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Beginners Guide to Redeeming Points
- United Airlines (and Star Alliance)
- British Airways Avios (and Oneworld Alliance)
- Hyatt Gold Passport
- Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan
- Starwood Preferred Guest (SPG)
- Club Carlson Rewards
Much like the Hyatt Gold Passport program, the Starwood Preferred Guest (SPG) program is a favorite among points enthusiasts because of the number of hotels that are part of the program and the number of options SPG provides to redeem points. With those increased options also comes complexities, and it can be hard to decide how best to use your points if you don’t know all the options available to you.
Because of the multitude of options, I wouldn’t be surprised if you need to read this in multiple sittings if you’re new to the program. I hope you’ve had your caffeine for the day!
Starwood has nearly 1,200 hotels worldwide, so they’re over twice the size of Hyatt in terms of the number of properties. You can generally find Starwood hotels all over the world including some truly aspirational properties. Like the other hotel chains, their hotels range from the basic and cheap to the upscale and unique. Here’s a list of their hotel brands from the lowest-end (budget) to highest-end (expensive) hotels: Four Points, Element, Aloft, Sheraton, Westin, Le Meridien, W, The Luxury Collection, and St. Regis.
Starwood Preferred Guest (SPG) Program
Starwood hotels are often referred to simply as SPG hotels, even though SPG is just the name of the loyalty program. Like all other loyalty programs it is free to sign up for, which you can do here. There are 3 tiers to the SPG program, plus additional “super” tiers for top-level elites. These tiers and their benefits are listed below.
- Earn 2 points per dollar spent.
- Earn 3 points per dollar spent.
- Complimentary 4pm late check-out.
- “Enhanced” room upgrades when available.
- Choice of extra Starpoints, complimentary internet, or a beverage at check-in.
- Earn 3 points per dollar spent.
- Upgrades to the best available room, including standard suites.
- Welcome gift of either Starpoints, Continental breakfast, or local amenity.
- Complimentary 4pm late check-out.
- Complimentary internet access.
- Club- and Executive-level access and gym access.
- All of the above, plus:
- 10 Suite night awards that can be applied to any reservation for a suite upgrade. These are confirmed 5 days prior to arrival or less.
- All of the above, plus:
- Earn 4 Starpoints per dollar spent.
- “Your24” check-in. This is the ability to check in at any time during the day to have your room for the following 24 hours. If you checked in at 10pm, you can check-out at 10pm the next day.
- All of the above plus:
- A Platinum Ambassador that will provide personalized service and make you happy.
A few years ago the SPG program rolled out new benefits that included the “super” Platinum tiers above plus the ability to earn lifetime status. Luckily this included all stays previous to the announcement because the requirements are somewhat steep:
- Lifetime Gold: Stay 250 nights and have 5 years of elite status (Gold or Platinum).
- Lifetime Platinum: Stay 500 nights and have 10 years of Platinum status.
SPG Platinum Status Challenge
Like some other hotel chains, SPG offers a top-tier Platinum status challenge. Unfortunately it’s not an easy one to attain compared to other programs. Here are the rules and other information:
- You do not need to currently have status with any other program.
- You will not be eligible for the challenge if you have been Platinum in the previous 5 years.
- You must stay 18 nights in a given 90 day period.
- You pick the 90 day window, and it can include the previous month.
- You will not receive any status/benefits during your challenge.
- Platinum status will be granted within a week after completing the challenge.
- If you complete the challenge after April 1, your Platinum status will be valid for the remainder of that year and the following year.
- Only paid nights count towards the challenge. Award and Cash & Points nights do not count.
To sign up for the challenge, email firstname.lastname@example.org and request a Platinum Challenge. Include your SPG account information and when you want your 90 day window to start.
Redeeming SPG Points
There are a multitude of ways to use your SPG points, and this is where the complexity kicks in. There are so many options it’s easy to get confused, but I’ll go through them one by one.
Transfer SPG Points to Miles
One of the biggest benefits of the SPG program is the ability to transfer your SPG points into airline miles with a multitude of partners. Often times when thinking about credit card programs, we think of American Express Membership Rewards and Chase Ultimate Rewards as the best and safest options because of the transfer partners they possess. The SPG program contains more transfer partners than those two programs combined.
To make this benefit even better, SPG essentially offers a perpetual 25% bonus on transferred points. The caveat is that this bonus only applies for transfers done in batches of 20,000 points, where 20,000 SPG points will get you 25,000 airline miles. Note that this benefit only applies to programs where you get a 1:1 transfer ratio.
There are two big downsides to this: 1) The transfer ratio to United Airlines is 2 SPG points to 1 United Airline mile, which is a transfer you’d never want to make. 2) Transfers are not instant, and it can take between 2-7 days for a transfer to complete. FlyerTalk has good estimates of when you can expect a transfer to be completed for a given program.
There are also additional bonuses on rare occasions. American Airlines, for example, had an additional 5K bonus miles for every 20K transferred earlier this year. That meant 20K SPG points became 30K AA miles.
Note that you can only transfer 79,999 SPG points per day, so you’d actually only ever want to transfer 60,000 in a single day to ensure you get the full bonus.
Redeem for Rooms
Here’s where it gets really complicated. Starwood offers a ton of options and some have variations. I’ll go through each one of them here, but let’s start with the award chart (click to enlarge):
5th Night Free
Hotels in Categories 3-7 are eligible for the 5th night free benefit. That is, when you redeem points for free nights at a hotel for 5 consecutive nights, the 5th night is free. For example, at a Category 4 hotel that costs 10,00 points per night, the cost for 5 consecutive reward nights would be only 40,000 SPG points instead of 50,000.
This benefit applies only to Free Nights and not to Cash & Points, which are explained below.
Free night redemptions are easy enough to explain. They range from 3,000 points per night for Category 1 hotels to 35,000 per night for Category 7. Category 1 and 2 hotels also have special weekend redemption rates that are 1,000 points less than weekday rates. A weekend is Friday, Saturday, or Sunday night.
Free nights are available for redemption whenever a standard room is available. You can search for these easily online.
Cash & Points
A popular option is the SPG Cash & Points redemption. It often times represents good value when compared to the cash price of the hotel, and you can get a lot from your points using them this way. It also gives flexibility to those that don’t have enough points to redeem for free nights outright.
The bad news about Cash & Points is that availability is not the same as Free Night awards above. I have seen hotels where not a single night of Cash & Points is available, while others have plenty of availability. The good news is that you can easily search for availability online using their booking calendar.
A new option available under Cash & Points is the ability to redeem for “Upgraded Rooms” and suites for a premium. Redeeming Cash & Points for upgraded rooms may be worth it since the premium is relatively small, but redeeming for suites will rarely make sense for anyone. See my analysis here for more information on this option.
This is one of those sections that can easily be overlooked in the SPG program. An upgraded room will only cost an additional 1,000 – 2,750 SPG points above the free night level. This can be a really good value, particularly if you’re hoping to get a room with a view or get access to an executive/club lounge. But this can also be a good feature for getting a free night when one isn’t available at standard rates.
As I explained in a previous post, the term “Upgraded Rooms” can mean a lot of different things and will vary by property. Every hotel can classify their rooms differently as there’s no real standard or dictionary definition. For example, some hotels have very few “standard” rooms available because they call a room with a better view a “premium” or “upgraded” room, even when the room itself is exactly the same.
If, however, you see there is no room available online using the points redemption option, there very well may be an upgraded room available. The premium of 1,000 – 2,750 points is very small in my opinion, particularly when it could mean getting a room at the hotel you wanted to be at. The only negative with this option is that you’ll have to call SPG to ask about availability as it is not viewable online.
SPG does offer the ability to redeem for suites outright with points, but the cost is almost prohibitive at double the price (100% more) of a free night award. That means you’re looking at up to 50,000 and 70,000 points per night at at Category 6 and 7 properties, respectively. That’s an extremely high amount when you consider that Hyatt charges only 60% more for their suites.
50% off Rack Rates
SPG also has a unique option where they sell certificates for 50% off the rack rate price of a hotel. The cost of one of these certificates is 1,000 SPG points regardless of the Category of hotel you plan to use it for. To be clear, you’d be paying 1,000 for a 50% off certificate. With that certificate, you’d book a hotel room that you’d then pay cash for.
Hotel rack rates are generally extremely high, so this is not likely something you’d be interested in. In fact, you can’t even use it whenever you want. You’ll have to call SPG to ask about availability first, and book over the phone if you wanted to. I’ve not heard of anyone using one of these certificates.
Nights & Flights
This option, only available for Category 3 and 4 hotels, is one where you can get good value and save some points. There are two options, so let’s look at each one separately.
Redeem 60,000 SPG points in return for 50,000 airline miles and 5 nights at a Category 3 property
Let’s see what the actual savings is for this. As we learned above, when transferring SPG points to airline miles you’ll get a bonus of 5K for every 20K transferred. That means to get the 50,000 miles mentioned, you’d normally need 40,000 SPG points.
Free nights normally cost 7,000 SPG points per night, but remember that you get the 5th night free on reward nights. That means 5 nights would normally cost 28,000 SPG points.
If you redeemed for 50,000 miles and 5 nights at a Category 3 hotel separately, you’d be spending 68,000 SPG points. Through Nights & Flights you’ll spend only 60,000, or a savings of 8,000 SPG points.
Redeem 70,000 SPG points in return for 50,000 airline miles and 5 nights at a Category 4 property
Almost the same as the above deal. You’ll get 50,000 miles, which normally would cost 40,000 SPG points. Free nights at a Category 4 property are normally 10,000 points per night, but factoring in the free 5th night means that it would cost 40,000 SPG points for those 5 nights.
If you redeemed for 50,000 miles and 5 nights at a Category 4 hotel separately, you’d be spending 80,000 SPG points. Through Nights & Flights you’ll spend only 70,000, or a savings of 10,000 SPG points.
File this one into the “never use” section right now. SPG Flights allows you to redeem points for flights for roughly 1 cent per point based on the revenue price of that flight. A flight that costs ~$100 would cost you 10,000 SPG points. I think you’d rather redeem those 10,000 points at a hotel that costs $200+. I suppose it’s nice to have this option, but I can’t imagine this one ever being worth it except to those that truly have more points than they know what to do with.
Moments by SPG
Another unique part of the SPG program is the ability to redeem for a multitude of items through the Moments by SPG website. You can find all kinds of things including concert and sporting event tickets, celebrity meet and greets, throwing out the first pitch at a baseball game, and plenty of other VIP-like experiences. Some of the redemptions are auction-based so you’ll have to bid for them, while others are fixed-rate redemptions. Either way there are tons of options that are constantly changing, so it’s worth checking out if these types of experiences interest you.
SPG Credit Card from American Express
SPG has a co-branded credit card like the other major hotel chains, but SPG’s partnership is exclusive to American Express. They offer a personal and a business version of the credit card. The card has an annual fee of $65 (waived the first year) and perks are generally pretty slim.
Cardholders earn 2 points per dollar on SPG spend and 1 point per dollar on all other spend. Cardholders also receive 2 stay and 5 night credits toward elite status. That means cardholders only need 23 stays or 45 nights to achieve Platinum status.
The business card is identical, but the good news is that the credits towards elite status are combined. That means if you have both the personal and business version of the card, you would only need 21 stays or 40 nights to achieve Platinum status. If you have more than one business, you can keep stacking!
The biggest downside of these cards is that they have foreign transaction fees, something that is kind of ridiculous for a global hotel chain. Leave this card at home when you travel abroad.
Best Rate Guarantee (BRG)
SPG’s best rate guarantee is great. The positives are that you can file a BRG claim online, SPG will respond within 24 hours, and you have a choice of a percentage off the lower rate or points. The percentage discount has been updated to 20% off as of 1/5/15, bringing it in line with the other top chains.
The points option is 2,000 SPG points while the lower rate is matched. I value 2,000 SPG points at about $50, so that’s a pretty decent return in my book. It becomes even more worth it to find BRGs on very cheap hotels. I’ve had a BRG where the room rate was $60 and I got 2,000 SPG points back, plus 500 more as my Platinum amenity at check-in. It can pay for itself sometimes!
SPG and Caesars Partnership
SPG and Caesars Entertainment have partnered up, likely in response to Hyatt’s amazing partnership with Mlife in Las Vegas. The SPG-Caesars partnership isn’t as useful and is much more restrictive unfortunately.
- You will earn 2 SPG points per dollar at participating Caesars properties as long as it’s charged to your room.
- You can earn elite qualifying nights (not stays) towards status for stays at Caesars properties, but they’re capped at 10 per year.
- Elite qualifying nights will not count towards lifetime status.
- You can earn a maximum of 100,000 SPG points per year through Caesars.
You can also redeem SPG points for stays at Caesars properties, but it’s rarely a good idea to do so. Instead of having fixed cost redemptions, the cost of the free night is dependent on the actual cost of the room on that specific night. This works out to getting only about 1 cent per point of value from your SPG points, where I value them at at least 2.5 cents each.
You can register and see more details of this partnership here.
You now know the basics (and then some) of the Starwood Preferred Guest program and how you can use the program to your advantage. If you have any questions, feel free to ask in the comments section or by emailing me.