A Guide to the Starwood Preferred Guest (SPG) Program

Hey all,

Today I’m going to write about the Starwood Preferred Guest (SPG) Program. We’ll go through the ins and outs of the program. Buckle up and enjoy the ride!

1. Overview

First the basics:

  • Starwood has 1,300+ properties across the world. They range from mid to upper tier properties and have excellent hotels.
  • Starwood was acquired by Marriott hotels and the programs are expected to merge together in 2018. Marriott intends to keep all the brands going for now, but it’s likely that the loyalty programs will combine and fold into Marriott Rewards.
  • SPG Points are some of the most valuable in the industry because of the plethora of transfer partners. They are very flexible and almost always useful. Even if you never stay in a SPG hotel, the points are very valuable.

That’s why there’s such a rush right now to sign up for the Amex SPG cards (Personal, Business) – there are record high bonuses for both cards (35,000 points each!) that end on April 5th, 2017, so I’d recommend you cash in and get the points. There is a real risk that these cards are discontinued later this year or in 2018 if the portfolio folds into the Chase Marriott portfolio.

2. SPG Status Levels

Okay, so let’s dive into the hotel benefits first. SPG has three basic levels: Preferred, Gold, and Platinum. Here’s a chart from their website with the overview:

Preferred is the entry level status once you register for the program. Gold you get after 10 stays at a hotel or 25 total nights. The basic Platinum level is earned after 25 stays or 50 nights, and there are additional benefits at 50 nights, 75 nights, and 100 nights. Here is the benefits chart: 

Looking at the chart above, here are the key points:

  • You can get credit towards points/elite status at every level on both paid stays and on award nights. You can use SPG points to book nights anytime, though the rates vary on the load.
  • Gold members get 250 bonus points at check-in, and Platinum members get a 500 point bonus.
  • Free internet when booking through the SPG website/apps. You generally need to book through the website/app to earn points and night credit, so this is a great add on.
  • 4-PM late checkout
  • Enhanced room for Gold members. Platinum members get suite upgrades and lounge access, which are huge parks.

You can generally get breakfast at properties that have it, even if you choose the welcome gift, though it’s not guaranteed like it is at Marriott, Hyatt, and other chains.

3. Additional Tiers

As I mentioned before, there are actually four tiers to Platinum. Let’s discuss them below:

“Normal” Platinum (25 stays, 50 nights)

This has the benefits described above – suite upgrades at check-in, Platinum welcome gift, lounge access, 3-4 Starpoints per dollar spent at SPG hotels, etc.

50-night Platinum (25 stays, 50 nights)

This is the same as above except you have to qualify by staying the 50 nights. Upon hitting 50 nights, you can select one of the benefits described here:

  • 10 Suite Night Awards (allows you to upgrade one night to a suite)
  • The gift of Gold status for a friend or family member
  • One Free Night Award (category 1-5 only)
  • Five Elite-Qualifying Nights
  • SPG donation to UNICEF
  • 40% off your favorite hotel bed

The suite night awards are redeemable until the end of the following year and probably the best perk here, although gifting Gold status is also useful.

75-night Platinum

Similar to the normal platinum, except you earn 4 points per dollar on stays, and you get Your24 perks, which allow you to pick your check-in and check-out times based on availability. Not very useful in my view.

100-night Platinum (Ambassador level)

After 100 nights in a calendar year, you get assigned a personal SPG Ambassador. This person can handle all your bookings and customize things to your liking. I’ve never experienced this personally but it sounds terrific. Marriott has started a similar service post acquisition.

Overall, SPG Platinum is the big tier in the program. Once you’re Platinum, you’re getting great service and suite upgrades and living the high roller life. Everything beyond that is nice but not a big difference in experience unless you hit Ambassador level, which is a whole tier of personalization in itself. 

4. Hotel Properties

As for the hotel properties, our friends at LoyaltyLobby have this infographic up:

The St Regis and Luxury Collection properties are truly aspirational and feature amazing suites and locations. I’d compare it to a Ritz Carlton or a Park Hyatt type property. St Regis properties in Asia are some of my favorite places to stay because you can get a really nice suite upgrade as a Platinum member and they always have massive buffets and great service.

The “W Hotels” are in the Luxury category but they are closer to the Upper/Upscale tier in my view. They do feel more modern and cater to a younger, hipper audience. They have a very cool decor and style. Just check out the W Los Angeles – West Beverly Hills:

This is President Obama’s hotel of choice in LA.

The Westin and Sheraton properties are solid workhorse properties. Great service, good lounges/rooms, and pretty consistent service. La Meridien properties always have unique layouts and decors and have a more boutique/artsy feel to them.

On the lower end you have Aloft, Element, and Four Points. I haven’t stayed at a Four Points but have been to various Aloft and Element hotels and they are always nice, clean, and reasonably priced. You don’t have breakfast or fancy suites or really any big Platinum benefits, but they’re always a good option for a tighter budget.

Overall, the Starwood hotels are excellent. I started staying at Starwood properties much more after the Marriott/Starwood status announcements, and have loved the quality of the properties and the service – always consistently good.

Here is the award chart for redeeming free nights:

Category 1 and 2 properties require 1,000 fewer Starpoints on the weekends, so the rate becomes 2,000 and 3,000 respectively. The top tier properties, the category 6s and 7s, require an exorbitant amount of points given the difficulty of earnings these points. For Category 3-7 properties, if you book four nights, you get the fifth one free. The rates can also go much higher depending on the property and rooms. For example, Suites can add 30,000-35,000 points to your total, so properties like the St. Regis Bora Bora go for 60,000 points a night.

I think the redemptions costs are pretty high for Starwood hotels so I prefer to save them for airline redemptions, which we’ll discuss in the next section.

5. Partnerships

Delta

SPG and Delta have the Crossover Rewards Program. It provides reciprocal benefits for elites of the programs. SPG Gold/Platinum members earn 1 point for every dollar spent on a Delta flight, and SPG Platinum members get elite benefits on Delta like Priority Check-In, Priority Boarding, first checked bag free, and complimentary upgrades. All are valuable except there’s basically zero chance of you being upgraded after all the Delta elites.

Delta SkyMiles Diamond, Platinum, Gold, and Silver members earn 1 mile for every dollar spent on room rate at SPG properties. Diamond and Platinum members also get 4pm late checkout, in-room internet, and an upgrade to an “enhanced” room at check-in. It’s similar to Gold benefits without the welcome gift or extra points on spend.

This is a pretty solid benefit for elites of both airlines.

Emirates

SPG and Emirates have Your World Rewards, which is very similar to the Delta program, except with Emirates’ airlines. The tiers are a bit different, and you also don’t get a free checked bag.

Note that you can only enroll in one of these programs at a time. So if you earn with Delta, then you can’t also earn points on Emirates.

China Eastern

SPG and China Eastern recently launched Eastern Explorer Rewards in December 2016. The perks are slightly different from the above programs so I’ll just copy/paste the description below:

The key differences from the other airline partnerships are that SPG elites get access to the China Eastern business-class lounge and only earn 1 bonus point for every 4 Eastern Miles points earned. China Eastern elites get 2 Eastern Miles points for every US$1 spent at SPG hotels/resorts, and also get discounts on dining at hotels in China.

Airline Partners

This is the biggest benefit in my opinion. You can transfer SPG points at the following ratios to dozens of programs. Basically all of them are 1:1 transfers. The full table is below:

Frequent Flyer ProgramExchange Ratio (Starpoints -> Miles)
Aegean Airlines1:1
Aeromexico Club Premier1:1
Aeroplan/Air Canada1:1
Air Berlin1:1
Air China Companion1:1
Air New Zealand & Air Points65:1
Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan1:1
Alitalia MilleMiglia1:1
All Nippon Mileage Club1:1
American Airlines AAdvantage1:1
Asia Miles1:1
Asiana Airlines1:1
British Airways Executive Club1:1
China Eastern Airlines1:1
China Southern SkyPearl Club1:1
Delta Air Lines SkyMiles1:1
Emirates Skywards1:1
Etihad Airways1:1
Flying Blue1:1
Gol Smiles2:1
Hainan Airlines1:1
Hawaiian Airlines1:1
Japan Airlines Mileage Bank1:1
Jet Airways1:1
Korean Air Skypass1:1
LAN LANPASS1:1.5
Miles and More1:1
Qatar Airways1:1
Saudi Arabian Airlines Alfursan1:1
Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer1:1
Thai Airways Royal Orchid Plus1:1
United Mileage Plus2:1
Velocity Frequent Flyer1:1
Virgin America Elevate1:1
Virgin Atlantic Flying Club1:1


Air New Zealand is 65:1, so there’s no reason to ever transfer that way. Gol Smiles and United MileagePlus are both 2:1 as well, so it’s not ideal to transfer.

The big benefit with SPG is that if you transfer 20,000 points, then you get a 5,000 point bonus. So transferring 20,000 points to JAL Mileage Bank for example will lead to 25,000 JAL Miles. That effectively makes the transfer ratio 1:1.25, so you should never transfer unless in 20,000 mile increments or you really need to top things off.

You have to transfer in 1,000 increments and you can only transfer 60,000 Starwood points in a 24 hour period. The other catch is that the transfers aren’t instant (unlike Chase Ultimate Rewards or Amex Membership Rewards). So if you need to book an award on an airline, you usually have to request the transfer weeks in advance.

There are amazing SPG redemptions present here. For example, flying from San Francisco to Frankfurt in Lufthansa First class will cost you 110,00 United miles at the saver level. But if you transfer 40,000 Starpoints to Asiana, you’ll earn 50,000 Asiana miles (20,000 + 5,000 bonus X 2 = 50,000), and Asiana only requires 50,000 miles for a SFO->FRA First class flight. Literally half the points – it’s an amazing redemption!

SPG also lets you use the points to book flights, but those redemptions are terrible. Never book a flight directly with SPG.

Amex

Amex owns the SPG portfolio. You can read about the cards in this article. I own both the Personal and Business SPG cards and would recommend getting both. They are excellent cards and a great way to earn Starpoints given the difficulty of earning Starpoints. I can’t do justice here but again check out this article to get the full details.

The Amex Platinum card also gives you SPG Gold Status, which in turn gives you Marriott Gold Status.

Marriott

As I mentioned earlier, Marriott acquired SPG last year and is working to integrate the programs. As part of that, you can link your accounts to get reciprocal benefits. Your highest status gets matched, i.e. if you’re SPG Gold but Marriott Platinum, then you’ll receive SPG Platinum status. You can also transfer points from Marriott to SPG at a 3:1 ratio or vice versa. So 1,000 Starwood points become 3,000 Marriott points and the reverse is also true.

Many people, myself included, believe SPG is going to go away next year and everything will become Marriott Rewards. Until then, it’s worth it to accrue SPG points and try to maximize SPG redemptions. Of course nobody knows what is going to happen next year, and it’s possible the programs will continue in isolation the way the Marriott and Ritz-Carlton Rewards programs are linked but separate.

One of the biggest benefits of the merger is Marriott Travel Packages . According to the website, you can use 270,000 Marriott points redeemed for 132,000 UA miles plus 7 consecutive nights at any category 1-5 Marriott property! So you can transfer 90,000 SPG points into 270,000 Marriott points to redeem this package. You can also transfer to dozens of other airlines at varying rates, generally getting 120,000 miles out of the transaction. A big win indeed since you’re using up 90,000 SPG points and also getting a week’s worth of hotel stays.

6. Conclusion

Overall, SPG is an excellent program with great hotels, flexible redemptions and aspirational properties, and incredibly flexible points. The status is truly valued at Starwood’s top notch hotels and in their airline partnerships, and the points are great for travel. It’s unclear what the future of SPG is, but we know the hotel brands will continue for now, so that’s a relief. I’ll continue on as a Marriott man if SPG does go away, but I encourage you to make full use of this program while it’s around and providing great benefits.


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