Starwood Points Earning Power in Real Travel
One of the primary difficulties in hotel loyalty program-to-program comparisons is the inability to accurately predict the earning power of real hotel travel due to variability of hotel program special offer bonuses for the frequent guest.
Most comparisons simply calculate points earned based on a fixed dollar amount of hotel spending, and adding applicable elite bonuses for the projected number of hotel nights and stays. (See InsideFlyer’s hotel loyalty program comparison from June 2008).
The problem with this method is that it does not reflect the real earning power of points for real hotel stay travel. Starwood Preferred Guest (SPG) generally comes out at or near the bottom in a simple analysis of base point earnings for hotel stays when comparing loyalty programs.
I have been SPG Platinum (qualification is 25 stays or 50 nights in a calendar year) for six years. During that time frame, I estimate more than 80% of all my hotel points earned from hotel stays were bonus points on top of points earned from base spending. That means if I earned 9,000 points from hotel stays through base spending ($3,000 in eligible hotel spending at 3 points/$1 for Gold or Platinum elite members), I estimate that I earned an additional 35,000 points or so from SPG bonuses and platinum-elite amenity gifts (500 points per stay, except 250 points/stay at Four Points brand hotels).
Base Spending is Not Sufficient in an Analysis for Hotel Loyalty Program Comparisons
Most hotel program comparisons only count Starpoints earning power at 2 or 3 points per $1 of hotel spending. (I even did this in my last post when I compared Wyndham Rewards to SPG for hotel-points-to-airline-miles transfers which spurred my incentive to write this piece today.) My actual experience over the past several years shows my Starpoint earnings to be more in the range of 10 to 15 points per $1.00 in hotel spending. (American Express Starwood credit card is not being considered in this analysis).
For example, Starwood had a promotion at the Westin Market Street San Francisco for 5,000 bonus points on a 2-night weekend stay this summer. Rates were $179 for several weekends in August. (This promotion expired August 31, 2008). Base spending in this example is quite small as a proportion of total Starpoints earned for a 2-night stay.
SPG non-elites earn 2 points/$1. Two nights at $179/night = $358 in eligible spending.
$358 x 2 = 716 Starpoints earned based on hotel spending.
5,000 points earned through SPG bonus.
Of the 5,716 points earned for the 2-night stay, only 13% of the Starpoints earned were from the $358 in hotel base spending. This example illustrates the problem with making hotel loyalty program comparisons solely using base spending as the points earning criteria for the guest.
Starwood Platinum-elite guest using example above for Westin San Francisco Market Street would potentially earn $358 x 3 = 1,074 points for base spending; 500 points platinum amenity gift; and 5,000 points for weekend stay bonus = 6,574 points and still only 16% of Starpoints earned are from base spending.
Priority Club Rewards is usually calculated at 10 points/$1.00 in hotel base spending. FlyerTalk members routinely state combined promotional bonuses for hotel stay spending push actual earning ability as high as 30 points/$1.00 and I have seen claims of individuals earning nearly 50 points/$1. This is far above the 15 points/$1 usually used as the earning power of a Priority Club Platinum member (50 nights/year).
Real Travel Comparison of Points Earning in Starwood Preferred Guest
1. FlyerTalk 500 points per night for hotel stays in September (combinable with other promotions)
2. North America 1,000 points per stay during weeknights (Sunday-Thursday); Four Points stays earn 500 bonus points.
San Rafael Four Points 3-night stay from Tuesday September 9 to Friday September 12
Non-elite member Base Earning = $109 x 3 nights x 2 Starpoints/$1 = 654 Starpoints for stay.
Plus Bonus #1: 500 Starpoints/night FlyerTalk bonus = 1,500 Starpoints
Plus Bonus #2: 500 Starpoints for weeknight stay at a Four Points = 500 Starpoints
2,654 Starpoints earned for this stay and 75% of Starpoints earned are from bonuses and not points from hotel spending. A platinum elite would receive an additional 250 points as a platinum amenity gift and 327 additional elite bonus points for 3,231 Starpoints. Only 30% of the Starpoints earned would be from spending based on the hotel rate, yet comparisons of hotel loyalty programs generally only consider hotel spending.
Hyatt Gold Passport standard points earning is 5 points/$1 in base hotel spending. Hyatt also has numerous hotel specific bonuses which can greatly increase member earning power. See my post on Hyatt “G” Bonuses. And as a Hyatt Diamond member, a guest can receive a 1,000 points diamond amenity bonus at many Hyatt hotels. Hyatt Platinum elites earn a Platinum Extras certificate after every three stays for additional bonus points opportunities and other benefits. (The Hyatt website is down as I am writing this so I can’t show a hotel stay example as I had planned.)
In the final analysis of hotel loyalty program comparisons, the points earning is determined by the member’s diligence in looking for promotions, registering for promotions, and booking through the specific links to get the best applicable offers for each hotel stay.
Loyalty Traveler tip: After an initial search of hotel rates for your destination, check the actual hotel property’s webpage and look for the special offers link to see if there are better rates or bonus point offers. PointMaven.com also performs this special offer search task, however, I find it easier to just check the websites of specific hotel properties most of the time.
Traveling with a hotel loyalty plan can mean the difference between earning a free hotel stay after a few hundred dollars in actual hotel spending vs. earning a free hotel stay after thousands of dollars in spending.
Loyalty Traveler is geared to the frequent guest who wants to know how to get more value from your hotel spending and will take the time to find a better deal.