In my other article today, 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.
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.
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 – crazy points pricing of high-end properties compared to earning rate
The longer version:
Whilst it is now on its last legs, with the merger into ‘Marriott Preferred Guest’ (or whatever it is called) coming in August 2018 – although the SPG name will remain until January – Starwood Preferred Guest is very well regarded in the loyalty world.
The programme 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 would never see SPG making unannounced changes overnight or adding 75% to its top redemption pricing band as Hilton did in 2013. The reason was simple – Starwood was a small chain, and people needed to go out of their way to stay with them. Upset them and they will easily walk way.
If you could 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! This benefit disappears after August.)
When you come to redeem, SPG members 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 each year. One recent improvement has been the introduction of double points (2 per £1) for spending at Marriott or SPG hotels.
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. This anomaly will be fixed after August 2018 as some prices are reduced.
You could argue, post the Marriott merger, that there is now no justification for spending Starwood points for high end SPG properties. In London, for example, there are various SPG hotels which require 20,000 points per night or more. However, even the most expensive Marriott Rewards property is only 45,000 Marriott points (= 15,000 Starwood points) so why bother?
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 as they have a box at the 02 Arena. Katy Perry, at the behest of my 10-year old, is lined up for June.
What I don’t like is the limited booking 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. They also had a great bunch of people running the programme – many of whom left after the Marriott takeover, but went on to very good roles elsewhere.
So far it looks as if – post August 2018 – most of the best bits will be retained under the new combined Marriott and Starwood scheme, at least for a few years. Let’s see.
(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.)