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If I had to pick my #1 favorite use of Starwood Preferred Guest points over the last few years it would be tough, but I think the winner would be using them for top notch lodging on otherwise unaffordable ski trips. Since we have little ones, the location of our lodging on ski trips is pretty important to me. I know my parents drove through the night from Texas to get to the mountains, hit the slopes the second we arrived on little to no sleep, probably stayed in a shanty, and certainly walked a mile or two uphill in the snow with all their ski gear to get to the lifts. But let’s face the reality that I’m just not that tough. Or rather, that just doesn’t sound like my version of fun. I did a few similar sounding ski trips over long weekends in my early 20’s, but now that I’m a parent, I’m just too tired for all that.
On our ski trips, I want to stay on the mountain, if possible, and regardless of where we stay I certainly don’t want to have to carry a kid or two’s worth of ski gear a long distance while I listen to them complain about how much it hurts to walk in ski boots. Okay, I actually understand that complaint. I’m still dealing with a toe nail that was basically killed from lack of blood supply last ski season. Anyway, I can’t afford the cash rates to stay on a mountain during ski season, but I have been fortunate enough to be able to afford the points rates a number of times.
My #1 trick to being able to use SPG points to stay on or near the mountain during peak ski times is simply to book as far in advance as possible. I often book these peak season award trips roughly 18 months in advance just as the SPG award booking window opens. This means I booked a hotel room using SPG points for a 2018 – 2019 ski trip several months ago. However, as I was playing around with the SPG calendar over the weekend, I realized that cash + points awards for that trip were now available when they weren’t before, and they are actually a much better deal than staying solely on points even though it means a larger cash outlay.
To give some specifics, we were originally booked at the Westin Snowmass near Aspen, Colorado, for three nights at 16,000 SPG points per night on holiday peak season dates. That was a very good deal compared to the roughly $700 per night all-in cash rate, but it is still a pretty big number of SPG points to spend per night considering how hard they are to earn.
However, now that there was the option to instead spend 6,000 SPG points + $110 per night for a cash + points award, it was time to change my reservation up a bit. Ignoring taxes/fees for a moment, the cash portion of this rate essentially offers the opportunity to buy your SPG points back at a rate of 1.1 cents each, which is a fantastic rate at which to snap up SPG points. Not only that, but it is simply a good way to stretch and preserve your SPG points. Now instead of spending 48,000 SPG points for a three night stay, I am spending just 18,000 SPG points + $330 + taxes and fees.
All-in my options for this slopeside stay were:
- Spend 18,000 Starpoints + $462.24
- Spend 48,000 Starpoints + $90.00 (resort fees)
- Spend $2,054.58…and this is for a lesser room category on a non-refundable rate
Obviously the third option wasn’t really in contention, but of the first two I am really happy with switching over to the points + cash rate even though it does result in a greater cash cost. I can do much better with my SPG points than the 1.24 cents in value I was getting for the 30,000 additional points the full points rate cost would cost me over the cash + points rate, factoring in all the taxes and fees. If I would have been staying five nights with the fifth award night free the equation would have changed, just as it would have if the award cost for this Category 5 hotel was just 12,000 points per night the way it is on non-peak dates.
For me “staying for free” isn’t always the goal, but instead the goal is to make a trip affordable and get as good of a return for my points as I can, especially when it is a type of point I have trouble replenishing. How do you decide when to use all points vs. a cash + points award? What would you have done in this situation?
Editorial Note: The opinions expressed here are mine and not provided, reviewed, by any bank, card issuer, or other company unless otherwise stated.