Unsolicited Nickle’s Worth of Free Advice to Starwood’s New CEO

Starwood has a new Chief Executive Officer, fresh from Coca Cola. If I were walking into that hotel chain, there are several things I’d do — though admittedly I’m no hotel genius or I’d be getting paid a lot more.

Starwood differentiates itself with outstanding high-end properties, it’s important to keep those in the fold. They’ve been losing too many to other chains lately, such as Manele Bay and the Lodge at Koele in Hawaii.

Starwood’s biggest unfilled hole is in broad coverage. The Four Points chain is a dump. There are some very good properties (such as at the Los Angeles Airport and in Sydney) but on the whole they’re completely inconsistent and so the branding doesn’t work.

I have confidence in a Hilton Garden Inn. I can stay in one anywhere. But I won’t pick out a Four Points on the name alone, too many dogs. They need to either weed out the junk properties and get better nationwide coverage at the mid-scale level or give up the enterprise altogether.

At Starwood Preferred Guest, their loyalty program, upgrade compliance is important. They offer Platinum members upgrades to the best available rooms including standard suites. They need to deliver and do so consistently. They could offer 500 Starwood points for a stay that isn’t upgraded to at least a club floor. That would make a property’s failure to upgrade Platinums cost the hotels something.

They could potentially offer a level above Platinum to provide greater recognition of customers staying 150 nights at their hotels than they provide to guests with 25 single-night stays. But I don’t have the data on how many platinums they have in the program and how that has varied over the last few years. Since delivery upgrades consistently is important, that data would be important to judge whether upgrade difficulties come from too many platinums chasing too few suites, or from hotel compliance issues.

One thumbs up for Starwood Preferred Guest, they at least clarified their points expiration rules this year so it’s now clear that earning points on the Starwood Preferred Guest American Express Card extends the life of Starwood points. Still, requiring Amex charges or stay activity within 12 months to keep an account active is far too restrictive. The standard airline model of requiring some account activity every 36 months should be the standard here.

Starwood’s website needs much better reliability. I can’t even check reservations online at times (although being pre-blocked into a suite can make a reservation unviewable, , so sometimes I like the lack of reservation access…).

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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