2017 Starwood Preferred Guest Review – WalletHub Editors
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Starwood Preferred Guest (SPG) is the brand name used for the Starwood Hotels & Resorts loyalty rewards program. Starwood is among the largest hotel chains in the world, featuring 1,200 properties in roughly 100 countries across its 10 individual brands, which include luxury names such as Westin, Sheraton and W Hotels.
In addition to earning so-called Starpoints for each dollar spent on Starwood reservations and on-property purchases, SPG members also have the ability to accrue free nights while flying, riding or staying with Starwood’s travel partners. Considering these Starpoints are provided on top of any rewards doled out by the partners, which include Delta Airlines and Uber, SPG membership represents an especially significant savings opportunity for strategically minded frequent travelers.
That’s just icing on the cake, though. The real star of the Starwood rewards program is what you get in return for each Starpoint. While most hotel points are worth less than 1 cent apiece, each Starpoint translates to roughly 2.4 cents when redeemed for a free night. In other words, 50,000 points will get you about $1,250 in Starwood reservations, as opposed to less than $500 with another chain.
SPG Rewards Club Pros & Cons
Hotel rewards programs are complicated, often purposefully so. That can make it difficult to identify which purported perks are really benefits or if any value-robbing loopholes are hiding within the fine print. But don’t worry; we’ve done the homework for you. Here’s what we like most and least about the Starwood Preferred Guest program:
|SPG points are worth more than twice as much as most hotel points||Few defined status perks beyond bonus points|
|Members can earn Starpoints when flying Delta or Emirates airlines, riding in an Uber, or staying at a Caesars Entertainment hotel||Annual point-earning limits|
|Ability to earn lifetime elite status||Points expire after 12 months’ inactivity|
|No blackout dates for reward nights (standard rooms only)||Fewer budget locations than other hotel chains|
|Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express offers $600+ initial bonus||-|
How To Earn SPG Points
Unlike some hotel programs, SPG’s earning rates don’t vary based on which of its sub-brands you happen to stay with. Instead, you will earn a consistent number of base points on every dollar spent with Starwood, plus bonus points in accordance with your status level. Here’s how it works:
- Base Earnings: 2 points per $1 spent on reservations and amenities at SPG’s 10 hotel brands
- Bonus Earnings: Gold and Platinum members earn 1 to 2 additional points per $1 spent (see SPG Program Levels & Perks below for more info)
The only distinction between base points and bonus points is that limited-time promotions referencing a point multiplier (e.g., 2X points) apply only to base earnings.
There are a number of additional ways to rack up Starpoints that don’t necessarily require spending money on Starwood reservations or purchases during a stay.
- SPG Partner Purchases: You won’t automatically be enrolled in these complimentary SPG earning initiatives, but signing up is certainly worthwhile if you can include any of the following providers in your travel plans:
|2+ Starpoints per $1 spent on rides when staying at a Starwood hotel; 1 Starpoint per $1 otherwise ($10,000 annual spending limit)|
|1 Starpoint per $1 spent on airfare (Gold and Platinum members only)|
|1 Starpoint per $1 spent on airfare (Gold and Platinum members only)|
|2 Starpoints per $1 charged to your room (does not include gambling)|
- Opening The Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card: Ownership of an Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express account can be a great complement to SPG membership, provided that you have excellent credit. You can learn more below.
- Make A Green Choice: Each day that you decline full housekeeping while staying at a Starwood hotel, you will receive 250 to 500 Starpoints. You can do this for up to three days in a row, but the day you check out can’t be included.
Buying Points: This isn’t technically “earning,” but if you don’t have enough Starpoints to complete your chosen reservation, you always have the option of purchasing the remainder. Starwood doesn’t rip you off on this, either, charging $17.50 per 500 points (about 3.5 cents per point), up to a maximum of 20,000 points.
That’s still more than Starpoints are worth when redeemed for hotel nights, however, so you don’t want to make a habit out of this.
- Transferring Points Between SPG Accounts: SPG members who share the same address can transfer points between their accounts without incurring a fee or losing points in the process. This can come in handy if you want to share a room on the road with a roommate and neither of you has enough points to redeem on your own.
Program Levels & Perks
Entry-level membership in SPG is free, and all you need to do to join is provide some basic contact information and set up an account using your email address. But the more you stay at Starwood hotels, the more valuable your rewards become. Here’s a breakdown of how to qualify and what you’ll get in return.
||Annual Cost To Qualify||Primary Benefits||Secondary Perks||How to Qualify For Lifetime Status|
||Free||2 base points per $1 spent||Every 5th consecutive reward night is free
Complimentary in-room Internet when you book directly through SPG
Up to 30% off at SPG bars and restaurants
||$1,729 (10 one-night stays* $172.88)
10 stays or 25 nights in a calendar year
|2 base points and 1 bonus point per $1 spent||4 p.m. late checkout
Welcome gift at check-in
Free room upgrade
All the perks of Preferred
|250 total nights and 5 years of Gold status|
||$4,322 (25 one-night stays* $172.88)
25 stays or 50 nights in a calendar year
|If you stay 74 nights or fewer in a calendar year: 2 base points and 1 bonus points per $1 spent
If you stay 75+ nights in a calendar year: 2 base points and 2 bonus points per $1 spent
|Complimentary Sheraton Club and Executive-level privileges
Personal SPG Ambassador concierge service after staying 100 nights in a calendar year
All the perks of Gold
|500 total nights and 10 years of Platinum status|
*Costs are based on SPG’s $172.88 average daily room rate as of July 2015, the most recent data available. A stay is defined as a reservation for either a single night or two-plus consecutive nights.
The SPG Credit Card
The Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express (American Express is a WalletHub partner) requires excellent credit for approval and offers 25,000 bonus Starpoints for making $3,000 in charges for the first three months your account is open. You’ll also get 2 points per $1 spent at Starwood hotels and 1 point per $1 on everything else. Its $95 annual fee is currently waived for the first year as well.
For more info about this offer, check out WalletHub’s Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card Review.
How Much Are SPG Points Worth?
The value of SPG points, as with any rewards-program currency, isn’t constant. How much you get from a certain sum of Starpoints varies based on the manner in which you redeem them and when you decide to do so.
Free nights tend to provide the best value. You’ll get an average of 2.42 cents in SPG hotel reservations for each Starpoint redeemed with this option, or $242 for 10,000 points. But, as you’ll see in the following tables below, strategic redemption can still help you get more bang for your Starpoint. Details about other redemption methods can be found in the following section.
Point Values By Time Period & Destination
City-Specific SPG Redemption Rates
|City||Number of Hotels*||Points Needed For A Free Night||Best Values||Worst Values|
|MOST POPULAR DOMESTIC DESTINATIONS|
|Four Points by Sheraton Chicago O'Hare Airport ($141 room for 3,334 points)
Aloft Chicago City Center ($294 room for 10,000 points)
|The Westin O'Hare ($202 room for 10,000 points)
The Tremont Chicago Hotel at Magnificent Mile ($224 room for 10,000 points)
|Sheraton LaGuardia East Hotel ($450 room for 10,000 points)
Four Points by Sheraton Long Island City/Queensboro Bridge ($400 room for 10,000 points)
|W New York - Downtown ($301 room for 20,000)
Aloft Harlem ($243 room for 16,000)
|Four Points by Sheraton Las Vegas East Flamingo ($152 room for 3,334 points)
The Westin Lake Las Vegas Resort & Spa ($186 room for 7,000 points)
|The Westin Las Vegas Hotel, Casino & Spa ($184 room for 12,000 points)
Element Las Vegas Summerlin ($133 room for 10,000)
|The Westin St. Francis San Francisco on Union Square ($515 room for 16,000 points)
Aloft San Francisco Airport ($273 room for 10,000)
|W San Francisco ($426 room for 25,000 points)
The Westin San Francisco Airport ($281 room for 16,000 points)
|Sheraton College Park North Hotel ($151 room for 3,334 points)
W Washington, D.C. ($345 room for 3,334 points)
|Sheraton Tysons Hotel ($126 room for 10,000 points)
The Westin Tysons Corner ($140 room for 10,000 points)
|MOST POPULAR INTERNATIONAL DESTINATIONS|
|Aloft Cancun ($173 room for 3,334 points)||The Westin Resort & Spa, Cancun ($269 room for 7,000 points)
Four Points by Sheraton Cancun Centro ($131 room for 3,334 points)
|The Park Lane Hotel, London ($366 room for 12,000 points)
The Park Tower Knightsbridge, a Luxury Collection Hotel, London ($586 room for 20,000 points)
|Aloft London Excel ($179 room for 10,000 points)
Le Méridien Piccadilly ($430 room for 20,000 points)
|Prince de Galles, a Luxury Collection Hotel, Paris ($847 room for 30,000 points)
The Westin Paris – Vendôme ($500 room for 20,000 points)
|Sheraton Paris Airport Hotel & Conference Centre ($283 room for 16,000 points)
Le Méridien Etoile ($224 room for 12,000 points)
|1||16,000||Sheraton Grande Tokyo Bay Hotel ($243 room for 16,000 points)|
|Four Points by Sheraton Toronto Mississauga ($119 room for 3,334 points)
Four Points by Sheraton Toronto Airport ($103 room for 3,334 points)
|The Westin Prince, Toronto ($152 room for 10,000 points)
Sheraton Gateway Hotel in Toronto International Airport ($165 room for 10,000 points)
*Additional locations may exist but did not allow reward booking at the time this review was completed.
WalletHub compared the cost of booking a room with Starpoints and cash, respectively, in all of the Starwood-family hotels located within 10 miles of the city center in 10 of the most popular travel destinations of 2015. Point prices were obtained through SPG’s booking portal and dollar costs were obtained from Kayak.com. The number of hotels for each city listed above as well as the corresponding redemption values reflect the cost of a single weekend night during the destination’s high season, derived from quotes for a three-night stay beginning on the following dates:
- 2/12/16: Cancun
- 12/11/15: London
- 9/11/15: Washington, San Francisco and Paris
- 8/28/15: Chicago, Las Vegas, New York, Tokyo and Toronto
Starpoints can be cashed in for a whole range of things, from SPG nights and SPG “Moments” to airfare and rental cars. As you’ll see below, points are by far the most valuable when used for reward nights.
|Option||Average Value Per 1,000 Points||More Information|
|SPG Reward Nights (no blackout dates)||$24.20||You can redeem with as few as 2,000 points, but our research shows that the average night costs nearly 13,000 points.|
|SPG Flights||$12.17||You can use Starpoints to book flights on more than 150 airlines with no blackout dates. You just have to book through SPG’s portal.|
|Rental Cars||$14.29||A $50 certificate for Avis or Sixt will run you 3,500 points.|
|SPG Moments||Indeterminable||You’ll have the option of redeeming points for tickets and special access to exclusive events. Some of these “moments” cost a fixed number of points, while others are based on member bidding. According to the SPG website, “moments” can be redeemed for 1,000 to more than 153,000 points.
Here are some examples of what you can get:
|Gift Cards||$10.04||Points can be redeemed for gift cards from 13 companies, including popular retailers Amazon.com, iTunes, Nordstrom and Starbucks. The pricing is as follows (available gift card denominations vary by company):
|Broadway Tickets||$15.49||You can redeem points for any show on Broadway through SPG’s partnership with Audience Rewards. The number of points you’ll need depends on which show you’re seeing and where you’re sitting, but here are a few examples:
Aladdin: 13,800 points
Lion King: 13,700 points
Jersey Boys: 11,300 points
Le Miserables: 13,300 points
|Donate Points||Indeterminable||Points can be donated to SPG’s three charitable partners: Clean the World, American Red Cross, and UNICEF.
With the exception of the Red Cross, to which a $25 donation is made for each 2,000 Starpoints you give (up to 16,000 points for a $200 donation), it is impossible to tell how far donated points really go. Only vague descriptions are provided for Clean the World and UNICEF.
For example, 500 points donated to UNICEF “could provide learning materials (e.g. rulers, erasers, pens, pencils, and books) for a child for a whole year,” according to the SPG website. Yet 1,000 points only “could provide a football that helps children learn through play.”
Transfer Points To Other Rewards Programs:
SPG members have the ability to transfer Starpoints to other travel providers’ rewards programs. There are 35 options to choose from, including Delta Airlines SkyMiles, American Airlines AAdvantage, British Airways Executive Club and Amtrak Guest Rewards.
Most transfers are done at a 1:1 ratio. For example, 1,000 Starpoints would translate to 1,000 Lufthansa miles. Starwood also gives you 5,000 bonus points for every 20,000 points you transfer, so 20,000 Starpoints would turn into 25,000 miles/points and the transfer ratio would increase in your favor. This helps compensate you for the fact that Starpoints tend to be much more valuable than most air carriers’ miles, but not enough.
That, together with the fact that every fifth consecutive reward night is already free for SPG members, helps to explain a lot of the savings you can derive from SPG’s Nights & Flights option. It entails booking five reward nights at an eligible SPG hotel and transferring 50,000 Starpoints to one of SPG’s airline partners for a corresponding flight, promising savings of 18,000 Starpoints when your itinerary includes a Category 3 hotel and 20,000 Starpoints when you’re staying at a Category 4 property. There are a total of 670 Category 3 and 4 hotels in SPG’s portfolio – out of 1,200 overall – and, to be eligible, the airline partner must accept transfers at a ratio of 1 mile for every 1 Starpoint.
Nights & Flights aside, Preferred members must have at least 2,500 Starpoints to complete a transfer to an airline rewards program, while Gold members need 1,500. There’s no minimum for Platinum-level members as far as flights are concerned, but everyone needs at least 5,000 points to transfer to Amtrak.
Only four of SPG’s partners do not accept transfers at a 1:1 ratio:
|65 Starpoints for 1 Airpoint|
|2 Starpoints for 1 GOL mile|
|1 Starpoint for 1.5 Lanpass km.|
|2 Starpoints for 1 United mile|
Pointers & Pitfalls
Loyalty rewards programs can feel like a maze to those trying to get their money’s worth. The potential payoff can be great, but value-draining diversions exist as well. Here are a few tips for navigating Starwood Preferred Guest strategically:
The Best Deals Aren’t Always Obvious: If you really want to maximize the value of your Starpoints, price-out an upcoming itinerary through both SPG’s booking portal and a third-party travel comparison site like Kayak.com. See how the room rates expressed in dollar terms on the open market compare to the Starpoint pricing. This may reveal instances in which you can get more room for fewer points, so to speak.
When comparing SPG reward nights, don’t forget to account for fees and sales taxes, which you have to pay out of pocket. Sometimes two rooms that are equivalently priced in terms of points charge materially different amounts in fees.
- Get The Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express: Generally speaking, frequent travelers who are brand-loyal to a particular hotel chain should open its co-branded credit card. That holds true for SPG members and the Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card. It offers an initial bonus worth more than $600 in reward nights, and will help expand the types of purchases on which you can earn Starpoints.
- Take Advantage Of SPG’s Partners, But Only If The Price Is Right: You shouldn’t ever spend extra money just to earn rewards. In other words, don’t start calling Uber all the time if you usually walk, don’t fly Delta or Emirates if you can find a cheaper fare on a different airline and don’t head to Vegas just for the ability to earn Starpoints through Caesars Entertainment. But if you do such things anyway, it certainly makes sense to enroll for the ability to double-dip on the rewards front.
- Weekday Stays Provide The Most Value: You might file this under “obvious,” but it’s nevertheless important to note if you travel for business or have the ability to get off work for a family getaway. To give scope to this strategy, 50,000 points would be worth roughly $1,255 based on weekday rates for a domestic destination but just $1,190 on the weekend.
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