How Much is Starwood Preferred Guest Elite Status Worth?

Jan 29, 2015

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Whether you qualified for elite status in 2014 or fell short, the new year presents an opportunity to assess just how much that status means to you, and whether to pursue it again this year. Today, TPG Contributor Nick Ewen evaluates each level of Starwood Preferred Guest elite status to help you decide.

Hotel status can be quite valuable, but that value isn’t always easy to quantify. In posts earlier this month, I analyzed the value of elite status with Hilton HHonors, Marriott Rewards, and Hyatt Gold Passport. Today, I’ll take a crack at Starwood Preferred Guest, offering my thoughts on just how much SPG Gold and Platinum elite status are worth.

What is Starwood Preferred Guest elite status worth to you?
What is Starwood Preferred Guest elite status worth to you?

While this analysis is similar to the recent posts analyzing the value of airline elite status, there are some notable differences. For starters, it’s much easier to switch your loyalty from one hotel chain to another, given the global reach of their various brands. The same cannot be said for airlines, as you might be a hub captive or fly regularly to a city that’s only served by one or two carriers.

Another key difference is the level of complexity that many hotel loyalty programs provide. Airline elite status benefits are more consistent; they generally don’t change based on the departure city or arrival city. Hotels are the opposite. You might earn the same number of points when you stay at a St. Regis or Four Points, but the on-property benefits (and thus the value you get from each night’s stay) can vary widely.

As a reminder, I’ll be making a number of assumptions as I analyze the value of hotel elite status. For SPG, I assumed the following:

  • You qualify on stays, but your eligible nights are halfway between the stay/night requirements (this is the same criteria I used for Hilton and Hyatt). I’m sure many of you qualify based on both stays and nights, but I wanted to keep the estimates conservative to account for those who frequently stay in hotels for just one night.
  • Your average rate per night is $175. Like Hilton HHonors (but unlike Marriott Rewards and Hyatt Gold Passport), award stays with Starwood do count toward elite status, but in my experience it’s much harder to find inexpensive properties in the SPG portfolio than with other chains.
  • Approximately half of your nights are in higher-end (full service) hotels like Sheraton and Luxury Collection locations, while the other half are in budget properties like Four Points. Again, this is a conservative estimate.
  • For the “enhanced” Platinum levels, I’ll calculate the benefits based on 50, 75, and 100 nights, but will use the same 25 stays (for consistency and the sake of remaining conservative).

Your stay and spending patterns may be quite different, so feel free to adjust these numbers up or down. There’s no single right way to conduct this type of analysis; running the numbers for yourself is an important step in determining whether it’s worth going for the next level.

Finally, I rounded valuations to the nearest whole dollar for simplicity. Read on to see what I determined.

Gold status gives you a variety of benefits at hotels like the Sheraton in Rio De Janeiro
Gold status gives you a variety of benefits at hotels like the Sheraton in Rio De Janeiro

Starwood Preferred Guest Gold ($319)

As the lowest level within the Starwood Preferred Guest program, Gold status is still relatively valuable. You earn this status with 10 stays or 25 nights, but it’s also included automatically as a benefit for The Platinum Card® from American Express cardholders. You also earn credits for 2 stays and 5 nights annually with the Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card from American Express, and another 2 stays/5 nights with the Starwood Preferred Guest Business Credit Card from American Express, which puts you 40% of the way to Gold status if you have both cards. For my valuation, I’m assuming 18 nights split evenly between full-service and discount properties (9 nights and 5 stays each).

  • 50% points bonus ($76): As an SPG Gold member, you earn 3 Starpoints per dollar spent (50% more than regular members). TPG’s most recent valuations of points and miles pegged Starwood points at 2.4 cents apiece, so with 18 nights at $175 per night, you’re looking at 3,150 points more than a standard member would earn, giving you a value of $75.60.
  • 4 pm check-out ($25): Like Hyatt, I’ve found that Starwood properties are very good about proactively offering a late check-out, and they extend this benefit to all elite members (subject to availability). Assuming a value of $25 each time you use it, and with the same utilization criteria I used for Marriott (10% utilization across your 10 stays), you would take advantage of this benefit once, for a total value of $25.
  • Upgrade to “enhanced” rooms ($125): Gold SPG members are entitled to room upgrades at check-in, including corner rooms, rooms on high floors, or rooms with a view. This will occasionally include a suite or club level room, but generally speaking these rooms don’t sell for a huge premium. I’m assuming a 25% success rate (rounded up to 5 nights) and a value of $25 per night.
  • Complimentary premium internet ($36): In the past, complimentary internet access for Gold members was only available if you selected it as your welcome amenity at check-in. However, beginning on February 2, 2015, all SPG members will enjoy free internet access, and Gold and Platinum members can utilize premium internet service. While this internet may retail for $10 or more per day, I’ll use the same $2/day value that I used for Marriott and Hyatt.
  • Welcome gift ($45): At check-in, SPG Gold members can choose a welcome amenity of either points (250 for full-service locations and 125 for Aloft, Element, and Four Points properties) or a complimentary beverage. Assuming you select the points every stay (this is The Points Guy, after all!), you would earn a total of 1,875 additional Starpoints over the 10 stays, valued at $45.
  • Delta Crossover Rewards ($12): This benefit is tough to pin a value to, as its usefulness depends on how much you typically spend on Delta flights in a given year. SPG Gold members earn 1 Starpoint for every dollar spent with Delta, but I’m sure some Gold members spend exactly zero (especially if you’re unhappy with the 2015 SkyMiles program). Still, it’s a nice benefit if you do fly Delta often. I’ll assume $500 in yearly ticket purchases, which equates to 500 additional Starpoints. If you’re a frequent flyer on Delta, adjust accordingly.
The breakfast spread at the St. Regis Bal Harbour was varied and plentiful.
Platinum status gives you complimentary breakfast as one of your welcome amenity choices at properties like the St. Regis Bal Harbour (pictured)

Starwood Preferred Guest Platinum ($1,465)

Technically, there are four different levels of Platinum status with SPG, but this first one (the “standard” Platinum level) is earned with 25 stays or 50 nights. For this analysis, I’ll assume 38 nights across 25 stays, with 19 nights and 13 stays in full-service properties, and 19 nights and 12 stays in discount properties.

  • 50% point bonus ($160): Starwood Platinum members enjoy the same 50% bonus that Gold members do, so for 38 nights at $175 per night, you earn 6,650 additional Starpoints, worth $159.60.
  • 4 pm check out ($75): The late check-out benefit (when available) is identical for Gold and Platinum members. With a 10% utilization rate, you would use this benefit on 3 stays each year.
  • Room upgrades ($500): As a Platinum member, you’re entitled to the “best available room at check-in” at all properties, and this includes standard suites. While this can be an incredibly valuable benefit at certain properties, I’ll use the same conservative estimates that I used for past posts: $50 per night and a 25% success rate (rounded up to 10 nights).
  • Welcome amenity ($380): Like Gold members, Platinum members receive a welcome gift upon arrival: bonus Starpoints (500 and 250 at full-service and discount properties, respectively), a local amenity, or continental breakfast. I’ve found that breakfast tends to be the best value, especially because it’s offered daily (rather than once per stay). I’ll assume this choice for all nights, and use the same conservative value as in past posts ($10 per night)
  • Complimentary premium internet ($76): The same premium internet provided to Gold members is also granted to Platinum members, so for 38 nights at $2 per night, you get an additional $76 in value.
  • Complimentary club access ($130): Even if you don’t get upgraded to a club- or executive-level room, you still have guaranteed access to the lounge, which includes health club access (a valuable perk at certain luxury properties). Not all locations have a health club, but it still can be a nice value-added benefit. I used the same valuations as I did for Hilton HHonors Diamond ($50 for lounge access and $80 for health club access)
  • 72-hour guarantee ($20): Starwood Platinum members have a guaranteed availability benefit similar to that provided in other programs, though the three day advance window isn’t as generous as what you’ll get with other top tier status.
  • Delta Crossover Rewards ($124): Platinum members also are a part of the Crossover Rewards program, earning one Starpoint for every dollar spent on Delta flights. In addition, they also enjoy many of the perks of Delta Silver Medallions status, including priority check-in/boarding, a free checked bag, and complimentary upgrades. However, this isn’t straight-up status (like it is for the Marriott/United partnership). TPG Senior Points & Miles Correspondent Jason Steele wrote detailed valuations of Delta elite status back in December, but the value you get from these benefits as a Platinum member will depend entirely on how often you fly Delta. To account for the fact that Platinum members probably travel more than Gold members, I’ll value these benefits for a casual Delta flyer: $1,000 in yearly spend (for 1,000 Starpoints, worth $24) and $100 for the additional benefits (adjusted downward from my Marriott valuation due to the fact that it isn’t full status).
50-night Platinums can use a Suite Night Upgrade to a suite, like TPG did at the Westin in Madrid
50-night Platinums can use a Suite Night Upgrade to a suite, like TPG did at the Westin in Madrid

“Enhanced” Platinum levels

If you hit 50, 75, or 100 elite qualifying nights with SPG, you’ll move beyond the standard Platinum benefits to unlock additional rewards. These options provide an incentive for Platinum members to continue staying at Starwood properties past the regular qualification threshold. For each of these three levels, I’ll use the same assumptions and criteria as above, and extend them across the additional nights.

Starwood Preferred Guest 50-night Platinum ($2,329)

  • 50% point bonus ($210)
  • 4 pm check out ($75)
  • Room upgrades ($650)
  • Welcome amenity ($500)
  • Complimentary premium internet ($100)
  • Complimentary club access ($150): Same valuations as Platinum with an additional $20 of benefits (due to the higher nights)
  • 72-hour guarantee ($20)
  • Delta Crossover Rewards ($124)
  • Suite Night Upgrades ($500): This is the benefit granted to Platinum members who reach 50 nights (compared to those who qualify with 25 stays). You earn 10 awards that can be used to confirm a suite within 5 days of check-in. Personally, I was less-than-impressed with these, as you can’t use them at booking and you must use one per night (so a maximum of 10 nights annually). I was only able to use 3 this past year and had to let 7 expire. I know others may have had more success, but I’ll assign a conservative value of $50 apiece to each upgrade.

Starwood Preferred Guest 75-night Platinum ($3,469)

  • 100% point bonus ($630): This is the first enhanced benefit for 75-night Platinum members, as they receive 2 extra Starpoints per dollar spent. 75 nights x $175 x 2 points = 26,250 additional Starpoints (over what a regular member would earn).
  • 4 pm check out ($75)
  • Room upgrades ($950)
  • Welcome amenity ($750)
  • Complimentary premium internet ($150)
  • Complimentary club access ($170): Same valuations as as Platinum with an additional $40 of benefits
  • 72-hour guarantee ($20)
  • Delta Crossover Rewards ($124)
  • Suite Night Upgrades ($500)
  • Your24 ($100): This is the other added benefit for 75-night Platinum members. It gives you the ability to choose your own 24-hour window for your stay (subject to availability, of course). I have generally heard that this works better in theory than in practice, so I’ll give it a conservative value of $100.
After 100 nights, you have access to SPG Ambassadors, though their usefulness may be limited.
After 100 nights, you have access to SPG Ambassadors, though their usefulness may be limited.

Starwood Preferred Guest 100-night Platinum ($4,399)

  • 100% point bonus ($840)
  • 4 pm check out ($75)
  • Room upgrades ($1,250)
  • Welcome amenity ($1,000)
  • Complimentary premium internet ($200)
  • Complimentary club access ($190): Same valuations as Platinum with an additional $60 in benefits
  • 72-hour guarantee ($20)
  • Delta Crossover Rewards ($124)
  • Suite Night Upgrades ($500)
  • Your24 ($100)
  • Ambassador ($100): When you reach 100 nights, the only additional (published) benefit is access to SPG ambassadors, who can provide assistance with just about anything before, during, or after a stay. TPG was underwhelmed with his ambassador experience back in 2013, but I’ve read reports from other folks who get a lot of value out of it. Like Your24, this benefit is likely better in theory than in practice.

Bottom line

As you can see, all of these levels in the SPG program carry significant value, and the higher levels really take off, especially with the additional Starpoint per dollar spent once you hit 75 nights. I find it especially interesting to compare Marriott Platinum status to 75-night SPG Platinum status. Even though both are earned after 75 nights (regardless of the number of stays), my estimates give SPG and additional $1,359 of value, or a 64.4% premium compared to Marriott!

Again, feel free to adjust my assumptions and valuations based on your own typical stay and spending patterns. I’d like to hear your feedback about which benefits you think are more or less valuable than what I’ve indicated, so please share your thoughts in the comments below!

How much do you value elite status with Starwood Preferred Guest?

Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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