Posted by Ric Garrido

Starwood Preferred Guest has announced a new member benefit effective October 1, 2011 SPG award stays and nights count for elite status qualification toward the calendar year requirement of 10 stays or 25 nights for SPG Gold elite membership and 25 stays or 50 nights for SPG Platinum membership. All award stays including nights on points, Cash & Points award stays, and free nights earned from promotions like this year’s Stay 3 and earn one free Starwood Resort night count as elite qualifying stays and nights.

Award Stays Count for Elite

  • Free Nights on SPG Points
  • SPG Cash & Points Awards
  • Free Nights earned from SPG Promotions
  • SPG 5th Night Free Awards count as 5 elite nights.
  • Only SPG award stays and nights with check-out date October 2, 2011 or later will count. No retroactive credit for 2011.
  • SPG Award stays gifted to another member will be elite qualifying stays for the member who stays on the award and no elite status for the member who gifts the award.

This announcement may be old news to many readers who saw a wikileaks-type pre-release from our own Julian Assange-like hero for the travel loyalty program world. Gary Leff broke the SPG news on Monday, September 26 and then backed up his source in writing when he published a confidential SPG memo to Starwood Hotels General Managers on his View from the Wing blog on Tuesday, September 27.

Starwood Preferred Guest officially announced the new SPG member benefit on Wednesday, September 27 with its webpage “Award Nights Count“.

Loyalty Traveler Analysis

SPG members who regularly earn SPG Platinum with 25 paid stays or 50 paid nights are concerned this change will add competition for suite upgrades from more new Platinum members reaching Platinum elite qualification levels through award stays.

Here are links to FlyerTalk and MilePoint threads discussing the award stays count change.

Some SPG members speculate this change may result in SPG establishing a new higher tier above Platinum elite.

Personally, I like this change for Starwood Preferred Guest.

I have had more than a dozen award stays using SPG points and Cash & Points and SPG promotion award nights in the past year. Too bad this program change isn’t retroactive for all of calendar year 2011.

The change will also be useful for SPG credit card holders who can now redeem Cash & Points awards and Standard Awards while earning elite qualification credit. SPG Cash & Points awards require only 40% of the standard award points cost when supplemented with cash.

 

Gifting SPG Awards

The one term of the new policy that has an interesting new effect is when an SPG member gifts an award stay to another SPG member. I generally gift some Starwood award stays to my parents each year.

Hypothetically a person could be gifted one SPG award stay from 25 different SPG members and qualify for SPG Platinum without ever having spent a penny at a Starwood Hotel. A popular person could become loyalty royalty with SPG on the cheap.

Finding yourself short of elite qualifying stays or nights can be remedied with a little help from your friends and family to get you those few stays needed to make the elite threshold without a big outlay of cash.

Anyone want to sponsor a hotel stay for this loyalty traveler?

SPG American Express Credit Card factor

SPG members with the SPG American Express card automatically receive elite qualification credit each year with two elite stays and 5 elite nights being a complimentary benefit as a cardmember. This means SPG American Express cardmembers need only earn 8 stays or 20 nights in a calendar year to reach SPG Gold and 23 stays or 45 nights to reach SPG Platinum.

SPG members can double up the credit card elite qualification credits by having both an SPG personal American Express card and SPG Business AmEx card to jumpstart elite qualification each year with four elite stays and 10 elite nights.

SPG credit card elite stays and nights credit combined with award stays and nights and the ability to use a family member or friend’s points and receive additional elite credit for award stays gifted from another SPG member provide plenty of opportunities to reach SPG elite with minimal cash outlay.

Cash & Points Awards

The combination of SPG Cash & Points awards and Award Stays Count for Elite sets up an interesting price point for meeting elite qualification with relatively low annual hotel spend.

The cost to reach SPG Platinum elite is potentially as low as $625 and 30,000 points for someone spending 25 award stays on Cash & Points at a category 1 hotel. But that is not really a practical hotel stay pattern unless you are in some specific places in Asia. Cash & Points awards for Category 1 and 2 hotels in the U.S. are seldom offered in my experience searching hotel rates in the U.S. since these awards were introduced for U.S. hotels early 2010. This change to count award stays for elite qualifying credit probably won’t help expand the Cash & Points availability for U.S. category 1 and 2 hotels.

Category 3 and Category 4 hotels are a viable option for finding widespread Cash & Points availability in the U.S.

Qualifying for SPG Elite on One-Night Cash & Points Award Stays

The SPG Cash & Points chart above shows the cost to reach SPG Gold or SPG Platinum solely through one-night stays (10 or 25 nights) or 50 nights on Cash & Points awards.

Earning SPG Platinum only on award stays for a U.S. member who likely needs to be staying at Category 3 and 4 hotels to realistically make this work for Cash & Points hotel stays in the U.S. still needs $1,125 and 70,000 points at Category 3 hotels or $1,500 plus 100,000 points for 25 nights on Category 4 Cash & Points awards.

Earning 70,000 to 100,000 points in a year is an achievement that will be limited mostly to SPG American Express credit card holders making 5-digit charges annually. Anyone earning those kinds of points with hotel stays likely already earns SPG Platinum elite from paid stays.

For the rest of us, award stays will likely offer the ability to pick up a few additional elite qualifying stays and nights per year.

I figure I can probably earn about 20,000 to 30,000 Starpoints per year from 15 hotel stays if the promotions are good and I pick up a few Best Rate Guarantee bonuses. I have the SPG American Express card so that is another two stays. And I typically have about 8 SPG award stays per year which I can likely sustain with the points earned from about 15 paid stays. The cost to maintain SPG Platinum can be around $2,000 a year for me with this award stays count for elite change.

Making top-tier elite is the best advice I can give to loyalty program members. The benefits provided during hotel stays for top-tier elites pays back the effort and loyalty. And I don’t think SPG will be flooded with new Platinum elite members.

If I was a SPG American Express credit card big spender who is not already SPG Platinum, then I think I would really love this change. The SPG Cash & Points award chart above shows how you can turn those points and a bit of cash into elite credit with Cash & Points award stays to reach mid-tier SPG Gold. Top-tier SPG Platinum offers additional hotel stay benefits like free internet and complimentary room upgrades, including suites.

Award Stays Count is not exclusive to SPG

Hilton HHonors has long counted award stays for elite status. This was a great benefit for me for several years when I was funneling hundreds of thousands of airline miles into HHonors points and redeeming dozens of free nights on points every year. Qualifying for HHonors Diamond elite generally required only about 20 paid stays and award stays made up the balance of my elite qualification requirement of 28 stays for HHonors Diamond status.

Choice Privileges added the benefit of counting award nights for elite qualification in January 2010.

 

10 Responses

  1. Julian Assange-like hero for the travel loyalty program world. Gary Leff. Compliment. Back-handed.

  2. Sounds really good. For a guy like me who is a current Marriott gold but only squeeze out 25 or so nights a year under the new economy this makes SPG WAY more interesting than the competition.

    Comment by SocialAdept on October 3rd, 2011 at 4:45 am
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