Flyertalk’s Starwood Lurker is ‘teasing us’ with the tagline,
Guess what’s next?in his signature appended to all of his posts.
There’s even a Flyertalk thread dedicated to guessing what’s next.
And William does helpfully tell us in that thread that ‘what’s next’ does not refer to the return of peak season increased redemption rates for category 5, 6, and 7 properties.
Now, the last time Starwood built up suspense for a big announcement, all they had was SPG Flights, the option to redeem flights for air travel directly rather than through mileage transfers. A benefit I would never, ever take advantage of, the value proposition is simply poor (though I’ll never complain about new added options for members, this one was simply not one to get excited about).
Personally though, in spite of being fooled by the hype that something big would be announced when all they came out with was SPG Flighs, I have to believe they’re coming up with something of pretty good value. And I have to guess that it’s an improvement to their top tier elite level. (Even if it were not a benefit available just to requalifying Platinums.)
Starwood had exactly four things going for it relative to the competition:
- Redemption without capacity controls. You could pretty much always use your points. But Hyatt and Hilton have both matched, eliminating this as a unique selling proposition.
- Suite upgrades. Hilton, Priority Club, and Marriott don’t provide suites as a published benefit of their elite program. Starwood does. Hyatt has trumped with four confirmed suite upgrades annually. And of course the suite upgrades tend to be to higher tier suites as part of the Intercontinental Royal Ambassador program, at least when booking a better room than the base offering. With Hyatt trumping Starwood, they’re no longer the standout.
- Better properties. Starwood simply has the most ‘aspirational’ or dream properties. But with the introduction of categories 6 and 7 and with the requirement to spend double points to access all-suite properties, this advantage is eroded as many of these special places are outside the reach of most members.
- Excellent customer service. This is really exemplified by Starwood Lurker on Flyertalk, but is representative of something the SPG program was really outstanding at. There’s been less happiness with the ‘platinum concierge’ service than in the early days of the program, but is still one of the better characteristics of the program.
Starwood was truly the standout progrm for several years but has seen its competitive advantages with members eroded. I’ve been beating that drum for a few years now and figure that sooner or later the program will realize this and attempt to do something game-changing or at least play catchup to Hyatt. And so I’m 40% expecting, 60% hoping, that that’ll be “what’s next.”