Starwood Preferred Guest Program
I’ve been meaning to cover the Starwood Preferred Guest Program and the American Express Starwood Card. Now that I’m in the process of booking a hotel in San Francisco, I thought it was the perfect opportunity to illustrate the value of a Starwood point.
What is the Starwood Preferred Guest Program?
Starwood Preferred Guest is a hotel loyalty program that allows you to earn points toward free stays at the following hotel brands: Sheraton, Four Points by Sheraton, The W, Aloft, The Luxury Collection, Le Meridien, Element, Westin, and St. Regis.
The program has three membership tiers:
1. Preferred Guest: Earn two points per dollar spent at Starwood hotels
2. Gold Preferred: Earn three points per dollar spent at Starwood hotels plus get an automatic upgrade at check-in when available, and a 4pm late checkout (if available)
3. Platinum Preferred: Earn three points per dollar spent at Starwood hotels plus get automatic upgrades at check-in (including suites), 4pm late checkout (if available), free internet access in-room, complimentary access to hotel gym and Executive and Club level lounge, and complimentary gift upon arrival
When you initially join the program, you start out at the Preferred Guest level and can get upgraded to Gold Preferred or Platinum Preferred after reaching a certain number of nights or stays with Starwood hotels in a calendar year. If you have the American Express Platinum Card, you can get Gold Preferred status automatically.
In addition to earning more points per dollar spent at the Gold and Preferred levels, two other benefits of having Gold Preferred or Platinum Preferred status are possible opportunities to get upgraded more frequently and getting late checkouts at 4pm (instead of the typical 11am deadline). With Platinum Preferred status, you also get free in-room internet, access to the gym and Executive and Club level lounge, and free gift upon check-in.
Starwood groups their hotels into seven categories. Below are ranges of the amount of points you need to use to get a free night at each of the categories:
Category 1: 2,000-3,000
Category 2: 3,000-4,000
Category 3: 7,000
Category 4: 10,000
Category 5: 12,000-16,000
Category 6: 20,000-25,000
Category 7: 30,000-35,000
To give you some context into the above chart, I typically go for the category 4 or 5 hotels. Think of category 4 as a Westin hotel and category 5 as your W or Le Meridien hotels.
The Starwood Program gives you a number of different ways to redeem your points. Aside from redeeming points for free hotel nights, you can also transfer points to a number of airlines. The good thing about transferring points to airlines is every time you transfer 20,000 points to an airline, Starwood will throw in an additional 5,000 points. So, for example, if you transferred 20,000 Starwood points to Delta, you would actually end up with 25,000 points at Delta because of the Starwood bonus. Below, I’m going to illustrate the value of a Starwood point using 1) Only points to get free nights and 2) A combination of Cash & Points.
The Value of a Starwood Point
For most airline programs and the American Express Membership Rewards Program, the value of a point is about 1 cent per point. Not with the Starwood Program and especially when you are redeeming your points for free hotel nights.
When I was reviewing Starwood hotel options for San Francisco, I was seeing a value of 2-3+ cents per point if booking with all points. See below for the chart summarizing the value of a Starwood point using only points to get a free night.
Alternatively, for some hotels, Starwood gives you the opportunity to book a hotel stay using a combination of Starwood points and cash. Unfortunately, this redemption option is more limited (i.e., it’s not available for all dates or hotels), but when Starwood offers it, you can usually get a very high value for your points.
In reviewing my San Francisco hotel options, the only hotel in which Starwood offers the Cash & Points redemption feature is the Palace Hotel, which is a category 5 hotel. In the summary chart above, you can see that if I used only points to get a free night at the Palace Hotel, I was realizing a value of about 3 cents per point. But with the Cash & Points feature, I can realize over 5 cents per point on this stay! Now that’s a great deal and a good use of my points. See the chart below for the detailed math.
To join the Starwood Preferred Guest Program, you can sign-up here.
In the next couple of weeks, I’ll cover the benefits of the American Express Starwood Card, which is a great credit card that allows you to earn Starwood points even faster. If you’re interested in applying for the card now, you can apply here. The current sign-on promotion allows you to receive 10,000 bonus Starwood points with your first purchase and 15,000 additional bonus Starwood points if you spend $5,000 within six months, for a total of 25,000 bonus Starwood points. That’s the equivalent of about two nights at a W or Le Meridien.
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