on Thursday morning.

    I was told on the phone that it might be 5-10 working days since it was a new linking/registration, but happily surprised it was much faster!

  6. Jamie says:

    Has 5th night free disappeared?!

  7. Tim Gardner says:

    I have the Starwood Preferred Guest Card where you need to achieve the spend of £15,000 to achieve the Gold Sttaus. We are some way short of the £15,000 and have just noticed that in the small print it says that it willl take up to 16 weeks to get the Gold Status. Does anyone have any practical experience of how long it takes to get this as we stay at a Starwood property at the end of August and it would now be too late to get this. Thank you.

    • I would get an Amex Plat for a couple of months – worth paying the fee for Gold and you’d have travel insurance, lounge access etc over the summer.

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