Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Suite Night Awards

As you LCD readers may know, we're big fans of Starwood and their Preferred Guest loyalty program. We like having the benefits of being a loyal customer, including free upgrades to suites.

This morning, we received some pleasant news that our Suite Night Award has been accepted and we've been confirmed into a Junior Suite for our upcoming stay at St. Regis Rome later this week.

In August 2013, my father finally made SPG Platinum by staying 25 times at Starwood properties either as a cash or points stay. So he had Platinum status for the rest of 2013 and all of 2014. This year, he's well on his way to re-earning Platinum for all of 2015 as well, thanks to some help from my extended family and our American Express SPG credit cards.

As we've mentioned before, the benefits for hitting Starwood Platinum are pretty amazing now:
  • Complimentary upgrades to the best available room at check-in (including SUITES!)
  • Choice of welcome gift (500 Starwood points, free continental breakfast or a local gift)
  • Executive Club lounge access (free snacks and drinks)
  • Free in-room internet 
  • 4PM late checkout 
  • Platinum Concierge service 
However, some people achieve status by short 1 night stays. Candidly, these guests are probably not the ones the hotels prefer given they probably check in at night and leave the next morning. They don't spend enough money time in the hotel (restaurant/bar, spa, etc).

As an incentive to those who do have longer stays, Starwood offers a special benefit to those Platinum members who reach 50 nights (as opposed to 25 stays) - 10 Suite Night Award Certificates.

To explain the benefit, I first have to mention that Starwood Hotels (or any other hotel chain for that matter) almost never owns the actual hotel property.

Usually, the hotel itself is owned by a separate company that contractually agrees to be branded and marketed as a Starwood (or Hyatt, Hilton, Marriott, etc) hotel. In exchange for getting access to Starwood's worldwide marketing and booking platforms, they agree to abide by Starwood's rules, including how SPG guests are supposed to be treated. But oftentimes, whenever two parties are involved, certain issues come up where one group's incentives are not aligned with the other. For example, giving a Platinum a complimentary upgrade to a suite.

Starwood ("Corporate") says that Platinum members should be given the "best available room at check-in" which includes suites. This helps travelers know that there's a reason to stay loyal and earn Platinum status with the Starwood brand - which should translate to more business for the hotels in its network. But of course, any individual, profit-minded hotel would much prefer to not upgrade its guests for free.
  1. First, they'd rather save those high end suites for guests who are willing to pay the cash premium.
  2. Additionally, I'm sure it costs more to clean and maintain the suites as well. 
  3. Plus having a reputation for haphazardly giving away suites for free left and right would inevitably lead to guests never booking a suite and instead waiting for the free upgrade. 
  4. And most overlooked/ignored, depending on how many Platinums are checking in, they may even want to give a complimentary suite upgrade to a deserving Platinum member, but it just might not be you. Remember, not all Platinums are created equal.
So given this conflict of interest, it shouldn't surprise you how many hotel properties don't proactively offer their "loyal" Platinum guests a free complimentary upgrade to a suite.

After all, the Platinum guests are loyal to Starwood Corporate, not necessarily to that particular hotel property. A traveling insurance salesman staying 30 nights a year at a $80/night Four Points in Cleveland may not be the same client type that a $600/night St Regis Bal Harbour in Miami wants to cultivate a long-term commercial relationship with.

Oftentimes, we've encountered Front Desk staff that will conveniently forget to offer my parents a room upgrade to a suite when we check in. Of course, my father will passive aggressively politely inquire about any suite upgrade availability.

Nevertheless, as you can see, it's very much a hit or miss situation that is highly dependent upon the Front Desk staff at the individual hotel..

Suite Night Awards
But when Starwood announced the introduction of Suite Night Awards (SNAs), it promised to change the balance of power. Instead of leaving it up to the hotel front desk staff, Corporate implemented a policy whereby if a guest applied a SNA to an upcoming stay, then Corporate (not the hotel) would scan the available suite inventory 5 days before check in and then automatically upgrade the guest in advance. So by the time the guest checks in, the reservation has already been adjusted to a suite.

Of course, there are certain terms and conditions for the use of these SNA (listed here), but I'll just point out some of the highlights.
  1. Platinum members who earned status by staying 50 nights get 10 SNA to use the following year (they do expire)
  2. Each SNA is good for 1 night of an upgrade to a suite
  3. Guest must manually elect to apply a SNA for an upcoming booking and have enough SNA to cover the entire stay (no partial stay upgrades)
  4. Bookings with SNAs will be reviewed starting 5 days before check-in through 2PM day of check-in
  5. If a SNA is applied, Corporate will email you a confirmation
  6. If a SNA is not applied due to suite availability, the SNA will be returned to your account; however, the hotel front desk staff may still give you a complimentary upgrade upon availability at check-in
Our SNA Experience
Many people in the SPG Platinum community have expressed frustration that their SNA have not been applied consistently, but we've found the program to be quite successful for our stays, including:
We still have a few outstanding SNA we've applied for future stays, so we're hopeful those will all come through as well.
  • St Regis Rome (1 Nights)
  • Hotel Grande Bretagne in Athens (1 Night)
Then hopefully by the end of 2014, we'll have re-qualified for Platinum status by staying 50 nights and have another 10 SNA to use in 2015.

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