Improvements Coming to Starwood Elite Upgrades: “SPG Preferences” and More!

Starwood introduced a whole new suite of elite benefits two and a half years ago.

The one most initially prized was “Suite Night Awards” — Platinum members who stayed at least 50 nights a year would receive 10 nights that could be confirmed into suites in advance of arrival.

How Upgrades in Advance Work Now

Some members have had good luck with these, and of course it depends on the hotel (primarily how many suites they have) and when members stay (competition for those suites). But on the whole there’s also been much frustration over the ability to actually use the upgrades. In fact, at the end of 2013, unused suite night awards had their validity extended through the end of April 2014.

These upgrades are not really ‘confirmed’ the way we usually think about it. Hyatt allows its Diamond members to confirm a suite at booking (4) times per year on any paid night that is eligible for elite credit. Those confirmed suite upgrades are valid on stays of up to 7 nights apiece. So a Hyatt Diamond might confirm at booking any number of nights, from 4 to 28, using these certificates. Award nights are not eligible. And all Hyatt Diamonds get the certs (even those on a Diamond status ‘challenge’ or who qualify on stays and not just nights).

Hyatt’s suite upgrade program — largely because they can be confirmed any time there’s availability after booking — is the absolute gold standard in loyalty. But no other major program offers confirmed at booking suites.

Starwood’s Suite Night Awards should be understood as an effort to do two things:

  1. Offer upgrade priority so a member gets an upgrade when they want it most. It’s not about more upgrades, or even really earlier upgrades, it’s about increasing the likelihood that a given member gets the upgrade when it matters to them. A qualifying Platinum member can slap down a suite night upgrade to say that they are on a given stay where the upgrade is important, and they are prioritized over members who could take or leave the upgrade relatively speaking. Suite Night Awards are an upgrade rationing tool so that the upgrade go where they are most highly valued. On a given business stay a member may not care about the suite, but traveling with their family it could be very important. Upgrades on availability at check-in treats all members equally, Suite Night Awards are a more efficient way to assign upgrades.
  2. Better enforce upgrade rules by taking the process out of the hands of hotels. Individual properties still manage their inventory, and that’s one reason the process isn’t perfect, but instead of depending on the vagaries of hotel check-in clerks or recalcitrant properties the Suite Night Award program centralizes upgrade processing — Starwood’s computers do it based on live inventory. This remains potentially revolutionary since one of the biggest failure points in benefit delivery comes from individual hotels and hotel employees who don’t deliver on program promises.

The key here is not to think of this program as a competitor to Hyatt’s confirmed suites. Instead, it’s a way to prioritize upgrades and to reduce (though not eliminate) upgrade failures through hotel discretion. In those ways the program is an improvement over Starwood’s previous offers, and is certainly better than the upgrade programs of Marriott, Hilton, or IHG Rewards.

How Starwood Will Be Improving Upgrades

But there’s clearly room to improve and apparently Starwood has some things in store that will be announced in the coming months.

I asked about Suite Night Awards when I spoke to Chris Holdren yesterday about their new SPG Pro.

Chris told me that they’re making “significant investment in suite night awards.. Over the next few months more to share.”

He also noted that “rolling out in October is ‘SPG Preferences’

Members will be able to select their core preferences either globally in their account, or varying for each individual stay (recognizing that needs can change by trip).

Starwood is adding upgrade preferences so that members can specify that perhaps they want the first available room as quickly as possible, or maybe what’s more important is view or room size.

Come mid-October they’re going to start capturing this information for every Platinum member.

And they’ll have more to say about upgrade improvements too in the coming months.

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, 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. Gary, would you please add the word “Platinum” in your title for a post like this. It would save a lot of time for those unaffected. Thanks.

  2. Personally I’m sitting on 18 of these and almost every time I have tried to apply them, they were never confirmed. Granted, it may have just been bad timing and the hotel was at capacity, but the Westin in Edina Minnesota in the heart of winter doesn’t seem like a popular tourist destination…
    Most of the times I have looked to apply them, the rooms the hotel has allocated that can be eligible for the SNA, are rooms that I would most likely get upgraded to anyway based on my status(e.g. jr suites) and I have heard, if your suite night award is processed successfully, the hotel can’t upgrade you any further even if they want to.

  3. I’m a Starwood loyalist, but what’s above sounds like I can be more specfic about upgrades I don’t get.

    I actually do great on upgrades, but that’s because I am a repeat customer at many hotels, and get more upgrades to suites after the SNA’s don’t clear than I do using SNAs.

  4. As a ~40-night a year Platinum, I really wish they would offer SNAs incrementally (say two every 10 nights assuming Platinum qualification?) rather than in a huge batch at 50 nights. My upgrades have gone through the floor the past two years relative to the previous two years, presumably because 50-night Platinums are confirming with SNAs.

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