What Can Newly Minted Starwood Platinum Members Expect?

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As of Friday Marriott and Starwood are letting you link accounts, which includes the option to status match and transfer points between programs. Yesterday I outlined what newly minted Marriott Platinum members can expect, given that all Starwood Platinum members could match to this status.

marriott-merger

In today’s post I figured I’d talk a bit about what new Starwood Platinum members can expect, given that Marriott Platinum members can now match to Starwood Platinum. I’ve been an SPG Platinum member for nearly a decade, so I’m not just focusing on the technical benefits, but also on my experience in practice.

With that in mind, let’s get started:

Basics of Starwood Preferred Guest perks

Let’s start with a very simple rundown of Starwood Preferred Guest benefits by status level:

starwood-platinum-benefits

As you can see, Starwood has two main status levels — Gold and Platinum. There are actually a few more tiers or sorts, which I’ll briefly touch on first:

  • Starwood Preferred Plus can be earned a few ways (including by being the primary cardmember on the Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express), and gets you guaranteed 4PM check-out
  • In addition to just qualifying for “normal” Starwood Platinum, there are additional incremental rewards:
    • If you earn 50 elite qualifying nights in a year you’ll get to choose a Platinum gift, the most valuable of which I consider to be 10 Suite Night Awards
    • If you earn 75 elite qualifying nights in a year you earn an additional Starpoint per dollar spent, plus access to “Your24,” which allows you to start your stay at any time of day, and keep your room for 24 hours (though it’s subject to availability)
    • If you earn 100 elite qualifying nights in a year you’re appointed an Ambassador, who will be your single point of contact for anything Starwood related

Starwood-Ambassador-Welcome-Amenity
My Ambassador often has amazing treats waiting for me in my room

Marriott Platinum members are being matched to “normal” Starwood Platinum, regardless of how many elite qualifying nights they have with Marriott (keep in mind that you still have to qualify for status in each program individually). Here are the basic perks of Platinum that don’t require further explanation:

  • A 50% bonus on base points earned through hotel stays (you earn three Starpoints per dollar spent rather than two)
  • Guaranteed room availability (a benefit I’ve never used with any hotel chain, since it’s super expensive and there are still exclusions)
  • Complimentary premium in-room internet access
  • Guaranteed 4PM late check-out, except at resorts, where it’s subject to availability

I like the SPG program because I think it’s pretty straightforward, especially in comparison to the Marriott Rewards program. With that in mind, I figured I’d talk in a bit more detail about the two benefits that are potentially confusing: suite upgrades and breakfast/lounge access.

How do Starwood Platinum suite upgrades work?

Starwood Platinum members receive the best available room at check-in, including standard suites.

The way this should work is that when you check-in, the front office associate will look at room inventory and assign you the best available room up to a standard suite. Of course theory and practice are sometimes two different things.

Let me start by saying that Platinum treatment can differ greatly based on what part of the world you’re in (which is true of most hotel chains). Ultimately Starwood Platinum members are “competing” for suites, so expect more benefits at hotels with fewer Platinum members. Here’s my general experience with suite upgrades in Starwood’s three biggest regions:

  • Platinum suite upgrades are proactive and plentiful in Asia, where Platinum members are treated extremely well
  • In the US it’s hit or miss; at business hotels in the biggest cities, don’t expect a suite upgrade, while at less “popular” hotels or hotels in secondary markets, you’re more likely to get a suite upgrade
  • Europe is a mixed bag, with some hotels being generous and proactive with suite upgrades, while others will do everything they can to avoid giving these benefits

W-Taipei
Suite upgrades at plentiful at Asian Starwood properties, like the W Taipei

On top of that, in practice many hotels will actually upgrade Platinum members in advance. If you pull up your reservation online you’ll see what room a hotel has you blocked in. Sometimes you’ll noticed that you’re already blocked in a better room, though of course that’s subject to change. In my experience many hotels (especially luxury properties) will often assign rooms the day before, so checking your reservation then can give you a good sense of what to expect.

What’s the right way to ask for a suite upgrade?

I’m much more low key than I used to be, so nowadays I’m typically just happy with whatever room I’m assigned, at least if I’m traveling alone. I used to go to battle over suite upgrades all the time, but nowadays I just don’t have the energy for that anymore. I also do a better job of managing my own expectations, so that helps.

In general here’s what I’d recommend as far as a strategy goes:

  • Before the stay, check your reservation to see if you’ve proactively been upgraded to a suite, and also take a lot at general suite inventory, including how many standard suites they’re still selling
  • If you haven’t been upgraded in advance, at check-in I’d let the associate do what they usually do, and when they get to the part where they talk about your room, say “do you by chance have any Platinum suite upgrades available tonight?”
  • Assuming they do, hopefully they’ll respond in the affirmative and assign you the suite
  • They may say “no, sorry, we don’t have any available,” and at that point you can decide how far you want to take it; it can’t hurt to gently nudge them and say “oh, I see you’re still selling X number of suites online, that’s strange”

Some hotels just don’t like to give suite upgrades, and then you have to decide for yourself how far you want to take it. That’s the point at which I drop it, though I know some people will ask for the front office manager, Tweet Starwood, etc., which will typically result in a favorable outcome if a suite is available. I guess it all comes down to how much you care about a suite upgrade.

Le-Meridien-Suvarnabhumi - 17
Suite upgrade at Le Meridien Suvarnabhumi

How does Starwood Platinum lounge access & breakfast work?

If a Starwood property has an executive lounge, you get access to it as a Platinum member. Period. Most Sheraton and Westin properties have lounges. Meanwhile some Le Meridien, and very few W and St. Regis properties also have lounges (I only know of one St. Regis and two W properties with lounges).

W-Guangzhou
The W Guangzhou is one of two W properties with a club lounge

Regardless, you always have a choice of having breakfast at Starwood hotels. When you check in as a Platinum member you’re given the choice between:

  • 500 Starpoints (250 Starpoints at Element, Aloft, and Four Points)
  • A local gift (usually not worth it)
  • Continental breakfast

When a hotel has a club lounge I’ll take the Starpoints as the welcome amenity. I value Starpoints at ~2.2 cents each, so those points are worth ~$11 to me.

Otherwise I’ll typically take breakfast as the amenity. Technically this is only for continental breakfast, though the execution of that varies by hotel. Some US hotels will let you have the full breakfast buffet or order off the menu, while other hotels are cheaper and have a very specific definition of what is included as a continental breakfast.

However, outside of North America I don’t think I’ve ever gotten anything other than a full breakfast as my Platinum amenity.

W-Hotel-Beijing-58
Platinum members get the full breakfast buffet at the W Beijing

Of course you’ll always want to ask the details at check in.

Lastly, it’s worth noting that technically the Platinum breakfast doesn’t include tip. However, some hotels go above and beyond and point out that they include tip for the server, so there’s no need to do so. Outside the US tip isn’t really required anyway.

In practice this means that unless a hotel explicitly tells me tip is included, usually I’ll bring $5 cash if I’m having breakfast at a US property using my Platinum breakfast benefit.

Bottom line

As is the case at all hotel brands, your experience can differ significantly depending on the hotel you’re staying at. At non-US properties, especially in Asia, you should experience plentiful and proactive suite upgrades. When you’re not offered a suite, a kind nudge will often do the trick otherwise.

Westin-New-York-Times-Square - 4
Don’t expect suite upgrades at properties like the Westin New York

However, don’t expect suite upgrades at super popular business hotels in the US, given the number of Platinum members they have.

As far as breakfast goes, outside the US you should almost always get a full breakfast as part of your Platinum breakfast choice. At US properties the experience can vary a bit more.

Hopefully this is helpful to those of you who are new to Starwood. If you have any other questions about Platinum status, let me know! If any Starwood Platinum members have differing experiences, I’d of course love to hear about those as well.

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Comments

  1. The 500 bonus points is really the only power SPG has when it comes to hotel earning. Having to give those up for breakfast is pretty terrible. Ok thankful at Marriott I get both plus a better earn and burn ratio . The breakfast thing kills the program .

  2. If I am travelling with my partner and staying in the same room (I am Platinum, partner isnt; both names registered at check in), is my partner eligible for the free breakfast?

  3. @Ryan – again:
    – Make a Green Choice
    – On site dining
    – Uber

    ALL ways you can earn points at an SPG property that you can’t at MR. With ongoing promos I’m usually averaging 10x-12x/dollar spend.

  4. @Aaron – yes, 1 guest

    @Lucky – couple minor clarifications:
    – you forgot convention centers as an exception to the 4pm rule (though again, not uncommon for properties to go above and beyond check-out time just as they do on upgrades BEYOND what is guaranteed, despite what certain trolls say)
    – IIRC some lounge properties (like Sheraton) don’t let you opt out of points to do a breakfast in the restaurant (vs. in the lounge)…I believe the Starwood Lurkers commented on this recently

  5. Likely because of some blunt truths in the comments of the first post of this two-part series, this may be the first truly honest post I have seen on the SPG program from within. It gives a peek behind the curtain, and what it reveals is a program that is just like any major other, from what to expect about elite room/suite upgrades to complimentary breakfast and onsite amenities. No talks of “guarantees” or “entitlements” here.

    A MR platinum elite who knows how to play the game would feel right at home as a SPG elite [I feel at home in every program 🙂 ], because there are no substantive differences between the programs, other than for those that have been artificially created or inflated.

    For instance, the “technique” described here for trying for suite upgrades is eerily similar to the one that I have used for years with great success [in fact, it was published in this very blog] to get suite upgrades at Hilton hotels as a HH Diamond (>90% since 2012) and at Marriott hotels as a “lowly” MR Gold (67% on 6 stays).

    I said the suite upgrade “technique” is similar but not identical, and that’s because my approach differs on the part about “go[ing] to battle over suite upgrades all the time”, which one would do only if one believes that one is “entitled” to suite upgrades, but is precisely the wrong thing to do and is seldom done when one KNOWS that room/suite upgrades are COMPLIMENTARY. Being aware of this allows one to “do a better job of managing one’s expectations” from the git-go 😉

    G’day!

  6. I have Marriott Platinum Premire status(175+ nights this year ) and I was only given regular platinum status when I linked my accounts. Should I be able to be matched to Ambassador status?

  7. thank you for this post looking at loyalty benefits from the marriott end … it’s good to hear about (mysterious to me so far) SPG from an experienced member. apart from SNAs, the two programs don’t seem that different. on another note, i can’t help feeling marriott members got the short end of the stick when it comes to redemptions — e.g., in SF, JW requires 45K points while W requires 20K. looking forward to reading more tips/info for newly minted SPG elites.

  8. @Stacey – not every W is 20K…look at Chicago or ATL for example. Roughly ~40% are Cat 4/5 (10K-16K points).

    And YMMV…IME JWM is a slightly nicer Marriott, whereas W is very differentiated from other brands in the broader portfolio.

  9. I’m a Lifetime Platinum Marriott member who is attempting to become more familiar with Starwood’s Platinum program. With that said, I have a question:

    1. Does Starwood offer the fourth night free when points are used to pay for three consecutive nights?

  10. How will status roll for next year? If I was MR Platinum and SPG Gold, and just received the SPG bump… And assume I earn the same status (stays/nights) as of January 1st…. What will my SPG status be for the duration of 2017?

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