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As of August this year Starwood’s loyalty program (SPG) will finally be merged with Marriott Rewards and a new program will emerge. SPG has been a very popular loyalty/rewards programs with those who chose to spend their time at Starwood properties and its passing appears to be saddening a good proportion of this group.
I get that. The program was good to them and who amongst us likes to see a program that we like disappear into history?
I’m not one of this group and I can honestly say that the passing of SPG doesn’t bother me in the slightest. In fact, to some degree, I have a “good riddance” attitude towards the program.
The key thing here is to differentiate between those who spend weeks and weeks in hotels every year (because that’s what their jobs have them do) and people like me who are focused on earning miles and points and using them for trips that we otherwise wouldn’t be able to take.
The first group are often interested in miles and points too but they are, generally speaking, more interested in the benefits afforded to them by the loyalty program…and that’s primarily why this group loves SPG.
SPG has historically offered solid benefits if you earned Platinum status in the program and, as that status isn’t all that hard to achieve, it’s easy to see why people like it so much….and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that.
I, on the other hand, have never though much of SPG (that’s a heretical thing to say in some circles) as I’ve never found it to be a particularly useful program for my needs.
What’s Wrong With SPG?
There are quite a few things wrong with SPG (from my point of view) and I’ll start with the most obvious one:
It has always been hard to earn Starpoints
The only way to earn Starpoints is either by staying at Starwood properties or by spending on the SPG American Express cards and neither are a particularly easy way of earning the currency.
- Starwood has a relatively small footprint so you often have to go out of your way to actually stay at a Starwood property.
- Once you’re at a Starwood property you only earn 2 Starpoints/dollar unless you have elite status (3 Starpoints/dollar if you have Gold or Platinum Status)
- The credit card only earns you 2 Starpoints/dollar at Starwood properties and just 1 Starpoint/dollar on all other spend.
None of the major credit card currencies (Ultimate Rewards, ThankYou Points, Membership Rewards) transfer over to Starwood so building up a large balance of Starpoints is not easy.
That brings me on to my next point:
A lot of Starwood’s properties are overpriced
I’m talking specifically from an award redemption point of view (although I also happen to think that cash rates at some Starwood properties can be laughable).
If you take a look at this simplified version of the SPG award chart you’ll see that Starwood’s better properties cost between 20,000 and 35,000 points per night and that’s a lot of points for a currency that isn’t easy to earn.
The easiest comparison to make is the one between Hyatt and Starwood as both are small-ish chains and both charge around 30,000 points for their top-tier properties….except that it’s a lot easier to earn Hyatt points than it is to earn Starpoints.
Every time I dine out or book travel I earn 3 points/dollar courtesy of my Chase Sapphire Reserve credit card and, with Chase Ultimate Rewards points transferring over to Hyatt at a ratio of 1:1, this essentially means that I’m earning 3 Hyatt points/dollar on spending I make every week (and most days of the week).
It’s so much easier to build up a solid balance of Hyatt poits and I’ve had fun using the all over the world
When I’m not earning 3 Hyatt points/dollar from travel and dining I’m earning 5 points/dollar at office supply stores courtesy of the Chase Ink Business Cash card so I find it pretty easy to rack up a serious number of Hyatt points.
If I was to compare SPG to any other major hotel loyalty chains I could probably make the same (or stronger) argument but the Hyatt example seems to fit quite well.
From the point of view of someone who likes to earn easy points with a view to then using them to book high-end properties there are a number of better programs to work with than SPG….and not only because the properties are overpriced.
There’s another issue too.
Starwood allows its more aspirational properties far too much leeway
As if it wasn’t bad enough that Starpoints are hard to accrue and that a large number of the regular higher end properties are over priced there’s another issue with SPG – the all-suite properties.
Starwood’s most aspirational properties (in places like the Maldives and Bora Bora) are designated as “all-suite” properties and these properties are off the scale.
They’re off the scale beautiful…..
St. Regis Bora Bora – Image Starwood
…but they’re also off the scale with price.
If you think that 30,000 – 35,000 points per night is expensive for a regular top-tier property you should see what these properties charge.
As this Starwood promotion shows the cost of a single award night at one of these all-suite properties can cost up to 90,000 Starpoints – that’s 3x more than a lot of the other top-tier properties which were already considered expensive.
When you consider the fact that you can book the Park Hyatt Maldives for 25,000 points you really have to wonder what management at SPG was smoking were on when they agreed to let these properties charge this many points.
They may as well not be part of the SPG program at all!
The issues with some of the all-suite properties don’t end there.
Unlike with the rest of Starwood’s portfolio you can’t search for award availability or book award nights at these properties online – you have to call SPG up to do that.
Technically you can search for the “lowest standard rate” and, as Starwood has a policy where an award night is always bookable if the lowest standard rate is offered, it will show you where awards are available….but what’s wrong with just displaying award availability just like all the other properties?
No satisfied with charging three times as much for an award night as a regular top-tier Starwood property some of these properties like to pick and choose just what parts of SPG they like.
This means different things at different properties but, essentially, it means that these properties are allowed to ignore benefits that SPG elites would be entitled to at other properties…and that annoys the heck out of me.
These properties should ether be fully in or fully out of SPG, period.
They shouldn’t be allowed to cherry-pick the bits of SPG they like while dismissing aspects of the program which are there to benefit the guests.
I fully admit that I like loyalty programs that I can game or that I can really get good value from without having to go to huge amounts of effort and that’s why SPG has never been of much use to me.
The program’s currency is hard to earn, the top-tier properties are over priced and the highly aspirational properties (which many of us are in this hobby to try to visit) are so expensive that they may as well not be part of SPG in the first place.
I’m happy to accept that there are travelers out there who, understandably, will mourn the passing of SPG because it has been good to them over the years but I’m just not one of them.
If you were looking for good benefits and were prepared to go out of your way to stay at Starwood properties SPG may well have been a good program for you but for the hardcore miles and points enthusiast there have always been far better programs to work with.
I’m not going to miss SPG.