Nov122010

Starwood American Express Sheraton 3rd night Free Analysis

First a Starpoints Sweepstakes:

SPG American Express is celebrating its new feature for 3rd night free at Sheraton Hotels with prizes for three lucky people from 30,000 to 60,000 points each week for the next three weeks through its Facebook page.

Eligibility is limited to residents of 50 U.S. and D.C. who are 18 years or older at time of entry. There are four weekly entry periods and you may enter one time each week.

11/4/10 – 11/10/10         

  • 3 Prize Winners of 21,000 points
  • (3 nights at Category 3 Starwood Hotel)

11/11/10 – 11/17/10      

  • 3 Prize Winners of 30,000 points
  • (3 nights at Category 4 Starwood Hotel)

11/18/10 – 11/24/10      

  • 3 Prize Winners of 36,000 points
  • (3 nights at Category 5 Starwood Hotel)

11/25/10 – 12/1/10         

  • 3 Prize Winners of 60,000 points
  • (3 nights at Category 6 Starwood Hotel)

 

Loyalty Traveler Analysis of SPG American Express 3rd Night Free at Sheraton Hotels Benefit

ZHA and ZRA are the Promotion Codes for the SPG American Express 3rd night free rates.

SPG American Express Sheraton Hotels 3rd night free booking link

Here is what I wrote in August when first reading about the SPG American Express changes:

Sheraton 3rd Night Free Benefit

The Sheraton 3rd night free offer is not clearly a new benefit as of yet. The restrictions for the ZHA or ZRA are the same as for the current 3rd night free offers. Room is prepaid and you must arrive Thursday through Saturday. The fact that you must use your SPG-AMEX card is even more restrictive than the long available 3rd night free Z3H/Z3R rates.

The 3rd night free benefit will actually be an enhancement only if there is hotel availability using ZHA/ZRA codes for hotels unavailable using the Z3H/Z3R codes. The current 3rd night free offers are available for Sheraton Hotels – as well as other Starwood brands.

 

SPG American Express Sheraton Hotels 3rd Night Free Terms & Conditions (link)

  • Offer valid at participating Sheraton Hotels and Resorts. Offer is valid for reservations booked and completed by December 31, 2011.
  • Offer is only valid for a three-night minimum length of stay.
  • Only available for arrivals at Hotels on Thursday—Saturday using Promo Code ZHA. At Resorts all days of arrival are available using Promo Code ZRA. For every two nights paid receive one night free. Advance reservations are required. Promotion code ZHA or ZRA must be mentioned when making a reservation through the Customer Call Centers.
  • The complimentary third night must be used in conjunction with a full paid two night stay.
  • There are no credits for any unused free nights if the guest checks out early.
  • These offers are based on Starwood Preferred Guest’s best available unrestricted retail rates. Advance purchase required.
  • Credit Card will be charged at time of booking. Reservations cannot be changed, are pre-paid and non-refundable; if cancellation takes place, guests forfeit total room charge, plus tax.
  • Rates are per room, per night, based on single/double occupancy and availability at time of reservation, and do not include additional per room, per night charges that may be imposed or state/local taxes.
  • A limited number of rooms may be available at these rates.
  • Blackout dates and other restrictions may apply.

 

My impressions of SPG American Express Sheraton Hotels 3rd Night Free Benefit

While I like the SPG American Express sweepstakes prizes, I am not impressed with the new 3rd night free SPG card feature.

The prepaid, nonrefundable cancellation policy is far too restrictive for a hotel rate discount offer that is not even a discount compared to other available rates much of the time.

The Sheraton 3rd night free offer will sometimes reduce the hotel rate by several hundred dollars, particularly if you are booking a high category room like a suite. But often you will not generate a significant savings on your hotel stay using the 3rd night free rates, if any savings at all.

That is why I rate this offer just 3-keys in Loyalty Traveler’s 5-keys promotion rating system. These Starwood Hotels discount rates are a route to cheaper hotel rates, but not a very reliable avenue to lower hotel rates.

You should always check for availability of extended stay discount rates like the 3rd night free rate when staying that length of time, but it requires comparison to other hotel rates like AAA and hotel special offers to see if the free night deal is truly the best deal. About half the time, or more than half the time, there will be a lower rate available and you will likely have a more flexible cancellation policy.

Reality Check #1: The 3rd night free is based on a higher rate, maybe even rack rate, and the overall savings will be far less than 33% using this offer when compared to other available rates.

Reality Check #2: In trying to analyze this new feature I found more Sheraton Hotels listed through the SPG American Express booking link returning the message, “The promotion code you requested is invalid.”, than Sheraton Hotels showing a 3rd night free rate.

This happened when I checked San Francisco Sheraton Fisherman’s Wharf for December 3-6. This wouldn’t be surprising if the hotel were booked up, but the room rates are only $119 per night during that weekend.

Reality Check #3: The Starwood Hotels 3rd night free offer has been around for several years for any member to book hotel nights at most Starwood Hotel brands including Sheraton Hotels using promotion codes Z3H and Z3R.

Starwood Hotels Discount Links for Two Night and Longer Stays

The old 3rd night free offers are still around and there are far more hotel choices across Starwood brands. The only thing different now is some of the Sheraton Hotels listed through the SPG American Express 3rd night free link are no longer listed on the Starwood City Hotels  and Resort Hotels discount links.

In my checks of five cities I did not find a bookable Sheraton hotel through the SPG American Express link that was not also on the City Hotels and Resort hotels links. I did find Sheraton Hotels listed on the SPG American Express 3rd night free link that were not on the City Hotels and Resort hotels links, however, I was unable to find 3rd night availability for any of these exclusive Sheraton Hotels I checked.

The 3rd night free rates are the same discount through both the City or Resort links or the SPG American Express booking sites.

Here is what I found for December 3-6 weekend in San Francisco using the Starwood City Hotels rate link shown. The SPG American Express link did not return a bookable Sheraton for this same weekend.

  • Palace Hotel = $538/3 nights (Superior King) (AAA rate = $762)
  • Westin St. Francis = $498/3 nights (Traditional Queen)  (AAA rate = $772.30)
  • W San Francisco = $778/3 nights (Cool Corner Room)  (AAA rate = $1,050)
  • Le Meridien = $518/3 nights (Executive King)  (AAA rate = $567)
  • Westin Market Street = not available for 3rd night free discount

These hotel rate comparisons actually provide a great example to illustrate the savings of 3rd night free discount rates. The weekend I checked happens to have extremely high room rates for a December weekend in San Francisco. I checked the convention calendar and the California School Boards Association is meeting and expected to book 3,000 rooms in the city.

But then again, remember the 3rd night free rates shown here have nothing to do with the SPG American Express card member benefit for 3rd night free at Sheraton Hotels. None of these hotels offering the deep 3rd night free discounts in San Francisco are a Sheraton Hotel.

Which leads me to the conclusion that the SPG American Express card benefit for a 3rd night free at Sheraton Hotels is a credit card marketing magician’s sleight of hand revealing the same Starwood Hotels game piece appearing under a different cup as a new discount benefit. These 3rd night free discounts at multiple Starwood Hotels brands were already available through the City Escapes and Resort Escapes links to all SPG members for several years.

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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