Starwood Changing Award Prices on 20% of Its Hotels

Starwood has announced its annual changes in award categories.

The increases are centered in North America, the decreases in Asia, with more hotels going down than up but more hotels entering the upper redemption tiers than leaving those tiers. Ultimately changes we can live with.

Please note that we are not adding new categories or changing category pricing. Just over 20% of hotels are changing category, of these 56% are moving down and 44% are moving up.

Here’s the preliminary (‘subject to change’) list of hotels changing category.

Hotels dropping in award category:

  • 8 hotels are dropping in category in Africa/Middle East.
  • 88 hotels are dropping in category in Asia/Pacific. This is great news for redemptions in China and India and across the region. Oddly with so many hotels dropping in the region, none are in Thailand.
  • Only 8 hotels are dropping in category in Europe, 3 of which are in Turkey and 3 in Russia and Ukraine. None are in Western Europe.
  • 10 hotels are dropping in category in Latin America.
  • 25 hotels are dropping in North America. Somewhat useful to me, the Le Meridien Arlington — a former Kimpton — will be a category 4.

Hotels increasing in award category:

  • 11 hotels are going up in category in Africa/Middle Eat
  • 5 hotels are going up in category in Asia Pacific
  • 15 hotels are going up in category in Europe, surprising to me 4 of them are in Greece.
  • 7 hotels are going up in category in Latin America
  • 74 hotels are going up in category in North America

On net several regions of the world are stable. North America gets more expensive, and Asia gets lets expensive. That’s an interesting take on the world economy, and it’s a disadvantage for most North American members who are likely to redeem close to home.

Nonetheless, most hotels aren’t shifting categories. There aren’t new, higher award categories. And existing categories aren’t getting more expensive. So on the whole business as usual.

What really hurts though are the properties bumping up to categories 6 and 7, because those start to get priced astronomically.

Category 5 is 12,000 points most of the time (16,000 during high season dates). Category 6 is 20,000 (and 25,000). That’s a 2/3rds increase most of the year. Category 7 is 30,000 (35,000 during high season). So going from 6 to 7 is a 50% increase most of the year.

  • W Austin goes from 5 to 6
  • W San Francisco goes from 5 to 6
  • W Los Angeles goes from 5 to 6
  • Westin Maui goes from 5 to 6
  • Sheraton Maui goes from 5 to 6
  • Sheraton Waikiki goes from 5 to 6
  • St. Regis Atlanta goes from 5 to 6
  • The Westin Riverfront Mountain Villas, Beaver Creek goes from 5 to 6
  • Hotel Maria Cristina in San Sebastian, Spain goes from 5 to 6
  • Westin Athens goes from 5 to 6
  • Grande Bretagne, Athens goes from 5 to 6
  • Arion, Athens goes from 5 to 6
  • Le Meridien Taipei goes from 5 to 6
  • Schloss Fuschl in Austria goes from 6 to 7
  • St. Regis Rome goes from 6 to 7
  • Sheraton Huzhou Hot Spring Resort does a rare 2 category jump from 4 to 6

The flip side is that hotels dropping from category 6 to category 5 get much more affordable:

  • Le Meridien Palm Springs
  • Westin Tokyo
  • Hotel National, Moscow
  • Sheraton Grande Tokyo Bay
  • St. Regis Shenzhen
  • St. Regis Beijing

There are no hotels that drop out of category 7.

As I understand it hotel categories in the Starwood system are determined based on projected average daily room rates for the year ahead. When rates are expected to drop, categories fall. With rates projected to be higher than they had been projected to be the year before, categories rise.

The nice thing is that these changes go into effect March 4. So you have just over a week to make a booking at the old rates. If you lock in a reservation now at a hotel going up in category, you get it at the cheaper price. (You can book an award at current pricing through the end of the hotel’s loaded calendar.) If you have a reservation at a hotel that’s going down in price, you can get it repriced come March 4 and receive points back.

Since most hotels are cancellable on award nights, or at least enjoy a generous cancellation policy similar to standard rates, you can usually make speculative bookings as well — lock in the option of rooms at lower points prices, just remember to cancel the award if you aren’t going to use it.

While there’s balance overall in category changes, like with many chains we’re seeing more hotels entering the top / most expensive redemption tiers than leaving those tiers. And especially if you have plans for U.S. redemptions it behooves you to have a look at the list of changes and lock in some redemptions soon.


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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  1. Crud! The Sheraton Maui is pretty much the only hotel I save my points up for each year. It was a phenomenal value at 12K per night when rooms were easily going upwards of $400 per night. Oh well, onward

  2. Hopefully the relative benign-ness of SPG’s changes (and Carlson’s considering they were a prime target for a massive devaluation) is a good sign as other changes will be making their changes over the coming weeks.

    I know I shouldn’t put anything past the Hilton folks, but I’d be shocked if there were any notable changes on their end this year

  3. @Geoff, yup this is a blood bath. Fantastic property, newly renovated and a massive 60% increase! That’s what I call Weimar republic like inflation.
    Cash is king!

  4. I’ve got an award resv for April at a property that has dropped a category….do I need to rebook the award to get the lower rate? can I do it now or must I wait until mar 4?

  5. Thanks for the list. For leisure travelers, I think the Hawaiian hotel increases are the big disappointment. You go to Cat. 6 and redemptions basically stop making sense.

    On a modestly positive note, I’ve noticed that folks heading to Angkor Wat reflexively want to book the Le Meridien. Unless you were an SPG platinum, though, it didn’t make sense because you had to buy your own expensive breakfast, while other 4 and 5 star hotels in Siem Reap offered cheap rates that included breakfast. Now, as a cheap Cat. 2, that hotel makes more sense for non-Plats to book, even if breakfast is extra.

    Personally, ever since they eliminated the cheap Cash & Points redemptions, my interest in the SPG program has declined. For the first time ever this week, I exchanged my points for airline miles with the 25% bonus. It’s easier to make the case these days that 25,000 airline miles may be worth at least as much as 20,000 SPG points.

  6. Overall I am still happy with Starwood. A number of years ago many properties were a total steal. Still 4 nights/5th Free, nights and flights and general product across the world still makes them the top choice for me personally. Thanks to Gary for the total breakdown and the mention of hotels. The W hotels in general tend to be over priced for cash or for points. If you have Plat status sometimes W brand could be better to you. SPG does have so many levels of properties and usually good available without blackouts. In fact I can see no other program that I have ever reviewed being better. I got started with Hyatt again. They fool around with available rooms quite a bit, stating no standard rooms are available in many properties. Also they have a much smaller portfolio. Other than Hyatt In my opinion Mariott, Hilton and really subpar as far as value for the points spent. With SPG I strongly suggest a visit to tripadvisor prior to booking. You will find some properties not worth the extra points. For example you might want a Westin, but find a Sheraton (as good or better) for 30% less points. I also like the Le Merian brand and even St Regis is great compared to what Mariott charges for the Ritz Carlton (and they really try to make redemptions tough! and then some)

  7. Really wish they added some categories to increase the number to say 9 but didn’t increase the rate for 7 or 6 and instead added one in between each. So say category 5 at 12k/16k, new cat 6 at 16k/20k, new cat 7 (old cat 6) 20k/25k, new cat 8 (25k/30k), new cat 9 (old cat 7) 30k/35k. Doubt they’d ever do this as a majority of the ones in “category 8” would be there instead of the existing category 7. But it’d make for a consumer friendly move and reduce the shock of drastic % increases.

    I love Hyatt’s chart for this reason but think Carlson/SPG are awful due to this reason.

  8. @easy victor – it surprised me as well, i haven’t looked recently but my reaction was, “St Regis Rome wasn’t already a 7??”

  9. A single night at a category 6 property, or 25K/30K miles in any program/s I need to top off?

    I don’t really need to think that one over. 😉

  10. Purely from a selfish perspective, I like some of their downgrades as I may be staying in them in 2014.

    However, some of the nicer properties are going up so that is a bummer.

  11. I’d hardly this a “blood bath.” Sure, some properties are going up, but many are going down by the same amounts. Adjust your redemption strategy, and move on.

    Gary is absolutely right when he says these are changes we can live with.

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