I spoke with Chris Holdren and with Krystal Zell from Starwood Preferred Guest yesterday about a new initiative they’re rolling out: SPG Pro.
This program continues the high level activity we’ve seen from Starwood over the past two and a half years since they:
- Introduced a new slate of elite benefits like Suite Night Awards, 24 hour check-in, breakfast, more bonus points, and free internet for Golds — plus lifetime elite status.
- Joined forces with Delta to offer each others’ elites more points and upgrades
- Partnered with Caesars in Las Vegas to offer reciprocal points-earning (plus limited elite qualifying night earning)
Chris opened by saying he wanted to prove me to I was wrong about a blog post I wrote five weeks ago.
I covered Starwood eliminating points-earning in the Starwood Preferred Business progam, the extra points that could be earned by a business when their employees stay at SPG properties.
Instead of rewarding businesses with points in a separate account — and indeed instead of some disparate programs that Starwood has had for different types of customers — they want to reward people cumulatively for the different roles they play at different times. A meeting planner is also a guest, for instance, and they shouldn’t be kept in disparate programs.
Chris mentioned some fairly standard Starwood talking points on elites. They regularly repeat that 2% of guests deliver 30% of profit, and over 50% of guests are SPG members.
He mentioned actually that it’s a higher percentage of guests that are members of the loyalty program at their luxury brands – although I don’t know if that’s that the luxury segment is more interested in the perks that come along, that higher revenue rooms mean more points and thus it’s worth signing up, or if the program is directly putting heads in beds.
One statistic that I found striking, improbable even, was that one-third of Starwood elite members also book events and meetings. I suspect this must not be every year, but many members do find themselves booking weddings or family events if not business events — or need the occasional small gathering for work at a hotel — and they look to the chain they know best.
So they’re revamping the separate ways they work with guests, meeting planners, travel agents, and administrative assistants (in some markets only for this last category).
And they’re introducing SPG Pro to replace their meeting planner and administrative assistant programs.
New higher earnings for meeting planners, travel agents and assistants
These groups will earn Starpoints for eligible spending at a rate of 1 point per $3 spent. This is status quo for meeting planners.
What’s new is that they’re going to start bonusing this points-earning based on a member’s status.
- Golds and Platinums earn a 50% bonus on these points.
- 75+ night Platinums earn a 100% bonus.
A $21,000 meeting contract used to earn 7000 points. Now a Starwood Gold member will earn 10,500 points.
Meeting points are capped at 20,000 for base members, 30,000 for Golds, and 40,000 for 75-night Platinums. I hadn’t recalled the cap, but they tell me it isn’t new — what’s new here is that it’s now higher for elites to accommodate the bonuses earned.
Meeting Planners Now Earn Status Credit for Meeting Nights Booked and for the Nights They Stay
Meeting planner used to earn Platinum status at $100,000 in meeting spend in a year. That’s great, but it meant that a meeting planner who spent $90,000, and stayed 20 times and 40 nights, wouldn’t become a Platinum.
Starwood has experimented a bit on a limited basis with letting meeting planners also earn qualifying nights with their meeting spend.
Now they’re rolling this out as the new way to earn status through meetings.
- For every 20 group room nights consumed 1 elite night credit is earned.
- Meeting planners can earn up to 20 nights per contract.
This replaces spend-based qualification next year. For 2014 meeting planners can earn status based on either method.
Here’s the explanation of how that works:
On October 15th when the program launches, we are giving full retroactive credit for all eligible group activity from January 1 to October 14 according to our new earn rules. Of course, for the member to earn retro credit, he/she must’ve had an eligible group stay according to the SPP rules. A member can also still qualify for SPG elite status according to the revenue criteria through the end of this year.
It’s only room nights that count towards status, though – food and beverage spend, while now earning more points with bonuses, will not count towards elite status.
Travel Professionals Earn Points, Too
Travel professionals can earn points under a similar structure as meeting planners. They enroll in ‘SPG Pro’ by providing eligible credentials — like an IATA, TRU, or CLA number which Starwood will then validate.
Professionals have to acknowledge they’re allowed to earn Starpoints (since some companies won’t allow it).
Then they receive the same earn of 1 point per $3 spent plus elite bonuses, and 1 elite qualifying night per 20 nights booked.
Only qualifying rates are eligible, though — these are commissionable rates booked through Starwood channels or a GDS. Wholesale tour rates are excluded. I specifically asked and Virtuoso rates are eligible rates.
Executive Assistants Earn, Too… In Europe, Middle East, Africa, and Asia Pacific
Starwood is folding in their separate Asia Pacific and Europe/Africa/Middle East StarChoice program which currently rewards a separate currency.
They are going to continue to reward executive assistants in these markets for the influence they have on bookings by making them SPG Pro members, with earning the same 1 point per $3 spent plus elite bonuses.
There’s a validation process for this, too – an individual hotel must approve participants to be a member of the program. The idea is to prevent congas where I make your bookings and you make mine and we each cash in on extra Starpoints.
More Ways to Earn Status and More Points are Always Good
Meeting planners could become Platinums, but not 50 night platinums or better and so don’t receive incremental benefits like Suite Night Awards.
More fundamentally, the disparate programs Starwood ran for meeting planners and in some markets for assistants was cumbersome, and activity in those didn’t really stack onto the benefits that participants would earn as guests through SPG.
So Starwood has solved this, while increasing points-earning by applying elite bonuses to the points earned through these other kinds of activities. That’s great.
I wish that food and beverage spend would continue to help meeting planners earn status, as it does today (since it counts towards their $100,000 spend requirement currently in place).
And I wish that assistants who direct bookings could earn points in the Americas. Southwest Airlines pioneered this idea in the 1970s with their ‘Secretaries program’. Although I also get that would be pretty game-able, and also that more people in the U.S. are either a part of managed travel programs, or make their own bookings, rather than leaving this to an assistant compared to other markets.
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