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This is the time of the year that hotel loyalty programs historically make tweaks to their award charts and where the various properties fit into those award charts. For a points junkie, it is kind of a stressful time period as your favorite redemptions and strategies can be changed with a swipe of a keyboard by the various programs.
Today it is Starwood Preferred Guest’s turn to announce their category changes. These changes will go into effect on March 6, 2018, which means that as long as you make your future award bookings before then you can book at the current award rates as far as the calendar will allow. Speaking of, I am very sad (though not surprised) that SPG is also changing how far in advance you can book from the current 550 days to just 350 days to align with the Marriott Rewards booking calendar. This calendar change will kick in very soon on February 11, 2018. This means you should lock in your (very) far out reservations ASAP. The SPG booking window currently goes through mid-August 2019, but after this change takes place it will only extend until early 2019.
Circling back to the hotels that are changing category, the 276 SPG hotels that are changing category represent 17% of the total SPG portfolio. Of those, 9% are moving down one category and 8% are moving up one category. I did notice a couple properties making a two-category shift one way or another, but indeed most that are changing are inching up or down one category.
Unfortunately, even a one category shift upwards can be huge on the SPG award chart. Some of my favorites, the Westin Whistler and the Westin Grand Cayman, are going from a 5 to a 6, meaning they go from as low as 12,000 points per night to as high as 25,000 points per night with that one category shift. Doing an apples to apples comparison at the lower end of both of those categories, they are still shifting from 12,000 to 20,000 points per night taking them from realistic to out of range unless you have deep SPG pockets.
Before we get to a summary of the changes, here is a reminder of how the SPG categories break down:
SPG Award Chart
Category 1: 3,000 points per night (2,000 on the weekend)
Category 2: 4,000 points per night (3,000 on the weekend)
Category 3: 7,000 points per night
Category 4: 10,000 points per night
Category 5: 12,000 – 16,000 points per night
Category 6: 20,000 – 25,000 points per night
Category 7: 30,000 – 35,000 points per night
Of course, you should look at the full list of 276 hotels changing category here, but I’ll share a summary of some of the properties changing categories that jumped out at me as being particularly noteworthy for family travelers.
Hotels going up in SPG category:
- Sheraton Puerto Rico Hotel & Casino 3 to 4
- The Westin Dublin 5 to 6
- Element Amsterdam 3 to 4
- The Westin Palace, Madrid 5 to 6
- The Westin Resort & Spa, Whistler 5 to 6
- The Westin Grand Cayman Seven Mile Beach Resort & Spa 5 to 6
- Four Points by Sheraton Niagara Falls Fallsview 2 to 4
- Aloft Cancun 2 to 3
- Walt Disney World Dolphin 4 to 5
- The Westin Dallas Fort Worth Airport 3 to 4
- The St. Anthony, a Luxury Collection Hotel, San Antonio 4 to 5
- Aloft New York LaGuardia Airport 4 to 5
- Aloft Seattle Sea-Tac Airport 3 to 4
- Aloft South Bend 3 to 4
- Aloft Wichita Northeast 3 to 4
Hotels going down in SPG category:
- Sheraton Anchorage Hotel & Spa 4 to 3
- Sheraton Brooklyn New York Hotel 5 to 4
- Hotel Colonnade Coral Gables, a Tribute Portfolio Hotel 5 to 4
- Aloft Tulsa 2 to 1
- Aloft New York Brooklyn 5 to 4
- Aloft Austin Northwest 4 to 3
- Four Points by Sheraton Niagara Falls 3 to 2
- Aloft Austin Downtown 5 to 4
- Aloft Corpus Christi 3 to 2
- Element Austin Downtown 5 to 4
- W Las Vegas 5 to 4
- Four Points by Sheraton Las Vegas East Flamingo 3 to 2
- W Miami 6 to 5
- Magnolia Hotel Houston, a Tribute Portfolio Hotel 5 to 4
- W New York 6 to 5
- Four Points by Sheraton San Diego 3 to 2
- Le Méridien Visconti Rome 5 to 4
- Sheraton Zurich Hotel 5 to 4
- The St. Regis Istanbul 6 to 5
It always could be worse, but I’m personally pretty bummed by this year’s changes. Many properties we have enjoyed are going to get much more expensive heading from a 5 to a 6 including the Westin Dublin, Westin Palace Madrid, Westin Whistler, and Westin Grand Cayman. Check out those linked reviews to see if the properties are right for you. The Disney Dolphin is also making a big leap going from a 4 to a 5 as it will no longer be eligible for the Nights and Flights packages where you get hotel nights and airline miles as a Category 5 property as only 3’s and 4’s are eligible for those redemptions. For those curious, the nearby Disney Swan became a SPG Category 5 last year.
Things in Austin and New York City get a little less painful once these changes kick in and I’m glad to see the Sheraton Anchorage go back down to a Category 3, but overall this list isn’t great for families. We are visiting/have visited Westin Whistler and Westin Grand Cayman this year, so I don’t think we will be able to use our points to lock in return visits in 2019 just to avoid the impending points increases. By the time the next award chart changes roll around we could very well be looking at a newly combined Marriott Rewards award chart, so seeing past 2019 would be very difficult to do with SPG at this point. However, if you have any of these properties on your “thinking about it” radar, then it is time to put the points from your Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card or Starwood Preferred Guest® Business Credit Card to really good use. If you are running short on SPG points you transfer in from Marriott at 3:1 or purchase up to 30,000 SPG points per year – right now with a 35% discount on a purchase of 5,000 points per greater.
I’m not thrilled these coming changes, but I know it could always be worse. Some of my SPG favorite spots weren’t impacted, so I’m happy about that. I am not at all happy about the shortening of the booking window by so many months, but I understand the logic behind the change. What will you be locking in over the next few days?
Stay tuned for a rundown of the Marriott Rewards changes that were also just announced…
Editorial Note: The opinions expressed here are mine and not provided, reviewed, by any bank, card issuer, or other company unless otherwise stated.