Apparently I don’t understand how Starwood suite upgrades work anymore…

Let me start by saying this — in the grand scheme of things none of this matters. With the things going on in the world problems don’t get much more “first world” than this. Nonetheless, at the end of the day I’m a travel blogger, and this is the stuff I write about. While there are things that bother me a whole hell of a lot more than this suite upgrade, this isn’t the place to write about them, other than to say they’re in my thoughts. Hopefully that’s okay with y’all…

I’m on Saadiyat Island right now just outside of Abu Dhabi, and am splitting my time between the Park Hyatt and St. Regis, which are basically right door next to one another. I first stayed at the Park Hyatt, where I had an amazing stay, and then checked into the St. Regis, where my stay is off to a not-so-great start.

I booked the St. Regis using cash & points, which was only 4,800 Starpoints plus $90 per night. In and of itself that’s a great value, and the resort is beautiful (though a bit big for my tastes).

Anyway, one of the new benefits Starwood introduced this year is suite night awards for Platinum guests that stay at least 50 nights per year. This is an awesome new benefit, since it allows you to guarantee suite upgrades five days before arrival. That’s a great way to confirm the upgrades that matter most to you, though you also have to ration them since you only get 10 per year. However this wasn’t meant to replace Starwood’s regular upgrade policy of unlimited suite upgrades based on availability.

I try to be strategic about which hotels I apply suite upgrades at. I just checked out of the Park Hyatt, which was quite literally deserted. Apparently it’s a slow time of the year before the holidays, and at times it felt like we were the only guests there.

When I booked the St. Regis and went to the page for redeeming suite night awards, I was given the following options:

While I was of course hoping for a suite upgrade, I applied some strategy in this case. I assumed the hotel would have low occupancy, and they were selling at least nine of each suite (the highest number that will display at a time).

So this morning before checking in I once again checked spg.com, and they were still selling at least nine Ocean Suites. I was happy with my decision not to apply a suite upgrade, since it seemed like I had this one in the bag.

Anyway, at check-in I was informed that I had been upgraded to a sea view room as there were no suite upgrades available, according to the agent. I explained to the agent that spg.com showed at least nine Ocean Suites as available for sale, and she said they were indeed available, but not for Platinum upgrades. She claimed the standard Platinum upgrades was to a St. Regis Suite.

Okay, this is where I’m a bit confused, because the website offered an Ocean Suite as an upgrade option using a suite night award. The T&Cs of the suite night awards read as follows:

This very clearly states that suite night awards are not valid for specialty suites, much like the unlimited upgrades available on the day of arrival. It’s up to each hotel to categorize which suites are considered “specialty” and which are considered “standard.” But based on my interpretation of the verbiage, the “pool” for suite night awards and unlimited upgrades should be the same. I offered to apply a suite night award, though that can’t be done day of arrival.

So I (politely) expressed my displeasure with the agent. Don’t get me wrong, this was a one night stay and I wasn’t being stubborn because I really needed the extra space that much, but rather because I wanted to clarify what their actual policy is, so I know for future reference (and so they can maybe update their policy if they’re off base). The agent offered me an upgrade for 300 AED (~$82USD), which I declined.

Anyway, I Tweeted the hotel, and got a call from the assistant front office manager, who was polite/apologetic, though insisted that the suite upgrades for Platinum members were limited to St. Regis Suites, and that the Ocean Suite upgrade for Platinum members using a suite night awards was an “added bonus” for using the suite night award. She said a St. Regis Suite was opening up later this evening, and offered to switch me later tonight (while 9+ ocean suites remain available).

So I’m a bit confused. If a room is available using a suite night award, shouldn’t it also be available day of as a Platinum member without a suite upgrade, pending availability? If hotels now have separate upgrade “pools” for suite night awards and upgrades day of arrival then I really need to rethink my strategy.

Comments

  1. Damn, what cheap bastards. Shenanigans like this drive me crazy. Guess I’ll stay at the PH, even though I’m a lowly Hyatt Plat. :p

  2. this is allowed, and is a suite award benefit… check out the thread about this in flyertalk.

    hotels can add (and do add) additional suites types for voucher upgrade as a perk to plats using certs, and also methinks bc they are getting some compensation from starwood. so this isn’t necessarily a bad thing

  3. These kind of experiences have me questioning my commitment to getting SPG Platinum this year in lieu of Hyatt Diamond. Even though with Hyatt you only get the 4 certificates, the other benefits tend to be worth so much more, especially a full breakfast and none of this “continental breakfast”. Will have to see how things pan out during 2013. Will definitely be considering Hyatt stays first during the early part of the year and then reassess which status to pursue.

  4. this may be a dumb question, but how do you check spg.com and determine that there are at least nine XYZ suites available?

  5. Lucky,
    You really should continue posting these scenarios and bring it to SPGs attention. It’s a deceptive practice and false advertising IMO to say its not available then require people pay for the upgrade.

  6. I’m confused. It sounds like they’re meeting the T&C for you, and exceeding them for people who book a certain way.

  7. You shouldn’t feel compelled to put your qualifier in front of this post…we read because you do write about things like this!

  8. St Regis Suite probably is the standard suite, eligible for complimentary upgrade.

    It may be a mistake that Ocean Suites are categorized into the pool for confirmed upgrades. Usually ocean view suites are indeed premium suites that SHOULDN’T be part of the benefit.

    Though if they do categorize it as a standard suite then it SHOULD be available both for upgrade on arrival and for advance confirmed upgrade.

  9. again guys – this is not anything shady, its something above and beyond for ppl with 50+ nights who want to use a cert. I don’t see why there is anything wrong with this.

    if you want this forbidden, all it does is devalue a benefit (bc they won’t add this suite type to the standard suite upgrade pool).

    if you REALLY want the suite, and have the certs, use them.

  10. Jay is correct and I see this all the time, particularly at St. Regis properties that tend to have more types of suites than the average Starwood hotel.

    I also agree with Jay that’s it a great perk of the SNA program – not only is the suite guaranteed, but it might be a BETTER suite than what you can get from a regular upgrade.

    Gary often talks about the value of the Hyatt Guaranteed Diamond upgrade, which is great because of the number of nights and because its at booking, but the fact that PLT50 members get access to a higher class of suites guaranteed in advance is pretty cool.

    It is also significant that SNA is an automated sweep that happens at the SPG level not the hotel level so there’s less “discretion” involved.

    Lucky is right, though, that you need to plan strategy accordingly. I’ve been burned exactly the way he has when I was assuming that if there was SNA upgrade availability that there was regular upgrade avail.

  11. @ Simon — You just go to spg.com and pretend you’re making a booking, and can modify the number of rooms as you’d like.

  12. Nice to try two different hotels and sleep around. Why not stay longer in one and relax, given that they are right next door? I doubt you’re running out of points.

  13. So it was my understanding all along when reading over the SNA details that the set of suites available for SNA’s were potentially greater than those available for same night upgrade. I swear I remember reading somewhere that additional suites were sometimes available to SNA’s that weren’t part of the standard platinum suite upgrades at check-in.

    As others have noted I think it’s compensation based. Hotels are more willing to offer larger set of suites for upgrade if they get a payment for you occupying one but don’t want to have to give them all as free upgrades.

  14. Frustrating! This has happened to me so many times! Hopefully if you keep posting they finally will be forced to address this

  15. I did not realize an Ocean Suite was available there with a SNA; i would have jumped on that if i were you, as the Ocean Suite is not normally in their upgrade inventory for same day upgrades at check-in. I did not realize they were including a specialty suite in the SNA upgrade pool, which they are allowed to do, but in practice most properties only offer the same standard suite.

    When i stayed there, i got a same day upgrade to the St Regis Suite, which was essentially a one room junior suite. I suspect the Ocean Suite is the similar, but with an ocean view.

    In my view, this enhances the property by offering this extra benefit with a SNA, although they probably could have handled this better at check-in.

  16. Thanks for the post. All hotel chains really need to reel in the individual properties (especially Marriott) where good-faith and creditability is lost when the hotel uses smoke and mirrors to justify their “upgrade”.

  17. The hotel is indeed correct and for once, I sympathise with a property in this scenario.

    I’ve stayed and had a St Regis Suite upgrade as a Platinum member. Some of these do include Ocean views too, as ours was, but the Ocean Suites are indeed a separate category with a different room type.

    You can look at it in two ways:

    1) The property is opening up extra inventory for 50 night per year Platinums as a bonus
    2) The property is being mean in not including the same rooms to the standard Plat upgrade inventory.

    For me, I go with 1) in this case. Having had the chance to speak with some of the management including the GM on a past stay, I can understand their logic on this. They genuinely are trying to reward the Platinums who do more nights at SPG properties.

    Unfortunately when you are on not receiving a suite upgrade, it certainly won’t feel like that at all, so I can understand your frustration as well.

  18. The way I see it is that this “10 night Suite Upgrade” thing is smoke and mirrors, at the end of the year you don’t get any more upgrades than you would have anyway?

  19. All this stuff about suite categories is news to me. I thought SPG required an upgrade if any suite was available. 🙁

  20. @hans

    “I thought SPG required an upgrade if any suite was available”

    only standard suites, not speciality suites. this has been laid out by the program a BUNCH of times

  21. I always thought it was the case that the hotels offer more options with SNA inventory than one would get with just a standard platinum upgrade.

    Perhaps because they aren’t “obligated” to give out ALL the nicer rooms (meaning that a guest has to give something up to get the higher category room vs. just being platinum and getting an upgrade). Do hotels get reimbursed for SNA like they do with standard point redemptions?

  22. This looks all in order on the hotel’s part. I believe it’s been discussed on Flyertalk, and as others said, doing something above and beyond standard for SNA’s doesn’t mean they should or have to do the same for their normal upgrade pool.

  23. Yup, I had the same problem at the W London (Platinum check in) and St. Regis San Francisco (50 night Suite upgrade in advance). Total scam.

  24. the more people complain about not understanding this, and not understanding how this is a benefit, the quicker it will go away. the easiest thing to do is insist that the Suite Nights match the inventory so confused people stop complaining, and that would be a devaluation IMO

    so again, to all the people who think its a scam, its not. seriously – read the thread on flyertalk about it. again, its a nice benefit to have additional inventory to upgrade into – esp if you want it enough to use an SNA

  25. The hotel sounds right to me. The front desk clerk may not have been helpful but the manager’s explanation makes sense. Just because they want to offer an extra perk for SNAs doesn’t mean they have to extend it to the free Platinum upgrade.

    Actually I think it’s a good idea, since otherwise there are times where a SNA gets taken even if you would have gotten the same suite upgrade anyway.

  26. I made the switch from Hyatt to SPG about 18 months ago, and there are things I love about being an SPG Platinum — the concierge and the prevalence of SPG hotels as compared to Hyatts being at the top of the list. But the entire suite upgrade program is mostly frustrating to me. I hardly ever get upgraded to anything I would remotely call a suite. I think a lot of this has to do with hotels designating rooms with barely discernable upgrades (I’m looking at you, every W I’ve ever been to) as “suites” even though they are most definitely *not* suites and are not *marketed* as suites, and then telling me how lucky I am indeed to be receiving such a fine suite-that-I-know-isn’t-a-suite.

  27. You must not complain about our country’s hotel policies while in country. We suggest you wait until out of our airspace to complain. WSBS Want Suite Buy Suite is country motto. $82 is 10 gallons gas ok.

  28. Interesting. So what it comes down to is that some hotels are actually being generous by opening up better suites using suite night awards, and that contradicts the T&Cs.

    So now those suite night awards aren’t just used for the upgrades that matter most, but rather the upgrades where the suite you get through a suite night award is substantially better than the one you’d get through a Platinum upgrade.

    This stuff sure is getting confusing!

  29. Regarding the title of your post: if YOU don’t understand how suite upgrades work, then Starwood has a major problem with how they communicate and implement their platinum benefits.

  30. I think contradict the T&Cs is not the right word. The T&Cs don’t imply that one cannot exceed the obligations.

    Is it really any different than when a particular Intercontintal might give a great updgrade to a RA even though it’s an award stay?

  31. I currently have 150 nights this year with Starwood. I’m at a Starwood hotel now for 5 nights and was told when I checked in that no upgrades were available. I didn’t complain, I didn’t tweet about it, I didn’t get upset with the person checking me in who was just doing their job. Upgrades are a benefit, not an entitlement.

    Regarding SNA’s, the T&C say “Suite Night Awards” may be redeemed for advance confirmable upgrades for select, premium rooms or standard suites on a per room, per night basis, subject to availability.” It’s clear that is says “select rooms” or “select standard suites” and “subject to availability” So the hotel isn’t doing anything wrong.

    The Platinum benefit T&C say “Upgrades to best available room at check-in, including Standard Suites.” Subject to availability at check-in for the length of the stay, provided the room was not booked through a pre-paid third-party channel. Specialty Suites such as, but not limited to, premium view, Presidential, Honeymoon, and multiple bedroom suites are excluded. This benefit does not apply to all-suite hotels. Best rooms are identified by each property.

    The Platinum upgrade benefit is for the best room identified by the property, which may include standard suites. It’s not safe to assume that the same pool of inventory is available for Platinum upgrades as for Suite Night Awards.

    This really is a first world problem!

  32. Thanks for the research, Lucky! This illustrates why I’m not that enamored with suite upgrades at any chain. For me the best possible view, and if available a balcony, outweigh an additional room (or additional space) most of the time. Often, only the top level suites have that view, but plenty of standard executive rooms have it.

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