Apr192010

SPG Free Nights FAQ (with LT commentary)

Here is a Loyalty Traveler analysis of the SPG free weekend nights promotion running May 1-July 31.

I have interspersed totally unrelated photos from my Friday drive to Big Sur between the Starwood promotion Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ). Friday was one of those perfectly gorgeous days on the California Central Coast with 70 degree temperatures and incredibly clear skies.

Unfortunately there are no Starwood Hotels anywhere near the Monterey Peninsula or Big Sur coast.

St. Regis Monarch Beach is a category 6 Starwood Hotel near the beach at Dana Point in southern California.

 

Promotion Basics

Three eligible paid Starwood hotel stays from May 1 through July 31 earn one free weekend night good for any hotel with the exception of 16 hotels in the 1,000 property Starwood Hotels chain. Promotion weekend award nights must be redeemed by December 19, 2010.

1. Registration is required for this promotion by the date of June 30.

Starwood Preferred Guest Registration link. (registration is not active at time of writing.)

Garrapata Creek, Cabrillo Highway 1, Big Sur coast, California

2. Reservations booked before promotion registration are eligible for earning free night credits as long as part of the stay falls in the promotion period from May 1-July 31. Only one eligible night is required to make the stay eligible for earning free night credit. For example, a Starwood Hotel stay from April 28-May 2 or July 31 to Aug 2 will count.

Rocky Point, path from Rocky Point Restaurant on Highway 1 South to Big Sur

 

3. Earned free nights should be credited to your account within three to five days of your third eligible stay. You can check free weekend night availability online. If a room is available using points, then a free weekend night room should be available. Redemption period begins May 7 and ends December 19, 2010. 

Garrapata Creek Bridge, Cabrillo Highway 1, California

 4. US and Canada members may redeem free weekend nights by calling 888-625-4988. Elite members should call their dedicated SPG elite line listed on your SPG elite card. Members in other locations should call their regional Starwood reservations center.

  

5. Definition of weekend: Most locations use Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, however, many countries define the weekend as Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights.

Members may redeem their Free Weekend Night Award for any Friday, Saturday or Sunday except in select Middle East and African countries where redemption will be for any Thursday, Friday or Saturday: Algeria, Bahrain, Chad, Djibouti, Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Kuwait, Libya, Morocco, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Tunisia, United Arab Emirates and Yemen.

Rocky Creek Bridge 1932, Cabrillo Highway 1, Monterey County, California

 

6. Multiple free weekend night awards may be combined for a multi-night hotel stay.
 
For example: Here is a Loyalty traveler type strategy that may work for some frequent guests. Stay 18 or 21 times during the promotion period and you can redeem six or seven free nights for a week-long luxury vacation. Even if you do not travel for work, you can probably plan some two or three night getaways, and if there are a couple of cheap Starwood Hotels around, then pick up some cheap weekend stays even if you really do not need a hotel room.There are 92 nights and 14 weekends for earning free night credits during the May 1-July 31 promotion period. A member could potentially earn 30 free nights. But assume you made 15 stays over 15 nights for an average of $100 per night. You can earn 5 free nights for about $1,500. Assume that you actually get hotel value and enjoyment out of at least half these stays. Use your five free nights for a luxury hotel stay and you can easily get back the $1,500 value in free nights while having several other short hotel staycations or mini-trips. The basic rationale is one free weekend night may actually be worth more than the cost of three cheap hotel stays. Some travelers will find 20 nights in hotels, including a free five night luxury hotel vacation for the same price as a paid 5-night luxury hotel stay to be a great travel strategy. Others won’t.

Secluded beach on Big Sur coast, Monterey County

7. Free night awards can be combined with paid nights for a multi-night stay. The paid nights will count for earning points and elite credit and qualify towards a free night credit if during the promotional period of May 1-July 31.

For example, a member might stay nine times in May and June and then redeem three free weekend nights Friday through Sunday night in Hawaii during mid-July. Add a paid night for Monday night at the same hotel. The paid night will count as one stay credit towards another free night.

Beach at Rocky Creek, Big Sur coast, Monterey County

8. Free weekend nights cannot be combined with other award nights for a fifth night free award. For example: SPG allows a member to redeem points for five nights with a 5th night free award. A category 5 hotel at 12,000 points per free night takes only 48,000 points for a fifth night free award. You may combine free weekend nights with additional points for an extended stay, but you will not qualify for a 5th night free award.

In the Hawaii example above, the member could redeem three free weekend nights and then spend another 12,000 points for the Monday night on a four night hotel stay. But you need another 12,000 points for a 5th night.

Hurricane Point looking north to Monterey Peninsula, Cabrillo Highway 1, Big Sur Coast

9. Free Weekend Award nights are not transferrable, but you can book multiple rooms for a single stay. Regular award nights using points are transferrable. For example: I frequently redeem award nights using my points for my parents’ hotel stays. I can’t transfer my free weekend award nights from this promotion to my parents for their stays. But, I can book multiple rooms at a hotel using free weekend night awards for my parents as long as I am also a guest using one of the free weekend night award rooms. (Booking multiple rooms is not actually mentioned in the official SPG promotion FAQ, but I’ll keep it here unless I learn differently.)

10. Free Weekend Award night reservations may be cancelled and re-credited to your account as long as cancellation occurs within the hotel’s cancellation policy window.

Priority Club offered free nights last summer, but the Priority Club primary restriction was no cancellations on free night award bookings. If you cancelled, you lost your free night credit. 

Last summer I earned 8 free nights with the SPG free weekend nights promotion and I cancelled several of my free night reservations as I shifted my travel plans around to match the best redemption opportunities.

Pay close attention to the hotel award cancellation window. Some hotels will be day of arrival, most are likely the day before arrival, but some resorts may require as many as seven days before arrival to cancel without penalty.

Last year there was an issue of rack rate cancellation penalties which I think Starwood Hotels addressed after many member complaints. For example, I had a stay at the St. Regis San Francisco that was upgraded to a Metropolitan Suite and my cancellation forfeiture policy was listed as $1,500 per night for the hotel. I wasn’t about to miss that hotel stay as a no-show!

11.   Members will earn points on incidental spending during hotel stays using free weekend night awards.

Loyalty Traveler Note: Keep an eye on your account after free weekend nights with incidental spend to be sure the points post. Award stays frequently are not posted by hotels even when there is incidental spending. If your free weekend nights stay does not post and you had incidental spending for restaurant, room service, etc., then call the hotel to get your points posted.

12.   Free nights must be used by December 19, 2010.

13.   Free weekend nights are not valid at these SPG category 7 hotel properties: 

  • The St. Regis Punta Mita Resort, Punta de Mita, Mexico
  • Sunset Key Guest Cottages, a Westin Resort, Key West, FL, USA
  • The St. Regis New York, USA
  • Santa Marina Resort & Villas, Mykonos, Greece
  • Mystique, Santorini, Greece
  • Hotel Cala di Volpe, Costa Smeralda, Porto Cervo, Italy
  • Cervo Hotel, Costa Smeralda Resort, Porto Cervo, Italy
  • Hotel Pitrizza, Costa Smeralda, Porto Cervo, Italy
  • Hotel Romazzino, Costa Smeralda, Porto Cervo, Italy
  • The St. Regis Mardavall Mallorca Resort, Spain
  • Hotel President Wilson, Geneva, Switzerland
  • The St. Regis Bora Bora Resort, French Polynesia
  • Le Méridien Bora Bora, French Polynesia
  • The St. Regis Bali Resort, Indonesia
  • W Retreat & Spa-Maldives, Maldives
  • Pine Cliff Residence, Albufeira, Portugal (category 6 all suites hotel) 

Pine Cliff residence is an all suites category 6 hotel, but free weekend nights are only valid for standard hotel rooms. 

 

Loyalty Traveler Example of a Hotel Hop

One of the most basic questions asked about these kinds of promotions based on hotel stays is: 

“Can I check-out and then check back in the same hotel with a different reservation to get two stays?”

No you can’t. 

Consecutive days at the same hotel will count as the same hotel stay regardless of check-in and check-out. The hotel hop is a common strategy. Last year I earned several free nights from San Francisco Bay Area hotel stays. Here are some examples of what I did.

  • Westin St. Francis, Friday night
  • The Palace, Luxury Collection, Saturday night.

These hotels are about three blocks apart in downtown San Francisco. Checking out and checking in to a new hotel wasted about an hour of time, but the benefit of a free night at the St. Regis San Francisco after two stays made the mid-day hotel change worthwhile. This year it takes three stays for a free weekend night.

In January this year I stayed at the Grand Hyatt San Francisco on a Thursday night, Hyatt Regency San Francisco Friday night, and back to the Grand Hyatt on Saturday night. I earned three hotel stay credits. 

These are examples of hotel hopping and perfectly acceptable for maximizing hotel stay credits for the free night promotions. 

Another strategy is checking into a hotel and leaving. I have also done this strategy of checking in, going up to the room and snapping a couple of photos and picking up some soap and shampoo, and then leaving the hotel. Hotels require you to check-in, but not necessarily check-out. I have always received stay credit and I have never been charged extra for not properly checking out. 

Feel free to leave a comment to ask any additional questions not covered in this post.

View from Rocky Point, 13 miles south of Monterey

Cliff's edge at Rocky Point looking across iceplant down to blue sea

About Ric Garrido

Ric Garrido of Monterey, California started Loyalty Traveler in 2006 for traveler education on hotel and air travel, primarily using frequent flyer and frequent guest loyalty programs for bargain travel. Loyalty Traveler joined BoardingArea.com in 2008.

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Comments

  1. Any thoughts on redeeming at the new W in Koh Samui, Thailand. It’s cat 6 and supposedly “all suites.” Assume they’ll try to block this one out too…

  2. When SPG did this last year, many of the popular Category 6 hotels became unavailable towards the middle of the redemption period (e.g. St. Regis San Francisco and Dana Point). For those with enough Star points, do you think it’s possible to reserve a room now using points and later switch as we accumulate the free nights? Thanks.

  3. I don’t expect as severe a problem getting into premium properties as happened last year. First, folks will be earning fewer nights thanks to the three stays required to earn one free night. Second, the redemption period is into Dec, rather than the end of Sept. Still, it’s important to think strategically. When you start earning your free nights, book wherever you think will be difficult to redeem. Last year, Starwood Lurker said that St Regis Monarch Beach was one of the top five in demand for these free nights. I remember both it and the Westin Verasa Napa (because of its two night weekend stay requirement) being the most complained about on FT in terms of getting free nights.

  4. Paul and Sean – You can book a room using points and attempt to swtich it to a free weekend night. The official SPG FAQ addresses this situation.

    There is a potential problem though. You have to cancel the points reservation and rebook through customer service using the free weekend night.

    The problem is some other member could be trying to book that same hotel and grab your reservation as the Starwood customer representative is making the change.

    I had this happen last year when switching one of my free weekend night reservations. The room was there when I decided to change my reservation, but someone else got it during the process of changing.

    Carol says how some properties were difficult to get last year using free nights. I stayed at both the St. Regis Monarch Beach and the Westin Napa last year using free weekend nights. One of the advantages of the SPG promotion is the free weekend nights can be cancelled and therefore the inventory is always changing. Check the hotel you want frequently for availability.

    I would certainly take the risk of using points and making the switch. Someone else could grab it, but not necessarily that great a risk. You improve your odds by making the switch at a low call volume time. Call very early in the morning or late in the evening rather than in the middle of the work day when you decide to change and there will less chance someone else is trying to book the same hotel at that time.

  5. Thanks Ric. Near the top of the blog, you state “Three eligible paid … stays”. What constitutes an “eligible” stay? I assume you have to book at the Starwood site; however, are Starpick rates elegible? Starpick rates are almost always the lowest (when offered) but they are prepaid and nonrefundable. Since Starwood is notorious for being punitive for no-shows, do you know what happens if you book a Starpick rate and can’t make it to the hotel?

  6. “Eligible rate” is the actual promotion term.
    Basically any paid rate is an eligible rate as long as it is made through Starwood channels. Exceptions are Cash & Points, airline voucher and employee rates, and rates through third parties. If a rate shows up on the Starwood site when you search rates then it is eligible.

    Starpicks rates are certainly eligible for the promotion.

    Also any rate matched by Starwood as a Best Rate Guaranteee claim is eligible. I just booked a Westin hotel room for $99 through a BRG claim that I found at EasyClickTravel.com through Kayak.com when the Starwood site showed the lowest rate as $159. I get the $99 room and 2,000 bonus points.

    Starpicks is a prepaid rate and if you are a no-show, then you lose your money.

    The one general rule that all the hotel loyalty programs tend to follow is to require the member to check-in to the hotel in order to receive hotel stay credit.

    I have never had a problem getting credit as long as I completed hotel check-in at the hotel. Sometimes I do not actually stay at the hotel. I have always received credit even when not officially checking out of the hotel.

  7. Ash – Yes I pay for the room. The point is you can buy a prepaid room, but you get no hotel stay credit unless you check in. No shows do not earn hotel stay credit, even if you are charged for the room night.

    The point is not that I need the room for the night, but the hotel rate is low enough that I might drive by a hotel and book a room night, check-in and then go home or get on a plane or something.

    Paying $75 for a room that earns points, elite stay credit, and a promotion bonus is often worth the money even if I do not stay the night.

    For example, if I had two Starwood hotel stays that qualify for a free night and I need a third stay before the promotion ends, then my $75 night earns a free night. Spending $75 to earn a free night that I can redeem for a $400 per night room at a later date is a good investment.

    I do not like to spend money for hotel rooms that I do not use, but sometimes the promotion bonus is worth the cost.

  8. Don’t forget the Westin “stay 2 nights Sun-Thurs. for a $100 Amazon gift card” promotion ending May 13th.

    I plan on grabbing my second Westin night (good for the gift card) and my first of three Starwood nights this weekend.

    Stay six different stays at a Westin (thurs – sun) by May 13th, get two free Starwood weekend nights plus $300 in Amazon credit – what a score!

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