Points, Miles & Life

Travel adventures on this earthly pilgrimage

Category: Starwood (page 1 of 3)

Only a few days left to get the best ever offer for the Starwood Amex cards!

The Starwood Preferred Guest American Express card is my favorite hotel co-branded credit card. It doesn’t provide many perks, but it does have the best earning value by far of any hotel card.

The normal offer for both the business and personal versions of this card is 25,000 Starwood points, but currently you can sign up for a 35,000 point offer!

The offer for the personal version of the card is:

  • 25,000 Starpoints after spending $3,000 in the first 3 months
  • 10,000 Starpoints after spending an additional $2,000 in the first 6 months

The offer for the business version of the card is:

  • 25,000 Starpoints after spending $5,000 in the first 3 months
  • 10,000 Starpoints after spending an additional $3,000 in the first 6 months

I know those spending requirements are high. But if you are able to do them, consider getting this card. It is likely to eventually be discontinued, due to Marriott’s purchase of Starwood Hotels.

You can use Starpoints for Starwood stays, or transfer to Starwood’s airline partners. You can also transfer them to Marriott at a 1:3 ratio, so the bonus can also be viewed as a 105,000 Marriott point bonus. Both Marriott and Starwood allow you to book “nights and flights” packages, which is one of the best uses of these points, if you accrue enough.

Note that if you have ever had this card in the past, you’ll won’t be eligible for the bonus. Amex has a once-per-lifetime rule on card bonuses.

You have through April 5th to apply!

Getting My First Business Credit Card

One of the only downsides to selling my previous business is that I was no longer eligible to apply for any business credit cards. It has been almost two years since I sold my pickup and landscaping tools to my brother-in-law, and I haven’t really looked back. Starting in December 2016, though, I have a new businesses that allowed me to apply for my first business credit card.

No, it’s not my blog. I started Points, Miles & Life just over a year ago. I thought I might be able to develop it into a business, but I honestly haven’t put in the labor to make anything of it yet. It may happen. We’ll see. The travel blogging market is a competitive place, and there are plenty of good blogs out there with great information these days. I simply don’t have the time to keep up with the competition.

But the blog did come through for me in one big way: it played a role in being on-boarded as a contributor to Points with a Crew. Dan Miller, who started the Points with a Crew site, has a readership that far surpasses mine, and I am excited to be writing several pieces weekly for PWAC.

In the same month that I applied for the position with PWAC, I also jumped into the world of gift card reselling. I had been interested in this for a while as a way of accruing extra miles and points, as well as a small profit. Wait…profit? This is a legitimate business!

Since I’m also paid to write for Dan, my PWAC contributor position is also technically a side-hustle. But the gift card reselling gig is a bit more conducive for the spending volume I need to justify a business credit card.

Either way, in just one month I now have two new business ventures. Awesome.

Applying for my First Business Credit Card

So I decided to go ahead and apply for the Starwood Preferred Guest Business American Express card. With the future of the card unknown due to Marriott’s purchase of Starwood, I figured I could get some use out of it before the product is no longer available. Plus, it is a great card, and Starpoints are one of my favorite points currencies.

First Business Credit Card - SPG AMEX

Landing page for the SPG Business AMEX

Because I am operating my business (businesses? not sure if/how to split yet for tax time) as a sole proprietorship, the credit card application required only my social security number and not a tax ID. The application is not unlike one for a personal credit card, but it has a few extra fields for business info, including expected monthly revenue.

I filled out everything, reviewed the application, and clicked submit. As has been the case with literally every Amex app I have submitted in the past two years, I was instantly approved.

A few minutes later, and I had my new Starwood card linked up to my American Express online account. The process was as painless as it always has been.

I received the card just a few days later. It was shipped two day express by Amex. Since then I have been racking up some serious points.

Where to Go Next

Now I that I have my first business credit card in my wallet, I have my sights set on a couple others. We’ll see what I end up with in 2017. My wife and I are going to ease of the credit card applications a bit, and I want to be a bit more selective about what I apply for. Still, there are some great business cards out there, and I might try to get a couple more in my wallet.

And It’s Official: Marriott’s Acquisition of Starwood Begins To Take Effect

The biggest travel news of 2015/2016 was likely Marriott’s purchase of Starwood hotels. The news brought dismay to many longtime SPG loyalists. Marriott’s loyalty program is decent, but Starwood’s is notably better. The consternation caused by the merger has prompted other chains, like Hyatt, to court top-tier Starwood elites by offering status matches. While some people have jumped ship, many have been holding out that Marriott won’t completely gut the Starwood program.

I was told on the phone last month not to expect a combined program until at least 2018. I took the info with a grain of salt since it was from a basic Amex customer service rep, but I later read that Marriott executives were saying the same thing. He was also trying to get me to keep my Starwood Preferred Guest credit card since I was calling to cancel it (for the record, he got me to keep it). I have gotten great mileage from the card, but with the merger looming and not too much on the travel forecast, I had been debating closing the account.

marriott_spg_link

Yesterday was the beginning of Phase I of merging the loyalty programs. The main highlights are:

  • Ability to link your SPG and Marriott Rewards accounts
  • Status match between programs (Platinum to Platinum, Gold to Gold, Preferred Plus to Silver, Preferred to Member)
  • Two-way points transfer rate of 3:1, Marriott to Starwood.
rtiz_marriott_spg-status_match

Status matches across all three programs now under Marriott International.

Much of the important information regarding the program mergers can be found here. You can see the new 3:1 points transfer ratio, the status match across all the programs, and the insane number of brands now under the a single banner.

marriott_spg-points_transfer

With your SPG and Marriott accounts linked, you can transfer points between programs at a 3:1 ratio.

For the most part, the programs will continue to operate independently in every other way. You have to log into spg.com to book SPG hotels, for example, and stays in each program will continue to earn points and nights only within their respective programs.

I linked my SPG and Marriott accounts. It is incredibly easy. You simply follow the link, enter the login credentials one after the other, confirm that you account number is correct, and then voila, accounts linked. The status match from the link appeared to be nearly instantaneous. I don’t have a Ritz account, so I don’t know if that differs in any way.

marriot_spg-link_success

The message after linking my accounts. It takes all of 60 seconds.

Overall, I think both Starwood and Marriott have managed customer relations well through the merger. They have maintained timely announcements and emails as the process has progressed, and this early crossover of programs is 100% benefit to program members, at least in the short term. We shall see how the long term program unfolds.

Here are a few things I am still hoping for in a combined program down the road, assuming the Marriott program prevails and all (Ritz, Marriott, and SPG) are eventually merged into one Rewards account:

  1. More lucrative promotions. Compared to IHG and Starwood, Marriott’s promotions haven’t been that impressive. During most quarters with IHG, I have the potential to pull in 40-60k bonus points off of only a few $100 in spending (which I usually accomplish through work stays). Starwood ran a couple good promos this past winter that netted us 6,000 points (roughly equivalent to 25,000 IHG points). I have yet to see anything of similar magnitude with Marriott, without requiring a substantial number of nights. The MegaBonus promotion offers 10,000 points after even 10 nights, a meager 1,000 points per night. Even Hyatt’s current promotion is notably better.
  2. Combination of program nights toward Marriott lifetime status. While I do think that Marriott will honor the lifetime status of current Starwood Lifetime Platinum and Gold members, the big question is: what will they do about members who are still working toward this? My best assumption is that Marriott will combine the Starwood lifetime points at the current 3:1 ratio, and transfer the nights over 1 to 1. This may not be a great deal, considering Marriott’s status is harder to achieve (at least at Gold level), but it would be at least a decent deal.
  3. Retention of mostly Starwood program benefits. This applies in a few areas. First, Starwood Gold members get a 50% points bonus on points earned from stays, while Marriott Gold members only get a 25% bonus. Things even out once you get to Platinum, except for any Starwood Platinum members who stay at least 75 nights. Additionally, Starwood offers a “Welcome Gift” at check-in, and bonus points are an option. Starwood also offers the great Make a Green Choice program. I hope Marriott will adopt some of these benefits over their current ones.

But this is all hopeful speculation. Currently, it is business as usual for all three programs. We’ll see where things are headed 18 months from now.

How 2 Award Stays Can Earn You Another Free Night

One of the things I love about the Starwood Preferred Guest program is that you can earn through the “Make A Green Choice” program. While you can certainly use this program on paid stays as well, it’s especially cool that you can earn significant points back while on an award stay.

The SPG “Make A Green Choice” program is simple. For each day that you decline housekeeping (except the day of your departure) the hotel gives you a voucher. The voucher can be typically redeemed for ~$5 in food or drink, donated to UNICEF, or exchanged at check-out for Starpoints. I always choose the Starpoints. The goal of the program is to promote conservation of water and resources, and while many other hotels simply ask you to conserve (e.g. by hanging up your towels so that they don’t replace them), Starwood gives the customer an incentive.

If the hotel is a full service property, such as the Sheraton, you will receive 500 Starpoints per voucher. At the limited service brands of Four Points, Element, and Aloft, each voucher is only worth 250 Starpoints. I find the sweet spot of the benefit to be Category 1 and 2 Sheratons, where you can receive 1/8 to 1/4 of your points back each night on award stays. On paid stays, it’s simply a bonus. Note that not every SPG property participates in the “Make a Green Choice” program.

2016-07-25 16.57.57

We received 5 “Make a Green Choice” vouchers from our recent stay at the Sheraton Roma.

On our recent trip to Europe, my wife and I had three Starwood stays. The first was a single night at the St. Regis Rome, so we could not participate in the “Make A Green Choice” program for that stay. The second two were at Sheraton hotels. Our first stay was 6 nights, for which we declined housekeeping every day, and in exchange were given 5 vouchers. The second stay was 3 nights, and we received two vouchers, again declining housekeeping each day. Because Sheraton hotels are full-service SPG properties, we redeemed these vouchers for a total of 3,500 Starpoints. Including the SPG Gold elite welcome amenity of 250 Starpoints at each property, we earned a total of 4,000 Starpoints from our 2 stays, enough to book our final night at the Four Points Toronto Pearson for our overnight layover! Two award stays equal another award stay. Score!

I think the SPG “Make A Green Choice” program is great. I use it nearly every time I stay with Starwood. While I may be a bit cynical in believing that the actual driver behind the program is the hotels’ bottom line, rather than the environment, the program certainly does save resources, and it gives guests a real incentive to conserve. I wish more hotel chains would launch a program like this.

Header image courtesy of the Sheraton Athlone. 

Targeted SPG Promo: Double Elite Qualifying Stays and Nights

Starwood has followed up their summer Triple Up earning promotion with a new promo that allows SPG members to earn double elite credit for both stays and night through November 15. The fall promotion appears to be targeted. For anyone planning some paid travel, this could be very useful for qualifying for SPG Gold or Platinum for 2017, though the future of the SPG program is still unknown for now.

The best way to maximize this promotion would be via either lots of single nights (5 single-night stays will get you SPG gold, even starting from 0 nights), or a couple longer stays at cheap hotels. Good luck finding many in the U.S. The best deals are in places like India and Southeast Asia.

At first glance I thought the promotion would apply to free nights and stays, but the terms and conditions clearly state that this is not the case. You must use a qualifying rate (i.e. paid rate) that earns Starpoints to double count the stays and nights. Sadly, the nights don’t count toward lifetime status.

For me personally, this promotion is not very enticing. I have only one night to go to retain SPG Gold for another year, and the hurdle to attain Platinum is too high. It would take a substantial amount of work travel (with some perfect deals on rates) to even come close. I will likely be sticking to other chains for the rest of the year for any travel plans.

Make sure you register by October 15.

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