Maximizing Your Starwood Preferred Guest Points: Part One

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There is little dispute in the miles and points community that Starwood Preferred Guest points are the most valuable type of point overall, but what is more useful than that general statement is how to actually squeeze the most value out of the points for your family. I think it would be a bit lengthy to describe all of the best uses in one post, so I will divide the post into two topics.  This first post will be focused solely on using them for hotel nights, and the second post will explore some of the other options that center around transferring to airline miles or using a combo of airline miles and hotel nights.



Starwood Family of Hotels:

Let’s start with the basics…the Starwood family of hotels includes many different brands including: Westin, Sheraton, Element, Aloft, Le Meridien, The Luxury Collection, Four Points, St. Regis, and W Hotels.  They have a pretty good international footprint, meaning that you will often find a SPG hotel in many major cities. There are regular hotels and resorts within the Starwood family.  My own personal favorite Starwood hotels are the Westin hotels and resorts.  For my family they are the right balance of “nice” without being overly fancy or too trendy for us to feel comfortable.  I have also stayed in some Sheratons that we enjoyed as well.  That is just personal preference, but thought I would throw it out there.

Hotel Free Night Categories:

Starwood has seven categories of hotel that range from 2,000 points per night for a free standard room to 35,000 points per night for a free standard room.  There are a few properties without standard rooms that cost even more points, but those really aren’t all that important since I do not recommend using points at those properties anyway.  I often find the best points values either in hotels that cost very few SPG points per night, or those that cost in the mid range of 10,000 – 12,000 points per night.  I stay away from the Category 6 and 7 hotels in my own personal travels.  We recently booked a rooms for this up-coming ski season at the Beaver Creek Resort and Spa near Vail, Colorado.  It was 12,000 points per night for a room that sells for close to $500 per night during ski season.  That means that for that redemption each point was worth over 4 cents each.

I have also stayed at Category 1 or 2 hotels that cost 2,000 or 3,000 points for a weekend night when the going rate was $100 or more.  That means those points got me anywhere from 3 to 5 cents in value per point. I’ll get back to the value per point in a minute, but I wanted to show that there is some huge value to be had in some categories.

No Blackout Dates:

One of the biggest myths for those outside the miles and points community is that you can never use your points due to blackout dates.  With SPG that is very much not the case.  If there are standard rooms available, you can book the rooms with points.  In fact, this exchange on Milepoint about this very topic is one of the things that spurred me to write this post.  It really is awesome to be able to use the points you earn where you want and when you want.

Cash and Points Awards:

This is my absolute favorite use for SPG points as it is often the most lucrative.  With cash and points awards you spend a few points and a little cash together to get your free nights.  To go back to my Beaver Creek example, last year we stayed during ski season on a cash and points reservation.  It cost us 4,800 points plus $90 per night for the ~$500 per night room.  That means that instead of paying 12,000 points per night and getting a value of around 4 cents per point, we were only spending 4,800 points and in return were getting about 8.5 cents per point value on the remaining $410 that the room would have cost per night.  The points often stretch much further when you are able to go the “cash and points” route.

The only downside to cash and points is that they are not as readily available as award nights that are booked solely on points.  This type of reward is restricted and is not always available, but when it is it is fantastic.  I would guess that approximately 50-60% of my SPG award nights are booked using cash and points.  I wish that it could be 100%, but it just doesn’t always work out that way.

To search for cash and point awards, select “compare new rates” to include “cash and points awards” when you are searching for availability.  Here is an example of what it will look like.

Fifth Night Free:

Another way to really 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.

Reward stays count toward elite 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 and wanted to just use it to get Platinum status with Starwood, then you could do 25 cash and points one night stays at a Category 1 hotels for $25 plus 1,200 SPG points per night.  That would come to a total of 30,000 SPG points plus $625.  Again, not how I plan to use my points, but it would work as a very inexpensive way to get top-tier status with SPG.

This post doesn’t contain revolutionary information for those who are already very familiar with the SPG program, but might help some of the folks who are just now getting interested in SPG points due to the increased sign-up offers.  In part 2 of this mini series I will look at how SPG points can also be very valuable for those who prefer to spend their miles and points to fly.


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  1. […] In part one of this series I looked at maximizing the value of SPG points on hotel reward night redemptions.  Hotel reward nights are actually the way that I use the majority of my SPG points, but I know many folks prefer to use their miles and points for air travel, so this post will focus on that type of option.  In fact, one of the “hidden gems” of the SPG program actually involves both frequent flyer miles and hotel reward nights! […]


  1. Looking forward to the series. Every blogger just assumes this is the must have card and assigns at +2c per point valuation without much elaboration. Thanks.

  2. I am well informed of SPG perks and agree this has been covered many times. However, it is still good for those who are new to boardingarea, or perhaps those who have started visiting boardingarea because of gossip over the 30k spg amex deal. Never hurts to post stuff that may be common knowledge to the avid traveller.

  3. @tri nguyen, glad to hear you are looking forward to it.
    @Mike, agree this isn’t brand new info. It is just hopefully a helpful overview for those who are newer to the SPG program.
    @Albert, that is the hope. This series isn’t for the SPG pro (though I would love to hear tips from the SPG pros), it’s for the folks who are new to SPG or who are considering getting into the SPG program due to the temporarily increased bonus. 😉

  4. I can’t wait for the next series. Ive just recently gotten the SPG card, and a usairways mc, and am looking for the best ways to maximize points, and how often do transfere bonuses happen. Thanks for all you do!!

  5. Yes to can transfer points to family members…at least to your spouse! All with a phone call. It takes about 5 days. I have transferred points between myself and husband many times! I like this better than Hyatt and Marriot, where you have to transfer for a specific award. And Hilton does not allow it at all unless you pay a fee!

  6. Mommy, this post doesn’t say it, but I believe you do earn SPG points on the cash portion of your cash and points reservation, correct? This might come in handy if there is a Grand Slam this year.

  7. BTW – I currently do not have the Starwood Amex; and I hardly see how its worth +2c unless you PRIMARILY do a lot of expensive high end hotel stays. Otherwise Im here to learn. I’m also for the most part a United/Star flyer, perhaps my bias is towards the Chase Sapphire Preferred.

  8. This was all very informative and easy to understand. I have been concentrating mostly on earning flier miles. Husband and I have many of the ultimate reward cards but we have used them to buy airlines tickets or transfer to airlines. I do not have a hotel cc yet, but this may be the next card to get. Thanks and I look forward to reading the second series.

  9. MP: I dont have this card and was checking Cash & Points awards for 2013 June in Italy/France. None of the hotels have the C & P rate, so I doubt the usefulness of this card outside US. Also, after initial 30000 points, it will be 1 dollar/point or stay in SPG hotels to get points. Unless you have big reimbursable business expenses, I don’t think SPG adds much value(also 5000 spend is a killer).

  10. MP, can you do a post about the best chains in which to obtain suites? Either through upgrades or redemptions? I find as our preschooler gets older, that its really cramped in a standard hotel room with a rollaway stuffed in there. I either look for a Junior Suite now with a sofabed or an Embassy Suites type situation with two rooms. I’d like to know how to make our points go farther with an ever growing need for room. Thanks!

  11. @Michael,
    you do not earn points for the cash portion of the cash and points. You do earn points for incidentals charged to the room – including meals – so definitely do that. You will get points as well if you use your SPG Amex to pay for the room and associated charges, including an additional point for SPG charges on your SPG Amex.

  12. @mike, I believe you can book for others and I know you can transfer points between spouses.
    @Jean, great! Hope this series helps. Let me know if you end up with questions that I don’t cover.
    @Kelly, it is a great feature!
    @Michael, sadly you do not earn SPG points for the cash portion on C and P awards. You would earn the bonus SPG point for paying with the SPG Amex on that portion, but you don’t earn SPG points directly from SPG for that portion.
    @tri, I also love the UR family of points. I would disagree that SPG points are only worth more than 2 cents per point for those who stay in expensive hotels. If you can use your points at Category 1 and 2 hotels on the weekends then you can get 10-15 free nights just from the sign-up bonus. That is great for lower end hotel visitors! There aren’t a ton of Cat 1’s, but there are a good number of Cat 2’s.
    @Kathy, hope it helps. It is a great hotel credit card to have. Let me know if you have any questions along the way.
    @bayguy, SPG points are hard to build other than the credit card sign-ups for sure. Of course, you can “slow churn” these cards and 70K points from getting both and meeting the spending can be stretched pretty far, depending on use. That said, cash and points awards are scarce for some properties. I did a random search for C&P in Italy and France for this month and saw several hotels available, so keep an eye on it as it gets closer. More may open as it gets closer, depending on how rooms are selling.
    @Askia, Embassy Suites are great for that purpose for sure! I love Hyatt confirmed suite upgrades for that purpose as well. It does sound like a good post to add to the list.
    @pointasaurus, I will cover that in a subsequent post in the series. 😉

  13. @ Micheal, You do not earn points for the cash portion of the cash and points. You do earn points for incidentals charged to the room – including meals. However be aware that it is not recommended to use this card outside US for such purpose, because of the foreign transaction fee associated with it.

  14. You can use your Starpoints to book a room for someone else, but there is a gotcha!! The booking is under your name; you need to call the hotel to have the other traveler’s name added to the reservation. I’ve found it’s wise to call a second time to make sure it’s been done correctly, and to have the other traveler check as well – and, sometimes, a poorly trained Reception employee will not know how to find the other travelers name in the res and will refuse to check the other traveler in. (This happened to my GF a few months ago….she was NOT pleased…)

  15. This is very good information for us newbies and it is the first time to your site. Great info and thank you for the education. I will be back.

  16. I know that when you book 4 nights with Starwood using either points OR cash that you get the 5th night free. Do you also get the 5th night free when using a combination cash & points to pay? I feel like I may have asked this before but I can’t find the post. Thanks!

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