When SPG Cash + Points Rates are Better Than Full Award Rates

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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.

Starwood Preferred Guest® Business Credit Card from American Express

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.

Hurray for on-mountain points-friendly hotels!

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.

On-mountain Westin Snowmass

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.

Comments

  1. Wow, hadn’t thought too look for the 1 variable point category (other than cat1) where the C&P rate is based on the lower point rate than the all point stay was based on. Did the all-points rate change for the dates you chose?

    Good catch!

  2. The one issue I have with the Starwood system: The points are great value during the busy season, out of season you’re better off doing a best rate guarantee or finding some other cut rate. I stayed at the Westin Snowmass this summer, I used a best rate guarantee to book an Alpine view room with full breakfast included for $110. Maybe this is by design though?

  3. My points-philosophy is to redeem even if it’s not the best redemption value as long as it suits my current need (whatever the current need may be).

    I think you chose well since starpoints are so hard to come by and $462 is much more manageable than $2K!

    Have you thought about adding your spouse as your SPG authorized user (so it’s 2500 starpoints bonus after $1k spend = 3500 starpoints) and paying for the $462 w/that AU credit card (which will earn 5x starpoints and also help you meet 50% of spending requirement)?? You can make almost 6000 starpoints then 🙂

  4. “I’m still dealing with a toe nail that was basically killed from lack of blood supply last ski season.”

    Thank you for sharing that! What a vision. Does it really add to this article in any meaningful and informative way?

    • Queenie, ha ha. It is pretty. It’s just a nod to the reality that ski boots can actually be terrible, not just mildly annoying.

  5. I appreciate your pointing out a situation in which cash & points makes sense. I usually deselect the choice, since you can only select 4 rates, because typically I’m offered something crazy like the example below. Note: This is an actual example from last week, at a hotel where I stay fairly often in Category 2:
    3000 points + $0
    2000 points + $35 plus tax and fees.

    If I remember correctly, you could actually buy points directly from Starwood at a non-discounted rate and still get a better deal on the free choice!

    • Broc, it is a better deal at some of the mid-range category properties for sure. But hey, staying for 3,000 points + $0 is pretty sweet!

  6. You’ve picked the sweet spot of SPG C&P redemptions (Cat 5 High Season). Based on an estimated hotel tax rate of 15% and a stay of less than 5 nights, I calculate the cost of “buying back” SPG points using C&P as follows:

    Cost per Pt
    Cat 1(Weekday) 0.023
    Cat 1(Weekend) 0.069
    Cat 2(Weekday) 0.020
    Cat 2(Weekend) 0.040
    Cat 3 0.018
    Cat 4 0.017
    Cat 5 (Low) 0.021

    Cat 5( High) 0.013
    Cat 6 (Low) 0.021
    Cat 6( High) 0.014
    Cat7 ( Low) 0.021
    Cat 7 (High) 0.016

    I value SPG points at $0.03, but I would not purchase them for anything over $0.02. Therefore Category 5 -7 High Season are the best C&P Values and Category 1, 2 and 5 – 7 Low Season are the worst values.

    • I’m all about the sweet spot redemptions – totally right about high season category redemptions being the best time to go for a C + P rate. Thanks for laying out all the math!

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