Why We Love Starwood Hotels and SPG Reward Points
A few weeks ago, we explained why we love Chase Ultimate Rewards for booking flights and hotels. Although we use UR points to book some hotels, specifically from Hyatt, our preferred hotel chain is Starwood hotels and SPG reward points. Starwood hotels offer the best service and value in our experience. In the past year, Marriott scooped up Starwood and the two companies have now merged. While we are not fans of Marriott at all and were actually mad when we heard the new, the two companies are still operating independently. Starwood has 11 brands underneath it’s umbrella so there are many choices from the basic to the luxurious. When we travel for work or for pleasure, our first option is always to find the Starwood property.
Starwood has a powerful rewards program called Starwood Preferred Guest, also known as SPG to us points junkies. In our opinion, SPG points are the most useful of any hotel rewards program. Not only are the hotel redemptions economical using points, the points can also be transferred to airlines. With the recent merger of Starwood and Marriott, SPG points have become even more valuable. Let’s take a deeper look into why we we love the SPG program.
Credit Cards and Sign-up Bonuses
Starwood offers two SPG credit cards through American Express, a regular personal card and a business card. Both offer sign up bonuses of 25,000 points after meeting the spend requirements. The annual fee is $95 for both cards with the first year waived. If you’re an SPG loyalist or plan to be in the future, this card is a a must own. A bonus of 25k points can easily get you a multi-night stay at Starwood properties.
With the SPG card, we can easily earn 6 points per dollar spent on Starwood hotel stays as SPG Platinum members. Since we travel for work, these points can accrue quickly. One thing to note is that you can apply for both the regular and business SPG card. Applying for a business card is relatively simple. If you have ever sold something on eBay or Craigslist, you can pretty call that a “business”. This is twisting the classification a bit but be as honest as possible about revenue when applying for a business card. It doesn’t hurt you in the application if you stay you earned only $100. If you can snag both cards, you’re looking at 50k SPG points right away!
Ease of Earning Points
SPG points can be earned by staying at Starwood hotels or using the SPG credit card, similar to other hotel reward programs. You can earn 1 point per every dollar spent at Starwood properties. One great thing about the SPG program is that it partners with Delta and Uber to allow you to earn even more points. Now we understand that not everyone likes to fly Delta or use Uber, but if you’re a frequent either programs then we would highly recommend you link these accounts to SPG.
Another way to earn extra points to get status with SPG. SPG Preferred level members can earn 2 points for every dollar spent on hotel stays. If you make your way up to Platinum status, you can get 4 points for every dollar. Another great thing about the SPG program is that you can earn additional status levels above their top tier level, which is currently the Platinum level. You can get additional perks once you hit 50, 75, and 100 nights stayed within a year. At the Platinum 75 status level, you can get an additional point per dollar which adds up to 4 points. Add in a SPG card at the Platinum 50 level and you’re looking at 6 points per dollar spent!
Ability to Use UR Points
With any hotel rewards program, being able to use the points you earn is just as important as the ease to earn. We usually like to do our traveling internationally and SPG just seems to have better hotels for aspirational reward redemptions. Top tier award redemptions will run you around 25k-30k SPG points per night, which isn’t ridiculous. For example, we spent 25k points per night to book a stay at the Vedema Resort in Santorini. Availability was tough to find but had we paid cash, it would have costed us $509 per night! Starwood properties also have awesome sweet spots. In 2016, we were able to snag a 3 night stay at the Aloft Bangkok Sukhumvit 11 (in our featured photo for this post) for just 10,000 SPG points. That equated to 3,333 points per night which was a stellar redemption!
One drawback with Starwood is that it isn’t a large program and doesn’t have that many hotels compared to Hilton, Marriott, or IHG. Thanks to the Marriott merger, that is now a problem of the past. SPG and Marriott points are now transferrable between the two programs at a 1:3 ratio, meaning 1 SPG point equals 3 Marriott points and vice versa. The only reason that we would use Marriott is if there wasn’t a Starwood property where we were traveling to.
Transferring SPG Points
There is a sweet spot though for SPG and Marriott transfers. As of right now until the end of March 2017, you can transfer 90,000 SPG points to Marriott to earn Southwest Airline’s coveted Companion Pass. The 90,000 SPG points will give you 270,000 Marriott reward points. You can then use these points to book a Hotel + Air package through Marriott. When you book the package, you will get a 7 night stay at a category 1-5 Marriott hotel and 120,000 Southwest Rapid Reward points. The 120,000 Rapid Reward points instantly earns you the Companion Pass as Companion Pass only requires 110,000 Rapid Reward Points. Using this loophole will get you the Southwest Companion pass through the end of 2018. If you plan on doing this loophole, you better hurry as Marriott will be shutting this down soon.
Aside from transfers to Marriott, the SPG program also allows you to transfer your points to over 30 airline reward programs. This is a huge plus if you’re looking for a flight redemption but are low in airline miles. Most of the transfer ratios are 1:1 which is spectacular compared to other hotel reward programs. A huge perk of transferring SPG points is for every 20,000 points you transfer, you get a 5,000 bonus on top of it. So if you were to transfer 40,000 points, you would get an additional 10,000 points! Who doesn’t love free points?! One sweet spot of the transferring to airlines is to transfer 20,000 SPG points to Korean Air and then booking a round-trip flight to Hawaii for 25,000 points (since you get a free 5k points). We can go into detail later about this but 25k to Hawaii is a no-brainer redemption.
List of Transfer Partners
|Aeromexico Club Premier||1:1|
|Air China Companion||1:1|
|Air New Zealand Airpoints||65:1|
|Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan||1:1|
|All Nippon Airways (ANA) Mileage Club||1:1|
|American Airlines AAdvantage||1:1|
|Amtrak Guest Rewards||1:1|
|British Airways Executive Club||1:1|
|China Eastern Airlines||1:1|
|China Southern Airlines Sky Pearl Club||1:1|
|Delta Airlines SkyMiles||1:1|
|Japan Airlines (JAL) Mileage Bank||1:1|
|LATAM Airlines LATAM Pass||1:1.5|
|LifeMiles of Avianca||1:1|
|Miles and More||1:1|
|Saudi Arabian Airlines Alfursan||1:1|
|Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer||1:1|
|Thai Airways International Royal Orchid Plus||1:1|
|United Mileage Plus||2:1|
|Velocity Frequent Flyer||1:1|
|Virgin Atlantic Flying Club||1:1|
Quality of Hotels
A major reason that we like Starwood hotels is that almost all the brands are upscale, modern, or luxurious. There may not be as many hotels as Marriotts but I would take the lowest level Starwood brand over any mid tier Marriott any day. Starwood’s luxury brands are, in our opinion, the best compared to the other major chains. The service from Starwood and the SPG program is top notch as they always try to be accommodating with requests. I can’t recall how many times I’ve called the SPG Platinum phone line and had a pleasant conversation with the representative. A call to the Hilton Diamond phone line usually left me with a bad taste in my mouth.
While every hotel chain has their target market and niche, we love the Starwood hotels and SPG reward points above all. We find that Starwood hotels are not only great for business travel, they are spectacular for vacation awards. It’s hard to find anything bad to say about the Starwood, except maybe that there aren’t enough Starwood hotels. We believe that point diversification is a must in the reward points game but when we can earn 6 points for every dollar we spend at Starwood hotels, it’s a no-brainer. Call us Starwood/SPG homers all you want, but we are sticking to them even after the Marriott merger.