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We’ve talked a bit on this site about a few of the different hotel chains (Hilton, La Quinta) and their award programs. In each post, we’ve talked a little bit about the (lack of) flexibility of those points. If you have 50,000 La Quinta points, but want to stay at a Hyatt, well, you’re out of luck!
Today we’re going to talk about the Starwood group. Starwood is a conglomeration of a few different brands such as Sheraton, Four Points and Westin. They have a very solid loyalty program just counting hotel stays, but where they shine is that SPG points can be transferred at pretty attractive ratios to almost every airline frequent flyer program out there.
Naturally, the typical thing you would do with points in a hotel’s frequent traveler program is…. use them for free hotel nights!
We’ve talked before in this space about how different hotels require different point values to get a free night. Hilton is probably on the high-end, with a mid-range hotel costing somewhere around 30,000 points for a night. Starwood is probably at the lowest end (which is a good thing!) – their Category 1 hotels can be redeemed for only 3,000 points (and only 2,000 on weekends!)
Starwood is typically on the high-end of hotels, which can be nice. My family and I stayed one night at the Sheraton Suites in Columbus, Ohio
The Sheraton Suites Columbus is a Starwood Category 2 hotel, which means it takes 4000 points for a free night (or 3000 on weekends). Also, as the name might imply, this is a hotel full of (wait for it… wait for it….) suites! So for 4000 points (we stayed on a Friday night), we got a very nice 300 sq ft. 1BR suite.
The only thing I didn’t like about this hotel is that, like many higher-end hotels, what I consider “the basics” in what I look for in a hotel (free wi-fi and breakfast) are not included, so factor that in. We ended up deciding not to pay for it and just went down to the lobby for wi-fi once the kids were in bed, and eating our own breakfast.
Starwood also has a “Cash and Points” option where you can pay partially in points and partially in cash. For Category 2, you have the option of paying 4000 points, or 2000 points + $35.
Another nice feature of Starwood is that award stays count towards generating elite status, making them the only chain that I know of that does that. Unless you are generating a lot of stays through work or other means, I wouldn’t recommend chasing status, but it is a bonus.
One downside to low redemption rates is that it also is a bit harder to get points. The best way to do it is probably the SPG American Express card – link goes to a FlyerTalk thread about it. The best offer I currently know of is 25,000 SPG points if you spend $5,000 over a 6 month period. The card also annually gives 2 stays / 5 nights towards elite status, which is nice if you are going for that. If you didn’t see it earlier, I also did post about a sweepstakes Starwood is currently running that can net you some free nights / points.
As I mentioned earlier, one great feature about SPG points is that they transfer to most airline frequent flyer programs. View the full list here, but it’s 1:1 for most airlines. Most other programs have very limited transfer options, so the ability to go from hotel -> airline is a big win.
The other nice thing about having lots of transfer options is that it acts as a brake against devaluation. The mantra in mile / point collecting is “earn ’em and burn ’em” but if you have your points in something flexible like Starwood, your risk is limited (but not removed). American devalues their award chart? Transfer your points to United! United doesn’t fly where you want? Send your points to Delta.
Starwood is a great program, not only for hotels but also because it’s very flexibility, and in this world flexibility is king.