Anyone that knows me, or follows me , knows that I am a die-hard SPG Fan. SPG stands for Starwood Preferred Guest. SPG is the loyalty program for Starwood Hotels. Starwood was recently purchased in a merger by Marriott International, but for the next year will probably remain separate, and for the sake of this article and so I can pretend nothings going to change we will speak about it, and Marriott separately. SPG has 11 brands, that include, St. Regis, Sheraton, Le Meriden, Aloft, Westin, W Hotels, Design Hotels, The Luxury Collection, Four Points, Tribute Portfolio and Element. If you include the Marriott brands, together they have over 30 Brands. This will make the Biggest hotel company in the world. But like I said , for the purposes of this article I will be speaking about Starwood and SPG with their 11 brands.
was one of the finest hotels in the world, yet I really didn’t know that it was part of Starwood, and didn’t know what SPG was. After reading blogs and stumbling across a few things, I was introduced to SPG, and it has been nothing but great ever since! SPG, is generally believed , by most travel experts, to be the absolute best hotel loyalty program, and probably travel loyalty program in the world (with exception of very high, end high spend invitation only programs)! SPG does what many loyalty programs do not do, or do not do well… they cause EXTREME loyalty! Most loyal SPG Elites are very die-hard and feel like they are very honored and cherished by SPG / Starwood!
Here are a few reasons why I feel this way!
SPG Starpoints, is the “currency” for Starwood Preferred Guest program. You earn starpoints for hotel stays and credit card spending with the co-branded Amex SPG card. starpoints are un-arguably to highest value and most cherished travel currency of the all! The Points Guy (TPG) currently values them at 2.5 cents each, which is very high compared to other program’s currencies. I wrote about it here.
Starpoints can obviously be used to at SPG participating hotels (now Marriott properties after transferring 1 to 3), and in my opinion the costs are always quite reasonable. To redeem starpoints for a free hotel night it depends on the hotel category and if its weekday or weeknight on how many starpoints it will take. SPG had 7 hotel categories, category 1 hotels start out at only 2,000 starpoints a night and category 7 goes up to 35,000 starpoints a night. Don’t be fooled by the hotel category in judging the hotel, as I’ve stayed at category 1 hotels that were top notch and category 6 or 7 that were not. Sometimes its more demand than anything that decides the category. For example I am staying in 2 category 1 Hotels in Egypt in the December, but they are Full service hotels with awesome benefits, services, and views. The Sheraton sharm el sheikh and Le Meridien Pyramids are both category 1 hotels, but because of the lowered tourism demand in Egypt I am guessing is why they are category 1.
At the Sheraton sharm el sheikh I will be staying 6 nights and I spent a total of 16,000 starpoints, which is 2,666 a night. That amount looks funny because of 2 reasons, category 1 hotels on the weekend are 2,000 starpoints a night and 3,000 on the weekday. Also, SPG gives you the 5th night free when you book 5 nights using starpoints, I will speak about this in a bit.
At the Le Meriden Pyramids in Giza, I spent a total of 14,000 starpoints for 5 nights, that’s 2,800 a night (again the weekend weeknight and free 5th night makes it look funny).
so for 30,000 starpoints I am getting 11 nights in great properties in Egypt. So don’t judge the hotel by the category because it sometimes, but usually doesn’t match with the service level.
5th Night Free
Another great aspect of SPG (and a few others) is if you redeem points for a 5 night stay, you only pay for 4 nights. This is amazing if you have longer stays! Its automatic, you search for the 5 nights and select free nights, and it will come up with the free night. It looks funny because it wont free night, it averages the cost of 4 nights over 5, but it is free. I am using this 4 times in the next month, so its saving me a lot of starpoints!
Airline Transfer Partners
SPG allows you to transfer to over 30 airlines, most at a 1 to 1 ratio. But one awesome and exciting thing that SPG does is give you a 25% bonus per 20,000 starpoints transferred. For example, if you transfer 20,000 starpoints to American Airlines you will receive a total of 25,000 AA Miles, which is a huge benefit. This extra perk adds a flexibility and added-value to starpoints that other companies just don’t have. I have used this to transfer to AA while there was a promotion going on where AA added an extra 20% so I received 30,000 AA miles for every 20,000 starpoints transferred. I have seen promotions like this a few times.
Earning with Uber, Delta and Emirates
SPG has partnered with Uber, Delta Airlines and Emirates airlines to earn SPG points on spend with those companies, and in some cases like Delta Cross-over rewards, you get a sort of “lite” elite status with Delta if you are SPG Platinum, and vice-versa, giving you priority boarding, etc if flying, or late checkout and more when staying at SPG. If you are Elite with SPG you earn even more points with these companies, especially Uber. I always use Uber and if you are staying at an SPG property and use Uber ,you earn an extra point per dollar spent. It’s a great way to add up your starpoints.
Another great aspect of SPG is the ability to purchase SPG Moments. SPG moments allow you to purchase or bid on things like VIP tickets and VIP box access to concerts at Madison square garden, or Hotpasses and VIP access to Nascar races, and much much more! Someone just paid over 1 million starpoints to throw out the ceremonial pitch at game 7 of the world series. I mean, what other Hotel company values their guests enough to offer such unforgettable experiences? NONE.
I have never purchased one of these moments, but I bid on a Nascar experience for my dads birthday, and I didn’t win, and I almost, and should have bought a chance to meet with The points Guy (TPG) in Dallas a week ago, but I got sidetracked and forgot to buy it. I would love to sit down with him, maybe there will be another opportunity one day.
SPG is not only the best Loyalty program, specifically the recognition of their loyal elites is second to none. SPG offers 3 basic levels with a few sub-levels within the platinum status. Preferred level is the level you start out at, and that basically gets you free internet at their properties and allows you to earn points. Gold is the next level, you reach it by staying 10 stays or 25 total nights. (A stay is check in /check out and can be 1 night or 10 or more, a night is obviously how many nights you actually stay, so 4 stays of 7 nights would qualify you , or 25 stays at 1 night , or any mixture as long as you meet one of those thresholds). Gold is good to have, and gives you certain benefits, but most people strive for Platinum and beyond.(you also receive gold by having the American Express Platinum card)
SPG base Platinum is reached by staying 25 times or a total of 50 nights. Basic Platinum with SPG is great, and gives you MOST of the top benefits like bigger welcome amenity, executive lounge access, free breakfast, upgrades, etc, but there are 3 additional levels within Platinum. Platinum 50, 75 or 100 night. If you reach Platinum by staying 50 nights you get to choose a “benefit” which many people select Suite Night awards. I did last year, but I am not sure if you need them that much because you are usually upgraded to a suite if its available, especially at the 50 to 100 night Platinum level. When you reach 75 nights you get an extra starpoint per dollar spent and “my 24” which allows you to check-in and check-out at any 24 hour window of your choice. and 100 night is the level a lot of people reach for , you get a personal, dedicated Ambassador. Your ambassador gets to know you and that is your one contact to do everything for you, and most of the time your Ambassador contacts the hotel to organize special things for you, for example your favorite flowers, foods, etc, so they will be waiting for you when you arrive, just imagine arriving to your room with mineral water and cashews waiting just because you like them and your ambassador knows it!
I am, will be, and have been platinum, so I will speak of me. As a SPG platinum I am almost always treated very special! Not only by SPG, but at most Starwood Hotels. I am almost always upgraded to some type of Suite if there is one available, and If I am not , and I know one is available, just asking usually does the trick. I am almost always thanked for being platinum, and in general treated as if though all employees truly appreciate the fact that I am so loyal to SPG ( I AM).
If you reach SPG Platinum or above you will see one of the reasons I am and many others are very loyal!
SPG and SPG participating hotels offer a level of Service and appreciation that their competitors do not! Many times I have been awed by Starwood corporate employees (reservations agents, platinum Desk, Twitter Team, etc,), as well as at the property level, at many brands! It would be impossible to mention them all, but I will try to talk about a few of them.
The most recent AWE, came in the form of a FedEx box on my front porch. I looked outside and noticed a FedEx box and it had an SPG sticker on it, so I wondered what it might be. I opened it and it was a beautiful personalized Sheraton Robe. with a note Saying something like “Although amenities may vary at Sheraton Clubs, here is a piece of Sheraton comfort for your home” . I immediately knew they were referring to an off the cuff tweet about a Certain Sheraton club not offering free cocktails when others do, and a lack of consistency a few weeks ago. How awesome is it that they would want to show me they appreciated me over something so little that I had already forgot and was not even angry about to start with. Just shows the level of appreciation and loyalty SPG feels towards their guests as well!
In December I stayed at the St. Regis New York City, which to me is the Hotel of Hotels! It’s the holy grail of prestige, exclusivity, and service in the hotel business! Not only was I triple upgraded ( I did use a Suite night award) to a HUGE palatial Suite being that I was by myself, the thing that stood out to me the most, as a Vegan, is the in-room breakfast they provided me. If there isn’t an executive club or lounge at a hotel , as a Platinum, your entitled to get breakfast in the restaurant, but many properties allow room service too. St. Regis NYC went above and beyond SPG requirements and my expectations, which , again, is why SPG is so great…. the AWE factor. I spoke to the concierge about breakfast options as a Vegan the night before, and she spoke to the chef and said the Chef would love to make a few things and send them to my room, if that would be ok, and I said if course, and boy did he make a few things, and boy was it ok!! I cannot even imagine what this would have cost if I would have walked in off the street, went into the restaurant and ordered all of this at the St. Regis Hotel in NYC… it would have been ALOT, but St. Regis, and SPG are just this way!
Last November, a few family members and I went to Panama for my Nephews 18th Birthday. We Stayed at the Le Meridian Panama. It’s a smaller hotel, but from the beginning to the end, we were WOWED! We was upgraded (No suite night certificates used) to a huge, beautiful “Gold” Suite with magnificent views. When we walked into the room there was a huge bouquet of fresh-cut flowers, a big plate of bon bons , candies and fruit, and a handwritten thank you note , thanking me for being platinum and for staying there, signed by all the employees on staff, which meant so very much to me! The entire stay, no matter the request we were catered to like we were the only guest in the hotel. On the actual night of my Nephews birthday, they presented him with a birthday cake and card, while the entire on duty staff sang happy birthday to him. To be honest, I didn’t care that much about Panama City, but I am seriously considering going back just to stay at the Le Meridian. That tells you how great the service was (Or how crazy I am)!
If I ever have any issues be it on the phone or at SPG properties, things are always swiftly and professional handled! There are of course exceptions, but they are just that, exceptions (may be the reason why I get so upset when stuff goes wrong at an SPG property because it’s so unusual for it to happen!) A quick call , email or tweet is usually all that it takes to fix anything, and instead of attitude or excuses, almost always a sincere apology is offered!
Anymore, at a lot of hotel chains, the staff is just there basically, and they are waiting for their clock out time. At most SPG properties, you get the feeling that the employees have a genuine love for their work, and that they genuinely care about all their guests, not just the elites. I will speak about this a bit, I do not want to give the wrong impression that SPG only cares about their elites, that’s not true. SPG treats everyone like kings, and that is why people are loyal to SPG and build up to be an Elite, in return SPG adds just a bit extra to their most loyal. Even if you don’t plan on becoming Gold or Platinum, it is still well worth it to stay with SPG properties, they are the best for a reason!
I am not sure why SPG does it better than others, and why others don’t follow (apparently Marriott liked something because they didn’t need the SPG hotel portfolio so to speak, as they were already quite large). One thing that may have contributed is Starwood owns and manages/Operates a lot of their own hotels, in comparison to other hotel companies which prefers just franchising their name and not playing an active role in management. Of course some Starwood properties are franchised, but I think most are/were either owned and managed or franchised but managed by Starwood. Marriott has already started selling properties of Starwood, and has made it clear they want to go to mostly franchised. This is a huge mistake in my opinion, because there will be a disconnect that wasn’t there before when you could deal directly with the owner or management.
I would be lying if I didn’t say I was disappointed and scared about the SPG / Marriott Merger. I don’t think Marriott is a bad company by any means, in fact I think it’s a great ran company with great corporate values! Its one of the best companies to work for, and they are very inclusive and responsible. That’s not the point, the point is , they are not SPG, nor do they have the same culture as SPG. I’m not staying at certain hotel companies based on if they are a good company, I am staying because of the way I am treated and how I feel when I stay there. When I stay at Marriott I feel like I am staying at any other hotel. In contrast, when I stay at most SPG properties, I feel like I am staying somewhere I am appreciated, somewhere special, and somewhere I want to be! I hope Marriott learns from SPG and tries to duplicate, the most it can be duplicated, the culture and spirit that SPG has, because in my opinion, and in many other people’s, SPG is by far the BEST!