In the early 1990’s, I signed up for Sheraton’s loyalty program. At the time, I paid $20 per year to upgrade my membership to their Gold level. As a result, I often received free upgrades and access to their Club lounges for free food and drinks. Sheraton was one of the first hotel chains acquired by Starwood, a hotel management company with over 1,500 properties in over 100 countries. In addition to Sheraton, Starwood brands include Westin, The Luxury Collection, Four Points, W Hotels, St. Regis, Le Méridien, Aloft and more. Since 2016 Starwood is a subsidiary of Marriott International following their merger. Starwood’s loyalty program is called Starwood Preferred Guest (SPG). As a member, you earn Starpoints on hotels stays and related spending. While many hotel chains offer similar loyalty programs, most of my personal experience is with Starwood so that’s what I’ll be covering in this post.
Earning Starpoints WITH HOTEL STAYS
To begin earning Starpoints, sign up for SPG membership. As a basic member, you earn two Starpoints per dollar spent at Starwood hotels. You earn more Starpoints as an elite member, Gold or Platinum (I’ll cover SPG Elite status is a future post). Whenever you book a room, and at check-in, give your SPG number to make sure you earn Starpoints from your stay. Note that you earn Starpoints on the basic room rate, not including taxes and other fees, such as the notorious resort fee. You also earn Starpoints spending at hotel restaurants and bars, so make sure you put your meal and drink charges on your room account.
Tip #1: I prefer booking my Starwood hotel reservations using the Starwood website (www.starwoodhotels.com) or their SPG phone app. This gives me easier management of my reservations. I can give more information to the hotel to improve the chance of room upgrades, early check-in or late check-out. Additionally, you may not always earn Starpoints or elite benefits when booking your room on a third-party travel site. One exception is that I use the Citi Prestige “4th Night Free” benefit by calling their “concierge” to make reservations of four or more nights. I give my SPG number to the concierge so they can contact the hotel to add it to the reservation.
Tip #2: I use SPG’s “Make a Green Choice” sustainability program to decline housekeeping services during stays. You earn up to 500 Starpoints for each day you opt out of housekeeping services. The hotels typically offer door hangers to show you are opting out of housekeeping services the following day. You can also “opt out” for your entire stay by setting a preference in the reservation on the Starwood site, or asking at check-in time.
Even a couple of years after their merger, Starwood and Marriott currently run separate loyalty programs. Marriott’s loyalty program is Marriott Rewards (clever name, right?). If you have a Marriott Rewards account already, you can link it to your SPG account to enable point transfers and to receive reciprocal elite status. Since I have SPG Platinum status, I was automatically matched to Marriott Platinum status when I linked my accounts. You transfer Rewards points to Starpoints at a ratio of 3:1. Thus if you have 30,000 Marriott Rewards points, you could transfer them to SPG for 10,000 Starpoints. Since you earn Rewards points from spending at Marriott properties and their airline, car rental and credit card partners, these are more ways to earn Starpoints. You can also transfer the other way, if you want to use Starpoints to book a free stay at a Marriott (or Ritz-Carlton) hotel.
TIP #3: Ritz-Carlton Rewards links to Marriott Rewards. As such, wherever I mention Marriott, you may also consider Ritz-Carlton too. Points earned at Ritz-Carlton hotels transfer to Starpoints at the same 3:1 ratio. In addition, Ritz-Carlton’s credit card partner, Chase, offers the Ritz-Carlton Rewards credit card. While the card has a high $450 annual fee, it comes with some great benefits if you like to stay at their luxury hotels, including two free nights at Tier 1-4 Ritz-Carlton hotel after spending $4,000 in the first three months from your account opening.
Earning STARPOINTS WITH Credit Cards
Since I primarily stay at Starwood hotels, I earn Starpoints for rooms I pay for (up to three rooms per stay), plus spending at hotel restaurants and bars. However, I earn two more Starpoints per dollar using my American Express (Amex) SPG credit card to pay for the rooms. I also earn one Starpoint per dollar using my Amex SPG card to pay regular bills, grocery shopping, and more. You also earn Starpoints using Amex SPG cards to pay for stays at Marriott hotels. Amex offers two versions of their SPG card:
- Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card from American Express
- Starwood Preferred Guest Business Credit Card from American Express
At the time of writing, Amex offers 25,000 bonus Starpoints after you spend $3,000 in the first three months. They also waive the $95 annual fee for the first year. If you spend more than $30,000 in a calendar year, you are upgraded to SPG Gold elite level.
TIP #4: With each Amex SPG card you own, you earn an annual credit of five nights and two stays towards SPG elite status. For example, owning both Amex SPG cards, starts your elite earning year with 10 nights and 4 stays. These credits typically appear in your SPG account in early January. Therefore, to earn SPG Gold status you need only 15 more nights, or 6 stays, compared with the regular 25 nights or 10 stays in calendar year. To earn SPG Platinum status, you need either 40 more nights or 21 stays.
In addition to their SPG credit cards, Amex offers its own Membership Rewards cards. Membership Rewards points transfer to many airline and hotel loyalty programs, including SPG. Membership Rewards points transfer to SPG at a ratio of 1000:333.
Amex offers a few charge cards and credit cards that earn Membership Rewards. Charge card balances are paid off in full every month, but otherwise run similar to credit cards. Some examples are:
- American Express Platinum Card – 60,000 bonus Membership Rewards points after spending 5,000 in the first three months. If you transfer the points to SPG, you will have enough Starpoints for a couple of free nights at an SPG category 4 hotel (10,000 Starpoints per night)
- American Express Premier Rewards Gold Card – 25,000 bonus Membership Rewards points after spending $2,000 in the first three months. If you transfer the points to SPG you have enough Starpoints for one free night at an SPG category 3 hotel (7,000 Starpoints per night)
This card earns five points per dollar spent at Marriott and Starwood hotels, and two points per dollar spent on airline tickets, car rentals and restaurants. Chase offers 75,000 bonus points after spending $3,000 in the first three months. Chase waives the annual fee of $85 for the first year. Another useful benefit is one Free Night Stay at a Category 1-5 hotel each year after your account anniversary.
You earn Ultimate Rewards points using one of the following cards:
- Chase Sapphire Preferred – 50,000 bonus points with $4,000 spending in first three months, $0 intro annual fee, after that $95. This is a great starter credit card for anyone wishing to earn points for free travel with a variety of airlines and hotels
- Chase Sapphire Reserve – 50,000 bonus points with $4,000 spending in first three months, $450 annual fee. This is a premium version of the Chase Sapphire Preferred card and comes with a premium annual fee of $450. However, there are many ways to cut the real annual cost of this card, including the annual $300 annual travel credit, complimentary airport lounge access and more
- Chase Ink Business Preferred Card – 80,000 bonus points with $5,000 spending in first three months, $95 annual fee
Ultimate Rewards points transfer to Marriott Rewards at a 1:1 ratio. From your Marriott account, transfer to Starpoints at a 3:1 ratio.
Earning Starpoints with Airline Flights
You earn bonus Starpoints when you register with SPG’s airline partners and buy flights. However, you must have SPG elite status to receive these bonuses.
- Delta – one Starpoint per dollar spent on Delta flights. Plus, SPG Platinum members enjoy priority check-in and boarding, complimentary upgrades and first checked bag free
- Emirates – one Starpoint per dollar spent on Emirates flights. SPG Platinum members enjoy priority check-in and boarding
- China Eastern – one Starpoint for every four Eastern Miles with China Eastern flights. SPG Platinum members enjoy priority check-in, boarding and luggage handling; and access to China Eastern business-class lounges
- United – while United is not a direct SPG partner, it is a partner of Marriott. As such, United and Marriott offer reciprocal benefits to their members via the RewardsPlus program. United’s MileagePlus elite members (Global Services, Premier 1K, Premier Platinum and Premier Gold) receive Marriott Gold status. Marriott Platinum elite members receive United Premier Silver status. I already have United Premier Gold and Marriott Platinum status so there is no extra elite benefit to me. However, the partnership does enable me to transfer up to 50,000 United MileagePlus miles per calendar year to my Marriott Rewards account at a 1:1 ratio. This isn’t the best conversion rate, but I occasionally use this path to top up my Marriott/SPG accounts when I’m running low on points for specific free hotel stays I want to book
Earning starpoints with Car Rentals
Five Star status offers upgrades and bonus points.
Earning Starpoints with Broadway Shows
With SPG’s Audience Rewards partnership, you earn up to 2,500 Starpoints per Broadway show ticket. Starpoints may also be redeemed for show tickets.
Earning Starpoints by Hosting Meetings or Events
When you host a wedding reception or a business meeting at a Starwood hotel, you earn Starpoints for all your spending. You may also benefit from Starpoints earned for booking your guests’ rooms too.
Special SPG Promotions
Starwood promotes bonus offers and challenges throughout the year. Check for the most up-to-date offers on their web site. Occasionally, SPG sends out email notices of these extra earning opportunities although I have found this is not dependable. The current offer is for double Starpoints starting with your second stay, and 500 bonus Starpoints when your stay includes a weekend night. For most SPG offers, you must register using your SPG number and email.
You can buy up to 30,000 Starpoints per calendar year. The regular price is 3.5 cents per Starpoint. However, SPG is currently offering 35% discount for 5,000 or more Starpoints. With the discount, the rate is more attractive at about 2.3 cents per Starpoint. If you decide to buy Starpoints, make sure to pay with an Amex SPG credit card to earn even more Starpoints!
While there are several ways to earn SPG Starpoints, I recommend starting by registering for the SPG program and applying for the Amex SPG credit card. After you earn the Amex SPG card signup bonus, you will be well on your way to free Starwood hotel stays. Check out the redemption cost for hotels and dates you want to book using either the Starwood web site or the SPG phone app. If needed, top up your account using airline mile transfers and earn bonus Starpoints from SPG partners. You’ll be amazed how quickly you can earn tens of thousands of Starpoints for a vacation stay home or abroad.