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How To Use SPG Cash & Points To Maximize Your Starpoints

By February 26, 2013 December 10th, 2013 2 Comments

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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2 Comments

  • E says:

    Nice write up. I've also had luck contacting the hotels directly for C&P if it wasn't shown as available online.

  • PatMike says:

    I agree with you on airport hotels. We're 2 hours from SFO, yet regularly stay at the cat 2 Four Points the night prior to an International flight. I rarely found SFO Westin on cash and points, but I recently lucked out and have a few stays booked there.

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