FlyerTalk Live! recently hosted a chat with special guest Jim Berra (vice president of Loyalty Marketing, Starwood Hotels). Here’s some of the best of that live chat.
Q: Comment on why Platinum members don’t get a free breakfast at all Starwood properties?
JB: We’ve looked at this a couple of times and worry that without the revenue from breakfast, our hotels cannot operate three meal a day restaurants effectively.
Q: The no blackouts is great but it seems to take a lot of spending to get a free night at a Sheraton compared to Hilton and Marriott. Do you have any plans to offer discounted awards like Point Stretchers that might be fewer points?
JB: We launched Cash & Points earlier this year and it has proved successful thus far. We are looking to build an Award Sale product in key destinations. I would expect the first this summer.
Q: I liked the concept behind Cash & Points, but the hotel selection was too limited. Any plans to expand this to include more properties?
JB: Absolutely. In fact we just added the Westin Maui and the Sheraton Princess on Oahu. Look for new additions every month.
Q: Would SPG consider a lifetime elite status where by staying x nights you are vested for life?
JB: We are running the numbers on this idea as it’s been suggested many times. We will keep you posted on how the analysis plays out.
Q: How long will the Platinum amenity bonus be around?
JB: We’re currently researching the amenity program which was another new addition last year. I expect that we will find that it has been successful and will look to roll it out in other divisions — Latin America is a leading candidate. At this point, we have no intention of removing the bonus as it has proven the most popular of the options.
Q: Any chance that Platinum members will get a greater earning bonus than Golds and other elites?
JB: We’re actually looking in directions other than rewards to enhance the Platinum member experience. We are working on improving the upgrade portion of the program and are looking to add member events and other recognition components.
Q: Any plans to include Southwest Rapid Rewards in the future as a program to which Starpoints can be transferred?
JB: We’ve had conversations with SWA in the past and personally I think they run a very smart program. Over the last several months, the partnership front has been very calm as everyone was assessing the impact of 9/11. Now with things feeling more normal, we will take up the discussion again.
Q: Any possibility of using points for other things at hotels such as discounted or free golf?
JB: We actually have a program called Instant Awards that allows you to cash in 2,000 points for a $20 folio credit. If the hotel or resort allows you to charge golf to your room, you can pay for it through Instant Awards.
Q: I would really like to transfer airline miles into Starwood points, is that in the works?
JB: The issue actually resides more with the airlines. Traditionally, they’ve been reluctant to build this feature.
Q: We’ve been reading how other programs consider passing on the federal 7.5 percent tax when converting into miles with airlines. Where does Starwood stand on that consideration or do you think it will happen from any of your competitors?
JB: I’m not sure where this issue will ultimately net out. From our perspective, we are not going to pass through the tax. This issue will be an interesting one to watch play out.