Starwood Preferred Guest Program Review

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With the negative press Air Miles has received the past few months and now Aeroplan set to undergo major changes in 2020…

Many consumers are starting to rethink their travel rewards program.

Starwood Preferred Guest (SPG) is an incredibly flexible travel rewards program that allows consumers to earn “Starpoints” to use on either their next hotel stay or a plethora of other attractive rewards.

In fact, it’s my all time favourite travel rewards program that I once used to fly Maria and I to Paris for 10 days with most of the airfare and hotel expenses paid just with Starpoints.

Read on to find out why it’s so good:

SPG Membership Tiers

The program has 3 different tiers of guests:

  1. preferred,
  2. gold, and
  3. platinum.

Members can achieve a higher level once they reach a required number of completed stays:

  • 10 stays (or 25 nights in one year) for gold, and
  • 25 stays (or 50 nights in one year) for platinum.

Some of the better perks for reaching gold status include:

  • a slight upgrade to your room on check-in,
  • 50% more points per dollar spent on eligible stays,
  • a welcome gift upon hotel check-in (usually 250 points and free wifi), and
  • late checkout (subject to availability).

Why you may want Platinum

Here are some of the top perks for reaching platinum status:

  • best available room upgrade on check-in including suites,
  • upgraded welcome gift upon check-in (usually free breakfast or a local gift),
  • club lounge privileges, and
  • premium internet access.

So far, so good – but what if you don’t stay in hotels that often? Keep reading…

Related: Canadian Rewards Programs – Are You Loyal?

How To Earn Points

Members earn 2 Starpoints per (US) dollar spent for each hotel stay. That increases to 3 Starpoints for Gold and Platinum members.

The program is focused on hotels, but that doesn’t mean there are no other options. Here are some of the other ways you can earn points:

  • Credit card – the SPG Credit Card from American Express (more on this later).
  • Uber – 1 point per dollar spent, or 2 points per dollar spent if you use Uber while you are staying at a Starwood property.
  • Rental cars – 50 points per day at Avis and Budget, 250 points per rental at Sixt.
  • Broadway tickets – points earned depend on the date and show but can range from 50 to 1,900 points per ticket.

The Good

Some positives of the program are:

  1. Reward flexibility – points can be used for hotel stays, flights with no blackouts, room upgrades, event tickets, airline miles, discounted rooms, and more. Because SPG is a true travel rewards program tied to a major brand and not a bank or credit card, usually means its rewards have a much higher value.
  2. Transfer options – points can be transferred to more than 30 airline reward program, most at a better than 1:1 ratio. Amex Membership Rewards transfers are also available at a 3:1 ratio. You can even transfer to your family members living at the same address free of charge.
  3. SPG Moments – the SPG Moments points auction is a cool way to experience a high-end event at a low cost. Many of the experiences are one-of-a-kind and not available elsewhere.
  4. Earning variety – There is variety of ways to earn points, not just at hotels.

The Bad

Some negatives of the program are:

  1. Pricey hotels – Starwood has a wide variety of hotels but their properties are generally higher end so most stays for earning points won’t come cheap.
  2. Points expire – they expire when an account is inactive for 12 months. This is easy to prevent by transferring a small number of Starpoints to another rewards program once a year or simply earning a few points somehow.
  3. Advance booking – paying for a hotel using your points means you have to book in advance and not all participating hotels can be booked online using points.

How To Maximize Starpoints

So you’ve accumulated some points and want to know the best way to spend them. Here are the best ways to supercharge your point value.

Smart Airline Miles Transfer

Airline miles when redeemed effectively, are known to provide incredibly high reward value of 2-3 cents per mile or more. In comparison, most points give you a 1 cent per point value. Tripling the value of your rewards is definitely a good thing.

The really exceptional part though is that you get to choose from more than 30 airline rewards programs to transfer to. That gives you access to almost all major airlines worldwide through alliances and partnerships. By choosing the right airline and rewards program for each place you plan to fly, you can reduce the amount of points required to fly dramatically. It’s a travel hacker’s dream.

Better, when you transfer 20,000 points at a time, you get a 5,000 mile bonus. That’s a 25% increase. Doing this effectively makes transferring to airline miles 1:1.25. This also applies to points earned with the SPG Amex, so it is like you are earning 1.25 points per dollar spent instead of 1.

Hotel Stays

A free night in a category 1 hotel costs a mere 2,000 points on the weekend and 3,000 points on a weekday. That’s worth about $100 right there giving your points a value of 3.3 to 5 cents each. That’s a lot better than 1 cent, eh?

The downside is category 1 Starwood hotels are few and far between. Jump up to category 2 and there are quite a few more. Category 3 and 4 are the sweet spot with 50% of the hotels falling in that range. If you’re wondering, it goes all the way up to category 7 for the most exclusive hotels and resorts.

Bonus: if you redeem your points for four nights at a category 3 or 4 hotel, you’ll get an extra night free for no additional points.

See their full list of SPG hotels here to find one in the category you want. Here’s how many points it costs to stay in each category:

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SPG Moments Auction

The SPG Moments auction is one of the coolest ways to spend your points and it can give pretty decent point value too. The auction is usually filled with items that focus on special treatment of the guest and can include:

The number of points required can range from 1,000 to over 300,000 so you’ll probably be able to find something of interest.

The auction list is updated frequently so you’ll want to check out what is currently available. You can click here to see what is up for grabs.

Nights & Flights

You’ve already seen that both free hotel nights, and transferring to airline miles is a great use of your points. Nights & Flights combines both at an even better value.

You get 5 free nights at a category 3 hotel + 50,000 airlines miles to help get you there for 60,000 Starpoints. You can upgrade that to a category 4 hotel for all 5 nights for an additional 10,000 starpoints.

Redeeming for the 5 night stay and 50,000 miles separately, you’d pay 68,000 points for a category 3 hotel and 80,000 points for category 4 hotel all things considered. That’s a significant points savings boosting your already valuable reward much higher.

The 70,000 point option is exactly what we used for our trip to Paris along with a small top up of American Airlines AAdvantage miles I already had banked.

The Canadian SPG Credit Card

If you’re looking to get the most SPG points for your spending, here is a brief overview of the best credit card for the program.

The Starwood Preferred Guest American Express card is designed for consumers to maximize their points.

Quick facts:

  • Cardholders can earn 2 points for every $1 spent at all SPG hotels (including Marriott).
  • For all other purchases there is 1 point earned per $1 spent.
  • The card has an annual fee of $120.

Related: How To Get A Credit Card Annual Fee Refund

For big spenders, if you reach $40,000 total annual spend, you receive one free weekend at an SPG hotel. If you reach $30,000 annual spend you automatically get upgraded to gold status.

The nice thing about the card is that there are no blackout dates. So you don’t have to worry about certain peak dates being unavailable for points usage – this includes both flights and hotels.

As already discussed, the biggest benefit of this card is the SPG program itself. The ability to transfer the points (usually 1:1) to so many other programs and the incredibly flexibility and valuable reward redemption options are second to none.

Here are the transfer rates for some of the more popular programs:

  • Aeroplan is 1:1,
  • United Mileage Plus is 2:1, and
  • Asia Miles is 1:1.

This is huge for anyone who is thinking of getting the card but already has travel points in a separate program. And as mentioned above, you actually earn more when you transfer points:

You get a 5,000 point bonus whenever you transfer 20,000 points to one of the 30+ airline rewards program partners.

It’s worth noting that on average a point is worth 2-3 cents, meaning you’re getting an extra $100-$150 in reward value just for doing the transfer.

In addition, you get a very nice 20,000 point (25,000 mile) sign up bonus with the card and 10,000 points for each person you refer.

Even with an annual fee of $120, the SPG card still has incredible value for travelers.

For those who don’t stay in hotels when they travel but instead prefer other options like AirBnB or booking hotels on Priceline, the ability to transfer points to airline reward programs means you can still earn a decent return on the card without staying at hotels when you travel.

What Are Your Favourite Travel Rewards?

Leave a comment and let me know what your favourite travel rewards are. After reading this guide to Starwood Preferred Guest, would you consider making the switch?

Disclosure: Some links in this article may be affiliate links. We're letting you know because it's the right thing to do. Here’s a more detailed disclosure on how HTS makes money.

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