When I re-qualified this year for American Airlines Executive Platinum (100,000 mile flyer status), it took a couple of weeks to get a note from AAdvantage.
In contrast, within minutes of my 50th Starwood night posting, I had a congratulatory email. That was impressive.
I also had another email inviting me to choose my benefit for reaching 50 nights (rather than just 25 stays).
In 2012, Starwood introduced ‘Suite Night Awards’ for Platinums who stay 50 nights or more in a year. For 10 nights they allow you to express first-preference for an upgrade, and perhaps more importantly Starwood centrally manages the process between 1 and 5 days prior to check-in rather than relying on the hotel to process upgrades. They do this out of published inventory (though some members would accuse some hotels of playing games with their inventory during this time).
Member frustration with using their advance upgrades led Starwood to introduce more choices early in 2015. (In fairness, I think Starwood would say that they give choices because that’s the vision for their program — letting members customize their stays, which is why Platinums can choose points or breakfast, why they offer 24 hour check-in any time for Platinums who stay 75 nights, and a dedicated ‘Ambassador’ agent for Platinums who stay 100 nights.)
Platinums who stay 50 nights can now select from:
I chose more Suite Night Awards. Starwood makes you super double confirm you know your choice is final.
The Suite Night Awards posted instantly.
It’s hard to argue that any choice could be better than Suite Night Awards. Even if you used Suite Night Awards on midweek solo business stays, they’re probably worth more than $10 a night. Gifting gold can be tempting, though the benefits of Gold are limited.
And yet Platinums do get frustrated when they receive this by email:
The problems are:
- Hotels are full these days
- Everyone wants suite upgrades at the same hotels at the same times. No one wants them on solo one night business stays. They want them at resorts at peak times.
- Suite upgrades have to be available every night of a stay.
- There are hotels that play games with inventory, though my sense is this factor is less important and less prevalent than commonly believed.
So how do you approach suite night strategy successfully?
- Use them early and often. Knowing they probably won’t be confirmed on a given stay anyway, throw them down whenever there’s a marginal benefit. This makes the most sense for someone who would trade them in for free Uber rides, the value of the suite on these stays might not be $200 but it might be $30 a night.
- Use them at less popular hotels. Don’t save them for the Westin Maui, burn them at the Sheraton Tucson. Like Hall of Fame baseball player Wee Willie Keeler, “hit ’em where they ain’t.”
- Short stays are more likely to get upgrades than long stays.
I used some at the Sheraton Denver Tech Center because the end of the year was approaching and I still had 10.
These are unsatisfying because the promise of the Suite Night Award is the idea that you can get that suite at the Westin Maui. But with plenty of platinums vying for few upgrades in practice that disappoints.
If all Platinums spread their suite nights evenly across all hotels and all nights, everyone would clear. But that’s not how it works. Still, I value the Suite Night Awards more than any of the other choices, and it’s not even close.