Starwood Improves Platinum Benefits….But For How Long?

Most hotel loyalty programs give their top-tier elite status holders the same benefits regardless of how they qualified for their status. If, for example, I qualify for Diamond tier status with Hyatt by completing 25 stays I’ll get the same benefits as someone who qualifies for the same status by staying 50 nights – but this is not the case with Starwood.

Under the Starwood Preferred Guest (SPG) rules, guests attaining Platinum status by staying at Starwood properties for 50 nights or more get an extra benefit over those guests who achieve Platinum status by completing 25 stays. Since 2015, 50+ night Platinum Elites have been allowed to select one extra benefit from the following six options….

  • 10 Suite Night Awards
  • Gift Gold status to a friend or family member
  • SPG® $100 donation to UNICEF
  • $100 gift code (USA only)
  • $85 credit for the TSA Pre✓® application fee (USA only)
  • 4 Uber® ride credits for up to $25 each (In cities with Uber service)

…and the vast majority of guests selected the suite nights option – primarily because it was so much more valuable than the other options they were presented with. Frankly the other options were a little bit underwhelming.

Buy AAdvantage MilesCredit Cards like the Citi Prestige already give credit towards Global Entry and TSA Pre✓

For 2016, however, Starwood is upping its game and refreshing the options available to their 50+ night Platinum Elites. The choices will now be as follows:

  • 10 Suite Night Awards
  • Gift Gold status to a friend or family member
  • SPG® $100 donation to UNICEF
  • Free Silvercar rental of up to 5 days.
  • Free night award at any Category 1-5 Starwood property
  • 5 Elite Qualifying Nights
  • 40% off a Starwood bed, including the Westin Heavenly Bed.

While the first three options are exactly the same as what was offered in 2015, the rest are new and definitely more interesting.

The Starwood Suite Night awards are still the most tempting option but, for those who have had trouble redeeming their Suite Nights, one of the other options may work well.

  • Silvercar rentals are anything but cheap (5 days would probably run somewhere between $250 and $300) and could come in very useful for a family vacation.
  • The free night award at a SPG Category 5 hotel is worth between 12,000 and 16,000 Starpoints (depending on season) and would allow the guest to stay at some nice properties such as the Hotel Bristol in Vienna or the Westin Sydney.

Starwood Hotel Bristol ViennaHotel Bristol Vienna – SPG Category 5 Property – Image courtesy of Starwood

  • The 5 bonus Elite Qualifying Nights may not be as useful as they appear because they only count towards elite status in the year in which the option is selected. I.e the guest will already have 50+ Elite Qualifying Nights so it will only be useful to anyone aiming for 75 or 100 nights with Starwood.
  • If you were planning on buying a new bed then the 40% discount off the ever-popular Starwood bed range could be a big cost saver….but it won’t be much use to those who already have a bed they’re happy with.

With the exception of the 5 bonus elite nights all the bonuses have to be consumed by 31 December 2017…although it’s not fully clear if the free night award has to have been used or just booked by the cut-off date. More details will be available on the SPG landing page from Monday 18 January.

The Elephant In The Room

It’s great to see SPG continuing to make sure the options it offers its top-tier elites are useful and fresh but I can’t help but wonder if this is just going to be a one or two-time-thing.

The fact is that Marriott is in the process of taking over Starwood and, at some point, the two hotel chains’ loyalty programs will almost certainly be merged (probably in 2017) and I can’t see Marriott continuing to offer these benefits.

At the end of November I wrote a blog post explaining why so many Starwood Platinum Elites were against the Marriott take over (Starwood/Marriott Tie-up – Why The Big Fuss?) and in it I showed just how different the two chains’ loyalty systems are. Marriott Rewards is a lot less rewarding (no pun intended) than SPG and, once Marriott has control of SPG, there isn’t that much reason for them to continue being as generous with benefits as Starwood currently is.

There will be a number of readers who will still be hoping that Marriott doesn’t take their SPG elite benefits away but, if you’re one of them, you need to start coming to terms with the fact that your benefits are on borrowed time. Enjoy your SPG benefits while you can but don’t hide you head in the sand – these new options that SPG is providing in 2016 are very nice indeed….but they’re probably the swan-song of a program that will soon be going the way of the dodo.