Category

Starwood Preferred Guest

40% Off W Store

I just got an email from the W Store for 40% off everything during Memorial Day. This is the highest discount they offer.

Last October, they ran a similar 35% off sale and I bought a W Queen Plush Bed for around $700.

Since then I have logged quite a few hours in it and am fairly satisfied with my purchase and would recommend it.

Outside of the actual sleeping experience, the other benefits of the bed are:

  • 10 Year Warranty
  • FREE SHIPPING
  • No Sales Tax

If you don’t need a new bed, there are quite a few other things in the W Store like bedding, candles, vibrators (yes), lamps, etc.

Given that everything is 40%, you are bound to find a deal.

-Parag

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How To Receive Elite Benefits On Starwood 3rd Party Reservations

You Are Where You Book

From time to time, I come across posts by other Travel Bloggers that I find extremely useful or exceptional. Side Note: If you are interested in Guest Posting, feel free to email me or tweet me.

The below post is from Jamison of PointsSummary.com, which is part of First2Board.com. If you have any questions about the post, you can always Tweet him.

The reason I am re-posting his post is because over the last month, I have had real issues with Starwood Hotels and how they treat Reservations made on 3rd Party websites like Expedia, Priceline, USAA, etc.

For some reason or the other, Hotels think that if you make a Reservation on one of these 3rd Party Sites (99% of the time because the price is cheaper), then even as an Elite Member, your Elite Benefits shouldn’t apply.

I understand that Hotels want you to book on their Website so they don’t have to pay commission (10% – 15%) to 3rd Party Sites, but at the same time, it isn’t the Customers fault that the 3rd Party Sites are cheaper.

The Hotels solution to this is to say, if you find a cheaper 3rd Party Rate, then you should submit a Best Rate Guarantee Claim to us. In reality, as many of us have experienced, Hotels will try to use any possible excuse to get out of validating a Best Rate Guarantee. Not to mention it can take a while while the claim gets investigated!

My issue with Hotels not providing Elite Benefits on 3rd Party Reservations is that regardless of where I booked the reservation, when I walk thru the door I am still the same person.

If I am a “valued” Gold Member when I book on SPG.com, then I should also be a “valued” Gold Member when I book at Priceline.com or wherever. At the end of the day, I am still being “loyal” and staying at a SPG Property regardless of which website I booked it on and SPG is still getting paid for my stay!

Just imagine if Airlines did this…

United Agent: “Umm sorry sir, even though you are a Global Services Member, you booked your ticket on Kayak.com and not United.com, so for this flight, we have “reserved” you a Middle Economy Seat, you will not receive any Miles, and we are unable to provide any Elite Benefits. Have a great day!”

Madrid & Istanbul Experience

When I went to Madrid and Istanbul earlier this month, the Hotels were booked via USAA because they had an amazing 40% off sale. There was obviously no way SPG was going to validate a Best Rate Guarantee and match that rate, so we just ended up booking via USAA.

The Starwood policy for 3rd Party Reservations is kind of vague and if you Google it, you probably won’t be able to find anything on Starwood’s Website. I knew off-hand that “normally” you aren’t suppose to get Elite Benefits for 3rd Party Reservations, so I went ahead and emailed the Westin Madrid and W Istanbul informing them that I was SPG Gold and to please add my number to the Reservation.

When I checked-in to the Westin Madrid, they asked for my SPG Number, so I provided it and they honored the Gold Benefits even though it was a 3rd Party Reservation. Since I had already emailed them my Number, and they asked for it again, I am pretty sure my email did nothing…

When we checked in at the W Istanbul though, they refused to provide Gold Benefits, so we ended up having to pay for Internet.

I tweeted SPG about this and they said that basically, it is up to each individual Hotel to decide if they want to extend Elite Benefits to 3rd Party Reservations. In practice though, that policy actually translates into each individual Front Desk Employee deciding if they want to extend Elite Benefits.

It would be nice if at a minimum, there was an “official” stance on this policy.

Anyways, I came across Jamison’s post too late for it to benefit me, but hopefully it will be helpful to others who have made 3rd Party Reservations at Starwood and want to receive the Elite Benefits they have earned.

How To Receive Elite Benefits On Starwood 3rd Party Reservations

Note: Jamison’s original post can be found here.

Sometimes you’re just stuck with a third party reservation whether you booked a package deal with a tour group or a travel agent flight + hotel combination package.

I like to use American Airlines miles on http://www.useaamiles.com since I get a heavy discount for being an Executive Platinum elite member and sometimes you can find bargain mileage redemption (think of it like hotel mistake fares).

Last year I booked the W New York hotel for 5,000 AAdvantage miles on 4th of July week when the hotel was asking $350 + taxes for a standard room on SPG.com.

After you have booked your third party reservation, I would call the hotel directly to ask if you can confirm your arrival. Make sure the hotel operator does not transfer you to Starwood’s main central reservations because they will not be able to help you out on third party reservations.

When you get a front desk agent on the phone, simply ask if you can add your Starwood number to your reservation.

If the agent can’t find your reservation, then your third party booking company might not have faxed over your reservation details yet. Don’t fret because this happens all the time with third party reservations. In that case, I would give them a call back a week later or a few days before arrival.

This is important Before hanging up, ask what your confirmation number is and write this down. If the agent refuses to add your Starwood number because he noticed that you booked through a third party, I would simply say “I just want to see my reservation on my spy.com profile” or “I understand, but I can earn Starpoints for incidentals correct?”.

After you have successfully added your Starwood Preferred guest number to your reservation, you will be able to see it on your SPG.com profile under “Upcoming Stays” within the hour. If you do not see your reservation details on your SPG.com profile within the hour, then the hotel might not have added your Starwood Preferred guest number correctly. A phone call should remedy this situation.

When you log onto your SPG.com profile, you will see under the hotel details, “This is a complex rate, we are unable to display your information details” and a “Send Confirmation” button will appear below that text. You are most likely not able to successfully click on “Send Confirmation” since your e-mail address won’t be on the reservation.

Luckily, I have come across a workaround for adding all your details, including name, address, special request messages, and even apply your Suite Night Award upgrades (if applicable) to your third party reservation.

You will need to modify your third party reservation with the Starwood Preferred Guest iPhone App. You will be able to see your third party reservation displayed on the iPhone app if you successfully completed the steps prior by asking the front desk agent on the phone to add your Starwood number to your third party reservation.

On the SPG iPhone app, click Reservation Details, then View All Details, and then click on Modify Reservation. Your screen should look something like this:

You will be able to see what type of room your third party has booked for you.

It is important to not change the Room & Bed or else you will be hit with a change fee.

Under the Rate, you can see that the third party paid $86/night for my room and there are additional details including “Resort fee waived per contract”.

If you scroll down a little further, you will see a lot of empty fields which you will need to fill in, such as your Title, First Name, Last Name (can’t be modified), Address, City, State, and Zip/Postal Code.

You MUST fill in the fields with the asterisks or else you can’t continue to the next step.

You also need to enter in your Telephone number and this is the most important step, E-mail address.

You will need to enter your e-mail address since the whole point of the “Send Confirmation” is to send your reservation details straight to your e-mail.

You are required to enter your credit card number with the expiration date so the hotel can charge you for incidentals.

Don’t worry, you won’t get billed for your room rate under any circumstances since this is a prepaid reservation.

Your SPG number will be pre-populated and leave the StarChoice number blank.

You can enter special requests under “Optional Information”. I always like to enter “SPG Platinum Guest- Please upgrade to the best suite available. Thanks”.

You can also change your time of arrival in this area if you wish.

Click on “Continue To Next Step”:

On the next screen, it is imperative that you click on “Continue To Next Step (Don’t Change My Room)”

You will see that your entered information will be highlighted in yellow.

If you didn’t make any errors entering any of your personal information, then scroll all the way to the bottom and click “Complete Changes Now”.

The next screen will say “Changes Complete” – Your reservation has been changed.

What this means is that you have added additional information to the reservation just as if you had handed over your Credit Card and Passport / ID to the clerk.

You will not be charged any additional fees on the Credit Card you have provided.

Now, go back to your SPG .com profile and you will be able to click on “Send Confirmation”.

You will now be able to receive an e-mail copy of your third party reservation. Refresh your screen and you will now be able to see all you reservation details including applying Suite Award Nights (if applicable).

Note: I was able to apply a Suite Award Night, but the Hotel was completely sold out and the automated Suite Night Award system returned it back to my account a day before check-in since there were no Suites available for an upgrade.

There is a glitch in the SPG.com system where you can receive a Stay / Night credit, but don’t hold your breath because the system will only award you Starpoints for incidentals. Also, when you check-in, do not ask for the 500 point Platinum amenity since SPG.com won’t credit you. In this case, I would ask for a Breakfast voucher or the local amenity.

In some cases, the front desk agent can deny you of your Platinum benefits if they mention that you booked through a third party. Don’t argue with the clerk and accept the reality that hotel can’t offer you your Platinum benefits under a third party.

I always add some kind of incidental charge on my third party stays since it can trigger a Stay / Night credit (sometimes you get lucky). In many cases, I would add a minibar charge or lunch/dinner.

For free Platinum internet, I would add the internet charge to your hotel room and kindly ask at checkout if it could be removed. I usually telephone in the morning after if they can remove the charge since they can see you are a Platinum member (make sure you don’t get the same agent).

Remember, different agents = different responses. Happy booking!

Recap

Although having to manually make all these changes via the iPhone app is bothersome, if you have a couple nights stay at a SPG Property, being able to receive your Elite Benefits like free breakfast, internet, room upgrades, etc, can be worth a significant amount of money.

It is unfortunate that Starwood and most Hotels have such a silly policy where they treat their Elite Members different solely based on where they booked their Reservation, and fail to see the big picture (that their Elite Members are STILL STAYING AT A SPG PROPERTY!), but at least this is a semi feasible work around!

Hopefully in time, Hotels will change their tune!

-Parag

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How To Use SPG Cash & Points To Maximize Your Starpoints

As most of you know, I don’t really do Mattress Runs, rarely have Paid Nights at Hotels, and prefer to get Hotel Elite Status via Credit Cards and Status Matches. That being said, I get a lot of emails from FFU Readers asking if I have some secret to redeeming Hotel Points since it seems like I have a lot of free nights at Hotels.

For the average Hotel or Airline Credit Card, a “normal” Sign Up Bonus will either get you 1 Free Flight or 2 Free Nights in a Hotel. After you redeem your Sign Up Bonus, you normally have to spend an absurd amount ($25,000+) on your Credit Card to get another free Flight or Night.

To maximize the value of my Frequent Flyer Miles, I typically transfer them (if possible) to programs like Southwest, which have variable award pricing. For Hotels, I typically use Cash & Point options to extract the most “value” out of my Hotel Points.

Some people shun Cash & Point options because there is a small “co-pay” involved, thus making it not 100% free.

As much as I love traveling for free, I will easily settle for traveling cheaply! That is why I don’t mind paying $80 for a Friends & Family Rate at Radisson, even if I am not going to earn any Points on the stay.

While a few Hotel Programs like Marriott, Hilton, and Priority Club offer Cash & Points options, typically those options offer a terrible value.

The only exceptional Cash & Points program I have found is operated by Starwood (SPG). Although there has been some devaluation of their Cash & Points program, I still find it to be an exceptional value!

For anyone that has a SPG Card, I am sure you are very familiar with Cash & Points redemptions. However if you don’t have a SPG AMEX, I’d recommend getting one because the amount of money you can save with Cash & Points options at SPG Properties is fairly astonishing.

Link To Sign Up For The SPG AMEX

What Exactly Is Cash & Points?

Cash & Points is exactly as the name implies.

It is the ability to redeem a Hotel Award Stay by using a combination of Cash & Points.

So if a Free Night Award costs 12,000 Starpoints a night, instead of paying the full 12,000 Starpoints, you can opt to use a combination of Cash & Points and only pay 4,800 Starpoints + $90.

Given how difficult it can be to earn Starpoints (Credit Card & Hotel Stays are the primary ways) & how valuable Starpoints are if you want to transfer to Airlines, many people opt to use Cash & Points. Although there is a small bit you have to pay out of pocket, it is an easy way to “subsidize” the cost of staying at luxury hotels while not using all your Starpoints at once.

Black Out Dates

While there are no blackout dates for Free Nights in the SPG Program, meaning that if there is a open standard room at the Hotel, then you can use your SPG Points for a Free Night Award, that sadly does not apply to Cash & Points. 

Although in a perfect world, there would never be any black out dates for any Airline or Hotel Program, I have found like anything Frequent Flyer related, the farther out in advance you reserve, the better your chances of finding availability for Cash & Points.

For example in 2010, by booking in June 2010, I was able to use Cash & Points at the Westin Maui over the peak Christmas season. If I had waited until say September 2010, more than likely there would not have been any Cash & Points Availability.  

Also remember that Hotel Award Stays are not like Airline Awards, in that they are normally 100% refundable.

This means that if you think you need an Hotel Award, it is always better to book it.  If it turns out that you don’t need it, then you can always cancel and get your Points back for free.

How To Find Cash & Points Availability

1. Go To SPG.com

While you can visit each individual Hotel Brand’s website like Westin.com and Sheraton.com, I prefer SPG.com because it shows all SPG Properties when you search.

2. Enter Your Search Criteria

At SPG.com, simply enter your Destination and your dates and hit “Find Now”.

3. Check Your Results

Typically the more popular the property, the more likely you will have to manually search for Cash & Points dates.

After your results come up, look through all the Properties listed and find the Property that you would like to stay at. 

I typically cross reference the Properties that come up with TripAdvisor.com, so as to make sure the Property is as good as it looks in the photos.

In this case, the Westin Chicago River North did not have Cash & Points options for the dates I selected.

4. Check Cash & Points Calendar

For the exact dates I selected, there was no Cash & Points availability. 

So I went ahead and pulled up the Cash & Point Availability Calendar for the Property by click on the “Show Calendar” button (in the Screenshot below it says “Hide Calendar”).

Once the Calendar expands, simply click on the “SPG Cash & Points” button and it will show you all the available dates for Cash & Points at that Property.

If your dates are flexible, then simply pick the dates that work for you.

If your dates are set in stone, then you may want to check out another SPG Property in the area and see if they have any Cash & Points options available.

Although in this example, the co-pay is $90, the regular room rate is still $299, so you are still getting a steal.

After you pick your dates, simply hit continue, enter your SPG login information, and check out. 

Real Examples Of Cash & Points

Now that you know how to search and book Cash & Points options, it is now time to have a little fun and see just how much money Cash & Points can save you.

Before we jump into this, we first have to set a value of what Starpoints are worth so we have a baseline to figure out if we are getting a good deal or not with our Cash & Point redemptions.

According to SPG.com, you can buy 1,000 Starpoints for $35, thus each Starpoint is worth 3.5 Cents.

Since I’d never pay that much to buy Starpoints, I’ll just go with Lucky’s valuation of 2.2 Cents per a Starpoint.

However to every person, the value is different depending on what you are looking to achieve out of your Starpoints.

Some people prefer to get extreme value out of their Starpoints by primarily redeeming their Starpoints at luxury properties. Whereas others like myself primarily look at Hotels as a place to sleep, thus at the end of the day I am more concerned about saving money than I am about what amenities the Hotel offers.  

Again this is all based on personal preference, so don’t put to much weight in making sure you absolutely receive a value of over 2.2 cents per a Starpoint when you redeem for an Award Stay or you might just drive yourself crazy!

Example 1 – Airport Hotels

Although not many people stay at Airport Hotels for fun, there are times you might need one. 

In my case, when I take International Flights that connect in other U.S Cities, I never take my chances flying out of O’Hare. This is even 1000% more true in the Winter time. 

Therefore it makes more sense for me to fly out of O’Hare the night before my main International Flight from New York or wherever, stay at a JFK Airport Hotel for the night, and not have to worry that my Chicago flight might get delayed or canceled due to snow.

Typically Airport Hotels are fairly cheaper than Downtown Hotels, but you still might want to save a few bucks and redeem Points or go with Cash & Points.

For my example, I just searched for SPG Properties near O’Hare and found a Westin with a nightly room rate of $189, Free Night from 7,000 Starpoints, and Cash & Points from 2,800 Starpoints + $45.

Breakdown

Nightly Rate: $189

Free Night Award: 7,000 Starpoints

Free Night Award Value: $189 / 7,000 = 2.7 Cents

Cash & Points Value: $189 – $45 co-pay / 2,800 = 5.1 Cents

So based on Lucky’s valuation of 2.2 Cents, simply by paying a $45 co-pay, you have essentially doubled the value of your Starpoints!

Example 2 – Downtown Hotels

9/10 times that I have redeemed my Starpoints, it has been at Downtown Hotels. This is primarily due to the fact that if I am on vacation visiting a City, I want to be in a good location (ie. not at an Airport Hotel), but at the same time I don’t really want to pay $250 a night or more.

The great thing about Starwood is that they have quite a few luxury brands that fall into this Category (like Westin, Sheraton, etc), so there isn’t really an issue finding Cash & Points availability.

At random, I just typed in Boston and found this Westin property in the heart of downtown Boston.

The room rate is $233, a Free Night is 12,000 Starpoints, and Cash & Points is 4,800 + $90 co-pay.

Breakdown

Nightly Rate: $233

Free Night Award: 12,000 Starpoints

Free Night Award Value: $233 / 12,000 = 1.9 Cents

Cash & Points Value: $233 – $90 co-pay / 4,800 = 3.5 cents

Although the “value” of using Starpoints at this hotel is not as high as the example above, sometimes it is important to put it in “real dollars” and not solely concentrate on the “value” portion. 

So if you stayed 5 nights at this property, your options would be to pay $1,165 ($233 x 5), or 48,000 Starpoints (12,000 x 4 since 5th night is free), or 24,000 Starpoints + $450.

Although a case can be made to just use 48,000 Starpoints and not pay anything, I think most people would agree that paying $450 out of pocket for 5 nights is far better than paying $1,165!

Example 3 – Luxury Properties

Although the only luxury SPG Properties I have stayed at are the St. Regis Washington D.C and Westin Resort in Maui, I have read more than a few of Lucky’s awesome Trip Reports.

If your goal is to use maximize the value of each Starpoint, then Luxury Properties are the way to do it.

I randomly selected a Starwood Property in Mauritius, off the Coast of Africa. 

Yes, you are reading that correctly, the room rate is $670 Euros a night or $875 USD.

Breakdown

Nightly Rate: $875 USD

Free Night Award: 20,000 Starpoints

Free Night Award Value: $875 / 20,000 = 4.3 Cents

Cash & Points Value: $875 – $150 co-pay / 8,000 = 9.0 Cents

To put this in perspective, if you compete the minimum spend on the SPG AMEX, you can earn 25,000 Starpoints. If you decided to spend 24,000 Starpoints (8,000 a night) on 3 Nights here using Cash & Points, at a minimum you would save over $2,175!

I can’t think of any other product in the world that can save you $2,175 right off the bat!

Also did I mention that the Annual Fee on the SPG Card is waived for the 1st year…

Recap

Hopefully this little tutorial provided a good primer on how to find Cash & Point options and how valuable Cash & Points can be.

If you are still on the fence about getting the SPG AMEX, I highly suggest going to SPG.com, typing in the location of your next destination and seeing just how much the room rate is compared to the Cash & Point options. I bet the results will surprise you!

As always, if you have any questions, feel free to email me or leave a comment.

-Parag

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