With all the drama Aeroplan has been going through these past few months…
Many consumers are starting to rethink their travel rewards program.
Starwood Preferred Guest (SPG), which has recently been acquired by Marriott Rewards and is now part of a unified program, is an incredibly flexible travel rewards program that allows consumers to earn points 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 (from before the SPG Marriott merge).
Read on to find out why it’s so good:
The program has 5 different tiers of guests:
- Silver Elite,
- Gold Elite, and
- Platinum Elite
- Platinum Premier Elite, and
- Platinum Premier Elite with Ambassador.
Members can achieve a higher level once they reach a required number of completed stays:
- 10 – 24 nights/year for Silver Elite,
- 25 – 49 nights/year for Gold Elite,
- 50 – 74 nights/year for Platinum Elite,
- 75 – 99 nights/year for Platinum Premier Elite, and
- 100+ nights + $20K qualifying/year for Platinum Premier Elite Ambassador.
Some of the better perks for reaching Silver Elite status include:
- 10% more points per dollar spent on eligible stays,
- priority late checkout (based on availability),
- dedicated elite reservation line, and
- ultimate reservation guarantee.
Extra perks (on top of Silver Elite) for reaching Gold Elite Status include:
- points bonus increases to 25%,
- enhanced room upgrade (subject to availability), and
- in hotel welcome gift in points.
Why you may want Platinum
Here are some of the top perks for reaching platinum status:
- 50% bonus points
- room upgrade on check-in including select suites,
- upgraded welcome gift upon check-in (usually free breakfast or a local gift),
- club lounge privileges, and
- guaranteed room type.
So far, so good – but what if you don’t stay in hotels that often? Keep reading…
How To Earn Points
Members earn either 5 or 10 points per (US) dollar spent for each hotel stay (depending on hotel brand).
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).
- Rental cars – Earn up to 5,000 points on Hertz Rentals.
- Member referral – Earn up to 50,000 points when your friends and family become members.
- Shop Rewards – As part of the Marriott Rewards More, you can earn or redeem for points for your favorite brands.
Some positives of the program are:
- Reward flexibility – they can also be used for hotel stays, flights with no blackouts, room upgrades, event tickets, airline miles, discounted rooms, and more. Because the program is a true travel rewards program tied to a major brand and not a bank or credit card gives its reward options a much higher value.
- Transfer options – points can be transferred to more than 40 airline reward program, most at a ratio of 3:1. Amex Membership Rewards transfers are also available at a 3:1 ratio.
- Marriott Moments – the Marriott Moments are 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.
- Earning variety – There is a variety of ways to earn points, not just at hotels.
Some negatives of the program are:
- 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.
- Points expire – they expire when an account is inactive for 24 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.
- 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 Your Points
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 40 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 60,000 points at a time, you get a 25% increase. Doing this effectively makes transferring to airline miles 3:1.25. This also applies to points earned with the SPG Amex, so it is like you are earning 2.5 points per dollar spent instead of 1.
A free night in a category 1 hotel costs a mere 7,500 points. That’s worth about $100 right there giving your points a value of 1.3 cents each.
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 8 for the most exclusive hotels and resorts.
Bonus: if you redeem your points for four nights, you’ll get an extra night free for no additional points.
|Hotel Category||Points Value|
The exclusive moments offered through this program is one of the coolest ways to spend your points and it can give pretty decent point value too. It 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 list is updated frequently so you’ll want to check out what is currently available. You can click here to see what is available.
The SPG Credit Card from American Express
If you’re looking to get the most 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.
- Cardholders can earn 5 points for every $1 spent at all SPG & Marriott hotels
- For all other purchases, there is 2 point earned per $1 spent.
- Receive a 50,000 point welcome bonus when you spend $1,500 in your first 3 months.
- The card has an annual fee of $120.
This card will give you some great program perks. Silver Elite status is included when you have your account opened, and on your anniversary get a free hotel night at up to a category 5 property!
For big spenders, if you reach $30,000 total annual spend, you’ll be upgraded to gold elite 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 rewards program itself. The ability to transfer the points (usually 3:1) to so many other programs, the incredible flexibility, and valuable reward redemption options are second to none.
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 15,000 point bonus whenever you transfer 60,000 points to one of the 40+ 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 50,000 point sign up bonus with the card.
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 the combined Marriott and Starwood program, would you consider making the switch?