As many of you know, I travel quite a lot. And enough to be able to participate in several programs at the same time, always trying to blend the best benefits I see with a variety of programs. This of course is contrary to my advice to most readers to concentrate their loyalty in a single program. At the risk of sounding like I’m making a plug, a changed award option in the Starwood Preferred Guest program has put a smile on my face and makes my recommendation of the program to many travelers valid based solely on this benefit alone. The benefit I’m mentioning is not their standard award chart, but rather the option to combine Cash & Points for award redemption. Frankly almost every time that I have redeemed awards with SPG, I have tried hard to use only this benefit — and my success rate has been almost 90 percent of the time. In the past, this redemption option had its problems with booking flexibility (booking used to be confined to stays within the calendar year, particularly problematic at the end of the year) and the exclusion of their higher-end hotels.
These new changes allow more members to experience redemption without needing to have huge banks of points. It is also the only hotel program with a Cash & Points feature (goldpoints plus has an option for elite members). Of course, in a sense, we know that all programs have a cash and points feature when you redeem your points for some nights of your stay and pay for the others — and later average out your expenditures.
The changes to SPG now include Category 5 and 6 hotels and an expanded booking window of a rolling 18 months. But don’t forget that this redemption option does not include the “No Blackout Dates” policy of the regular award chart. I’ve been one lucky member having success 90 percent of the time with award availability.
The new award chart for these is below:
Only available for Category 1 and 2 hotels in the Asia Pacific region: Category 1 = 1,200 Starpoints and $25; Category 2 = 1,600 Starpoints and $30. Hotels Worldwide: Category 3 = 2,800 Starpoints and $45; Category 4 = 4,000 Starpoints and $60; NEW: Category 5 = 4,800 Starpoints and $90; NEW: Category 6 = 8,000 Starpoints and $150.
Here’s an example of why I love this program and in particular this benefit: I’m considering the Princeville Resort as a second honeymoon stop (please don’t tell my wife). It currently goes for 20-25,000 points per night or $640-810 per night. For three nights that would be around 75,000 points or nearly $2,000. With Cash & Points, I’m able to get in with spending $450 and only 24,000 points. It does two things that are often overlooked when considering the value of these programs — it saves me money, $450 vs. $2,000 and it makes it possible for me to live like a point millionaire for significantly fewer points.
Realizing I might have passed the point of an “official endorsement of this specific benefit” I’ll leave it up to our readers as to the value they find in this.
As well, let me remind you of another terrific program — the 6th Annual American Way Road Warrior Search and the fame of being featured on the cover of the special American Way Road Warrior issue. This is the in-flight magazine of American Airlines. The Grand Prize winner will receive two million Hilton HHonors points, one million AAdvantage miles and a two-year Admirals Club membership. There are many more prizes so finishing second or among the three third-place finishers isn’t all that bad. Visit www.americanwaymag.com/roadwarrior to enter by August 31.
In the “My, How Times Have Changed” category, you’ll have fun looking at our AirPoll on page 12. Comparing today’s results with the same poll we posed in February 2001, it is interesting to note that in 2001, 53.4 percent of those who responded indicated that receiving mileage as compensation for a delayed flight was more important to them than an on-time flight. Today, those numbers have more than reversed, with 66.3 percent of those polled indicating they prefer an on-time flight over mileage compensation for a delayed flight.
As is always the case with statistics, these numbers can be spun a number of different ways. It could be argued that these figures prove frequent flyer miles are less important to today’s traveler. More likely though, an ever increasing number of delayed flights has pushed the patience of business travelers to the limit. And at the end of the day, to paraphrase a common platitude, time is miles. And if money is the object, in 2001, only 31.7 percent of those responding preferred to receive cash as a flight delay bonus. Today, nearly 50 percent of our readers want to see the money.
And finally, yet another research company (Maritz Research) reports that 80 percent of members redeeming their miles find a seat on a flight that fits their desired travel plans. See InsideEdition “Flyer Survey” to read this for yourself.