Starwood Platinum Suite Upgrades: Why Does It Have To Be A Fight?

Yes, perhaps it’s a sad reflection of my life, but I actually feel allegiance to certain loyalty programs. There are programs I love and then programs I trust. There are several programs that fall into each category, but very few that fall into both.

Hyatt Gold Passport, for example, is one of the few programs I love and trust. They offer great benefits, and I trust that they deliver on them and also communicate major changes in advance.

I don’t take it personally when a program devalues. It’s just business. What I do take personally is when a program devalues without notice. Because that’s just not how loyalty should work, in my opinion.

Similarly, I don’t care if I never get another suite upgrade at a hotel again. I do, however, care if I’m lied to by a hotel about a published benefit.

Starwood’s Platinum suite upgrade policy

Starwood has one of the more generous published suite upgrade policies of any program for their Platinum members:

Upgrades to best available room at check-in, including Standard Suites.1

Subject to availability at check-in for the entire 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 and may not include upgraded Towers level accommodations unless Towers level accommodations were booked originally. The upgrade benefit is available for one room for the personal use of the Member only, regardless of the number of additional rooms purchased by the Member. This benefit is not offered at Aloft and Element properties.

So at the time of check-in you’re promised the best available room, up to a standard suite.

Booking the St. Regis Abu Dhabi

I’m in Abu Dhabi this week, and just checked into the St. Regis Abu Dhabi.

St-Regis-Abu-Dhabi
St. Regis Abu Dhabi

As I outlined last week, luxury hotels in Abu Dhabi are dirt cheap in summer. The St. Regis Abu Dhabi is presently offering a third night free when booking through American Express Fine Hotels & Resorts.

St-Regis-Abu-Dhabi-Offer

The flexible rate for the hotel is $185USD per night, not factoring in the third free night. So I’m basically paying $120USD+ per night for a St. Regis. Ridiculous, right?

St-Regis-FHR

In addition, the benefits for booking through Fine Hotels & Resorts are as follows:

  • Room upgrade upon arrival, when available
  • Daily full breakfast for two
  • Complimentary massage for up to two people, once during your stay
  • Noon early check-in, upon availability
  • 4:00 pm guaranteed late check-out

But there’s a reason hotels are so cheap this time of year — they’re empty, because no one in their right mind would want to visit this time of year.

Abu-Dhabi-Weather

My check-in experience at the St. Regis Abu Dhabi

So I went to check-in today, and before heading to the hotel I noticed that they were still selling every single type of suite on the website, and lots of them.

St-Regis-Abu-Dhabi-Availability

At this hotel the St. Regis Suite is the highest standard suite category, and they were selling nine junior suites and nine St. Regis Suites this morning, which is the highest number of suites that will show on spg.com.

At check-in I was helped by an associate who quickly processed my check-in.

Our conversation went something like this:

Associate: “Your room isn’t quite ready yet, if you take a seat in the lobby I can let you know once it’s ready.”
Me: “No problem, do you know what kind of a room it is?”
Associate: “We have upgraded you to a sea view room.”
Me: “Do you by chance have any Starwood Platinum suite upgrades available?”
Associate: “You booked through Fine Hotels & Resorts, so we only upgrade you one level.”
Me: “So you’re saying Platinum benefits don’t apply on Fine Hotels & Resorts stays?”
Associate: “You get other benefits through American Express.”

This directly contradicts the terms and any experience I’ve ever had with a Fine Hotels & Resorts booking. The terms clearly state that only third party pre-paid bookings don’t qualify for upgrades. If anything, I’ve actually received better upgrades as a result of both having status and having booked through Fine Hotels & Resorts. The benefits are supposed to be stackable.

Me: “So if I cancel my booking and rebook on spg.com right now do I receive a suite upgrade then?”
Associate: “Maybe we can upgrade you to a junior suite then.”
Me: “Okay, but not a St. Regis Suite?”
Associate: “No, we have none of those available.”
Me: “I’m not trying to be difficult, but spg.com is still selling at least nine St. Regis Suites for tonight. If they’re not available, what would happen if I were to book one?”

I really didn’t want to be difficult but did genuinely want clarification, so asked for the front office manager. I wanted to know:

  • Is it true that the hotel doesn’t honor Platinum benefits on Fine Hotels & Resorts bookings (which contradicts the terms & conditions and would be useful to know so I can tell people to stay away from this property)?
  • There are a minimum of nine St. Regis Suites for sale, so is there legitimately a massive availability discrepancy, or are they going out of their way not to give these to Platinum members?

The front office manager was with another guest, so it was 15 minutes before he could talk to me, which was fine. Once he was ready he backpedaled somewhat on what his colleague said:

  • They do honor Platinum benefits on Fine Hotels & Resorts bookings.
  • The (at least) nine St. Regis Suites which showed for sale online were blocked for other guests. He explained that they would upgrade someone that booked a Grand Deluxe Room to a St. Regis Suite, for example. I suppose that’s one interpretation of Platinum benefits — not how I would interpret it, but fair enough.

So I was invited to enjoy a drink in the lobby lounge while they prepared my junior suite.

In the meantime I Tweeted the hotel, since I didn’t think my message was getting through. My issue wasn’t with the lack of an upgrade, but rather the misinformed associate:

@spg @StRegisAbuDhabi Your front desk needs serious training. First told Platinum benefits don’t apply for Fine Hotels & Resorts bookings.

I don’t care if I never get another suite upgrade in my life, I’d just rather not feel like I have to beg for something that they promise me in exchange for my loyalty.

Within about 30 minutes my junior suite was ready, and I was escorted to it. About 10 minutes after I got to the room the front office manager called me and told me a St. Regis Suite just opened up, and offered to move me.

St-Regis-Junior-Suite-Abu-Dhabi
Junior Suite St. Regis Abu Dhabi

So in the end I did get a suite.

St-Regis-Suite-Abu-Dhabi
St. Regis Suite St. Regis Abu Dhabi

Clarifying what irked me about the situation

I’d like to clarify a few things:

In the grand scheme of things this doesn’t matter. I would think this goes without saying, but someone always has to bring it up. One of my main goals with this blog is to help you guys make the most of your airline and hotel experiences. Not everyone has as much travel flexibility as I do, so the reason I review so many airlines and hotels is so that when you go on vacation with your valuable time, you’re making the most of it.

There are a million problems in the world, and this ain’t one of them! At the same time, if you’re a Starwood Platinum member and in the area, chances are this data point would be useful. So take it at face value.

It’s not about the suite upgrade… it’s about the managing of expectations. If I never got another suite upgrade at Starwood in my life I would still be loyal to them, because there are enough other great things about staying with them. I’m also loyal to Hyatt, and they don’t offer unlimited complimentary suite upgrades based on availability, but I still love them. Because my expectations are well managed.

If all room types were sold out last night and I just got a standard room facing a dumpster I would’ve been fine with that, because I got exactly what I was entitled to. But it just rubs me the wrong way when I’m loyal to a chain, they offer “unlimited suite upgrades based on availability,” the hotel is selling as many rooms as possible of those eligible suites, and then denies you on multiple reasons, most of which have no basis.

I don’t blame the associate. This is the most important point, and why I’m blogging about this. I don’t want to get the associate in trouble, because I genuinely don’t think it was her fault. The tone of the hotel when it comes to elite treatment is very much set by management. If they tell an associate to look at all room inventory when a Platinum checks in and to give them the best available room up to a standard suite, chances are that the associate will.

If they tell an associate to do everything they can to avoid providing upgrades, chances are the associate will. It’s not Starwood’s fault. It’s not the associate’s fault. At the end of the day it’s up to the hotel’s management to set their policies, so I suspect that’s what’s at play here.]

Bottom line

All things considered I still love Starwood. They have good hotels and elite recognition is generally excellent. That being said, I do consistently have issues with hotels following Starwood’s policy on suite upgrades.

I’m curious, what would you have done in this situation? Taken the sea view room, escalated it, or something else?

Comments

  1. Justin says

    Hey Lucky,

    No offense to you at all, is first :). Your blog is awesome.

    When I worked at a Sheraton in NY, I without a doubt HATED the Platinum members who after being told there was no upgrade, pulled up their app and said see there are more than one available!

    As a front desk agent, I really tried to upgrade every person who was genuinely nice to me and the bellman, when there was availability. We always had stuff going on so sometimes I was truly powerless so upgrade.

    That said, it sounds like it’s not exactly high season in the UAE, so I can imagine this is a little different.

    But anyway, I hope you don’t take any offense. Sounds like there was plenty of availability so I’m sure you should have gotten it in the first place. I’m really happy you don’t blame the associate, it likely wasn’t her fault like you said.

  2. says

    I would have done exactly the same thing. I’m seriously thinking about going with Hyatt next year because of how many times I’ve experienced this situation with SPG.

  3. says

    I would did exactly the same thing, up to the manager.
    Not the suite is the important thing, but the loyalty to the “most important guests” they came nights, and nights all over the year.

  4. Nevafazeme says

    I think you handled the situation very well. Like you said, it’s not as if you were asking for something extra; you just wanted what the upgrade policy says you should get. Period.

  5. says

    Indeed, it´s a fight everytime. But not also with SPG – same experience with Hyatt and Club Accor.

  6. says

    @Travel Summary – except.. Hyatt’s terms and conditions exclude suites from the Diamond upgrade on arrival benefit. The only time a Diamond is entitled to a suite is when paying for one or confirming one in advance (with a Diamond confirmed suite upgrade certificate, or using points on a qualifying rate which any member can do regardless of status).

    If this were a Hyatt property, the room originally offered to Lucky would have been compliant with the program terms it would seem no matter how many suites were available.

    Of course some Hyatt hotels do upgrade to suites when they don’t have to, but that’s true in any program..

    I love Hyatt Gold Passport, but I don’t think this experience is a reason to prefer Hyatt over SPG.

  7. bill says

    This is so frustrating because a) it’s a benefit promised to SPG Plats and b) it happens constantly. If SPG just stuck to their policy and upgraded people when suites were available, there would be nothing to complain about. Instead, because Starwood hotels don’t honor this policy on a regular basis, this awkward walk happens all the time at checkin.

  8. Andy says

    Agreed – if they don’t want to offer it as a benefit don’t list it as a published benefit. However if they’re going to list it as a published benefit, it shouldn’t require a fight to get it honored

  9. mbh says

    Nearly identical to my experience (as a lowly Ritz Rewards Gold Level) in Philly last week. The hotel (Ritz) was maybe 1/3 occupied, but there were “no upgrades available.” I have been very unimpressed with Marriott/Ritz this past year. On the other hand, I had just completed my initial spend on my new Hyatt Visa and needed two nights in London in August. I was worried that it was too late for the Churchill, but I called this a.m. and was so happy with the outstanding service. I was quickly and cheerfully given two nights at this lovely hotel for my certificates with no hassle at all. (Hoping for the “Platinum upgrade” when the time comes, but will be perfectly happy with my two free nights.)

  10. Larry says

    Yup, I’ve moved from SPG to Hyatt. I’m sure neither cares much — I’m lucky to get 55 to 60 nights a year, but I absolutely refuse to fight for suites. I won’t do it. I don’t even ask. My third and final year (last year) as SPG plat, I decided I would simply see what happened if I simply took what was given. I was virtually shut out on suites, despite hotels having them for sale all the time, and even though I am usually only a one night guest. I also found my suite upgrades virtually useless. Hyatt, on the other hand, seems to go out of its way to give me a good room, and the irony, as Gary mentioned, is that they don’t even promise suites. Given this difference in the programs, if you’re comfortable fighting for suites and having every check in experience be an uncomfortable and confrontational interaction, you’ll do better with SPG, I imagine. Otherwise, the entire upgrade situation is, at least in my experience, pretty much a marketing scam.

  11. Brian says

    Thank you for voicing an annoyance spg plt members face OFTEN. I normally don’t have the time or energy to bring it up on check in, but simply knowing that a hotel is half empty and as a loyal customer I’m not being upgraded is annoying.

    This issue, in addition to the often poor plt breakfast amenity (US based hotels) has been my primary reason for enlisting in a Hyatt Diamond challenge earlier this month and changing brand loyalty. Its too bad because I really do like the starwood portfolio.

    Thanks again for voicing everybody’s concern

  12. Nick says

    Maybe Starwood Platinum isn’t so different from Marriott & Hilton Plat & Diamond. You went above and beyond what I would have done. I only Tweet at the offending accounts when they give me the crap downgrade view of the parking lot. Unless it’s forced into the system they just don’t attempt to honor the benefits. They must have looked you up when they gave you the St Regis suite.

  13. elteetrav says

    I don’t have enough status with SPG to be eligible for a suite upgrade – but this seems to be a recurring theme on many of the blogs. The result is that I am not at all interested in sending more business to SPG – because the clear message is that you need to be prepared to fight for the stuff that they say they are going to give you. What kind of loyalty program is that? Not one that inspires me to try to stay there more.

  14. RNP says

    It happened to me the same “no upgrade available” as I checked in the Hilton. I guess it is a scheme to refuse the elite members to upgrade. If I push hard, then I may get the upgrade but I got a feeling like begging. I got “no upgrade available” all the time.

  15. Nick E says

    Thanks for posting this, Lucky. I think you handled it very well. I am relatively new to SPG platinum status and last year hit 50 nights for the first time, and I have to say that my upgrades with SPG have been much more hit-or-miss than with Hilton. Just tried to use 5 suite night awards at the W in Montreal with no luck, so I don’t think I will push for 50 nights this year.

  16. says

    @Gary – yes, I meant switch to Hyatt not because I’d get upgraded to a suite with them, but because they deliver on what they promise without issue on almost all occasions. I haven’t been able to say the same for SPG recently.

  17. Neil S. says

    Thank you, thank you, thank you.

    This happened to me yesterday at the Westin in SF.

    I was SPG Gold thru Amex for a few years, and never got upgraded. Never. But I was just Gold, so didn’t really expect it.

    In March and April, I did a Platinum challenge, thanks to a lot of work trips. And I was super excited to see the difference, because SPG makes such a HUGE deal about how great Platinum is.

    So I check into the hotel, my first time to any Starwood property as a Plat, and to make a long, annoying story short, finally gtoo the suite – after being given two other rooms – one that wasn’t made up, and one without working lamps.

    The app showed all kinds of rooms open, the first two people I spoke with said the hotel was full.

    Just be honest with me.

  18. Dan says

    @Justin

    As lucky says, the underlying issue is expectation management. “If available” is a very ambiguous term, and the same issue applies to airline F seats and “unlimited domestic upgrades” when they’re selling “TOD” upgrades to the kettles.

    I don’t want to discount your opinion as an “insider”, but come on, don’t you think the average travel seats a suite for sale and therefore thinks it’s available?

    As others have said, fighting for what is promised really detracts from the experience.

  19. elteetrav says

    Another thought – I appreciate you taking the time to politely push back with the hotel on this issue. Your post sounds a bit apologetic about doing that — but I view this as part of your job, Ben. If all I want to do is look at pictures of the hotel, I can go to Tripadvisor. The reason your blog (and others like it) add extra value is because you are able to demonstrate which loyalty programs are really delivering on the extras that they promise. When I consistently hear from you that and others that you are not proactively provided what is promised, it helps me make rational decisions about which programs to support.

    Frankly, I’m a bit surprised that by now, the major programs don’t have your name flagged so that you automatically get an upgrade whenever possible — in order to avoid reports like this.

  20. JustSaying says

    I personally think the “suite” thang is somewhat gluttony and prefer the simple luxury of Hyatt….

  21. SJ says

    I have multiple similar experiences and rarely fight. Will probably be moving away from SPG next year. Just checked into Mona Surfrider in HI and given crappiest rooms on the 2nd floor with suites clearly available on checkin. Had even notified the hotel about a special occasion. Maybe my $2k doesnt mean much to the hotel, but its their loss.

  22. Paul says

    Glad you pressed the issue. I don’t travel enough to really know what I’m entitled to with my status and as such have low expectations. Pleasantly surprised at upgrades with Hilton Diamond but disappointed with Hyatt Diamond despite Hilton Diamond supposedly much less generous program. SPG always struck me as chintzy.

  23. John says

    I moved to hyatt two years ago. its exactly what you say about expectations. I usually get a perfectly acceptable room on a high floor away from an elevator. Last week i was upgraded twice to a suite in chicago and Dallas. Totally not expected but appreciated.

    The question is, if SPG took away that benefit and went to Hyatt’s model of not guaranteeing to upgrade, wouldnt everyone on this blog cry foul and call it a massive devaluation? So which is worse, fighting for the benefit and with enough will power getting it or having SPG take it away so your expectations are aligned but would feel like a blow to program…

  24. Justin says

    I worked at a Starwood business hotel, we had an average of 100 Platinums in the hotel every night, especially during the week. It was ridiculous, because so many we’re expecting upgrades. We can’t do it for everyone :(, I wish we could have.

  25. Todd says

    It seems you hit a nerve, Ben.

    This seems to be a little more than an isolated incident and clearly something SPG is aware of but has chosen to do nothing about it.

    “St. Regis Suite just opened up”. Imagine that!

  26. Ray says

    I disagree. I think you acted like an entitled baby. I think they relented and gave you the jr. suite according to the agreement but then you forced them into the full suite. Now I understand how you get the suite upgrades on almost all your trips, you throw a fit until they agree so you don’t write negative reviews. I follow your blog and love most of your reviews, on this subject, I think you acted out like a young entitled American we are so often called. (IMHO)

  27. David says

    @Justin
    We actually understand you cannot upgrade everyone. But just do not lie.
    Some of the lies I was fed was
    1) spg.com inventory was out of wack;
    2) if someone does book a suite now, we will have to walk them;
    I mean, seriously?

  28. Bill says

    I’m a Starwood Planner and finished the SPG Plat Challenge this spring for my first time. I then had a 5 night stay at the St. Regis Kauai where I was booked for a junior suite–but got double upgraded to a St. Regis suite because of my Plat status. I was friendly and joking around with the front desk clerk, so maybe that helped.

    Since then I’ve stayed at the W San Fran and W Hollywood and been upgraded to junior suites both times.

    In my experience, some CULTURES do not think about “upgrades” the same way we as Americans do–it’s just not embedded or common for them as it is in the American hotel experience. In China, at the St. Regis Lhasa and all of the other luxury properties I’ve stayed in (Peninsula, Softel, Banyan Tree, etc.), they don’t typically upgrade–it’s just not part of the Chinese experience. In Europe, I’ve had similar experiences at many good to luxury hotels, as well, though I’ve had more success there than in China. Perhaps the experience in the Middle East was as much cultural as it is a management issue.

    In the USA, I am almost always upgraded when I kindly ask and point out that I already checked and know there are upgraded rooms still for sale. In other parts of the world, that isn’t as common, in my experience.

    Starwood SHOULD provide better management of this Platinum upgrade option WORLDWIDE, but it still faces the prejudices and cultural differences that are part of the reason for our travels in the first place. I agree that SPG hotel should provide the suite upgrade benefit that it sets as an expectation for all of its properties, but I also understand that some management are stingier than others for many reasons.

    Switching hotel loyalty for a benefit that I don’t get enough to another chain where I don’t get it at all seems silly to me. I’d rather have the SPG suite upgrade given to me some of the time with SPG rather than never have a crack at it with any other chain. Those who switched for that particular reason alone are cutting off their noses to spite their faces. Pretty silly.

    Can SPG do better in this area? Absolutely. Has my experience with SPG Plat suite upgrades been good? Absolutely. Are there some properties that need a bit of a stern reminder? Perhaps. But most SPG properties likely handle suite upgrades as fairly as they are supposed to, and we’re discussing some bad apples.

  29. Andrew says

    I have been a lifetime Platinum member since that option was available at SPG and I still stay 50+ nights at Starwood Hotels so I get my 10 suite upgrades benefit per year. Normally I will get a nice upgraded room but not all the time.

    When I put in for the suite night upgrade award benefit – I have always gotten one…BUT some hotels say it’s a suite upgrade but it’s the same room they would upgrade a Platinum guest to w/o the suite upgrade request…..which I don’t understand….?
    Be warned that at the SHeraton Brussels (city) you will get a very old crummy suite that hasn’t been updated since 1950 with the excuse that there is a planned renovation coming later in the year (Same excuse year after year!). Franchised properties in the USA have the same problems. Foreign Starwood-managed properties usually uphold the service standards.

    What I really hate is that my newspaper choice is stored somewhere in the SPG files – but only when I stay at a foreign property – does it ever get fulfilled. Seems like a real disconnect between the USA properties and the foreign ones.

  30. Cedric says

    I concur with Andrew.
    I recently stayed at the Sheraton Buenos Aires and saw the “Premier Suite” photos which I based my upgrade award on. Unfortunately, there are only a few renovated Premier Suites and I was given an un-renovated one! While I had no complaints about the hotel or room – I did want SPG to low the issue re: reality vs website pics so I notified SPG via twitter while in the hotel and they contacted the hotel directly. End result – I was credited back with 5 SUite Upgrade Nights which I thought was very nice on their part.

    Then I stayed at the SHeraton Iguazu Falls on a Cash + Points stay and was upgraded (complimentary) to a Premier Suite…which begs the question – why use a Suite Upgrade Award if I’m going to get the same room as a complimentary upgrade ???

  31. GHA Experience says

    Lucky,

    Unfortunately, its not only SPG that does this. I have had similar experiences with the GHA program. I am a GHA Black level member which entitles one to:
    1) guaranteed room availability
    2) 2 tier upgrade

    I have had hotels in the GHA group expressing state that they can’t honor the guaranteed room availability since there are all booked. They say that only applies if there are rooms available… which to me seems to make no sense.

    Also, the two tier upgrade has been a fight on several occasions. And similar to your experience, I have been told that they will not combine Fine Hotel and Resorts benefits with GHA Black level benefits.

    What do you advise doing in situations like this? Unlike SPG, GHA is an alliance of separately owned/operated hotel chains.

  32. Michael says

    My issue is why I have a published benefit if you are denied access to it?

    I would never NOT ask. You are a Plat. They should be catering to you at time of check-in! They are certainly catering to you when they WANT YOU to go for Plat.

    It’s the same way with American and their Evips (systemwide upgrades). It’s a horror show on the forums about how hard it is to use the published benefit of those systemwides — or at least use them the way we used to use them (buying a lower international fare and upgrading). Now I can use my evip on transcons but forget about using it to Europe, unless it’s Christmas or Thanksgiving Day. Very frustrating.

  33. says

    Thank you for highlighting this issue. It is a continual issue for all SPG Platinum members and SPG seems utterly disinterested in addressing it, or even acknowledging that it’s a problem. That to me is just a huge red flag for a program we supposedly can trust.

    I never ask for or fight for suite upgrades. Out of principle it is absurd I should have to do so. The first comment, a former Starwood hotel employee says, “As a front desk agent, I really tried to upgrade every person who was genuinely nice to me and the bellman, when there was availability.”

    He says this in a compassionate way, but this is exactly the problem. That sentence is absolutely offensive to me – implied it in is that if you only “be nice” or do something to “warrant” an upgrade, you will get it.

    No. If the upgrade is a published benefit, a Platinum member should be *pre-blocked* into that room. It shouldn’t require any special interaction with a front desk agent or personal judgments on who is “nice” or not, or people having to beg. Absolutely ridiculous.

    My first stay as Hyatt Diamond was at the Hyatt Magnificent Mile. I was upgraded to a suite, even though I said nothing and wasn’t even entitled to it.

    Like you, it’s not about the benefit itself but the published benefit of getting it, and constantly having expectations uncertain. Uncertainty costs are larger than everyone things, in general, and this is just one example. Starwood in it’s frustrating inconsistency of properties falls befalls uncertainty costs in other ways, too.

    Yet, I am still reluctantly loyal primarily because of the value of the points.

  34. Nico says

    I hate that SPG did not standby what they said too. I stayed at Le Meridien Jakarta and noticed that they charged more than what spg.com published for upgrade. I contacted SPG Platinum and it has been 4 months and I have not even received any concrete answer whether Le Meridien Jakarta allowed to charge more than spg.com published upgrade points. It is funny that it has been back and forth for a few months that SPG didn’t even bother to follow up. It will be great if you can confirm if any of the SPG properties allowed to charge more points than spg.com published points for upgrade.

  35. Santastico says

    How would you manage the upgrade from FHR that you are eligible if available? My point is that if the front desk BS you that they do not have availability there is not much you can do. Correct?
    I never believe on perks that are “subject to availability”. I stayed at Hilton FLL on a oceanview room and was told my eligible upgrade would not apply because the next step up was ocean front and they could not upgrade me to that room. Well, it is available but I am not eligible? Total BS!!!

  36. says

    @ Justin — I appreciate the data point, and I imagine those Platinum members can be frustrating as a front desk agent. Frankly the thing that irked me most — which I’m sure you’ll understand — is being told that Platinum benefits simply don’t apply on an FHR stay, which is incorrect. So it was one step beyond the usual “no suites are available” line, but rather saying that even if there were suites available, I wouldn’t get it.

    I don’t usually push too much with upgrades when a hotel is busy, but this is the Middle East in summer, and I can’t imagine occupancy is high at all. So I do feel a bit more “comfortable” asking for upgrades then, if that makes any sense.

  37. Tony says

    Lucky what level of PLT are you? Last year I did a 150 nights at SPG hotels, and this year, not once have I had to ask about an upgrade, in fact, I get an e-mail a couple of days before arrival telling me what I have been upgraded to and if this suite was satisfactory, and just once I said no just to see what they would do. Not too sure what they did but got me into a nicer and bigger room. I travel solo so a suite isn’t all that important to me, as long as it is quite…

  38. says

    @ John — There’s no doubt that if they took upgrades away now it would lead to frustration. If they never offered suite upgrades based on availability to begin with (and instead just 10 Suite Night Awards) I’d probably still be loyal to them, because you can’t miss what you don’t know. But it’s just constantly being promised something and them not delivering on it that’s frustrating.

  39. says

    @ Ray — I think every time I “throw a fit” at a hotel (as you call it) I write about it, so that’s not very often. And I’ve never — not once — told a hotel that I’m a blogger. I’m sure they find out eventually when I do Tweet at them and throw a fit, but I’ve never in my life threatened a bad review. And even though they upgraded me and even sent me a welcome gift as an apology, I still shared my honest feedback.

  40. AS says

    I agree with Ray. You complained and complained and complained and finally they relented. Double-relented, in fact, with a top level suite granted. And then you blogged about it to complain yet again, and you have the gall to say that in the grand scheme of things it doesn’t matter.

  41. Raymond says

    I think part of the problem is that SPG does not own most of the hotels, its managed by another company. Therefore all those hotels, just want the branding but does not want to do anything that costs them money (if they give you a suite, then the room is not available for a paying customer). That is why cash & points, and all these lucrative benefits for the platinum don’t get rewarded. And I personally think SPG program is getting really bad these days.

  42. says

    @ Andrew — Right, the idea behind the Suite Night Awards is that you can confirm an upgrade in advance as opposed to chancing it at check-in. It’s no different than using miles for a first class upgrade rather than doing a complimentary elite upgrade, given that it’s less likely to clear. With Starwood, some hotels will even offer better than “standard” suites for those using Suite Night Awards, which might not otherwise be available in the upgrade pool.

  43. says

    @ GHA Experience — Ouch, that’s rough, since GHA properties are even less “aligned” than SPG properties. Not sure what I’d do there.

  44. says

    @ Tony — “Just” a 50 night Plat. Will be a 100+ night Plat this year. Curious if that makes any difference.

  45. larry says

    I retired from the Austin Call Center a few years ago after serving on the Luxury/St Regis reservation desk. At one time we serviced SPG Platinum’s until it was farmed out to another center. Your approach was the correct one, to resolve it with on site management, not calling a reservation center and demanding we call the hotel and order an upgrade. I think some of the posts here pointed out some distinction between for sale and available. Yes, Starwood is somewhat lacking in its overall enforcement of the policy and should always be brought to the attention of both on site management and up through regional and upper management if not resolved. All to often they do not take this approach, grumble and go on accepting the poor excuses. BTW, Starwood has a Lurker on the Flyer Talk Website and I can personally say he responds to posts on that site fairly and promptly. He can’t exercise management authority to resolve a problem but his voice is heard by management. Just as hotels may have different ways of treating the upgrade problem, one should consider Platinum’s come in many different forms and personalities, most are like you Ben and the readers of your blog, your concern is genuine. Regrettably, a few think they were given a hallo when they earned the status.

  46. Drew says

    I think the SPG problem described is common with most Premium programs at Hotels and Airlines. They keep telling us how important we are, and yet often times don’t show it with their actions. What’s the old adage–”Actions speak louder than Words.” Quit telling us how good it will be, just show us and consistently!!

  47. larry says

    Raymond,
    Regarding your comment on hotel ownership; in fact almost all of the hotels are managed by Starwood. At one time they owned most of their hotels, with the exception of some Sheraton hotels which were franchised and have largely disappeared. After Barry Sternlicht, Starwood’s founder, left the company the focus shifted to managing properties not owning them, which is the present policy. There may be a few hotels still operating under franchise, Le Meridien Santa Monica is one such hotel, however by and large Starwood manages the hotels and that is the case with the other major chains.

  48. John says

    Lucky, Im curious how you were able to see that there were 9 available suites on SPG.com?

  49. Mike says

    This is why I didn’t bother staying loyal to SPG after becoming Platinum. Yes, I did have plenty of upgrades and the breakfast benefits were overall great. However I did need to do a lot of research and identify properties that would provide good benefits. And this suite upgrade thing was just maddening. I could see plenty of suites available, check in at 11 pm, and still no upgrades. The “subject to availability” clause is too vague and clearly some properties are better than others at providing these benefits.

    I’d much rather have something like Hyatt where you confirm your upgrade or not, and not make that promise of an upgrade to the best available room that SPG makes. Under promise and over deliver.

  50. mw says

    Please, this has been going on forever, and the reason I let my platinum status slip almost 3 years ago. They just don’t care.

  51. iv says

    I’ve had the same experience many times with SPG. I would have and have done the exact same as you. Loyalty is a two way street. I just don’t trust Starwood any longer with upgrades.

  52. GB says

    Like many others have posted, the same issues used to constantly accor with Accor hotels. After obtaining the highest status I was always surprised how if you didn’t ask you never received. I have since moved my business elsewhere…

  53. says

    This also annoys the hell out of me.

    I let it go sometimes, push back sometimes. If I’m with my wife I will tend to email the hotel in advance and ask if they can do anything.

    If I’m by myself I don’t mind as much, but I have learned to ask what room I’ve been upgraded to and ask about alternatives. Most of the time I get a better deal.

    Always try to remember that the front desk probably isn’t calling the shots, and conduct myself in a pleasant manner :)

  54. Levy Flight says

    Can we get SPG to address this, at least acknowledge the disconnect between the offered benefit and practice on site? Well done on highlighting the issue clearly. The length of comments indicate this is a non trivial issue that needs to be addressed.

  55. JakePB says

    This type of thing to me is really very simple: A deal is a deal – SPG should live up to their end of the bargain. Your title to the post is PERFECT. I hate being put in the position of having to fight – I shouldn’t have to apologize for having 75 stays per year in Hilton properties. If they don’t want to reward loyalty, discontinue the program.

  56. Nick says

    Starwood is already paying for not delivering on this benefit, they know how many customers who have left or don’t give as much business. I guess the issue is convincing properties of the value of keeping the 50+ night traveller happy.

  57. Sunrise089 says

    Please keep fighting this fight, it’s an incredibly frustrating situation!

    For the small number of commenters who view Lucky as entitled, I wonder how you would feel if he was the one reneging on a promise to the hotel. Say he disputed 20% of the credit card charge or did some light intentional damage to the room. Is the hotel ‘entitled’ to expect him to abide by their terms.

    @Lucky – only devil’s advocate position I can see: do you think properties are virtually-pre-booking suites for higher level plats who arrive later? I know that’s outside the letter of the SPG rules but if true I could see it as within the spirit.

    I think the biggest question is how this relates to Hyatt – I’m genuinely unsure whether I prefer their inferior benefit or not just because SPG hotels make this so unpleasant.

  58. Bgriff says

    I am surprised at the level of anger here; I personally have generally been quite happy with SPG Platinum upgrades, and have only very rarely had to argue with a front desk (though often I don’t get upgraded but SPG.com also shows no rooms).

    It is definitely sometimes the case (though does not sound like it was the case for Lucky on this trip) that hotels will try to do the right thing and pre-assign Platinums to available suites, often favoring Platinums who stay often at that particular property over Platinums who have never stayed there before. You could debate whether that is a good policy and whether it is in line with SPG policies, but it at least makes some sense. However it does lead to confusion and miscommunication with others checking in.

    Moreover I don’t know what the solution is. SPG tried to improve things with Suite Night Awards, which seem to help in some cases, but seem to create much more frustration in other cases as they sometimes seem not to clear even in cases where you would really think they should. And going to a “don’t ever expect a suite upgrade” policy like Hyatt would not really be an improvement either.

  59. Carl says

    Is the Jr Suite upgrade not a standard suite? Sometimes i get that and other times a full suite.

  60. Topgunner says

    After 2 years and 100+ nights of such nonsense I surrendered SPG Plat and favoring Starwood hotels and instead would rather stay at Hyatt Places and Hilton Garden Inns than deal with poor delivery of SPG benefits on a consistent basis. My new order of loyalty / hotel preference: Kimpton, Hyatt, Fairmont, Hilton (free gold status), Intercontinental, Carlson-Rezidor, Boutique, B&B, Starwood. When traveling for work my average room rates are north of $200 because it’s always short notice, cannot be prepaid and I’m usually in expensive locales.

    This might be a mere blip on Starwoods biz, but I never ever look any profitable sale in my work.

  61. Eugene says

    It doesn’t have to be a fight for You. Just tweet in advance saying something like “can’t wait to check in to @hotelname later tonight”

  62. Beachfan says

    Lucky, do all starwood hotels follow twitter? If so, how does one know the correct address? That might make a good topic.

  63. says

    @ Beachfan — Not all hotels do, though nowadays most do. To find their Twitter simply google “[Hotel name] Twitter.”

  64. AJ says

    I remember having to do this at the St. Regis Princeville even with my elderly parents standing behind me back in 2010 (they didn’t realize it’s standard practice with Starwood) — how dreadful! I got rid of Platinum and switched to HGB Diamond and haven’t looked back since. I only generate $15-20k of revenue annually so perhaps I’m not important, but there you go…

    Completely done with Starwood until I don’t have to fight anymore for Platinum upgrades. Thanks for this post.

  65. Paul says

    Been a Plat for 7 years and have NEVER been upgraded…but then again never asked. I’ve never experienced this “benefit”, so it doesn’t exist to me…..

  66. preston says

    Worthwhile data point: I’m an SPG Gold (through actual stays and not CC), and I got an upgrade to a junior suite at check in during my stay two weeks ago at this property. So it’s strange yuppy had to fight even for that. I did check in super late though.

  67. A says

    It’s been hit or miss for me and the suite upgrade policy as a Platinum with SPG. Unless I am using a suite night cert I don’t feel that the hotel is required to give me a suite, even if they are available. I guess I feel that Starwood’s policy is a bit too liberal. However, there has been two times that I have had to argue with the hotel front desk to get the room that they promised me with my SNA, now that is beyond frustrating. It seems that certain properties get and and other don’t. But overall, I am very pleased with my upgrades as a Platinum with SPG.

    Honestly, I have had much worse (and I mean MUCH worse) experiences with the Hyatt Diamond upgrades. I walked away from Hyatt, due to them refusing Confirmed Diamond upgardes on government rates (even while on official business). I was once told at a property that they only confirmed Diamond upgrades to “more valuable, high paying guests”. I guess that my government rate wasn’t worth their time.. And I took my 100 nights a year to SPG.

  68. Darth Chocolate says

    Wow. Just WOW!

    Most of you sound like a bunch of spoiled brats. And no wonder you do not get what should be a no-problem benefit. I would suspect it’s all in your attitude.

    OK, I am a lowly Gold SPG and HHonors. And I travel internationally a lot. And many times the best hotel available in some of the places is pretty poor (like some in the middle of nowhere China that do not take credit cards of any kind). But sometimes I get to stay in real cities and at real hotels.

    On a recent trip to France, I tried to book into a Hilton property that showed available on the website the night before. Since I had to go through the corporate travel agency, I had to wait until the next day. The agent told me it was “sold out”.

    So, I go to the Hilton site and try to book – no dice. Then a call to HHonors and still zilch, but I booked a room for a few days later in the week. I then call the hotel directly and explained my situation. The lady said she would see what she could do. I forwarded my confirmation (which showed my Gold status) and 10 minutes later I was confirmed for the entire week. And I was upgraded on arrival with access to the Executive Lounge.

    No argument. No hassle. Just done.

    Yes, a suite is nice. But it is not necessary for survival.

    Get over yourselves.

  69. Front Office says

    I want to share my opinion on this topic as I am Front Office Manager for a large company (not Starwood).

    With all honesty, loyalty programs can be tough as corporate sometimes over promises and at the hotel we under deliver. I agree if it is in the terms and conditions then it should be honored.

    I learned a long time ago that it is not worth “the fight” and even though you know the person is wrong (not in your case) then just let it go and give them what they want. The problem with that is, everyone know has the sense of entitlement and they should get everything they want. I am sure most people have seen this video http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WCqm4H3m3Ew but it is exactly how hotels feel. I truly believe most hotel employees would rather give a suite upgrade to a nice person then some spoiled platinum member but maybe that is just me.

    I understand where you came from and the FOM should have just given it to you, but I think your Tweet was wrong. You say you don’t care and you don’t want to get the agent in trouble, well you showed you do care and I bet that agent had a chat with a manager especially when they found it who you were. If you didn’t care you would have taken the original room.

    Thank you for all you do, it is a pleasure to read.

    FOM

  70. says

    @Lucky, I’ve been a 100 night plat the last two years. My first ambassador was underwhelming, my second has been great. Definitely think its a YMMV situation based on conversations with other 100 night plats.

    While other chains have caught up to SPG in terms of benefits offered, SPG too often over-promises and under-delivers lately. Suite upgrades, especially the suite night award are a solid disappointment for me over the last couple years. Add that to having to fight to get a late check-out the handful of times I need it each year, and the bloom is a bit off the rose for me.

  71. Beachfan says

    Ihnk being a repeat guest and a platinum makes a big difference. In several cases, my SNAs didn’t clear and I then got upgraded to a suite above the SNA level. Some pretty fancy places as well.

    @ lucky, thanks for the twitter tip!

  72. MEOW says

    This happens to me frequently as a SPG Plat. It’s gotten to the point that i’ll be shifting my business to Hyatt next year whenever possible.

  73. Justin says

    This same hotel downgraded us to a Deluxe Suite at check in after our SNA cleared into a St. Regis Suite 5 days out.

    Seems like one to avoid if you care about your plat benefits being honored…

  74. Justin says

    …oh yeah … and they tried to tell me that it was an upgrade from a St Regis suite at first.

    They did return the SNA and give me 16k points, but I still feel like they should’ve given me more. They certainly made more than 16k SPG points worth of money on selling “my” suite to somebody else.

  75. mdtravel says

    Lucky, don’t you know that when you can book a suite online, it always means there are actually no suites available? Their inventory is managed via a complicated computer system coupled with carrier pigeons. This means that while they will sell suites like crazy, there are actually none available.

  76. Julio says

    I actually stayed at that hotel fairly recently. Beautiful hotel by the way.

    Anyways, I’m just a lowly SPG gold and I booked it under SPG free nights. When I went to check in, the gentleman was very pleasant but didn’t mention an upgrade. I gently asked if an upgrade would be available, and he offered me an upgrade to a slightly better room.

    He then offered to upgrade me to a Jr. suite for a certain amount per night, or the St. Regis suite for another larger amount (can’t recall them at the moment). I asked to see all the rooms, and in the end I went back to him and said I’ll stick with the slightly upgraded room because I didn’t want to cough up the extra cash.

    He then told me that he’d upgrade me to a Jr. Suite for no extra charge, which was pleasant and I appreciated it.

    I found the Jr. Suite a bit cramped frankly. The bedroom and the lounge are really small. However, the quality of the furniture, the bathroom, and the gadgets were all excellent.

  77. John says

    Ben is the number of suites avail on spg.com or an app? I can’t see the number avail on spg.com

  78. mdtravel says

    So Julio has the secret…in order to get upgrades at check in, it is apparently best to NOT be a platinum. The worm turns.

  79. John says

    Ben is the total number of suites avail on spg.com or an app? I can’t see the number avail on spg.com

  80. says

    @ John — It doesn’t show the number of suites available. Rather you can search for up to nine rooms at a time, and based on that tell how many rooms they’re willing to sell you for that category.

  81. James says

    So instead of putting in the reservation as “Mr. Lucky Coins”, try “Sheikh Lucky Coins”. Of course, the skin tone may be a slight give-away….

  82. Ivan Y says

    In theory, SPG’s policy and suite upgrades are good but in practice — as evidenced by FT threads and this discussion — it’s rather frustrating being jerked around and not knowing for certain what you will get.

    What’s even worse, SPG’s policy isn’t as good as Hyatt’s for times when it matters most. While traveling alone on business or quick unimportant trips alone, we may be fine with a regular room.

    What we all probably want is having something really, really nice for a special occasion like a vacation with a spouse/significant other/friends/etc. If you are both SPG Plat 50+ and Hyatt Diamond, Hyatt is a more attractive proposition because you can figure out ahead of time whether you are going to get an upgrade versus having to wait until very close to arrival.

    Having said that, I did have an awesome experience being upgraded from an award reservation to a top-floor junior suite at an SPG hotel in Vienna as a simple SPG Plat (without SNA). Didn’t have to argue with them or anything. No such luck in a Zurich hotel a couple of weeks later (upgraded to Deluxe room) but was too tired to argue.

    TL;DR – we would all appreciate more certainty in SPG upgrade policies; perhaps, they should just mirror Hyatt’s policy for DSUs (except being able to able to award stays).

  83. John says

    What a laughable post. If the suite upgrade truly didn’t matter to you, you wouldn’t have escalated the situation or acted in your DYKWIA fashion.

  84. Sturbay says

    Ben, what I see happening as an SPG Platinum Ambassador guest is that the hotels (most of them) the day before have already blocked the inventory of the suites available for us. If I look at my SPG app the day before arrival, I already know if I have been assigned a suite or not. This is fairly consistent with their online inventory. I am sure if they have the chance to sell it, they will take the already done upgrade away. In which case I have snapped a screen shot on my phone to raise hell. This has never happened yet thank god. So although you may be a platinum member the suites they are showing online for sale have already been reserved for Ambassador guests that are above you. But as you said you are hitting ambassador level, you will start seen a difference for the most part. It Used to be you had to rush to get to the hotel so you can be guaranteed the best room upgrade as they were suppose to be assigned when you check in. This is no longer the case at least at ambassador level.

  85. says

    @Sturbay, I’ve had an Ambassador for just under 2 years now. For me, having an Ambassador has not increased my suite percentage at all. It’s actually been historically worse than before I had an Ambassador though I think that’s just short term variance. I have a fabulous Ambassador and don’t want to lose the service, but I don’t think it’s a given that Ambassador level guarantees a higher upgrade percentage.

  86. Dan Lester says

    I’m also only a Gold Member with Starwood, and most of our stays are international. So far, we’ve never had a problem and always get the promised amenities. We don’t get free suites, though have gotten them a couple times, usually when had a guaranteed arrival, arrived late, and suite was what was left in inventory. We love our Starwood Amex too, and ALL of our purchases, except for those from the few places that don’t honor Amex, get put on it. Internet, phone, most utilities, food, gas, etc. And Amex has yet to collect a penny in interest from us, as always paid in full at end of the month. Yes, know they get a cut from the purchases. We’ve already booked nights this fall in LA area, Athens, London, Las Vegas and Florida. We’re now retired and all of our “road warrior” duties are where and when we want to go, not when we have to.

  87. Perry says

    Lucky,

    I actually stayed at the same property once they opened and kind of experienced the same thing with the staff.

    Out of curiosity, how were you able to tell they had 9 St. Regis Suites open? I think its good to have that information, especially in trying to convince them of a suite upgrade.

  88. says

    @ Perry — When you go to make a booking on spg.com, you can search space for up to nine rooms at once, so that’s how I knew.

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