PHOTO: Hotel Imperial Vienna, a Luxury Collection Hotel. (Photo courtesy of Marriott International)
The past several weekends have found me in a number of Starwood hotels that wouldn’t normally be on my radar. Airport hotels in Houston and Albuquerque, one two miles from my home in Dallas, and another in Tampa without much other purpose than places to hole up and write have been on my itinerary. Why? Good question.
I’m a hotel fan, but typically not enough to stay at an airport Four Points without some other motive. But, you see, I’m close to coveted Platinum Status with Starwood Preferred Guest (SPG), and I just needed a few more stays before the end of the year to qualify. It’s costing me just a handful of points because the properties are mostly Category 1 or Category 2 redemptions, which are reduced for weekend stays and are a good value, typically ranging from 2-3,000 points per night. Because SPG led the industry in allowing redemptive stays to qualify toward elite membership, I’m well on my way.
It’s a good deal for everybody. The properties receive cash from Starwood (the amount varies based on the hotel’s occupancy for the night), Starwood gets points off their books (unredeemed points are accounted for as a liability, so increasing redemptions actually improve the bottom line), and guests get elite status, which makes them more likely to go out of their way to book Starwood properties moving forward.
Invariably, there are questions when I explain my plan. My love of luxury hotels is well known among my friends, so an airport Four Points raises eyebrows (for the record, the Four Points by Sheraton Houston Hobby Airport has one of the warmest, most gracious corps of employees I’ve met) but the most common question is “Why?”
Take a seat, friend. I have much to teach you.
Until airline programs changed their accruals from mileage to spend, so-called “mileage runs” were popular among frequent travelers seeking to maintain valuable elite status. There’s a less-covered version for hotel point aficionados called the “mattress run” to gain or maintain status. SPG accrues toward elite status by counting both stays and nights, so it’s usually easier to earn based on several serial one-night stays (particularly for weekenders like myself).
I wanted to earn out of nostalgia, as an SPG evangelist who has been a loyal member of the program since it started in 1999, to achieve Platinum at least once before the program is inevitably retired or merged with Marriott Rewards. However, that very merger is what makes earning Platinum in 2016 unique: with the programs automatically matching status between them, earning Platinum in SPG also affords me Platinum with Marriott Rewards.
With Starwood, Platinum nets me the added benefits of upgrades to the best available room at check-in, including standard suites. As a Gold Member, the upgrade was to an “enhanced room” such as a room on a higher floor, with a view, or a corner room, although I’ve noticed some properties have been especially liberal with their upgrades, sometimes upgrading to suites or club level rooms, which aren’t explicitly included for Golds. Platinum makes that more certain.
Platinum Members also enjoy elite-style benefits when traveling on Delta (although SkyMiles status remains unchanged), and the welcome amenities include a larger welcome gift of points (500 at most brands, up from 250) and the option of continental breakfast, plus access to executive or club lounges and health clubs free of charge.
In other words: hello, fancy.
READ MORE: So What Does Marriott and Starwood’s Merger Mean To You?
Thought we were done? Marriott Platinum adds benefits too, although they pale in comparison to SPG. Marriott Platinum Members get a welcome amenity, but it appears to vary wildly by property and there are several carve-outs. The primary differences between Platinum and Gold with Marriott are 48-hour guaranteed room availability (which only has value when hotels sell out) and a 50 percent earning bonus (standard for SPG Gold). However, the big difference here is that Marriott Platinum also awards outright United Mileage Plus Silver status.
Since Platinum is the ultimate status in the SPG program (although additional benefits are added as members roll over 50, 75, and 100 nights in a calendar year) it might be worth it to check out some Marriott properties with my new Platinum status, particularly considering redemptions are now more attractive on the Marriott Rewards side with the conversion of 3:1 Starpoints to Marriott Rewards Points.
On the other hand, SPG is offering an 11,000-point bonus for staying at all 11 Starwood brands in a calendar year, and with six brands this year, I’m slightly over halfway there.
Onward and upward, I suppose.
The Details: SPG Platinum Status is earned after 25 stays or 50 nights in a single year, including award stays. SPG American Express Credit Cardmembers earn two stays and five nights toward elite status annually; the benefits are stackable for holders of both the business and consumer cards.
Marriott Platinum is instantly awarded to SPG Platinum members, and vice versa. Marriott Platinum is earned by staying 75 nights, including award stays at Marriott properties (SPG and Marriott stays do not currently count toward elite status outside their respective programs). The Marriott Rewards Visa Signature card awards 15 credits toward elite status every year, plus another credit for every $3,000 in spend.