Registration now open for Starwood’s “Nice Choice” promotion

I have a bit of a love/hate relationship with the Cheesecake Factory. Their food is good, but the menu is too damn big. When I go to a restaurant and am hungry I don’t want to read a 46-page novel before deciding what to eat. I want enough choices so there’s “something for everybody,” but not so many choices that I have to set up a Venn diagram to make a decision on what I’ll have.

That’s also kind of how I feel about Starwood’s “Nice Choice” promotion, which I wrote about a few weeks ago. I love the fact that there are options to choose from (after all, Starwood has become all about customization, so kudos to them for sticking true to that), but there are just too many if you ask me. Maybe I’m jetlagged, maybe I’m just plane dumb (don’t forget to tip me on the way out), or maybe this is confusing, but I’m having a hard time going through this.

On the plus side, Starwood deserves credit for including all of their hotels in the promotion. For most of their past promotions there was a huge list of excluded hotels, which really sucks as a customer. To us a Starwood hotel is a Starwood hotel and we expect consistent benefits, regardless of where in the world we are. So it’s nice to see them running a promotion without any excluded hotels.

So let’s start with the basics (which might just be all I can handle). Registration is required for the promotion by June 30. The promotion runs from May 1 through September 30, 2012, though you have to choose a three month period in which you’d like to participate. It’s worth noting that even if you only register on June 30, the choice will apply retroactively through May 1. So given the options, you’re probably best off waiting until June 30 to register in order to decide which promotion works best for you.

Now on to the “choices.” The first decision you have to make is over which time period you’d like the promotion to run, with the following options:

Sticking to the Cheesecake Factory analogy, this would be the “welcome to the Cheesecake Factory, can I get you something to drink?”

The second choice is the general category of the rewards you want to earn:

In the Cheesecake Factory analogy, this would be the “can I get you started with an appetizer today?” (of course not, because your main courses are big enough to feed a villa of sumo wrestlers).

Aaaaaand this is where it starts to get complicated.  This is the point at which the Cheesecake Factory waiter comes over and says “have you had a chance to look at the menu yet?” Have I had a chance to look at the menu? Yes. Have I had a chance to read even 5% of the contents? No. Please come back in five hours.

Not only do you have multiple categories to choose from, but within each category you have far too many options for your own good, so let’s go through them one by one.

If you select the “Starpoints” category you have the following options:

I like a fun promotion with some options, but you need some serious number crunching and math skills in order to make an informed decision here.

If you plan on staying at least 15 nights, the triple Starpoints is probably your best bet. If you’re planning on staying fewer than 15 nights, I think the 3,000 bonus points for every six stays is more tempting than the double SPG points starting with your second stay. For double SPG points to make sense you’d have to be spending over $500 per night in order for that to be a better option than 3,000 bonus points for every six nights, given that you’re essentially earning 500 bonus points per night through it. Of course that assumes you can stage your stays in increments of six. And if you stay mostly at Sheratons, chances are the 500 bonus points there makes sense. If the alternative is double points you’d have to spend an average of more than $500 per night for that to be a better option, or if the alternative is triple points you’d have to spend an average of more than $250 per night for that to be a better option.

The next category is free nights, with the following options:

Neither of these options is especially appealing to me. Last year during the same period Starwood ran a promotion whereby you could earn one free night at a resort for every three stays, while this year they’re requiring 10 nights for a free weekend night, but capping it at category five hotels (compared to category six last time). Still, at the end of the day a category five hotel would cost 12,000 points per night, so I suppose that’s the equivalent of 1,200 bonus points per night. Of course this assumes you want to redeem your free nights over a weekend, and also that you don’t have substantially more than 20 nights, since you don’t earn anything beyond that.

The next option is a merchandise discount:

Next…

Then the last option is elite night credits:

If you absolutely need them and can’t make any additional stays then I guess go for it, though at the end of the day elite night credits aren’t really “tangible” rewards that can be redeemed for anything.

Interestingly the promotion page has a list of the most popular choices by members thus far, and as of now it stands as follows:

So not surprisingly the double and triple points offers are getting picked most often, probably because they’re the simplest. I still think the 3,000 bonus points for every six nights is more tempting than the double points assuming you can get stays in the right increments, though I seem to be in the minority there.

Ultimate this isn’t a promotion that will drive any incremental business to Starwood for me, but then again, I haven’t seen any enticing promotions from other programs. Hyatt has an offer for 5x airline miles, though it’s not entirely clear whether that’s their summer promotion or just a smaller promotion they’ll run alongside another one (I sure hope it’s the latter).

But before anyone’s too harsh on Starwood, let me give you my outside opinion on their inside thinking. As I mentioned at the beginning of the post, in the past Starwood gave individual hotels the option of opting into a promotion or not. As a result, it would appear as if hotels were footing the bill for promotions, and that’s why we saw such huge lists of excluded hotels. Starwood deserves a LOT of credit for running a global promotion for the first time. It’s a step in the right direction, though I’m not surprised the promo is more lackluster than what we’ve seen in the past, since I would speculate that SPG is footing the bill here, as opposed to the individual (mostly franchised) hotels. Not trying to justify it, but just explaining why I think the promotion isn’t super-rewarding as it was last year.

Over the course of writing this post I’ve built up an appetite. Maybe a visit to the Cheesecake Factory is in order?

Comments

  1. The problem with The Cheesecake Factory isn’t the menu. It’s the high-calorie low-nutrition preprocessed food. This includes the frozen cakes manufactured at their actual factory out in California and shipped frozen around the country. It’s like Sara Lee opened a restaurant chain.

  2. Dax has best comment of the year on this blog. Thanks for the analysis Ben and Dax…

  3. I think its more like Sara Lee & McDonalds opened a restaurant. (Frozen desert & “super sized” protions.) I took a good friend from Dhaka (Bangladesh) there & he stated one entree would feed a family of 6.

  4. Regarding the 3,000 points for 6 nights, the individual stays don’t have to be in the right increments, just the total. So you could stay 2 nights in one place, and 4 in another and still get credited.

    From the terms:

    “Members may choose to register to earn 3,000 bonus Starpoints after every six (6) eligible paid nights, up to a maximum of 9,000 bonus Starpoints after 18 paid nights. Eligible paid nights must be at SPG participating properties during the three-month promotion earning period as selected by the member (see “all offer terms” for a list of earning period options). Nights do not have to be consecutive and can be accumulated across multiple stays. Non-participating properties can be found at spg.com/t&c, section 1.2. Bonus Starpoints will be credited to the member’s account within 2–4 weeks of the stay posting to the member’s Starwood Preferred Guest account that has 6th, 12th, and 18th eligible night. See “All Offers” below for additional terms and conditions. ”

    Since I don’t stay in hotels much, but should have no problem getting at least 6 Starwood nights, I’ll probably opt for this.

  5. Hi lucky — I think your math on the double and triple starpoints is wrong. You get double or triple of the BASE starpoints, and the base is 2 starpoints per dollar.

    In other words, for double starpoints you get 2 base and 2 bonus (plus whatever else you might get bonus starpoints for, like using the SPG Amex or being elite). For triple starpoints, you get 2 base and 4 bonus. In short, the number of EXTRA starpoints you get if you select double starpoints is 2 per dollar and if you select and qualify for triple it’s 4 per dollar.

    I think this cuts your break-even numbers down. However, one other point that is important is that the points only double after your first stay. So, in this example, let’s assume you are planning to stay six nights during the promo period. If the first stay is more than one night, forget double points. Take the 3,000. If the first stay is only 1 night, your break even for the other 5 nights would be $300 per night. The problem with the six nights = 3,000 points, though, is that it starts to lose its value fast if you’re not going to stay in a perfect multiple of 6.

  6. Actually, Cheesecake Factory makes all their food (other than the cakes) in the stores…its NOT prepackaged and just cooked in the stores. They also will custom make most ANYTHING you want, and actually are a great choice for someone traveling and on a diet. You can control exactly what you are going to eat…but it also means you need to exercise some self control…

  7. Lucky,

    You may be interested to know that Krystal from SPG spoke at the Randy Petersen Travel Executive Summit last Friday and reinforced a number of your observations. As you mentioned, SPG is now all about customization, but I think they’re going even further to identify specific customer segments and design promotions that cater to more of them. After all, you, me and other readers are only one group of many.

    For instance, the six-night multiple promo fits the profile of a consultant, usually staying M T W saving them mattress running and shenanigans they’d otherwise be doing. Triple nights also targets road warriors but at higher spending levels. This group would be likely to do the math to find the break-even point.

    The double points is aimed motivating the casual person to book a second stay

    The Elite nights cater to the type of person who will book 25x $49 airport hotel mattress runs solely for the status. Note that it caps at 26 elite stays, just enough for platinum. This could also appeal to salespeople who may only spend 1 night in a hotel in each location and aren’t paying high enough rates to warrant triple points or staying in neat multiples of 6.

    The Sheraton 500pt promo is aimed at folks that use OTAs to bring them into the SPG fold. A number of hotel chains have explored options to bring more bookings in-house.

    Gift cards may target vacationers that stay a week in a resort, love the heavenly bed (or white tea scent, bath products, spa treatment etc.) and really have no further loyalty than their trip to Hawaii or PR each year. But I imagine the merchandise has great margins, which incidentally go straight to Starwood. Weren’t you raving about the bed a few months ago? 😉

    The 25% off redemption and 10 nights = 1 free weekend stay do puzzle me, perhaps it’s for someone who really doesn’t care about the points and just wants to take the spouse/partner on a weekend or longer getaway. Note that 25% off a 9 or 10 night stay at a Cat 5 hotel could still be substantial (especially at high season rates would mean 32000 point savings off a 128000 award so 1600 per night).

    I think that it’s a good sign that hotels are starting to recognize that one-size-fits-all promotions don’t necessarily fit all of their customer segments. Experimentation like this is probably causing a lot of chains to take a good hard look at the one promo per quarter model.

    Seth (Wandering Aramean) posted an interesting article and analysis aimed at airlines doing the same thing.

    http://boardingarea.com/thewanderingaramean/2012/04/which-type-of-frequent-flyer-are-you/

    Promos like this (maybe not quite as complicated) would be great, as my travel patterns for business and leisure make me a very bipolar customer, but I think the major programs are starting to recognize customer segments on an entirely new level.

  8. I agree that I think your math is slightly off for the 3K pts vs. Double Points analysis. From what I can tell…

    Double points = 4x total per dollar, or 5x per dollar for elite.

    Triple points = 6x per dollar, or 7x for elite.

    Please confirm – thanks!

  9. Never mind – I agree with your logic and I think you have many other bloggers beat with your analysis 🙂

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