Has Starwood improved their cash & points availability after the March 5 devaluation?

Just yesterday Starwood’s devaluation of their cash & points program kicked in, which for years has been one of the best hotel redemption values in the industry.

With the exception of category seven properties, the cost of cash & points redemptions went up by roughly 20-25% across the board, which is a pretty hard hit to the value of this redemption option. However, one of the positives of this change is that they promised “expanded availability” of cash & points as a result.

So while there’s a chance not all hotels have updated their cash & points inventory yet, I think it’s worth visiting this a day after the change. Has cash & points availability improved? I think the answer is a resounding “yes.”

Now, while I have no way of comparing the cash & points availability at all 1,000+ Starwood properties before and after the change, I do notice a lot more hotels releasing cash & points availability for a lot more dates.

For example I’m going to Rio de Janeiro soon courtesy of the cheap American fares a while back. Previously the Sheraton Barra had very little cash & points availability, while now it’s available almost every day.

Meanwhile hotels like the St. Regis Singapore are still pretty stingy with cash & points availability, with no more space than I saw before the change.

Then there’s the W Hong Kong, which was previously extremely stingy with cash & points availability, though now releases a fair amount.

I’m seeing much of the same from the neighboring Sheraton Hong Kong, which previously virtually never released cash & points availability, though now releases a fair bit (though not amazing amount) of space.

So I give Starwood kudos for not only staying true to their word, but doing it so quickly.

The big question is whether the improved cash & points availability makes up for the price increases. Secretly I was hoping that cash & points availability would now match the “free nights” redemption availability. Before y’all call me crazy, hear me out.

Here’s Starwood’s new cash & points award chart:

And here’s Starwood’s standard “free nights” award chart:

Let’s crunch the numbers as to how much you’re paying per “saved” Starpoint when choosing cash & points over a “free night” redemption, assuming they were both available. To keep the math simple let’s forget about both weekend/weekday pricing and the fifth night free, both of which only apply through “free nights” redemptions and not cash & points (they kind of balance one another out, in my opinion).

With that in mind, here’s the math of what you’re basically paying per “saved” Starpoint when choosing cash & points over a “free night” redemption (the Starpoints figure is the difference in Starpoints needed between a cash & points redemption and a “free night” redemption, while the cash figure is the co-pay on a cash & points redemption):

Category 1: 1,500 Starpoints or $30 = 2.00 cents per Starpoint
Category 2: 2,000 Starpoints or $35 = 1.75 cents per Starpoint
Category 3: 3,500 Starpoints or $55 = 1.57 cents per Starpoint
Category 4: 5,000 Starpoints or $75 = 1.50 cents per Starpoint
Category 5: 6,000 Starpoints or $110 = 1.83 cents per Starpoint
Category 6: 10,000 Starpoints or $180 = 1.8 cents per Starpoint
Category 7: 15,000 Starpoints or $275 = 1.83 cents per Starpoint

So you’re basically “paying” anywhere between 1.5 and 2.0 cents per saved Starpoint for choosing cash & points over a “free night” redemption. While that’s a rate at which I’d rather save Starpoints, you’d think it’s also a rate at which Starwood would rather have the cash than the points, no? Surely for their internal purposes they don’t value a Starpoint at more than 1.5-2.0 cents per point, do they?

Anyway, don’t get me wrong, I’m not meaning to bash them here. This was somewhat inevitable and Starwood has done a ton to improve their program lately. Let’s not forget that two years ago they started counting award stays towards elite status, so you can more or less earn top tier status exclusively on cash & points bookings, which is a value that’s tough to beat. And last year they introduced breakfast and confirmed suite upgrades for Platinum members, which was also huge. So I’m still a much happier Starwood customer than I was a year ago.

But was I really the only one secretly hoping that cash & points wouldn’t be capacity controlled after the change? šŸ˜€

Comments

  1. It seemed to me that in the weeks prior to the C&P devaluation, the C&P availability was extremely limited, like the properties had removed virtually all inventory under the old rates, perhaps thinking they’d wait for the new higher rates to kick in. So old inventory may have been arbitrarily reduced, making it seem like it’s a significant increase.

    It seems to me that on the whole Starpoints went from being worth around 3c down to 2c with this change. And that’s what SPG wants.

  2. You are not crazy for expecting C&P availability to be equivalent to standard free night award availability. The new valuation of the points above shows exactly how significant the devaluation of 25% was.

    A majority of people will find that the SPG program no longer provides the added value for C&P awards that they used to. Only value to C&P is the same offered by all the other programs out there, a redemption level for people who do not have enough points.

    Most people will opt for standard awards instead… but then when they see how many points it takes to get a free night at any hotel near the top categories, they will likely opt out of SPG and go Hyatt.

  3. I checked yesterday for a stay I have coming up and it’s suddenly lousy w C&P (except the weeks I need, of course). But it’s much more than I’ve ever seen for this property.

  4. I felt that most pulled inventory prior to change from my searches which included all categories in Toronto, Singapore, Australia and Seattle/Alaska as it seemed highly unlikely that there were no C&P with advanced planning. yesterday I was able to search same dates/properties and like magic there was availabilty except for St Regis Singapore. for me in many cases with upcoming trips, points are not best option now given the myriad of promos to consider and the best rate.

  5. I am willing to believe! For some close in dates I was looking at, New Orleans went from having 1 of 7 properties available pre-March 5, to 6 of 7 with availability today.

  6. Westin Las Vegas went from 6000 points+$55 per nite to 6000 points +$110 per nite. That is a100% increase dollar wise!

  7. I have been an SPG member for many years, however I am going to dump them. I need to do a quick stopover in London in April. The Sheraton Skyline use to be 3500 to 5000 points. It is now 10k per night, or cash and points is 5000 points and $75 dollars, or pay outright for 70 pounds. It seems to be like this across the board. Pathetic.

  8. Yes, they have, at least at DCA area but I chose to get the free night instead of cash+points anyway. Cash+points was not available until the last day before the increased the price šŸ™

  9. If this results in increased availability, I am fine with the increases. Now that they count as stay credits toward status, I don;t feel bad parting with the cash.

  10. Now SPG points are primarily good for airline miles transfers. For hotels not so much anymore.

  11. I was also looking at New Orleans, but a weekend in mid April, and before there were 0 out of 7 showing cash and points available. Now there is still only 1 (Four Points at the airport) but two others (W and Sheraton) have free nights available. Must be something going on that weekend, there have consistently been four out of seven totally sold out.

  12. My SPG are scarce. I like the points program, but put a low value on Sheraton, and a high value on their partners. If only the Sheraton brand were more compelling – perks like breakfast, late checkout, other benefits (that I don’t have) would maybe tip the scale, but their properties are often subpar, particularly internationally. Therefore, at either the cost per free night or cost with CNP, I’m generally not a buyer.

    Still, this is perfect for the rare occasion that I waste them on a hotel. More availability is positive (esp since I never thought they were a good value at Sheraton anyway).

  13. I just logged into my wife’s account and all our future award SPG reservations don’t show up. I just get a message “No reservations linked to this profile” I chatted with an SPG angent and she can see them fine…

    Maybe just an IT glitch with the roll-out of these new redemption values.

  14. lucky,
    Don’t stay at the Barra region in Rio! It is far from downtown, the nicest beaches and all the famous attractions.
    Look for something in Copacabana or Leblon. Very few hotels belonging to major international chains, though – which is a reality throughout Brazil.

  15. “So youā€™re basically ā€œpayingā€ anywhere between 1.5 and 2.0 cents per saved Starpoint for choosing cash & points over a ā€œfree nightā€ redemption”

    Actually that’s wrong, because you didn’t count the taxes you would pay on the cash portion of a C&P redemption. After adding in the 15% or so for tax, you can only get under 2 cpp at C3 and C4 hotels

  16. Good analysis. I’m sure we’ll have some other bloggers justifying the increase based on the better availability alone without regard to value…. oh wait, we already have that. Too bad some of them are financially challenged!

  17. @ Robert — Well taxes vary by hotel, and to the contrary you’re also not factoring in the SPG points you earn for the cash portion. Besides, the hotels aren’t make any money off the taxes, so the fact remains that they’re giving up 1.5-2.0 cents of cash per Starpoint in most cases when people make free night bookings over cash & points bookings.

  18. Lucky,

    You don’t earn points for the cash portion of C&P except for CC spend, and just because they vary doesn’t mean you can’t give it an approximation (roughly 15% on average?)

    It’s extremely misleading to say what you’re “paying” when that’s not what you’ll be paying at all

  19. @ Robert — You’re right, sorry, I had a brain fart.

    But there’s nothing misleading about saying that Starwood is giving up 1.5-2.0 cents per Starpoint by having someone book a free night over cash & points. My argument is that from Starwood’s perspective it should make sense to encourage cash & points over free nights now that the rates have gone up.

  20. I am outraged by this.. and also they upped the hotel category levels so many category 5s are now category 6 hotels and instead of 12k for a night now u need like 16 or 20k points. seriously doesnt even make sense to have a SPG card or points anymore.. i use to use cash and points and it was like 4800 points plus like 90+tax for W hotel.. now its either 5000 points and 110 dollars+tax or its 16k to 20k points when it was 12k points before.. and they upped the category level for most hotels.. and some hotels that use to be 4800+90 bucks are now like 10k points plus like 180+tax (why the hell would u want to use 10k points and then pay another like 180 before tax just to stay at a hotel u could have booked for like 250 a night on their site..or even cheaper on a third party site i.e. hotwire or priceline

  21. “My argument is that from Starwoodā€™s perspective it should make sense to encourage cash & points over free nights now that the rates have gone up.”

    And for the same reason, that’s why this was such a huge devaluation.

    People say things like “if it leads to more availability, I’ll like it” without stopping to consider that if it’s not a good deal (and except for 2 or 3 categories, it isn’t), who really cares if it’s 20% available, 50% or 100%?

    Good deals on C&P have now become bad deals, and great deals on C&P have no become “barely making ahead” deals

  22. Based on the cash and points rates for the Salt Lake City, Tarrytown, NY, and Raleigh NC Sheratons, I think you can snag the Sheraton or a comparable Marriott on Priceline for less than the cash portion of the cash plus points rates. Of course Priceline rates vary with demand and availability but so do these cash and points rates.

  23. I looked at Portland for this summer on March 4th. Of 6 properties, none had cash and points.

    I looked today and 1 of 6 has cash and points.
    $75 + 5000 (instead of 10000)

    So I would be essentially buying @ 1.5 cents per point.

    Too bad the Nines wasn’t open.

  24. Boo.. all the west LA hotels have the same availability on C&P after the March 5th which is pretty much “0”. So frustrated…

  25. The thing to realize is that in most cases the devaluation is closer to 40% than 25%. The total cost may have gone up by 25% but the actual value you get from the points decreased by 40% (because of the increase in both cash and points portion). 2.4 cents minus 40% takes you to around 1.5 cents. So in most cases I will be saving the points for 5 night points only redemption during peak periods.

    If you take into account that you may well be able to get a comparable room on Priceline for less than the cash portion now, the devaluation is even more significant.

    What they possibly should have done is introduce a separate tier, so that if you are short on points and still want a room, there may be options when the old C&P wasn’t available.

  26. I used to stay at the spg properties in Orlando at least once a month for a decent price. It is now not worth it. The cash and points option after paying the resort fees makes this option more expensive then if I just payed full price.
    Example: last year the lake buana vista resort was 1600 points and $30 +tax Free night was 3000 points
    Now 3500 points and $55 plus $18 resort fee and tax free night 7000 points

    My wife and I would use the cash and points option to take small weekend trips from Tampa to Orlando, no more!

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