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:
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?