This post is part of the “Beginners' guide to hotel points” series, and will also be duplicated as placed as a permanent page in the navigation bar above. The intended readership is for total beginners based within Europe, and highlights the most important things a beginner should know.
Despite being a major player in the hotel loyalty programmes industry, Starwood is actually one of the smaller brands with only 1,100 hotels worldwide (though 300 more are set to open in the next 2 years), and around 170 of them in Europe. Its 9 brands include Sheraton, Le Meridien, Aloft, Four Points, Westin, W Hotels, The Luxury Collection, St. Regis, Element.
SPG's membership is divided into 3 levels:
- Preferred Guest — 0 nights or 0 stays per year
- Gold Preferred Guest — 25 nights or 10 stays per year
- Platinum Preferred Guest — 50 nights or 25 stays per year
Platinum has three ‘flavours' as such. To distinguish between those who marginally qualify and those who, it seems, spend their entire year in SPG hotels.
- Platinums who stay 50 nights in a year receive 10 confirmed suite upgrade vouchers to use.
- Platinums who stay 75 nights in a year will trigger the earning rate of 4 points per USD plus the “Your24” benefit, whereby you can check in and check out in any 24 period you want…very handy if you are only going to arrive at your hotel at 3am!
- Platinums who stay 100 nights in a year will receive their own SPG representative to handle their bookings, restaurant reservations or anything else to do with SPG…though if I were on the road that much I'd probably have my own system and methods in place and wouldn't want anyone else screwing with it!
The full list of benefits are listed on SPG's website, but my point of view is simply: if you're after points only then Gold is enough, since Gold and lowest level Platinum earn the same amount (3 points per USD); If you also care about upgrades and hotel lounge access then you will need Platinum.
Do Award nights count for elite status qualification?:
Yes they do. All nights and stays, no matter how you paid for them, will count.
Shortcuts to higher levels:
It is also possible to do a ‘Platinum Challenge' in which you complete a 18 nights within a 3 month window. To register just email firstname.lastname@example.org. Unfortunately award nights, even cash and points bookings, do not count towards qualification under the Platinum Challenge. If you succeed in a challenge you will not be eligible for another one so pick your timing carefully.
If you own an American Express Platinum charge card, then SPG Gold is given to you free of charge, and you won't drop below Gold for as long as you hold the AMEX card. Even if you cancel the AMEX card then you
In addition, if you own a UK-based American Express SPG credit card and spend £15 000 within one year on it, then you are given SPG gold for free too. Here's the application link
SPG offer lifetime Gold if you have stayed a combined 250 nights and have held Gold for any 5 years. These don't even have to be consecutive! Similarly with Platinum you need to have stayed 500 nights and held Platinum for any 10 years.
Now the interesting part is that if you hold SPG status by virtue of having a credit card account, then this counts towards your lifetime status years! You would still need to stay the necessary nights though.
Staying at hotels (the normal way!)
Preferred Guests earn 2 base points per USD spent on the hotel bill, or USD equivalent if the bill was in a foreign currency, whilst Gold and Platinum members earn an addition 1 bonus point per USD. Be aware that when there are promotions which claim to “double your points” or wording to that effect, it's almost always the base points that are used to calculate your bonus.
So for instance if you were a Platinum member, spent 500USD on a stay and enrolled in a double points promotion, you would get:
- 1000 base points
- 500 Platinum bonus points
- 1000 promotional points
The most efficient way remains to apply for one of their credit cards (here is the link for residents of the UK again) and trigger the bonuses.
SPG runs quarterly promotions which you should always sign up for. Sometimes they can earn you a huge amount of points for staying certain nights or other specified patterns, more often it's just to give a small boost to your points balance. Even though you'll find a large amount of points will come from these promotions, don't keep relying on this as a source of points income.
There are multiple ways to spend points, and are listed on this official page. Except there are only three ways to redeem I'd recommend from a “value-for-points” perspective.
Free night awards
Typically the sweet spot of value for these types of awards comes from “cash and points” rates in category 2 or 3 hotels where you can easily offset €0.03 per point. Otherwise you may be better off redeeming a standard award night or the “5th night free” award on more expensive properties.
Transfer to miles
For every 20 000 SPG points you transfer into air miles, you can earn an extra 5 000 points as a bonus. Since there is a maximum transfer of 79 999 points within a 24 hour period, for large transactions you should split them over a few days and transfer no more than 60 000 at a time.
I should point out that because of this transfer, SPG can be seen to hold their value very well. Even if SPG start charging more for their hotel rooms, the fact you can still change them into air miles at a better than 1:1 ratio eats up the competition any day.
This works simply as an auction for the particular prizes on offer, and your SPG points are the currency you deal with. Some people I know have gone to Formula One races with little over 5 000 points!
Without going too much into detail, I hope that covers the most important points for a total beginner to get started and reach a proficient knowledge in SPG very quickly. There are many more technicalities with which I'd be delighted to bore you to death, but for now, happy points gathering!