Is Starwood elite status “worth it” for families?

A few days ago, I wrote about why I loved having a Hyatt Diamond member in my family (my husband Josh). Some people got all huffy about the exact dollar amount that Hyatt Diamond status was worth, some people questioned my math skills, and some people actually got the point I was making, which is that Hyatt Diamond Status can be very valuable to families. 

It’s certainly valuable to me.

That being said, I don’t have high-level status with any other major hotel chain. So far, it’s been a Hyatt love-fest over here at my house. However, since I enjoy figuring out how to get maximum benefits for minimum cash, I decided to take a closer look at a few other hotel loyalty programs. Starwood was first on my list.

Here’s the deal with Starwood: their brand includes many different hotels all over the world. If you want to stay at a Starwood property, you’ve got your pick from Westin, Sheraton, Element, Aloft, Le Meridien, The Luxury Collection, Four Points, St. Regis, and W Hotels.  In other words, they’ve got a great selection and offer many different price points.

The Starwood loyalty program features three elite levels: Preferred, Gold, and Platinum.

Preferred

This is the basic entry-level status, with no stay requirement. Once you join the program, you are automatically a Preferred member. As a thank-you for being a member, you get 2 Starwood points for every $1 you spend at Starwood hotels.

Gold

There are several ways to earn Gold status:

  1. You’re Golden after 10 stays or 25 nights at Starwood hotels and resorts. (Remember that you get credit for 5 nights and 2 stays if you have the personal or business Starwood card).
  2. You also get immediate Gold status if you have an American Express Platinum card (just call the number on the back of your card and they’ll take care of it for you).
  3. Another way to earn Gold status is to buy it – spend $30,000 in a calendar year on the American Express Starwood card (personal or business).

As a Gold member, you get:

  • 3 Starpoints points per $1 spent at Starwood hotels and resorts
  • Enhanced room at check-in
  • Welcome gift (choice of free internet, 250 bonus Starpoints or 125 points at Aloft, Four Point, or Element hotels, or a free beverage up to $15)
  • 4:00 pm late checkout

Platinum

You earn Platinum status after 25 stays or 50 nights. It’s worth noting that this is the same number of stays/nights that will earn you Diamond status with Hyatt. When you earn Platinum status, you get these benefits:

  • 3 Starpoints points per $1 spent at Starwood hotels and resorts
  • Upgrades to the best available room including Standard Suites
  • Free Internet
  • Club and Executive level privileges (lounge access)
  • 4:00 pm late checkout
  • Welcome gift: free continental breakfast for member +1 guest, bonus Starpoints, or local amenity.

Once you hit 50 nights, you also get 10 Suite Night awards, which you can use to reserve select suites starting from 5 nights before arrival.

At 75 nights, you also get 4 Starpoints points per $1 spent at Starwood hotels and resorts, plus something called “Your24,” which lets you check-in at any time and then check-out 24 hours later.

At 100 nights, Starwood also assigns an SPG Ambassador to you, who is “a single point of contact who can help make everything fall into place when you travel. They handle everything from room preferences to restaurant reservations to special occasions.”

So, is Starwood status worth it?

Well, if you already stay at a lot of Starwood properties for work travel, or because you love them, then of course racking up nights/stays towards status makes sense. However, I definitely would not go out of my way to earn status with Starwood.

It’s not worth it to me.

For one thing, the benefits that I value so highly with Hyatt do not exist at the same level at Starwood. As a Diamond member with Hyatt, Josh earns 4 guaranteed suite upgrades each year. We can apply these upgrades at the time of booking, which makes a gigantic difference when we are traveling as a family. If the extra space provided by a suite is important to you (or can make or break your stay), you kind of need to know whether or not you’ll have it for sure, or if you need to spend the extra money to get it. With Starwood, you don’t know one way or the other until 5 days before your trip. That defeats the purpose for us.

Another big difference is the breakfast amenity. Every family is different, but for us, getting our act together to get out of the house/hotel in the morning is a multi-part drama. It takes forever. Having the option to enjoy breakfast for the four of us, delivered from room service (for free!) or being able to just walk down the hall to salvation in the form of a buffet or on-property restaurant is a big deal, and it’s worth a lot. To us. Maybe it wouldn’t be worth a whit to you, and that’s fine. To each her own. 😉

However…

I want to mention that all elite levels of the Starwood program have equal access to great values, both in Starwood’s award chart and in their Cash+Points program.

For example, a room at the Sheraton Park Hotel at the Anaheim Resort (walking distance from Disneyland!) goes for 7,000 Starpoints per night.

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Also, the Starwood program features a perk where you get a 5th night free when you book 4 award nights. This can be a great savings for a family vacation!

With Cash+Points, you can purchase an award night for half the amount of points, plus a cash charge. Typically, the amount you pay in cash tends to be much less than the dollar value of the points you are saving.

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To conclude, my opinion is that while I highly value Starpoints and think that you can snap up some great values  as a member of their loyalty program, if you’re traveling as a family, having Starwood elite status does not add much extra value to the equation.

What do you think about earning Starwood status? About earning status in general? Has it been valuable for you, or do you not even use the benefits?

As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Comments

  1. Another perk of SPG Plat is access to lounges and club floors when the property has it. The advantage there is you have a club open for breakfast in the morning and snacks in the evening but even throughout the day the fridge is stocked with water, drinks, milk and yoghurt.
    In addition I’ve stayed at a few Sheratons where as a plat member I’ve been given breakfast on the house every day without having to choose it as my welcome amenity. Both these perks are useful if you’re traveling with family.
    As for the suites, usually if you’re in a vacation spot that isn’t quite frequented by business travelers during a working week I’ve had no issues getting upgraded to suites, either. Usually when you hit the 100 night level most cases they might even set the suite aside for you even though they say that the upgrades are on check in only.

  2. I agree – elite status on Starwood does not make much sense for families. One thing you might want to look into is the Sheraton Suites brand – we stayed in one in Columbus, OH and all the rooms are 1BR suites.

    The other thing I like about Starwood is that award stays count towards elite qualification

  3. I agree, SPG is geared more towards business travelers and even then to get un upgrade is a chore.

  4. as you said SPG has a ton of hotels. depending on where your travel pattern, it can steer you towards SPG. i come to Taiwan/Hong Kong/China several times a yr (all on leisure), and SPG has the advantage in this regard, not to mention most of the places in the states – I think. correct me if wrong.

  5. I don’t think its so clear cut.

    Keep in mind that Starwood has more properties than Hyatt. For example, what would you do about a family trip to Rome? You’re out of luck with Hyatt, but can choose from 5 properties in the Starwood portfolio ranging from 7k to 20k points per night.

    Next, I think its safe to say there are more high-end Starwood properties. Yes, Hyatt does have a very nice collection of Park Hyatt and Andaz properties, but overall, there are just MORE high-end starwood options. So, if you’re family likes to travel in style…

    SPG Points. These are HANDS DOWN more valuable than Hyatt points if you’re looking to redeem them for travel.

    I’m not saying one is the clear winner over the other, just that there are different strokes for different folks.

  6. actually, if we are talking about family friendly hotel chain, Marriott was the best for my family. Even with Gold and Silver level, I had more luck with them on upgrades, free breakfast, lounge access etc.

  7. I prefer Priceline, where you can often snag 4 star Sheratons at a 2 star price. It’s easy to grab bagels at the Starbucks in the lobby.

  8. I have a tendency to stay more at Hyatt than Startwood properties. don’t have an obvious reason other than that’s where many of my work trips have taken me, and I’ve gotten comfortable over the years. I have found that Hyatts also tend to be (most of the time) slightly lower rates than Westin or W (the 2 Starwood lines that in my mind are comparable to Grand Hyatt/Hyatt Regency hotels I normally stay at).

  9. Points Pixie says:

    Akshay – Thanks for the info! Useful to know. Sounds like you’ve personally gotten some good value out of being an SPG Plat member.

    Points with a Crew – We stayed at a Hilton all-suite property in San Diego (Homewood Suites at Liberty Station) and it was GREAT. Suites for families are the way to go if you can swing it.

    Dimitri – So I’ve heard!

    DJ – You are correct. Hyatt has 535 properties in 47 countries, while Starwood has 1,200 properties in 100 countries. So if you are looking for sheer numbers, or a better chance of finding a property in the place where you will be, then SPG does have the advantage.

    Brian – Yes! Different strokes for different folks.

    Dimitri – Good to know!

    Fishing4Deals – That is another post entirely 😉

    Rebecca – Maybe you will get Diamond this year! I know you missed it by 2 nights last year 🙁

  10. I always get a suite with sofa bed, afternoon drinks, free full breakfast for all my family at Embassy Suites. No status needed. That is exactly what I do with my family vacation. Even on OTA bookings, redemptions like UR points, priceline, etc. Not having to worry about earning status, etc. Although it helps that I am HH Diamond.

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