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There are lots of posts out there about the credit cards and the SPG program in general (as the card’s usefulness is directly tied to the SPG program), but I wanted to add my thoughts on ten perks of the SPG program that stand out for me. If you are an old pro with SPG this will probably not be new information, but for those of you who haven’t had a ton of first-hand experience with SPG, some of these will hopefully help shed light on why myself and others think the program is so valuable.
Application link: Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express
Application link: Starwood Preferred Guest® Business Credit Card from American Express
1. No blackout dates for standard rooms on points
We may take this for granted since several programs have eliminated blackout dates on standard award redemptions, but I think it is still a huge component of the program. You always hear those who think loyalty programs are a “scam” say you are never able to use your points due to blackout dates. In this case, you can use points for a standard room as long as there is one for sale. That is huge and I’m so glad it is true with the SPG program.
2. Cash and points awards
With Starwood you not only have the option of redeeming your points for a free night, but you have the option of stretching them out further by combining some cash with the points to secure a good deal. These awards are subject to blackout dates, so the only downside is they aren’t always available. Since SPG points can be harder to come by for my family, I really look for cash and points opportunities. Here is an example…I searched for a random date in February 2014 at the Westin Riverfront Resort and Spa which is located very near the Beaver Creek ski area. This hotel is beautiful and is located near the mountain, so not surprisingly it is expensive during ski season.
A non-refundable rate for the night I randomly picked was $314 before taxes and fees. If you wanted a refundable rate it was over $400. To use points that night it would require 16,000 points, at a return of around 2 cents per point. That isn’t that great of a return for a SPG point. However, if you opted to use cash and points you would pay $110 per night plus just 6,000 points. In this example, that means you are getting around 3.5 cents in value for each point you are using by being willing to add some cash to the equation.
A relatively new addition to the program is that you can now also use cash and points to obtain upgraded rooms and/or suites.
3. Nights and flights
One of the best uses for SPG points is via the “Nights and Flights” redemption option. Nights and Flights allow you to redeem SPG points for a combination of frequent flyer miles and hotel nights. It’s kind of like a vacation package of sorts using points. With Nights and Flights, you can redeem 60,000 SPG points for 50,000 airline miles plus five free nights at a Category 3 hotel or resort. With Nights and Flights II, you can redeem 70,000 SPG points for 50,000 airline miles and five free nights at a Category 4 hotel or resort. For example, you can stay at the Category 4 Swan or Dolphin on Disney property for five nights and get 50k American Airlines miles to help get your family there for just 70,000 SPG points. If you and your spouse both got one of the SPG cards, met the spending requirements, and then pooled your points you would have enough to do this off of just two credit cards.
Nights and Flights are only available for Category 3 and 4 hotels, they must be requested at least 14-30 days in advance (depending on the airline of choice), and the selected airline must have a 1:1 points transfer option from SPG.
4. Award stays count toward status
This only matters for those who travel enough to care about elite status, but I find it very handy that reward nights count toward elite status. That makes it easier to use points for vacations without feeling like you are missing out on qualifying or re-qualifying for valuable hotel elite status. I would not personally do this, but if you got one of the current 30,000 sign-up bonuses (35,000 after you include the spending requirement) and wanted to just use them toward Platinum status with Starwood, then you could do 25 cash and points one night stays at a Category 1 hotels for $30 plus 1,500 SPG points per night. That would come to a total of 37,500 SPG points plus $750. Again, not how I plan to use my points, but it would work as an interesting way to get top-tier status with SPG.
5. Fifth Night Free on Award Stays
Another way to stretch the value of your SPG points is to use the “fifth night free” option for Category 3, 4, 5, 6, and 7 hotels. Just like it sounds, you get the fifth night free by just being charged for what the point cost would have been for four nights.
6. Make reservations without having the full number of points
The SPG program will allow you to make a points reservation even if you don’t yet have the number of points required in your account. If you know you are about to get points from a transfer, a credit card bonus, or a stay, you can request to make a reservation without the points and they will give you 7 days to get the points in your account. Obviously with just 7 days you have to be close to getting the points anyway, but sometimes every day matters with award availability.
7. Points transfer between accounts
One thing I love is when programs allow family members to transfer and combine points from different accounts. This can make pricey awards within reach and can ensure that small balances don’t get wasted. SPG allows you to transfer points between accounts as long as both accounts must have been active and with the same address on each for at least 30 days. In fact, my husband and I will need to do this for our next redemption since my balance is getting VERY small!
8. Airline miles bonus
Some people use their SPG points to transfer to airlines with a bonus 5,000 miles added for every 20,000 miles transferred at a time. What that means is that even though you are only earning 1 point per dollar on most charges on the SPG card, you are actually earning 1.25 miles per dollar if you plan to transfer to airlines in increments of 20K to get the 5K bonus. This makes the SPG the most valuable card to use to for everyday spending to earn some types of airline miles, like American Airlines miles.
There are some downsides to this method. First, you need to make sure that your airline of choice is a transfer partner. Second, you need to make sure that the points transfer at a 1:1 to your desired airlines. Some airlines that are available on a 1:1 ratio include: US Airways, British Airways, Delta, and Hawaiian Airlines. You can view the full list here. I do want to point out that United Airlines actually transfers at a 2:1 ratio, so I would not recommend that transfer rate. A final major downside to this method is that the miles do not transfer immediately, so that can be a challenge if you are transferring with a specific redemption in mind. We all know that award availability can change very rapidly, so the award you have your eye on might disappear before your miles appear in your frequent flyer account. I would utilize airline award hold policies when possible here.
9. Reasonable up-charge for suites and non-standard rooms
I recently was trying to make a reservation at a mountain resort and there were no standard rooms available for booking, which meant I may not be able to use my SPG points. However, there were some non-standard rooms available (in this case something like deluxe mountain view) for just 1,000 more points per night. I would have likely scored that upgrade anyway thanks to SPG status, but I was happy to be able to book the “non-standard” room for a reasonable up-charge.
I have also been able to lock-in suites at the time of booking for a reasonable cash upgrade on top of a points reservation. The amount isn’t always “reasonable”, but I have gone from a basic room to a one-bedroom suite at the Westin in Whistler for just $25 per night during ski season. The two-bedroom was just an additional $150/night. That may sound like a lot, but if you are now able to share the space with a second family then it is actually a pretty good deal.
10. Space available upgrades to suites as a Platinum member
Finally, I love that if you do have Platinum elite status with Starwood you can get space-available upgrades to suites on your stays – even if you are on points. My husband has Platinum status, and we have lucked our way into suites on a few occasions now and it is always such a treat. It isn’t guaranteed, but I love that it is possible if one is available at check-in!
What are your favorite components of the SPG program? How do you plan to spend the points from getting the card(s)?
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