Starwood: Soon You’ll Have More Upgrade Transparency, and Suite Night Award Update

Starwood Preferred Guest has been on a tear over the past three years.

First they introduced a whole new suite of elite status benefits including suite night awards and free breakfast along with 24 hour check-in for top elites.

Then a year later — in early 2013 — they introduced additional points-earning and elite recognition in conjunction with Delta (and then added upgradeson Delta for Starwood Platinums).

And they’ve launched several initiatives in just the past two months:

I had a great conversation with Chris Holdren, Senior VP of Starwood Preferred Guest and Digital, the other day. It was wide ranging and pretty insightful, I thought, so I figured I would pass along some of what I learned in the conversation — this time about customized room choices and suite night awards.

You’ll Actually Know If You’ve Been Upgraded

SPG has rolled out a feature to take into account granular details of your room preferences.

It turns out that company-wide there’s been a huge effort to catalog the features of each room, apparently “very hotel captured 80 attributes for each hotel room” like “best view, quiet room” and Starwood plans to measure and monitor at the corporate level the extent to which rooms assignments match stated room preferences by members.

The process sounds quite extensive, as Starwood

built a custom mobile app for associates to use and went through every single hotel room across 9 brands and over 100 countries. [They] captured up to 80 attributes per room. Over 12 million pieces of information about hotel rooms we can use to exceed expectations of SPG members.

Key areas of focus for us as we rolled out preferences, are our ability to look on an individual hotel level and individual member level, are member preferences being met as they share travels with us?

And here’s something that will be newsworthy: they’ll be rolling out an enhancement to their mobile app to let members know what was delivered in terms of their upgrade and meeting their expressed preferences.

I used to check into a Starwood hotel and get the room key with a “You have been upgraded!” post-it sticky attached. And whenever I got that it was a sure sign that I hadn’t been upgraded. Moving the claim into the app and matching up the room assignment against details of the specific room on file with SPG, and noting the extent to which preferences have been matched, sounds like a great step forward in transparency and also something that can help SPG monitor the extent to which hotels are doing a good job with upgrades and preference matching.

Starwood Considering Extending Suite Night Awards.. Again

When Starwood rolled out their Suite Night Awards for Platinum members who had stayed 50 nights or more, they were talked about as ‘confirmed upgrades’ but they aren’t in the same sense that Hyatt offers them — they aren’t confirmed at booking but are instead assigned up to 5 days prior to check-in.

What Suite Night Awards really do is:

  • Let Platinum members express a preference for when they want to prioritize getting an upgrade.
  • Take the upgrade process out of the hands of the individual hotel, and let corporate assign the upgrades based on available room inventory.

Both are revolutionary advances, and yet there are plenty of members not fully satisfied with the new upgrades.

No doubt some hotels have gamed their inveotory (although SPG likely knows who any offenders are). There are hotels that get a ton of Platinums on a given night, that don’t have many suites, and that sell out their suites in advance. Expressing a preference for an upgrade doesn’t mean getting an upgrade.

SPG implicitly acknowledged that many members have had problems using their Suite Night Awards when in December of last year they extended the expiration of unused Suite Night Awards by four months, through the end of April.

Chris acknowledged, “Suite night awards, we continue to look at intently, we have a lot of work to do. We still have a lot more in the works to enhance the relationship we have with our most valuable guests.”

I asked specifically whether Suite Night Awards would again have their expiration extended, and he said that they’re “look[ing] at that as year-end is approaching, we’re still evaluating.”

And that makes sense — I had forgotten that last year’s announcement about extensions wasn’t announced until December.

How he thinks about the program overall,

Our goal is to make sure every single one of our platinum members stays is tremendous, until we get to that point we’re not going to rest. Our focus is on making sure our most valuable guests are having their expectations exceeded with each and every stay.

And he said “we plan to have more to say on Suite Night Awards 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, 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. The biggest reason I’m switching from SPG (as a Platinum) to Hyatt (presumably under whatever the new Diamond Challenge looks like) next year is because of the difference in suite upgrades. Hyatt confirms you into up to 28 suite-upgraded nights per year. Starwood lets you express a preference for up to 10 nights per year with no confirmation. That’s not even close in terms of value.

  2. Sorry, but it makes no sense to not have an answer for SNA extension . They have had 11months to think about it.

    I’m a huge SPG supporter, and get upgraded often but rarely via SNAs.

  3. Personally I find the SNA’s to be pretty useless. Maybe I have poor luck, but I have 18 of them and can’t seem to use them. I also don’t like how they pick from which room type you can apply the SNA’s to, usually ends up only being a Jr Suite which I feel I would have a pretty good shot at getting if they are available.

    I can’t confirm but I was also told that once the computer processes the SNA, even if the hotel want’s to give you a better room, they cannot.

  4. @pat we have gotten a SN upgrade a few day before arrival and then at check in was given a better room. The hotel can change still change the room at upgrade in my experience.

  5. I’m now blowing my SNA’s pointlessly on business travel where I really don’t care that much rather than lose them. On an upcoming stay I was just looking for a room with a microwave, something I could ask for at the front desk. They never get confirmed at family travel destinations where I actually try and use them…

    And its not just the SNA’s either. With Hyatt I ALWAYS get the 4pm checkout on the rare occasion I ask for it. At SPG I have yet to get it confirmed ever.

  6. Plat75 here, I stay at the same Sheraton hotel all the time for business travel. Never been upgraded to a suite, while I know they have plenty of inventory. Moreover, I have to pray that my room doesn’t have a problem with sink, tub, bed, hvac et al. If it wasn’t for the anticipated SPG benefits when traveling with family, I would never stay at that hotel.

  7. Just used SNA at St. Regis SF and got upgrade confirmation to Astor Suite 5 days out. On check-in, got upgraded again to Metropolitan Suite. So SPG hotels CAN further upgrade you at their discretion even on a SNA stay (and the same has happened to me numerous times with double or triple suite upgrades even as just a normal SPG Plat75 stay).

    I do believe that SPG should consider giving confirmed SNs…either as a SPG75 enhanced benefit or as an enhancement of the SPG50 benefit. They also could provide MORE SNs for SPG75 and SPG100 to further incentivize reaching those thresholds.

  8. Their program generally sucks eggs unless your purpose is to redeem airline miles
    Cash and points is over priced and typically unavailable And the redemption amounts are laughable they are so expensive
    Did I say the hotels claim regularly there are just to many Platinum elites in house to upgrade?
    heaven help a Gold lol
    One has to be a sucker to do 50 plus nights with them and then be granted only a cont breakfast

  9. I have 99 SPG nights this year, and have only succeeded confirming suite nights in The Maldives, which likely would have been a free upgrade.
    I’ve tried at least 10 times. It’s absurd.
    Beyond that, the variation in quality among hotels that carry the same brand (Westin , for example) is massive and unacceptable. St Regis is the only consistent brand–and never got an upgrade there.
    @Bill -you’re a lucky man
    @Mo–check their inventory online after you check into the hotel, and if they are selling suites, take it up with the front desk. I’ve done this many times. Why they lie, I don’t know, but I’ve experienced this a lot.
    I was recently at Le Meridien Philly, cash+points stay. Checked in , checked online and they had suites. At 6:45 pm they claimed the room wasn’t cleaned. I said , “Perhaps you can have someone clean it.”
    The push back came with my 1 star Trip Advisor rating.
    Management claimed they have 50-80 plats per night . The hotel has 208 rooms. That seems implausible.

  10. As a SPG lifetime Gold member, I am disappointed in the program. Further, I see little in this post that would be of benefit to anyone but the 1% who are platinum. It would be nice if SPG were to give its gold members comparable benefits to Marriott or Hilton. Free internet but no upgrades, continental breakfast, etc. doesn’t cut it.

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