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In case you missed my post from yesterday, the new Starwood Preferred Guest cash and points chart has arrived. The bad news is that across the board cash and points reservations now cost more than they did before March 5th. The good news is that SPG’s stated motivating factor for the increase – to increase availability – so far seems to be more true than false. This does not mean that every hotel is available for cash and points every single day, but there absolutely are more hotels, which in turn are available for more days, than there were before the increase. I hope to see this trend continue to grow, and that we don’t just see an initial increase and/or stall on availability.
Either way, I locked in several nights at the Westin Resort at the base of Whistler for ski season 2014 at the new cash and points rate. I could not have done this before the change without a legitimate Vatican-certified miracle due to low availability. The going points rate for a base room during ski season varies between 12,000 and 16,000 points per night. The cash rate is often $400 – $500 and up per night. For the math challenged, at those rates a four night stay would cost 48,000 – 64,000 SPG points, or easily close to $2000. However, with cash and points it comes to $440 + 24,000 points (of course exclusive of taxes and fees that can add up at ski resorts).
That isn’t “cheap”, but it brings it much closer to the realm of possible for many families. In this case, you can get more than the necessary 24,000 points for the points component of a four night cash and points stay just by meeting the spending requirement, and getting the sign-up bonus from the personal SPG American Express or SPG Business Card. However, just getting one of those cards doesn’t even get you close to the straight points requirement of 48K-64K for four nights at that hotel. That’s the main reason I love cash and points – it makes getting award nights more attainable for many of us who aren’t flush with SPG points (or cash for that matter).
So, if you are in need of a cash and points reservation at a SPG hotel that previously was unavailable at that rate, it is worth checking again now to see if that situation has changed. They aren’t as good of a deal as they were before the chart increased, but they are now more available in many situations.
Along with better availability, the other key feature for the new cash and points award chart is the ability to reserve suites with cash and points. For families this can be a very big deal as we actually need the extra space. I was optimistically hopeful that the ability to book suites with cash and points would be available online just as regular cash and points reservations are, or the way you can reserve most suites with cash, but unfortunately that is not the way it works.
To reserve a suite on cash and points, it is going to have to be checked and reserved manually by SPG. The easiest way to do this is to use the chat feature under the “Help” section. I have had very good success with SPG agents being able to do all sorts of things for me via chat. It is not as convenient as being able to do it myself, but it isn’t nearly as bad as if I had to call in.
Out of curiosity, I had the agent check availability for a suite on cash and points at the Westin Whistler Resort for next ski season. The one-bedroom suite was indeed available for the dates I checked at the stated price according to the chart. Since this is a Category 5 hotel, that means that a suite goes for 12,000 SPG points per night + $275. Keep in mind that a basic room for a Category 5 hotel is 12,000 points (though sometimes 16K during peak season), so that is in essence a $275 charge per night to upgrade to a suite. I’m not shy about paying a little extra on top of a points reservation to secure a suite, but $275 extra per night on top of what a straight points reservation would cost is steep, and is not something I would do in this situation.
Below is a photo of a one-bedroom suite from the Westin Beaver Creek that I paid about a $100 surcharge for in 2012 on top of our points reservation for a base room. In 2013 that up-charge had gone up a bit, but it is still an example of a good value for a suite for our family.
The cost for suites at lower category hotels is much more palatable for my tastes. Depending on the exact suite involved, and how badly I needed it, I would be more likely to pay the cash and points premium that the Category 1-3, and possibly even Category 4 hotels charge. In those cases, it is basically a $75, $95, $125, and $175 charge respectively for the suite above the standard straight points rate for the room each night. A charge of around $100 extra per night for a true suite is reasonable in my book. Once you get closer to $200 and $300 and up per night, that is where things get crazy unless the suite is so large that you can now split it with another set of adults, thus bringing the price down.
In summary, the online chat feature is your friend if you want to find out about suite availability or premium room availability on cash and points. Based on my sample size of one, the process was straight-forward and the availability was there….just at a premium that I’m not willing to pay. I guess more options are better than fewer options though.
I’d love to hear your experiences if you have tried out this new option yet!
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