Today (September 19, 2014): Travel Series: Starwood Hotels’ loyalty program (SPG) explained.
Starwood Preferred Guest (SPG) is the complimentary loyalty program of Starwood Hotels & Resorts. Members earn Starpoints and exchange them for valuable rewards when they stay at one of the 1100 hotels & resorts, across Starwood’s 11 brands in more than 100 countries: Le Meridien, Aloft, Four Points, Westin, the Luxury Collection, W hotels, Sheraton, Element, Tribute Portfolio, Design Hotels, and St Regis.
St Regis, W Hotels, and The Luxury Collection are Starwood’s luxury hotel brands.
In this overview, I explain the SPG loyalty program:
- Membership tiers
- Earn points
- Redeem awards & travel for free
- Pros & things I like about SPG
- Cons & things I don’t like about SPG
- Our reviews of Starwood’s luxury hotels around the world
- Key points
- Poll: what’s your favorite hotel loyalty program?
SPG: MEMBERSHIP TIERS
SPG is a top class awards structure offering a three-tier system of awards points. Preferred level is the first level. Gold is the second level and Platinum is the top-level. Each level has benefits and as the member moves from Preferred to Gold then Platinum, they become more valuable.
- Preferred Guest is the base level and will earn you 2 Starpoints for every eligible U.S. dollar spent at Starwood’s hotels & resorts. For bookings made online on the SPG website, Preferred Guests will also receive complimentary standard WiFi.
- Gold Preferred Guest is reached after completing 10 eligible stays or 25 eligible nights in a calendar year. Eligible paid stays (or nights) and award redemption stays (or nights) count toward elite status earning. As a Gold member, you’ll receive more than a Preferred Guest:
- 3 Starpoints for every eligible U.S. dollar spent – a 50% bonus over base-level membership.
- 4 p.m. late checkout, so you can sleep in, relax by the pool or see more of the local area you’re visiting.
- An enhanced room at check-in, when available.
- Special elite customer service telephone line (available in most countries).
- Choice of a welcome gift with each stay: Starpoints, complimentary in-room high-speed internet access or a complimentary beverage.
- Internet: free standard internet with no conditions if you select it as your welcome gift, or free high-speed internet if you book via spg.com.
- Platinum Preferred Guest, SPG’s highest level, is reached after completing 25 eligible stays or 50 eligible nights in a calendar year. Eligible paid stays (or nights) and award redemption stays (or nights) count toward elite status earning. As a Platinum member, you’ll receive more benefits compared to SPG’s lower tiers:
- 3 Starpoints per eligible US dollar spent, a 50% bonus over the Preferred level.
- Upgrades to best available room at check-in, including Standard Suites.
- Your choice of a welcome gift with each stay: bonus Starpoints, continental breakfast, or local amenities.
- Club- and Executive-level privileges where available.
- Complimentary in-room high-speed internet.
- 4 p.m. late checkout, so you can sleep in, relax by the pool or see more of the local area you’re visiting.
- Access to Hotel’s health club or gym where available.
- Guaranteed room availability when your room is booked by 3 p.m., 72+ hours prior to arrival.
- SPG signature Platinum Concierge service (call 888-625-4991 and the SPG staff will help you arrange just about anything regarding your visit).
- After 50 nights per calendar year, you will receive 10 Suite Night Awards which can be redeemed for upgrades to suites and select premium rooms. Upgrades are confirmed starting 5 days prior to arrival and are subject to availability.
- After 75 nights per calendar year, you will earn 4 Starpoints for every eligible US dollar spent – a 100% bonus over the Preferred level, and the richest earning bonus in the hotel industry. In addition, you will have the flexibility of choosing your check-in: for example, check in at 9 p.m. and check out 9 p.m. day of departure.
- After 100 nights per calendar year, personalized service – a so-called SPG ambassador – is provided. The SPG ambassador handles everything from room preferences to restaurant reservations to special occasions. Just tell them what you need, and they’ll work to make it happen any day of the year.
SPG: EARN POINTS
There are a couple of ways to earn Starpoints and boost your SPG account.
- Earn Base Points when you stay at a hotel of the Starwood Hotel Group. SPG members earn 2 Starpoints for every eligible U.S. dollar spent at Starwood’s hotels & resorts.
- SPG elite members (Gold, Platinum) automatically receive extra Bonus Points on all the Base Points they earn: a 50% bonus once they reach Gold status, and a 100% bonus once they complete 75 nights per calender year.
- Several times a year, SPG launches great promotions that allow you to earn double or triple Starpoints on your stays. Subscribe to the SPG newsletter and/or miles & points bloggers to stay updated about promotional offers.
- You can earn Bonus Points with selected merchandise, such as Starbucks and iTunes to name a few. You can find the list of SPG partners here.
- Elite SPG members (Gold, Platinum) also earn 1 Starpoint for every dollar spent on eligible Delta and Emirates flights .
- SPG members who link their SPG and Total Rewards accounts can earn Starpoints (2 Starpoints for every eligible $1 charged) and elite qualifying night credits for stays at Caesars Entertainment hotels, including Planet Hollywood, Caesars Palace, Paris and more.
- You can purchase Starpoints to add to your account, or use as gift, employee or customer incentive. Click here for more info.
- You can also increase your Starpoints balance with your credit card:
- You can transfer program points from the American Express or Diner’s Club Rewards Programs into your SPG account to increase your Starpoints balance.
- The Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card from American Express is one of the fastest ways to earn Starpoints (only available in USA, UK, Canada and Japan)
SPG: REDEEM AWARDS & TRAVEL FOR FREE
- You can redeem Starpoints for free or discounted hotel nights at Starwood’s portfolio of hotels. The number of Starpoints needed for a free or discounted night will depend upon the SPG category of the hotel (SPG hotels come in 7 categories). It typically takes just 3 stays to earn a free night award at a lower category hotel.
- You can redeem free nights without black dates, starting at just 3000 Starpoints for a night at a category 1 hotel to a minimum of 30 000 Starpoints at a category 7 hotel.
- You can stretch your Starpoints with “Cash&Points” and book a seriously discounted hotel room using a combination of Starpoint and cash. Cash&Points nights start at just 1200 Starpoints + $25 for a night at a category 1 hotel to a minimum of 15 000 + 275 US$ at a category 7 hotel.
- Award stays do count toward elite status qualification.
- When you redeem 4 nights at select hotels and resorts, then your 5th consecutive night is free.
- You can also use your Starpoints to upgrade to a higher room category, where available, for as few as 1,000 Starpoints or to a Suite for as few as 3,000 Starpoints.
- The SPG airline transfer program allows you to convert Starpoints to frequent-flyer miles on over 30 major airline partners (mostly on a 1:1 basis), where you can redeem them for free plane tickets or upgrades. With most airlines, you get 25,000 miles for every 20,000 Starpoints converted, including a 5000 conversion bonus.
- With SPG flights, you can redeem Starpoint to fly on more than 150 airlines, with no blackout dates. You will need more Starpoints to book a flight as compared to transferring them to an airlines’ frequent flyer program and book a flight from there, but you will not face the standard restrictions that limit most frequent-flyer awards. Plus, you can book airline tickets for every period, even during peak periods such as holidays.
- You can use your Starpoints to bid on money-can’t-buy experiences and events with SPG’s member exclusive online auction site.
- SPG members can redeem Starpoints for stays at Caesars Entertainment Casinos and Resorts. This includes destinations such as Las Vegas, Atlantic City, Lake Tahoe and more, with hotels like Planet Hollywood, Caesars Palace, Paris, Harrah’s, Rio and others. In addition:
- Registered SPG members earn 2 Starpoints for every eligible $1 charged to their hotel folio at Caesars Entertainment hotels (in addition to Reward Credits earned through Total Rewards, Caesars Entertainment’s award-winning loyalty program).
- Registered SPG members earn credit toward SPG elite qualification for redeemed and paid Caesars Entertainment stays, up to 10 nights per calendar year
- You can redeem Starpoints with SPG’s merchandise partners for products and gift certificates/cards (amongst others: Avis, Sixth, Amazon Starbuck, and Banana Republic).
- You can donate your Starpoints to one of SPG’s charity partners.
- You can turn your Starpoints into free train travel with Amtrak Guest Rewards.
- You can redeem your Starpoints for in-hotel indulgences (at selected Starwood hotels) from a massage to dinner and more. Simply ask which ‘instant awards’ are available when you check in at your hotel, as instant awards vary by property.
PROS & THINGS I LIKE ABOUT SPG
- The Starwood Hotels’s portfolio is very impressive, with an unrivalled collection of luxury properties. St. Regis is one of the most exclusive ultra-luxury hotel brands in the world, followed by W hotels/Design Hotels/The Luxury Collection in the more modest luxury segment, Westin/Sheraton/Le Meridien/Tribute Portfolio in the middle, and Aloft/Element/Four Points on the lower end. Discerning travelers will love SPG, but in fact, there is something for everyone.
- SPG has one of the best run Best Rate Guarantee programs, which means you will always get the best available rate at Starwood Hotels when you book your stay on an official Starwood sites. If you find a lower rate prior to, or within 24 hours of, booking your hotel room, simply submit a Best Rate Guarantee claim to SPG to honor that lower rate, with a choice between an additional 20% discount or 2,000 Starpoints. Finding a better rate is not difficult at all, as you can read in my tips for booking a room at a luxury hotel at the cheapest price. You can earn tons of free Starwood points this way (2000 per stay).
- If you share an address, you can share Starpoints! Members of the same household can move Starpoints between accounts, so you can collect Starpoints faster to a redemption of your choice.
- Starpoints won’t expire as long as you show account activity once per year.
- WiFi is complimentary as long as the reservation is made on the Starwood website.
- The list of SPG’s airline partners is impressive and the 1 : 1 conversation rate of Starpoints into miles is unmachted. In addition, you receive a 5000 mileage bonus when you convert 20,000 Starpoints into miles. As a consequence, one of the single best value of Starpoints is to transfer them to an airline partner and book free award tickets or upgrades.
- Unlike most loyalty hotel programs, you do receive stay (or night) credit for award stays (or nights), meaning that these award stays count towards SPG elite qualification.
- If you are staying with friends and/or family at the hotel, you will get stay/night credit for up to 3 rooms at a time as long as they are booked under your SPG account number.
- SPG often launches promos that allow you to earn double or triple Starpoints on your stays, so that you can reach your preferred redemption faster (make sure to read the SPG newsletters when you subscribe to them).
- There are no award blackout dates. As long as there is standard room available, you can book it using your Starpoints.
- You can earn Starpoints for wining and dining at Starwood hotels, even when you are not staying at them. In addition, most restaurants & bars offer (up to 30%) discounts for SPG members. All you have to do is give the waiter your SPG account number. Keep the receipt as a proof in case your Starpoints do not post properly to your account.
- SPG customer service is excellent (IMHO, the best of all the big hotel chains) and available 24 hours a day 365 days per year. Their response rate to inquiries is remarkable fast. SPG can be reached by phone, email, online chat, and social media.
- The program has remained relatively constant for 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.
- Every Wednesday, SPG publishes its SPG hot escapes, featuring great discounts and savings at selected hotels and resorts around the world (for stays over the next 6 weeks). In addition, registered SPG members will receive an extra 5% discount.
- SPG and the frequent flyer program of Delta, SkyMiles, share crossover rewards:
- SPG Platinum and Gold members earn 1 Starpoint for every dollar spent on eligible Delta flights. Plus, SPG Platinum members enjoy elite benefits when traveling with Delta, such as Priority Check-in, Priority Boarding, Unlimited Complimentary Upgrades, and first checked bag free.
- SkyMiles Diamond, Platinum, Gold and Silver Medallion members earn 1 mile for every dollar spent on eligible room rates at over 1,100 Starwood hotels and resorts globally. Plus, SkyMiles Diamond and Platinum Medallion members receive additional SPG benefits at Starwood hotels and resorts, including 4 p.m. late checkout, access to the SPG elite check-in line, complimentary in-room Internet access and an upgrade to an enhanced room at check-in, when available.
- SPG and the frequent flyer program of Emirates, SkyWards, share Your World Rewards:
- SPG Gold and Platinum members earn 1 Starpoint per US dollar spent on all eligible Emirates flights (on top of Skywards Miles). Plus, SPG Platinum members enjoy elite in-airport benefits, including priority check-in, priority boarding and complimentary e-gate access.
- Emirates Skywards Silver, Gold and Platinum members earn 1 Mile per US dollar (on top of Starpoints) for all eligible stays at Starwood hotels and resorts worldwide. Plus, Emirates Skywards Gold and Platinum members enjoy additional benefits at Starwood hotels and resorts, including 4pm late checkout, access to the SPG elite check-in line and complimentary in-room Internet access.
- SPG introduced lifetime Gold and Platinum statuses in 2012. You need to have had Gold or Platinum elite status for certain number of years and meet the numberof nights requirement as well:
- Lifetime Platinum membership requires 500 eligible nights total and any 10 years of Platinum SPG status.
- Lifetime Gold membership level requires 250 eligible nights total and any 5 years of elite SPG status.
- The Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card from American Express is one of the fastest ways to earn Starpoints (only available in USA, UK, Canada and Japan).
CONS & THINGS I DON’T LIKE ABOUT SPG
SPG is my preferred hotel loyalty program, because of the reasons mentioned above. Nevertheless, there are some things that I don’t like that much:
- The major downside is the expensive redemption pricing for its high-end hotels. A free stay at a category 7 hotels needs a minimum of 30 000 Starpoints per night for a standard room (and villas at the W Maldives or St Regis Bora Bora can go as high as 90 000 Starpoints per night). Burning your Starpoints at high-end hotels is definitely not the most economical way to spend them.
- Apart from promos, the number of points that you will earn from stays is rather modest, especially in comparison to other hotel loyalty programs (where you will earn at least 5 up to 10 points for every eligible dollar spent) and considering the number of Starpoints required for Starwood’s most luxurious properties.
- The complimentary internet rules are confusing:
- Preferred (base) level: free standard internet if you book via spg.com.
- Gold level: free standard internet with no conditions if you select it as your welcome gift, or free high-speed internet if you book via spg.com.
- Platinum level – free high-speed internet with no conditions.
- Starwood Hotels are omnipresent in the USA market (good news for USA citizens), but its presence outside the USA is less impressive (although lots of non-American Starwood properties have opened in recent year).
- While Starwood has about double the number of properties compared to Hyatt, its other competitors Hilton, InterContinental and Marriott each have 3 to 4 the number of properties compared to Starwood.
- If you choose complimentary breakfast as a SPG platinum amenity, you will receive a continental breakfast, which is kind of odd when you stay at a resort or hotel where a full breakfast buffet is displayed for other guests.
- Starwood has been acquired by the Marriott hotel group in 2015, making the future of the SPG program uncertain.
MY REVIEWS OF STARWOOD’S LUXURY HOTELS
Click the thumbnail to read our reviews of Starwood Hotels & Resorts around the globe:
- Hotel review: St Regis Resort Mauritius
- Hotel review: Mystique, Santorini (Greece)
- Hotel review: W Barcelona (Spain)
- Hotel review: St Regis San Francisco (California, USA)
- Hotel review: Al Maha Desert Resort & Spa, Dubai (UAE)
- Hotel review: The Westin Valencia (Spain)
- Hotel review: W Retreat Koh Samui (Thailand)
- Hotel review: St Regis Bangkok (Thailand)
- Hotel review: W San Francisco (California, USA)
- Review : St Regis Princeville Resort, Hawaii (USA)
- Hotel review: Westin Palace Madrid (Spain)
- Review: St Regis Istanbul, the city’s most luxurious hotel
- Review: W Amsterdam hotel (Netherlands)
- Hotel review: The St Regis Osaka (Japan)
- Hotel review: The Gritti Palace, Venice (Italy)
- Hotel review: St Regis Mardavall Mallorca (Spain)
- Review: The St Regis Maldives Vommuli Resort
- Review of the largest overwater villa in the Maldives
- SPG is one the best regarded loyalty programs in the world, so be sure to subscribe to it when you stay at a Starwood Hotel.
- Starwood has an impressive portfolio of luxury hotels to earn and/or collect points.
- Always make a booking using a Best Rate Guarantee to collect tons of free Starpoints or throw in an additional 20% discount.
- Always subscribe to SPG’s promotions to speed up your earning rate of Starpoints.
- The best way to spend your Starpoints is to transfer them to airline miles, followed by Cash& Points redemptions at Starwood properties.
- The worst way to spend your Starpoints is to use them for free stays at Starwood’s high-end properties.