Starwood has recently announced some positive changes to their program. These will take effect on March 1, 2012. Kevin noted that Hilton also has recently improved the offerings of the Hilton Honors program. Despite the economy improving and business travel increasing, I'm all for these positive changes for customers making for more competition among the hotel chains.
Pool view at the St. Regis Punta Mita
The program changes are detailed on Starwood's website. Gary also provides thorough analysis here. There are 3 main areas of the program that were updated. First are updated amenities for Gold and Platinum members:
For those Platinum members who have 50/75/100 nights, benefits were enhanced. There finally is some incentive to keep staying at Starwood properties after reaching 25 stays/50 nights. For myself, I typically have short stays, so I qualify for Platinum status based on 25 stays, rather than the 50 nights.
Finally, Starwood added a lifetime elite program. Hyatt also offers a lifetime program, and it seems Starwood is responding to Hyatt's offering. The key difference I see is that they required years of elite status do not need to be consecutive for SPG, which is a nice feature.
Upon hearing this news, my first reaction was mostly indifference. I didn't figure I would come close to 50 nights a year. Then I did a little research, realizing my 30-some stays in 2011 might have me close to 50 nights. Unfortunately, there is no easy way to track this information online. I always track my stays, but I never cared about my nights since I had always qualified based on stays. I called the Starwood Platinum concierge and asked for a total of my 2011 nights. I was told that I earned 54 nights in 2011! That made my day. I'm excited to be able to try out these confirmed upgrade certificates. I have a stay booked at the Laguna Resort for an upcoming vacation in Bali. I will certainly report back with my experience. I'm also curious how these benefits will affect the frequency of room upgrades when not using these upgrade certificates.
I consider Starwood to be my primary hotel program, so I intend to re-qualify for Platinum each year I am able to. I don't know how often I will be able to reach the various higher thresholds, but I'm looking forward to the 10 upgrade nights in 2012. I appreciate these are also available for award stays, although ability book only 5 days out is pretty annoying. I am also a Hyatt Diamond, and I still prefer their model of 4 confirmed suite upgrades available to confirm at booking. With Hyatt, each certificate is usable for up to 7 nights on any paid stay. Unfortunately, with lots of short stays, I typically don't really maximize this benefit.
I wish Starwood would provide a tiered offering of these upgrade nights. Maybe 5 for Platinum-lites, 10 for those with 50 nights, then 5 more each 25 additional nights. The additional benefits such as an additional SPG points per dollar for those at the 75 night tier is excellent. The Your24 benefit sounds good, particularly for early arrivals after a redeye, so long as you check in after 9am; the standard 4pm late check out will be available.
As I have said, Starwood is my primary hotel program. These changes certainly help encourage me to keep my loyalty with SPG. If I keep up my recent pace of Starwood stays, I should be less than 2 years away from qualifying for lifetime Gold, which is further incentive to keep staying with them.
View of the rooftop hot tub at the W Hong Kong.