Ten Perks of the Starwood Preferred Amex and SPG Program

Please note this site has financial relationships with American Express and this post may contain affiliate links. Read my Advertiser Disclosure policy here to learn more about my partners.

There are lots of posts out there about the credit cards and the SPG program in general (as the card’s usefulness is directly tied to the SPG program), but I wanted to add my thoughts on ten perks of the SPG program that stand out for me.  If you are an old pro with SPG this will probably not be new information, but for those of you who haven’t had a ton of first-hand experience with SPG, some of these will hopefully help shed light on why myself and others think the program is so valuable.

1.  No blackout dates for standard rooms on points

We may take this for granted since several programs have eliminated blackout dates on standard award redemptions, but I think it is still a huge component of the program.  You always hear those who think loyalty programs are a “scam” say you are never able to use your points due to blackout dates.  In this case, you can use points for a standard room as long as there is one for sale.  That is huge and I’m so glad it is true with the SPG program.

2.  Cash and points awards

With Starwood you not only have the option of redeeming your points for a free night, but you have the option of stretching them out further by combining some cash with the points to secure a good deal.  These awards are subject to blackout dates, so the only downside is they aren’t always available.  Since SPG points can be harder to come by for my family, I really look for cash and points opportunities.  Here is an example…I searched for a random date in February 2014 at the Westin Riverfront Resort and Spa which is located very near the Beaver Creek ski area.  This hotel is beautiful and is located near the mountain, so not surprisingly it is expensive during ski season.

A non-refundable rate for the night I randomly picked was $314 before taxes and fees.  If you wanted a refundable rate it was over $400.  To use points that night it would require 16,000 points, at a return of around 2 cents per point.  That isn’t that great of a return for a SPG point.  However, if you opted to use cash and points you would pay $110 per night plus just 6,000 points.  In this example, that means you are getting around 3.5 cents in value for each point you are using by being willing to add some cash to the equation.

A relatively new addition to the program is that you can now also use cash and points to obtain upgraded rooms and/or suites.

3.  Nights and flights

One of the best uses for SPG points is via the “Nights and Flights” redemption option. Nights and Flights allow you to redeem SPG points for a combination of frequent flyer miles and hotel nights.  It’s kind of like a vacation package of sorts using points.  With Nights and Flights, you can redeem 60,000 SPG points for 50,000 airline miles plus five free nights at a Category 3 hotel or resort.  With Nights and Flights II, you can redeem 70,000 SPG points for 50,000 airline miles and five free nights at a Category 4 hotel or resort.  For example, you can stay at the Category 4 Swan or Dolphin on Disney property for five nights and get 50k American Airlines miles to help get your family there for just 70,000 SPG points.  If you and your spouse both got one of the SPG cards, met the spending requirements, and then pooled your points you would have enough to do this off of just two credit cards.

Nights and Flights are only available for Category 3 and 4 hotels, they must be requested at least 14-30 days in advance (depending on the airline of choice), and the selected airline must have a 1:1 points transfer option from SPG.

4.  Award stays count toward status

This only matters for those who travel enough to care about elite status, but I find it very handy that reward nights count toward elite status.  That makes it easier to use points for vacations without feeling like you are missing out on qualifying or re-qualifying for valuable hotel elite status.  I would not personally do this, but if you got one of the current 30,000 sign-up bonuses (35,000 after you include the spending requirement) and wanted to just use them toward Platinum status with Starwood, then you could do 25 cash and points one night stays at a Category 1 hotels for $30 plus 1,500 SPG points per night.  That would come to a total of 37,500 SPG points plus $750.  Again, not how I plan to use my points, but it would work as an interesting way to get top-tier status with SPG.

5.  Fifth Night Free on Award Stays

Another way to stretch the value of your SPG points is to use the “fifth night free” option for Category 3, 4, 5, 6, and 7 hotels.  Just like it sounds, you get the fifth night free by just being charged for what the point cost would have been for four nights.

6.  Make reservations without having the full number of points

The SPG program will allow you to make a points reservation even if you don’t yet have the number of points required in your account.  If you know you are about to get points from a transfer, a credit card bonus, or a stay, you can request to make a reservation without the points and they will give you 7 days to get the points in your account.  Obviously with just 7 days you have to be close to getting the points anyway, but sometimes every day matters with award availability.

7.  Points transfer between accounts

One thing I love is when programs allow family members to transfer and combine points from different accounts.  This can make pricey awards within reach and can ensure that small balances don’t get wasted.  SPG allows you to transfer points between accounts as long as both accounts must have been active and with the same address on each for at least 30 days.  In fact, my husband and I will need to do this for our next redemption since my balance is getting VERY small!

8.  Airline miles bonus

Some people use their SPG points to transfer to airlines with a bonus 5,000 miles added for every 20,000 miles transferred at a time.  What that means is that even though you are only earning 1 point per dollar on most charges on the SPG card, you are actually earning 1.25 miles per dollar if you plan to transfer to airlines in increments of 20K to get the 5K bonus.  This makes the SPG the most valuable card to use to for everyday spending to earn some types of airline miles, like American Airlines miles.

There are some downsides to this method.  First, you need to make sure that your airline of choice is a transfer partner.  Second, you need to make sure that the points transfer at a 1:1 to your desired airlines.  Some airlines that are available on a 1:1 ratio include: US Airways, British Airways, Delta, and Hawaiian Airlines.  You can view the full list here.  I do want to point out that United Airlines actually transfers at a 2:1 ratio, so I would not recommend that transfer rate.  A final major downside to this method is that the miles do not transfer immediately, so that can be a challenge if you are transferring with a specific redemption in mind.  We all know that award availability can change very rapidly, so the award you have your eye on might disappear before your miles appear in your frequent flyer account.  I would utilize airline award hold policies when possible here.

9.  Reasonable up-charge for suites and non-standard rooms

I recently was trying to make a reservation at a mountain resort and there were no standard rooms available for booking, which meant I may not be able to use my SPG points.  However, there were some non-standard rooms available (in this case something like deluxe mountain view) for just 1,000 more points per night.  I would have likely scored that upgrade anyway thanks to SPG status, but I was happy to be able to book the “non-standard” room for a reasonable up-charge.

I have also been able to lock-in suites at the time of booking for a reasonable cash upgrade on top of a points reservation.  The amount isn’t always “reasonable”, but I have gone from a basic room to a one-bedroom suite at the Westin in Whistler for just $25 per night during ski season.  The two-bedroom was just an additional $150/night.  That may sound like a lot, but if you are now able to share the space with a second family then it is actually a pretty good deal.

10.  Space available upgrades to suites as a Platinum member

Finally, I love that if you do have Platinum elite status with Starwood you can get space-available upgrades to suites on your stays – even if you are on points.  My husband has Platinum status, and we have lucked our way into suites on a few occasions now and it is always such a treat.  It isn’t guaranteed, but I love that it is possible if one is available at check-in!

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What are your favorite components of the SPG program?  How do you plan to spend the points from getting the card(s)?

 

Disclosure: I do receive a commission if you are approved for a credit card using one of my affiliate links.  As always, thanks for your support!

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Comments

  1. I just hit the minimum spend on my new SPG Business card with the increased sign-up bonus. Looking forward to using the fifth night free on an upcoming award stay! I used the points from the sign-up bonus from the SPG Personal card last year for a two-night stay at the Sheraton Maui. I have no status with Starwood and we were upgraded to an amazing deluxe ocean view suite. This is my go to card for my general non-travel expenses.

    • Jim, ha ha, no. Just a temporarily increased really good credit card offer, so I want to make sure that any interested readers understand some of the perks of the program and why the offer is so valuable. Wouldn’t surprise me if other blogs wanted to do the same for their readers. 😉

  2. @Jim- All blogs are doing this because they get paid for every person that clicks a link on their blog and applies for a credit card. Bloggers don’t offer all this information out of the goodness of their heart. Blogs are businesses, they write artles to attract readers so they can make money off advertising and credit card referrals.

    In my opinion it sort of creates a conflict of interest. Bloggers are motivated to push products because they make money off of those products.

  3. @Seth. Yes there is definitely some good information on these blogs but sometimes it’s pretty blatant (or misleading) how they are trying to convince you of a ‘great deal’ or that you are ‘beating the system’. Ultimately the airlines and hotels are making money off of all of this otherwise they wouldn’t be partnering with the bloggers.

    It’s a bit of a Ponzi scheme – the bloggers get their cut by hawking the products, but if EVERYONE took advantage of miles and points the system would break down

  4. Depends on how you value SPG points seems like this extra 5000 points is worth maybe 100.00 dollars or so.Seems like you should only apply if you already had plans to.Most people value them at .025 so that’s 125.00.(and now we can hear from all the people that say but, they often get 10 cents when redeeming)

  5. @Seth and Cogswell – First, Seth, no blogger gets paid for someone applying for a credit card. It has to be approved. To respond to the rest, something must have brought you here in the first place. If you are like me, it was the content. Good content takes time to research and write. It is a fact that I have learned many things on blogs that have allowed me to stay places and go places that I otherwise wouldn’t have been able to. You are not being even asked to pay for this info out of your pocket. You are signing up for more of these points towards great travel – you get to actually put stuff in your pocket. True, some people may push links instead of good content at times, but I find Mommypoints to be one of the best with good content and I do not mind applying through links that allow her to have more time to keep doing that good job.

  6. -I agree it only makes sense to apply now if you had interest in getting this card, but getting the biggest sign-up bonus possible is something I know is important for many.
    -I do stay at many SPG hotels. My family diversified and husband earned SPG Plat and I earned Hyatt Diamond. Suffice to say, we use SPG a bunch since he earned Plat status. SPG points are harder to earn than UR points than can transfer to Hyatt, but when we have SPG points we love using them.
    -Yes blogs like this one do make revenue off of credit cards that are in the affiliate network. Points fans also get a bunch of their points from rewards credit cards, so when blogs promote the best available offers, there is the potential for everyone to win.
    -I hope everyone likes more of the content than they dislike, but I’m sure not every post is helpful for everyone.
    -DJ, last time I got the card the 10k points posted very quickly.
    -Congrats/good luck for everyone who gets in on this offer or maximizes the SPG program!

  7. On the nights and flights does it have to be used in conjuction w/ the transferred miles? If I get 50k say American Miles and the 5 night award stay for 70k SPG points, can I “pay” for my flights/or use other means to get to the destination and then just have the American Miles sit in my American Miles acct?

  8. @8. Jim. The biggest mistake people make when valuing hotel points is that, just because a hotel lists a room at $800/night doesn’t mean it’s *worth* $800/night. It’s only worth that if you would pay that cash amount for the room. I suspect most people would probably pay around $200 cash for such a room. So when you redeem points for that room you are effectively getting what you value as $200 (or whatever it might be).

    There is where you typically see massive exaggerations on these boards with respect to the value of the hotel points. You see statements such as “I redeemed 30k SPG points for a room which would have cost $900, so the points are worth 3 cents each!”. Wrong. They are only worth 3 cents each if you can sell them to someone for that price, which you will never be able to do.

    You have to keep in mind that you can get a perfectly good hotel room in pretty much every major city for $150/night, if not less, so that should really be your basis for what one night’s worth of points are valued at

  9. Darin, yes. You don’t actually have to use the miles in conjunction with that trip.
    Cogwell, I mostly agree. I don’t think they are worth what you would sell them at – I think they are worth what you would pay for the room. That is why I used an example where I think they really are worth what is stated since many would pay that for a room during ski season. Of course, not everyone would, so they are only worth what you would have paid with cash…to an extent. There is an intangible of being able to now “afford” something you otherwise never could that does come into play as well.

  10. Funny how the usual suspects are all over this one but not a peep about the 50K AA link that is very churnable and would probably be more useful to 99.9% of readers. Amazing how getting paid influences content. BA has become a massive billboard for BentOffers. So lame.

  11. We are a strange group we are!When you read cogswell’s comments you realize your points are really only worth about 2 cents.So why aren’t we just all using a 2% cash back card. Because it’s not as much fun, and I know there’s an big issue with international first class travel.
    Example; still had a pile of capital one points and I wanted to burn them on a vacation.So I called C1 and asked them what was considered travel expense and they told me anything you buy while on vacation.I thought I would test is out.While on vacation I used these points for gas,beer,T shirts, meals,tours and drug store purchases.The point I’m trying to make is how flexible these points can be.In the end I went to Maui for a week and spent $75.00 out of pocket.(and that was for a taxi and some beach chair rentals that didn’t take CC)When I hear how much money people spend on their free vacations it blows my mind.I think I’m just a cheap guy.

  12. @Charlie- I am not saying all bloggers are bad people. I understand that they dont have to give this valuable information away for free, and I can’t blame them from trying to make a little money. I get upset when its clear certain bloggers ignore valuable information that does not earn them referrals. To a certain extent all bloggers are influenced in their content by referral fees, but some are worse than others. I would agree that Mommypoint is one of the better bloggers (along with View from the Wing and Frequent Miler), but some of these bloggers are so blatantly in the credit card company’s pockets (for example Million Mile Secrets). Those are the bloggers that upset me.

    I think people just need to be aware of why bloggers write about certain topics and how they earn money from referrals. That way readers can decide whether they want to support certain bloggers with their referrals. I know when I started out in this game I was lured in by Frugal Travel Guy and I clicked on his referral links a few times. Fortunately, I learned to expand the blogs that I read and found others who i felt were more worthy of my referral clicks.

  13. @17. Mommypoints. Yes, ultimately the points are worth somewhere in between what you can sell them for and what you would pay in cash for the corresponding room. However, their value decreases further due to devaluation risk, expiration/unused risk, illiquidity, limitations (can only use for one specific hotel chain, and often for limited dates), annual fees on credit cards, time/effort to manage points, lack of earning potential (cash can be invested), etc…

    Given that, you realize how most of those Daily Getaways from last month, or the bonus offers from hotel chains to buy points are generally a terrible deal.

  14. @19. Jim
    Yes it seems to be a lot more glamorous and thrilling to spend $20k to get 20k hotel points to use on a room “listed” at $700/night, but which you value at $300/night, rather than to earn 2% cash back on the $20k and to end up with $400 cash which you can use on anything in the world (such as TWO nights at an excellent hotel with $200/night rooms… and you earn points on the stay!)

  15. Jim/Cogswell, we are a funny group for sure. I do think that there is rightly something exciting about being able to leverage miles and points for things we otherwise couldn’t afford. That is harder to be a “value” on, but it is why many play the game. I know it is part of the reason that my family does. So, valuations are important, but enjoying things you otherwise couldn’t is okay, too. 😉

  16. Seth, how is Million Mile Secrets any more blatantly in the credit card company’s pockets than MommyPoints or any other blogger manufacturing posts to wax poetic about SPG to pitch their affiliate links?

    • I’m all for debating the quality of the offer or the merits of a program, so please feel free to point out anything I may have left off, anything that you agree with, disagree with, etc. But, the comments section here is not the place for a debate over affiliate revenue or one blogger vs another. Not to take away from those topics as I know they are very important for some, but I know there are blogs and forums dedicated exclusively for that and may be a better venue than on a post about the perks of the SPG program.

  17. I really don’t understand this animosity towards bloggers. Yes, Summer gets paid commission from this, as she should. There is a ton of work, that goes into these posts, that people don’t see. It’s not just a little page, that you see on the computer. And this offer is legitimate. I don’t value SPG points as highly, as her. But I will still be applying for the card , because the bonus is solid, compared to other cards on the market currently.

  18. Personally, I don’t think there is a conflict of interest here at all, and I believe mommypoints gives an objective analysis in all her posts. I have seen her rave about a card or program if a deal is good, and bash that same card or program if a change is made. She always gives her rational for however she analyzes the card so I don’t see what everyone is complaining about. And who gives a hoot about what other bloggers are writing about, not everyone reads ever blogs. Usually that just means its a hot topic at the moment and this way you won’t miss it. Should newspapers not report a major story just because everyone else is doing it? Mommypoints, I really hope you don’t let these crabs bring you down and affect what you choose to write about. Please keep up the good work.

  19. @HikerT #19

    Don’t forget about the Club Carlson cards that some of the bloggers (MommyPoints included, if not especially) suddenly discovered over the past couple of months!

    I think it got more coverage in the 1st month it started paying affiliate commission than in the previous year combined

    Even though the offer didn’t change one bit!

    • Steve, that is not accurate. I posted many times about it well before it was an affiliate link. Feel free to shoot me an email if you are interested in links to those posts, or you can likely find them with minimal searching. I’m not sure of the date it entered the affiliate world, but I think it was earlier this summer.

      To all who support this site whether it is by using our links, or simply reading on a regular basis or occasional basis, we greatly appreciate it. I am tremendously lucky that this is both a hobby and a business.

      In a (perhaps futile) effort to keep this discussion at least semi-relevant to the post, I will be deleting comments from this point forward that are not related to the post topic. I don’t want to do that, but truly do not feel this is the best forum for this debate and it detracts from people who are looking for actual discussion on the post. Please feel free to shoot me an email if you want some ideas on where forums are to discuss things like blogs, affiliate info, etc. and I’ll direct you to the right spots.

      Hope you all have a wonderful Friday night and a great weekend!

  20. Just a minor observation on the potential Platinum “mattress run”. It would really take 23 stays, not 25, since you already have the card, so you get a 2-stay credit. I agree is not something I would personally do unless I’m closer to status, but worth noting for someone considering it.
    Another favorite “perk” if you could call it that, that I would add to the list is the ability (last I checked of course) to break up your stay into individual single night reservations, and they all count as separate stays (seems to be a fluke that SPG hasn’t caught on to), so you could fast track it a little faster to the next tier level, if that makes any sense (as long as the hotel doesn’t offer the non-housekeeping bonus!).

    • FTG, great point about having the SPG card so having 2 stays included already – 4 if you end up getting both cards. 😉 Thanks for sharing!

  21. For the nights and flights do you have to use the miles for the same trip as the nights or do they just get transferred into your airline account to use at anytime? We already have flights booked to Kona, Hawaii but would like to take advantage of this deal and use the miles another time.

    • Sarah, you can use the miles however you wish. You just have to want to stay a Cat 3 or Cat 4 property for 5 nights and then use 50k miles however/whenever you wish.

  22. @Mommypoints make my Fall , and make the US Air Grand Slam happen, one more time, now that the merger is in limbo.

    This is the best promotion ever !

  23. Thank you MP for the valuable information you post on a consistent basis and avail yourself above the rhetoric.

    Do you know if SPG offers the 5,000 bonus on the 3. Nights and flights for the 60,000 point trade-in?

  24. Regarding valuation of SPG points – in some cities, such as Manhattan and London, it’s very hard to find a decent hotel for $200-$250/night much of the time. When I stay in a Cat 5 hotel for 5 nights for 48,000 points, I look at it as paying 2.2 cents/point, or $210/night, to stay in a very comfortable hotel (with free Platinum Internet and breakfast) that would otherwise be unavailable to me at anything close to this price. I don’t claim that the points are worth more than 2.2 cents each – rather, I feel by using points I’m getting a much better deal than I could get any other way.

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