Redeeming points for a well-earned vacation gives you a nice warm feeling and keeps dollars in your wallet. Cash you save on hotel rooms is useful for spending on meals, drinks and other activities. I also love booking free hotel rooms with points since it gives me more flexibility than paying with cash. Unlike free flight awards, hotel reservations made with points can be canceled or changed without penalty before your arrival. When you book with cash, especially via third-party sites or prepaid rates, you may be stuck should your plans change.
Starwood have some great opportunities for saving money with their SPG Starpoints. Hotels are grouped into seven categories ranging from basic Category 1 hotels (e.g. Four Points Kansas City Airport) to Category 7 luxury hotels and resorts (e.g. The Gritti Palace, Venice). The categories are based on multiple factors, including location, amenities, average rate, time of year (high/low seasons) and nearby hotels. One free night at a Category 1 hotels costs 2,000 – 3,000 Starpoints per room, for a standard room. At the other end of the spectrum, a free night at a Category 7 hotel costs 30,000 – 35,000 Starpoints. Specialty resorts, such as those offering only suite or villas, cost more and must be booked via Starwood’s service centers. For a complete list of SPG hotel categories click here
TIP #1: An added benefit of booking rooms with Starpoints is you do not pay any taxes. However, you still pay resort fees direct to the hotel or resort, if applicable.
I try to get the best value from my points by researching room rates for the dates I want to visit a destination and comparing them to award rates for free stays. Firstly, I log into my SPG account or SPG smartphone app on my smartphone. In either case, I enter my desired destination – city, airport, or hotel name – along with arrival and departure dates. Also, I make sure to add the number of guests who will be staying in the room, including children. This is especially important if I am booking a hotel at an international destination since the maximum number of guests per room is often lower compared to U.S. hotel. This avoids potential issues and extra costs at check-in time.
Booking Free Hotel rooms with points
Here’s an example of a hotel search I made for a visit to San Francisco in December:
Clicking on SEARCH, displays a list of available hotels along with the lowest rates and the cost in Starpoints per free night.
For example, in this display I see The Westin St. Francis on Union Square, a property I’ve stayed at many times, is offered at $265, or 20,000 Starpoints, per night. This hotel is an SPG Category 6 hotel. Occasionally, an SPG Cash & Points rate is shown, but this is not always offered for all selected dates. SPG Cash & Points provides a way to stretch Starpoints over more nights by combining a lower Starpoints rate with cash. For example, in this search, an SPG Cash & Points rate is offered for 10,000 Starpoints plus $180 per night plus taxes. Further down the list, I also see The Park Central hotel, a more reasonably priced hotel located near the Moscone Convention Center – it is an SPG Category 5 hotel. This hotel is offered at a rate of $163 or 12,000 Starpoints per night. Based on my experience, these hotels are offering relatively low cash rates for the selected dates, so if I were to book these I would likely pay cash rates with my Amex SPG card, and earn more Starpoints. When researching free hotel stays, I use a Starpoint value of 2.5 cents. Thus, if I can snag a free stay with a value of over 2.5 cents I am happy. However, for this example I select the SPG Free Nights rate, and check the Bed Type I want to reserve, usually a King Bed. I click on Book Now and check my personal information, such as name, address, SPG Number and email address are correct. As a Platinum elite member, I can select my room upgrade options, such as Largest Room, Best View or Highest Floor and more. I can also request early check-in and late check-out times and more. Finally, I click on COMPLETE RESERVATION and look for an email confirmation of my reservation. On the SPG smartphone app, I also check the reservation details under My Stays and Reservation Details.
TIP #2: Reservations made with Starpoints may be cancelled without penalty before the date specified in the Cancellation Policy section of your reservation confirmation. In this case, Starpoints are returned to your account.
TIP #3: Book five nights or more with Starpoints and get the fifth night free at Category 3-7 hotels! For example, if the SPG Free Nights rate is 12,000 Starpoints per night, you can book a one week stay for 72,000 Starpoints. I often use this benefit to stay at the Westin Maui Resort & Spa. For a recent stay in January, I booked seven nights for 120,000 Starpoints (one night is typically 20,000 Starpoints) with one night free. If I had paid cash, the lowest total price was around $3,500. As an SPG Platinum elite member I also received an upgraded ocean view room and daily full buffet breakfast for two (regularly over $30 per person per day), saving hundreds more dollars during our stay.
upgrading your free hotel room
After you earn SPG Gold or Platinum elite status, you often receive an upgraded room at check-in. I review my reservation, using the SPG app on my iPhone, a couple of days before I am due to check into a hotel to see if they have pre-assigned an upgraded room, or even a suite. Within the Room Features section of the Reservation Details I often find the room type is upgraded from my original reservation. If you aren’t too bothered knowing in advance it can be a nice surprise to hear that wonderful news “we thank you for being an SPG elite member and your continued loyalty and we have upgraded your room to a suite…”! Believe me, it does happen more often than you might think.
The SPG program states a benefit of being Gold or Platinum elite is an upgraded room (Platinum upgrades may include standard suites), subject to availability at check-in. However, this is far from a guarantee, especially if you are visiting a popular destination at a busy time. If you prefer to book into an upgraded room, you can call SPG at 1-888-625-4988 and ask about the rates. If you prefer to redeem Starpoints for an upgraded room, including suites, you may call Starwood Reservations. Ask the customer service agent for the Starpoint (or Cash & Points) rate for upgraded rooms at your selected hotel.
Here are the point rates per hotel category for upgraded rooms and suites:
These points are in addition to those required for standard award redemptions. Typically, booking a suite with points costs double the standard rate. However, you can also use these rates to upgrade a room you booked with a cash rate. In order to use points in this way, you must book a flexible rate that’s eligible to earn points and is also eligible for elite nights/stay credit – make sure to book rooms via the Starwood site since rooms booked via third-party sites aren’t upgradable.
If you have earned SPG Platinum elite status by staying a minimum of 50 nights in a calendar year, you’ll receive the option to select an added benefit of Suite Night Awards. These are used for both cash and award stays to upgrade to request an upgrade to a suite. This includes:
- Award reservations using Starpoints
- SPG Cash & Points reservations
- Flexible and prepaid rates
- AAA/AARP rates
Each Suite Night Award is used for one night, but you can use multiple awards for a longer stay. Once you’ve made your reservation, check the reservation details and you’ll see a link to apply upgrade requests using your available Suite Night Awards. You’ll receive an email notification when the upgrade request clears or not a few days before your arrival. In some cases, the hotel will upgrade you to a suite as a benefit of being SPG Platinum. In this case, your Suite Night Awards are deposited back to your account. Suite Night Awards expire, usually the end of the calendar year after the year you first received them.
As a reminder, you can start each calendar year with five nights toward elite status when you have either of the American Express (Amex) SPG credit cards. If you have both cards, you only need to stay 40 more nights at Starwood properties to earn Platinum elite status for the rest of this year and the next year. You can also link your SPG account with Marriott Rewards and receive an elite status match to Marriott Platinum too.
To apply for the Amex SPG cards, click one of the links below (I do not receive any referral fee from these links).
- Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card from American Express
- Starwood Preferred Guest Business Credit Card from American Express
While there are several ways to earn SPG Starpoints, the easiest are to book and stay at Starwood hotels, and use one of the Amex SPG cards for your regular spending. Booking free hotel stays is easy – check out the redemption rates for your destination and dates using either the Starwood web site, or the SPG smartphone app. You can top up your SPG account using airline mile transfers, and earn bonus Starpoints from SPG partners, such as Hertz. You’ll be amazed how quickly you can earn tens of thousands of Starpoints for a free or upgraded vacation stay at thousands of hotels and resorts worldwide.