First Impressions Of SPG Ambassador Status

Filed Under: SPG

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about how I finally earned SPG Ambassador status, which is achieved after 100 elite qualifying nights in a calendar year with Starwood.

SPG-Ambassador

I’ve been a Platinum member for years, which requires 25 stays or 50 nights. I’ve long commended Starwood for offering marginal perks for earning 75 or 100 elite qualifying nights, as it gives you an incentive to “over-qualify.”

Admittedly I’ve only had the status for a couple of weeks, though I figured I’d share my initial impressions based on a few Starwood stays and also my initial interactions with my Ambassador.

First of all, for a bit of background, here’s how Starwood describes Ambassador service:

When you have 100 eligible nights in a calendar year, you are rewarded with our highest level of service. You’re matched with an SPG® ambassador who is your point person every time you stay with SPG. Your ambassador has the knowledge and resources to make your stays as personal and enjoyable as possible.

The more your ambassador gets to know you over time, the more he or she can provide the personal touches that make each trip special. Whether it’s an early arrival, shopping, a meeting venue or a restaurant for a client dinner, your ambassador will scope out the local scene to find the best your destination has to offer.

Initial interactions with my Ambassador

My Ambassador contacted me within a couple of days of earning Ambassador status, and introduced himself and explained a bit about the program. As I’ve often said on the blog, I’m a pretty independent traveler, and also think I have a good grasp of what’s reasonable to ask for and what isn’t. Based on my interactions with him, there are a couple of things I found interesting:

  • I was asked for my preferences of snacks and drinks. He explained that one perk of Ambassador status is getting welcome amenities more often, though it certainly won’t happen with all stays. But it’s nice that they at least take note of what you like, as presumably they add it to your profile so hotels can delight as much as possible. For example, I don’t really like red wine, so it’s nice to be able to specify that, as it’s wasted on me as an amenity.
  • Check-in times matter. When making reservations I’ve historically not really indicated my check-in times, as I assumed it served no purpose. He explained the more I indicate my preferred check-in times, the more he can help get me the best upgrades possible. If I’m checking in at 2PM, for example, I might not get the same upgrade as if I check-in at 8PM, since some of the premium rooms might be filled by other elite members with guaranteed 4PM check-out. So I’ve gotten in the habit of always adding my check-in times to reservations.

My second stay as an Ambassador was at the St. Regis Doha, and I had a huge smile on my face when I had the below welcome amenity waiting for me, which I thought was adorable. I don’t expect welcome amenities often (or at all), but this one put a huge smile on my face.

SPG-Ambassador-Status

I also can’t complain about the upgrades I’ve received on the past two stays, though that’s likely more a function of staying at properties outside the US than having Ambassador status. I don’t expect my luck to continue at US airport Sheraton properties… 😉

SPG-Suite-1
Not all suites…

SPG-Suite-2
...are created equal, though!

For what it’s worth, I was recognized as a Platinum member on my stays so far, so I don’t think hotels really note the added Ambassador status, which is perfectly fine of course.

What are my expectations of the program?

I’m a pretty independent traveler, so I’m not someone who typically needs help making hotel reservations, arranging transportation and dining, etc.

I’m not expecting Ambassador service to help me break the rules. In other words, I don’t expect they’ll help me refund a non-refundable reservations, get a presidential suite upgrade, etc.

I do see a lot of value in having a point of contact who can add a “human touch” to things, though.

Let me give an example — I have an upcoming stay at a hotel which is notoriously non-compliant with SPG (to say the least). I made a “Your24 check-in request,” and the hotel is pretty wide open the night before. Despite that, the request still hasn’t cleared. If it doesn’t clear by tomorrow, I feel like I could reasonably reach out to my Ambassador and he could make it happen.

Without that kind of service it’s easy to feel like you don’t have a point of contact at a company who can add that human touch. So there’s plenty of value in that.

I’d say in general there’s just value in having a human touch. I feel like if I had a special stay he could help make it more special, and if I had a problem on-property he could escalate it.

Bottom line

While admittedly I’ve only had the status for a couple of weeks, so far SPG Ambassador status is exactly what I expected. Is it life changing? Nope. But I also don’t expect it to be. Instead it’s nice to have that “human touch.”

I doubt I’d go out of my way to earn it in the future (in other words, if I’d otherwise end the year with 70 elite qualifying nights I wouldn’t stay an extra 30 nights to requalify), but it’s an awesome perk for those of us who spend more nights in Starwood beds than any other.

To other Ambassador members, anything else I should know?

Comments

  1. I wonder what I’m doing wrong. Or is only being a Platinum 50 not enough.

    I can count the number of upgrades I’ve received this year on one hand. One hand with three fingers amputated.

    I’v only had one suite night upgrade clear. Out of 6 tries.

    I’ve only been allowed a late checkout once, and that was until 2 pm – not 4.

    I don’t seem to ever check-in at hotels that have the SPG dedicated line staffed.

    And I’ve never received a welcome amenity.

    Glad you’re doing so well on so many of the benefits. It’s not the norm.

  2. Wait till your birthday….
    Also special invites to SPG events that I never knew occurred in my city before I was Ambassador level.

    I don’t think the system shows Ambassador guests as a different status level without clicking through. So yea, the recognition is as a Plat but hotels with VIP departments or where GEMs/Lounge team handles all Plat bookings tend to know who you are. I don’t know if this is common globally or just in Dubai but we tend to get disproportionate VIP guests here and so the higher end SPG properties have separate staff to handle them.

  3. To the posters above,

    I’m not famous and I’m 150+ nights with SPG this year. Suites have never failed to clear. Actually all 10 SNAs are unutilised, I’ve relied entirely on space available upgrades. I’m more than willing to share stay patterns (the consistent suite upgrades happened as soon as the status changed to Plat though, so it wasn’t a function of Ambassador status). The same happens with all the Plats that travel with me….

    1) We are talking UAE (Abu Dhabi/Dubai) and Indian properties almost entirely. No US property stays
    2) You *have* to ask when not automatically upgraded. Not demand, but just a gentle reminder with a smile. Something along the lines of “Aw, are there any suites available?”
    3) The person we’ve asked was always a MoD, AFOM or FOM. Infact cultivate a relationship if you’re a regular. Front line desk agents are not empowered enough at all properties to be able to pull the trigger on their own, they’re going to have to check with one of the above anyway.
    4) All our stays are shorter stays (less than 3 nights usually)

    All 4 of those are pretty crucial I’d say.

    Also:
    5) If possible to check in at the club lounge, do it there. They are usually seated, not facing an enormous line, the manager is nearby and they’re just more familiar with handling a higher density of elites.

    What are you experiences?
    Specifically, were suites available on the app? (Don’t check for 1, check for 5 at least)
    How long was the stay?
    All of those matter. Geography matters as well but shouldn’t so while the above are good reasons to withhold a suite, being a US property shouldn’t be a valid reason.

    Also the suites shown for sale are often pre blocked, so its only semi reliable. They are still in the reservation pool if someone is willing to pay revenue but otherwise they could be preblocked for someone with higher status (like Ben :P). That’s why I search for 5-10 and not 1-2 suites. There could be any number of reasons they could be withholding 1-2 suites.

  4. @Neil S

    Just saw the comment about late check out. What property was this? Name and shame away. 4 PM is a confirmed benefit.

    One crucial thing I forgot to ask in the earlier post: Is this a Starwood ‘managed’ property or a franchise?
    All the properties I’ve been to have either been Starwood managed or ITC managed (which is even better than Starwood at treating SPG elites). I don’t have any experience with any other franchise.

  5. Based on my experience of being a 50/75/Ambassador Platinum, the nicer suite upgrades are definitely due to your Ambassador status.

  6. I don’t quite know what its like in the US but here in Australia every second FF credit card comes with a Concierge feature built into it that offers very similar services (e.g. helps with hotel bookings, finds you dinner reservations, personal shopper services, etc.). Outside of having someone within the organisation when you are having an issue like Lucky mentioned in his article regarding an upgrade not clearing, what perk otherwise is provided that would be different from a CC Concierge and the preference data SPG could and do if you provide it to them?

  7. @Vineet said: “I’m not famous and I’m 150+ nights with SPG this year. Suites have never failed to clear. Actually all 10 SNAs are unutilised, I’ve relied entirely on space available upgrades. ”

    I am glad you said the above, especially about how you have not used your 10 SNAs but have instead relied entirely on “space available [read: complimentary] upgrades”. In that respect, you and I are quite similar, even though our achievements are in different programs. I am HH Diamond who cleared 12/12 suite upgrades last year and have cleared 10/12 this year so far, and, more to my point is that your description of what you attribute your excellent success rate to is very similar to the one I provided a year ago when asked in a frequent-travel forum in which I had described my perfect HH Diamond suite upgrade record last year:

    “I suppose the only thing left to ask is how do you frame the requests when you reach the desk? If it appears they are not going to address the topic of suite upgrade, what is your “go to move” for initiating the process?”

    Like you, I attribute my perfect HH Diamond suite upgrade last year and better than 80% this year to the fact that most of my stays are outside of the US. I then went to answer the question about my “go to move” as follows [notice how my approach is eerily similar to yours]:

    _______________________________________________________________________________

    “Each situation is, of course, unique and different and must be “read’ carefully. My goal is always to get a property to check, in good faith and not just for show, whether any suites are available. So, when I am told that “As a valued Diamond member you have been upgraded to a nice room on the executive floor”, I would smile and say that I had really hoped to be considered for a complimentary Diamond suite upgrade because there seemed to be quite a bit of availability when last I checked. At this point if the person checking me in has managerial privileges s/he would say: “Let me check…”. Someone with no managerial privileges would contact the manager, who may respond by asking the agent to see what is available. If the search turns up something, I would be upgraded. Sometimes, I would be told that there was no immediate availability but if I was willing to wait for a day or two a suite would become available. This is usually a sign that the search for availability was genuine. Since my stays tend to be long, I have exercised the option to wait for a suite on a couple of occasions (it is how I wound up in an EXECUTIVE suite for 7 nights on a 9-night stay at Hilton Singapore in 2013).
    [snip]
    Bottom line: the above is just a sampling but each situation is unique. What is certain is that you will miss 100% of the shots that you do not take. Do not expect to be automatically upgraded to a suite very many times because I suspect that the unspoken/unwritten [HHonors] policy is that suite upgrades should not be offered unless explicitly requested by a Diamond member.

    Just as important is that one must be good-natured about it all. Establishing a good rapport from the outset may, in fact, be the most important factor…

    “Pushy” won’t work. I ought to know because, after all, I have a perfect suite upgrade record 😉 ”
    _____________________________________________________________________________

    I cut out a couple of tricks that I have pulled out of my hat to get upgraded because they may not work for other people, but I am glad you have established that it is possible to do very well on complimentary suite upgrades alone, without having SPG SNAs or the purportedly “confirmed” HGP DSUs. What’s more is that my suite upgrades as HH Diamond are UNLIMITED, and they are good on any eligible stay, including C+P and “pure”, i.e. points-only, award stays.

    I have a link to an online post with photos of all 12 properties where I scored my 100% suite upgrades last year if anyone is interested, but HHonors complimentary upgrades are every bit as good — in not better because they are unlimited and are good on award stays — as HGP DSUs or SPG SNAs.

    G’day!

  8. As a travel blogger I think you will get a bigger bang out of the Ambassador Program as others. I personally have not felt that it was worth much to me and my Ambassador even screwed up a couple of things by picking a larger “room” as a choice for an SNA instead of consulting with me first to see if a “room” was okay vs a “suite.” (To clarify, some hotel allocate higher category “rooms” to the SNA pool…meaning NOT all SNA upgrades will actually be to a “suite.”)

    Based on the fact that you run this blog and people read it and build there opinions based on what you write, I think you will be pretty satisfied with the Ambassador Program because SPG will make sure you are happy.

  9. Long time platinum here, typically of the 25 stay or 50 night status. My average stay length is 2 nights. I am currently at 48 nights for the year and just recently came to realize that I have been upgraded a grand total of ZERO nights this year.

    Ben, I have to agree with many of the posters here, that, due to your successful blog, your experience is no longer typical of the average travelers experience. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that, but to ignore that fact is a bit naive.

  10. @DCS

    I’m also HHonors Diamond, so honest questions:

    How to tackle when you aren’t upgraded at a Hilton? My upgrade percentage at Hilton is also near 100% but unfortunately not for suite upgrade (20% and even then at properties where I go repeatedly). Rest of the time its multiple category (as gold it was one category and it was debatable whether that was always an upgrade.) Problem is with SPG, they are obliged to give one to me (it is subject only to availability) so a gentle reminder nudges them in that direction whereas with Hilton, since it is subject to hotel’s wishes they may well withhold it or repeat “sir we have upgraded you to a very nice Executive King room”.

    The more we get into details and nuances we might be able to breakdown what exactly causes them to upgrade and when. Are you familiar with any Dubai/Abu Dhabi Hilton’s in particular?
    What intrigues me is, if you go through the relevant forums, the UAE Hilton’s don’t regularly upgrade Diamonds to suites (it happens, but not consistently) whereas the UAE SPG properties do consistently try suites for Plats (sample size being the FT threads of the properties.

    Lucky’s own examples of UAE hotel’s have usually resulted in suites (though not always the one that might be the best one possible. Some of the hotel used to do the minimum required – Junior suite, no more, but a fair bit of pushback has resulted in that being relaxed).

    If you ever fly down to UAE, I would love to watch you in action! I fully intend to slipstream into your Hilton suite game 😛

    For now, I’ve largely given up on Hilton, Hyatt and all the rest purely because I am unable to reproduce the suite upgrades with as much consistency (2 Hyatt’s here regularly upgrade me space available, another 2 play it like Hilton does, every now and then and the rest don’t, they want you to use a DSU which makes little sense for me since my stays are usually half of 7 days long. Saving the DSU for a 7 day stay but looks like it will become difficult to use now)
    Also, might there be other factors that affect your suite upgrades? VIP flags? Repeatedly going to the same properties? Established rapports with Front Desk Managers? Lifetime Status?

    Thanks
    Vineet

  11. My ambassador certainly is most helpful, and I think my upgrade percentage is pretty good and probably improved since I got an ambassador, I certainly haven’t seen ammenitys like Ben recently has received.

    I have no doubt about it that Ben’s SPG account is flagged differently than a standard Platinum 100 guest.

    That said, I think we should all take some of these perks that Ben is receiving partially because of his blog/job.

    Ben, I would like to understand your perspective here. Please provide the readership with your thoughts.

  12. Lucky’s fame as a blogger probably has little to do with the better treatment now.

    I’m friendly with management at most of the UAE properties he has reviewed and specifically asked them if they flag certain individuals, they do but it is mainly geared towards Royalty, Celebrities (because when you combine industries and cultures, there are way too many to actually recognise) and important people from politics, industry and ambassadors. Also none of them recognised him by name or the names of any of the other travel bloggers I mentioned. Although when such a ‘managed’ booking comes through, it is usually a note from corporate/spg/sales on the reservation and the rest is handled by Guest Services/VIP department.

    The night before, most hotels draw up a list of incoming important guests (for SPG, this includes most V level guests and Plats I think are V3). Some of the upgrades are decided in advance and a member’s photo may be displayed and preferences discussed.

    From the actual reviews of Ben’s local stays, it didn’t seem like he was earmarked for special treatment. The St Regis Corniche can and will do St Regis suites (Ben initially received a Junior Suite and had to invoke SPG directly to get them to relent. They were refusing to upgrade further)
    St Regis Saadiyat can and will do Ocean suites
    Hyatt Capital Gate at the time the review was written was generous with Capital and Executive suites.

    Basically in each case he was given what was the ‘standard’ upgrade corresponding to his status at the time rather than the best one ‘usually’ possible for his status and let alone the best ‘unusually’ possible if he had been flagged for special treatment. Other UAE reviews follow the same trend.

    Since I can only speak about the UAE properties that I know inside and out, I can confirm he wasn’t given anything at any of those that is not available to anyone of you holding the same status.

    This amenity also has more to do with his Ambassador than his stature as an influential blogger. Again my reasoning is based on the fact that Ambassadors have been known to look into your profile, preferences and create tailored amenities. To challenge them I once asked them for a unicorn since that is obviously outrageous and impossible. They coordinated with hotel and had them bake me a large chocolate cake with an edible unicorn. Frequently the theme of the amenity will be something to do with your life or something you’ve said to them. So the ambassador knows Lucky is a travel blogger and put them up for it. But it isn’t unusual at all for Ambassador managed guests to receive personalised amenities and gifts (especially if you engage with them), they’re apparently supposed to not bother you if you don’t actively engage.

  13. @Vineet — I gave above my recipe for scoring HH suite upgrades, which is almost a carbon copy of yours for scoring complimentary SPG suite upgrades. Because it is a demonstrable fallacy that SPG is “obliged” to give you suite upgrades, I am surprised that your approach works in one case and not in the other. In any case, if you get a property to search for suite upgrades in good faith and nothing turns up, there is little that you can do. This is true for SNAs, DSUs or complimentary suite upgrades a la Hilton and Marriott. The worst thing that one can to, however, is to start a shouting match or to act entitled when an upgrade does not clear. Simply accept next best thing — your upgrade to the exec floor (always guaranteed for HH Diamonds) — and try again the next time…

  14. @RoloT said: “I am currently at 48 nights for the year and just recently came to realize that I have been upgraded a grand total of ZERO nights this year.”

    When a politician accidentally tells the truth it is called a “gaffe.” What do you call it when a hotel prohram loyalist says something that goes against established travel blogosphere CW? 🙂

    What @RoloT just said above is not what we are supposed to hear! SPG suite upgrades are supposed to be something that will be lost for sure when the program is swallowed by Marriott Rewards. However, in the real world things seem quite different because on frequent-traveler forums where Marriott Golds and Plats report their suite upgrade successes/failures, it does not seem that things are much worse than going 48 nights with ZERO upgrade…

    The fallacy in this Marriott/SPG merger brouhaha is the SPG loyalists’ and travel bloggers’ claim that their preferred program (SPG) is superior to Marriott Rewards, EVEN THOUGH (a) most customer satisfaction surveys (most notably the prestigious JD Power & Associates surveys) have consistently ranked Marriott Rewards near or at the top, while SPG has ranked next to or dead last, and (b) it is Marriott Rewards that survives or will now decide the fate of SPG, indicating that the former program may, in fact, have been all along the stronger of the two, the fierce and highly vocal/loud loyalty of SPG adherents notwithstanding.

  15. @RoloT

    When you not upgraded, can you please provide details. Especially locations, and quantifications of upgrade (one level, multi level or suite upgrade, each carries a different weight). When you said “no” upgrade I understand it to mean given the room you booked, which I find honestly shocking :O

    I would definitely write to SPG.
    Did you ask for upgrades? Were you refused?

    I honestly do no believe Ben is being naive because as stated above, his experience matches what I see on FT for international (especially ME and Asian properties), I’ve been to pretty much all of the ones he’s reviewed in ME and have had friends who are Plat100s go to several of the Asian ones and received better rooms. Let’s focus on figuring out what the differences are than assuming the author is naive

  16. Dear SPG –

    This is EXACTLY what NOT to do… 2 years with an Ambassador and not one in-room amenity / birthday gift etc… Consistency wins, not favoritism… Oh well, glad I made the switch to Marriott last year…

  17. Just SPG Plat 100 and SPG Pro here…currently at 113 nights on 66 stays ytd. Now at the StR Punta Mita for 5 nights over Thanksgiving on points (80K for 5 nights, booked before category 6 to 7 change), and the hotel is sold out. My SNAs didn’t clear the day before arrival, but on arrival was upgraded–thanks to my amazing Ambasaador– to a deluxe suite. There IS value to the Ambassador service if people share expectations and desires with their Ambassador. Mine has also gotten me big upgrades–even just last week at W Los Angeles-West Beverly Hills on paid entry room stay (no SNAs allowed here) and a week before at the W Hollywood (paid stay). My Ambassador has helped with dinner reservations, passing details onto concierges, following up on arrival/departure prefs, welcome gifts, and extra amenities. Mine also ensures every hotel knows to preset my air con to 65-66 F whenever possible. My stays have been extremely seamless and wonderful as a result.

  18. Vineet,

    Over the past 13 months I have stayed 11 times at a Sheraton in New Mexico (I’d rather not be more specific than that on a public blog). Shame on me for not checking sooner, but as I was making my reservations at this Sheraton for my most recent stay, I finally noticed that they do actually have suites available in this hotel. I typically book an executive king room and I did so this time. In my previous 10 visits the typical room I was given was a club floor king. If I’m going to have access to the club lounge anyway, having a room on that floor does not seem like an upgrade to me. I could be wrong. Anyway, right before I walked into the hotel to check-in, I sat in the parking lot and checked the SPG website again. There were suites available for the two nights I was going to stay. When I checked in I was greeted very nicely…..and was given a king room on the club level.

    When I checked out of the hotel the first thing I did was call the SPG platinum number. I explained to them my frustration with the fact that in 25 stays and 47 nights I did not receive one suite upgrade night. I had them focus on the Sheraton I’d spent 13 of those 25 stays. A couple days after my call, I received an email from SPG apologizing for the situation and they added 10,000 points to my account.

  19. Hi RoloT,

    In future press the case at check in not after check out (well unless you don’t care about the room and want the points :P)
    In my mind, 47 non-upgrades deserve far more than 10K compensation points. Goto the SPG website, find out the suite upgrade points value per night at a typical hotel you stay, multiply it by 47 and send the Math back to them. Tell them you’d be happy with half those points

    First point of contact: FOM of the property itself, you are past the gentle reminder stage. Just ask them straight up if you are doing something wrong for not being given privileges corresponding to your status despite being a regular repeat guest at their specific hotel. That would sufficiently surprise the manager.

    Next point of contact: Invoke SPG during stay, ask them what’s up. Apparently SPG has a system in place whereby you could actually receive an explanation from the hotel. Most high end properties are Starwood managed (Except Lux Collection ones, they can be random) but this Sheraton might be a franchise, in which case it is important to draw attention to their shenanigans.

    I know most properties are actually audited for % of upgrades and such, SPG follows through to make sure the elites are getting the correct treatment. Post-stay surveys are also dangerous to the property and actually have to be addressed if too many negative ones show up.

    Crucial question: Did you ask for an upgrade this stay? Make sure you don’t leave anything on the table. Always ask. I know we shouldn’t have to, but it is how it currently works….

  20. Sorry, typed your name in the wrong field!

    Also, I am glad that it wasn’t at least 0 upgrades, that would be truly shocking. I agree club floor is not an upgrade when the room is identical to the standard room (Which it often is, sometimes not). You can figure out their “true” categories from the website but it’s a moot point, one level or best *room* available isn’t SPG Plat policy, its standard suite (junior suite suffices. SPG intends *standard* to mean not premium/named, rather than not junior).

    Why did you not speak up earlier? Was your upgrade % better in previous years? How about the other hotels? Ask, ask, ask always. Don’t let them get away with this.

    (Also FWIW, Hyatt is more consistent at upgrades however their weaker promise (best room available, non suite) only matches SPG’s weaker implementation. You’d probably end up in a club room either way. With SPG, after resolution, you should be in a suite).

    I’m actually shocked at Ben’s low suite upgrade % at Hyatts (consistent with program), which is why I feel they’re not treating him any different.

  21. I travel extensively for work and pleasure. I have been an Ambassador level member for 3 years. It has been a waste of time. I have had 2 different contacts because the first did not return calls. I would have requested a replacement for number 2 as he did not either but I knew I would not qualify for this year. Here is the big issue. You only have one contact person and he/she works standard hours. If you want assistance when you want their assistance good luck unless it happens to be when they are working.

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