Overview of the Starwood Preferred Guest® Program

Last Reviewed: 1/5/2012

The Starwood Prefereed Guest® (SPG) loyalty program enables its members to earn Starpoints® for stays at Starwood properties which can then be redeemed for a variety of benefits, including free hotel stays (of course!), flights, and more.

In this overview we’ll cover everything a smart otter would expect:

  • Quick facts about Starwood Hotels and brands.
  • Earning points and perks with membership tiers and the Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express
  • A quick note on valuing Starpoints®
  • Redemption methods and best redemption strategies

Overview of the Starwood Hotels Group

Starwood Hotels and Resorts Worldwide is headquartered in White Plains New York. As of 2010, they either owned or managed nearly 1,000 properties, employing more than 140,000 people worldwide.

Starwood owns 9 highly recognizable brands encompassing around 940 hotels: Sheraton, FourPoints, W Hotels, aLoft, Meridien, The Luxury Collection, Le Meridien, Westin Hotels and Resorts, Element and St. Regis. Nearly 50 of their hotels have been named to Conde Nast Traveler’s respected Gold List.

Starwood Preferred Guest® Membership Tiers and Benefits by Tier

The SPG program has 3 distinct membership levels (tiers):

  1. Preferred Guest (entry level)
  2. Gold Preferred Guest
  3. Platinum Preferred Guest

The table below summarizes the key benefits and differences between the 3 SPG tiers.

Starwood Preferred Guest® Tiers and Benefits by Tier
Tier Requirements to Achieve Tier Benefits
Starwood Preferred Guest® Automaticaly achieved when you sign up for the SPG Loyalty Program
  • Earn 2 starpoints for every eligible dollar spent at Starwood properties.
  • Receive 35% discount at 125 Starwood hotels worldwide (visit spg.com/35off for more details)
  • When you redeem starpoints for 4 nights at a category 3 and higher hotel, you’ll get the 5th night free.
Starwood Preferred Guest® Gold Stay 10 times or 25 nights within a calendar year.
  • All Preferred Guest benefits PLUS:
  • Earn 3 starpoints for every eligible dollar spent at Starwood properties.
  • Upgrades at check-in
  • 4pm late check-out
Starwood Preferred Guest® Platinum Stay 25 times or 50 nights within a calendar year.
  • All Preferred Guest Gold benefits PLUS:
  • Welcome amenity on arrival (no idea what this includes, perhaps a lapdance?
  • Automatic upgrades to best room on arrival
  • Free in-room internet access
  • Access to the Platinum Concierge

Earning Even More Starpoints® with the Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express

If you’re really committed to racking up points in the SPG program, then you may want to read our full review of the Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card From American Express. However, here are some of the key take-aways:

How Much are Starwood Points Really Worth?

We’re not going to spend too much time in this post discussing the value of Starpoints, since we have a separate post on the value of starpoints where you can go fairly deep on this subject. But we have highlighted the key takeaways from that analysis in the table below, which shows the value of Starpoints for various rewards.

Value of Starpoints® by Redemption Method
Use Starpoints® to Get These Rewards Estimated Dollar Value of Starpoints®
Starwood Hotel Stays 2.26 cents
Transferring Starpoints® to Frequent Flyer Programs 1.52 cents
Purchasing Airline Tickets 1.19 cents
Gift Cards 1.05 cents

Redeeming Starpoints®

There are various redemption methods for your Starpoints®. Below we provide high level information on each redemption approach, and we also deep dive on a couple of nuances.

Redeeming Starwood Preferred Guest® Starpoints for Hotel Stays

Starwood classifies its hotels into 7 categories. Category 1 being the worst (these hotels often include free DEA surveillance) to category 7 (you can pretend to be a filthy rich tycoon, like Mr. Howell).

As noted above, this is definitely the superior redemption method, as you really max out the value of your points. The screen capture below from the Starwood website gives you an idea of the number of points you’d need for various categories of hotels, along with information on other possible uses of your Starwood points.

50% Off Rack Rates: Deal or Dud?

For 1,000 Starpoints®, you can purchase a certificate that will give you 50% of the “rack rate” at the given hotel-for up to 5 nights. The “rack rate” is basically the highest published price for the room in question. However, these certificates are subject to availability, and also there seems to be some (rather heated) debate as to whether they are beneficial or not. You can check out this Flyertalk thread on the 50% rack rate issue.

5th Night Free: The Real Deal

If you redeem 5 nights at the same Starwood Hotel (category 3-7 only), then your sixth night is on the house. That equates to a 17% discount off of what you’re paying (in points). This is a very straight-forward (and nice) benefit.

Redeeming Starpoints® by Transferring to Frequent Flyer Loyalty Programs

The Starwood Preferred Guest® Rewards Program also allows you to transfer your points to more than 30 airlines at (mostly) 1:1 rates. One especially nice feature here is that if you redeem in chunks of 20,000 points, you’ll get a bonus 5,000 miles added to whichever program you transferred your points too. That’s a nice 25% bump in the value of your points.

While we calculate the value of those transfers in our post “Value of SPG miles”, some of the airline loyalty programs include:

  • AA Advantage (1:1 exchange)
  • BA Executive Club (1:1 exchange)
  • Continental OnePass (2 Starpoints for 1 Mile)
  • US Airways Dividend Miles (1:1 exchange)
  • United Mileage Plus (2 Starpoints for 1 Mile)
  • Virgin Atlantic Flying Club (1:1 exchange)

You can see the full list of airlines and exchange ratios here.

Redeeming Starwood Preferred Guest® Starpoints by Purchasing Airline Tickets

You can actually purchase airline tickets directly through the SPG website. The nice aspect of this method is that by actually (technically) purchasing an airline ticket with your points, you’ll also earn frequent flyer miles, which of course can really add up. Also, you don’t have to worry about blackout dates associated with flying loyalty programs.

The main concern with this approach is that the ticket prices (whether in points or converted to dollars) won’t be competitive with what you might get on the “open market” (somewhere like Kayak.com, for example). Well, it turns out you needn’t be concerned in this case, as Starwood’s pricing is actually slightly more competitive than the open market. More on this in our SPG post on the value of Starwood Points.

Redeeming your SPG Points for Gift Cards

Of course, the folks here at GetDebit have always been big anti-fans of gift cards in general (you can read our post on why gift cards suck here). It turns out that redeeming your hard-earned SPG points for gift cards is also the most sub-optimal approach to maximizing their value (your miles will be worth a meager 1.05 cents each). You’re basically getting less than half of the economic benefit you would receive if you just stayed in a Starwood Hotel room.

GetDebit’s Closing Thoughts on the Starwood Preferred Guest Program

Well, like most hotel loyalty programs, there’s a lot going on, and I could probably have filled 3 more pages (or just made one really long-ass web page) with tons more detail on the program. But our intent here was to give you the broad strokes of the program, along with links to more detailed information when deeemed useful.

The bottom line: if you like Starwood hotels (and I personally do think they have some dragon-slaying brands and properties), and you’re OK using your Starwood points for hotel room stays, then you should definitely join their program (you can sign up here). If you are serious about the program, you can read our review of the Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card From American Express, as owning this card will allow you to accumulate Starpoints much more quickly.

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