Starwood has announced its category changes for 2013 (.pdf). Each hotel in their program is assigned to a category which determines how many points a free night costs, and each year they re-assign hotels to categories based on the hotel’s projected average daily room rate.

The new categories go into effect March 5. So we don’t have a lot of notice, but there’s enough time to make bookings now for any hotels that are going to be going up in category (and thus up in price). And that includes speculative bookings, since most award reservations are fairly cancellable, just make sure to cancel within the rules of the reservation if you decide to lock in a lower price now but find you aren’t going to use the reservation after all.

And of course once prices go down for some properties, if you have an existing booking you can in most cases adjust to get points back after the categories change March 5.

About 5% of properties are going down in category and about 20% are going up.

That hurts a bit. I do not like it. But it’s roughly in line with what I’ve expected. Hotel occupancy is up, room rates are up, and Starwood’s award categories are explicitly tied to a hotel’s expected room rates in the coming year. They see a continued strong year ahead (there’s some reason to doubt this assessment with respect to the US economy and to Europe, but it’s not many standard deviations off the consensus view).

Most of the top category hotels did not increase. 23 category 5s and 6s drop a category while only 14 current category 5s and 6s go up a category. The inflation is decidedly not at the high end. There are very few cheap points redemptions out there, but the top end expensive properties aren’t being pushed further out of reach for most redemptions.

It’s especially important for the best properties to stay out of category 6 and 7, because many of those hotels draw really high room rates because of their special accommodations such as being all-suites. But once a hotel is all suites in the top two categories, Starwood charges double points for the room you get being a suite. The member gets penalized twice for the same thing — high room rate because it’s a suite, which makes it a top redemption category, and then double the points of that category because it’s a suite. That’s probably my biggest pet peeve of the Starwood program.

The ultra-expensive category 6 and 7 double points properties are the reason that — even after Hilton’s big devaluation — HHonors remains a better program for a handful of aspirational redemptions like Conrad Koh Samui, the Conrad in the Maldives, and Bora Bora Nui.

None of which helps folks going to Hawaii or dreaming of Santorini those hotels have gotten more expensive. But compared to what we’ve seen from Hilton and Wyndham and Priority Club in the past two months this is nothing.

Finally, I found it interesting that the Parker Meridien Palm Springs is going up in category. I wonder if this factors the allegations that that hotel was cooking the books to increase the reimbursements they’d get out of Starwood for award redemptions?

  1. robertw said,

    Its good to know the properties in Egypt are moving down. I did nto see anything as drastic as the moves a few years ago. Some of the peoperties are nothing special moving up: westin sf airport, westin long beach, sheraton orlando resort,shearton park anaheim. I will make some bookings ahead of the changes. Gary is on the ball as always. I see the email alert and get the info immediately!The Hilton changes are painful to those in that program.

  2. peepcn said,

    lots of tourists visited US last year?

  3. Carl said,

    Can’t really complain, since they are fairly transparent every year and still have some hidden gems in Asia at Category 2

  4. iahphx said,

    I saw the list on milepoint and it doesn’t look THAT bad. Of course, coupled with the devaluation of C&P, it’s still a bad year to be a Starwood Preferred Guest. In the USA, the most notable increase I saw was at the Westin La Paloma Resort in Tucson; it has been a steal this winter (especially on C&P) at Cat. 3. Really hard to complain about them moving it to Cat. 4, especially as the property has been getting a makeover.

  5. Zz said,

    @robertw, I wonder why properties in Egypt are moving down…… Maybe the only way to get occupancy when you are fighting for fewer tourists.

  6. Points on the Dollar said,

    If I’ve done the math correctly, this amounts to about a 6% devaluation on the whole; not good, but not as miserable as Hilton or Marriott. And please excuse the shameless link to my analysis:

  7. Glenn said,

    Thanks Gary, doesn’t look that scary based on the properties I’m interested in. Sure the Westin Maui is going up, but the Sheraton Black Rock a mile away isn’t, and honestly all things considered its the property I prefer (location, beach, etc). Livable.

  8. Beachfan said,

    Clearly the least egregious of the major hotel changes. No way hhonors comesclosetobeing as good except for a very few all suite properties.

    What does Hilton have that compares with the Gritti palace ( starwoods top category) using a suite night award?

  9. Gary said,

    @Beachfan actually the ‘least egregious’ would be Hyatt.

  10. iahphx said,

    I am interested in staying at a property on C&P later this year (Port Douglas, AU) that is DROPPING from Cat. 5 to 4. I guess there’s no real way to game this — pay the CURRENT Cat. 4 C&P rate — since the C&P price increase and the category reallocation are scheduled for the same day?

  11. The Miles Professor said,

    So, actually, among the three Caribbean SPG properties, the one in Aruba is dropping. The ones in St. John and Sint Maarten are staying the same. So I’m pretty happy. Actually, it’s nice Aruba property is going down to category 4. It’s not eligible for a Nights and Flights award, which allows you five nights there and 50,000 airline miles on Starwood airline transfer partners for a total of 70,000 Starwood points.

  12. christophe said,


  13. David said,

    I booked the SR Princeville on Cash & Points in Nov, 8k points and $150 per night. I just received notice from Award Wallet that my rate was now 15K and $275 p/n. Have an email out to SPG asking that I get the former rate since I booked it before the increase.

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