SPG used to be a leader, but now they are not. What happened? How to fix it?

Discussion in 'Starwood | Preferred Guest' started by LIH Prem, Feb 6, 2011.  |  Print Topic

  1. LIH Prem
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    LIH Prem Gold Member

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    And more importantly what can they do about it?

    When SPG rolled out "no blackout dates" and "if there's a standard room available, it's yours", they wowed us, and they wowed us with promises of upgrades to the best standard suite or room available, and when they rolled out the SPG AMEX, and the best point transfer rates to airline programs, they wowed us even more.

    And they wowed me. I got a status match, and maintained my top tier status with SPG since 2000.

    But lately, it seems to me that SPG views us as somewhat of a liability rather than their most frequent stayers and if we talk about consistency, well, there doesn't seem to be any at SPG properties. In Asia, we can expect top level service at most properties, but elsewhere, you really don't know what you're going to get? And how do you really know if you are getting the benefits they claim you are entitled to? Many people look online and see standard suites or better rooms than they have been assigned and that leads to disappointment as they are frequently told that they are seeing phantom availability. And what is our recourse? Complain to hotel services? Is that our job in life, to police SPG member properties and have to complain to get the benefits we are entitled to? (Seriously, that's not part of my job description .. if you can't be consistent and can't police your own properties, then what the heck are you doing?)

    And then we can talk about category changes, deflation of points, and the promises that were made and broken. And then SPG introduced peak periods that many hotels opted into and though they were (with great fanfare) suspended last year, they were with less fanfare reinstated this year, and the periods are not that short.

    Now, I really don't want to make this thread just a huge complaint thread (and let's try to not to do that, puhlease :) ), but what the heck happened? I still love the brand, but I have to tell you that more and more of my business is going back to Hyatt, and I'm sure other members are also seeking out greener pastures.

    Also, let's talk about consistency. At SPG, there really isn't that much consistency. Let's start with something simple. Where do I get free water and where don't I get free water? The distinction has nothing to do with high end vs low end, it's just a ridiculous distinction that I will never understand, nor memorize. (I know I get water at the W motel 6 in Newark, CA, only because I happen to stay there a lot, and I often have to ask for it, but for the life of me, I have no idea what other properties I'm supposed to get water at.) Do I really want an answer to this? No, I know where to find the info if I want it, but what I would like is some consistency across the entire product. (And no, this isn't about free water, that's just a very easy example .. we could talk equally about cash and points availability, delivery of benefits at many properties, etc, etc.)

    Starwood: Are we honored guests? Or are we scum sucking slime that you would rather not cater to? Which is it? And what happened to SPG? SPG used to be beautiful, but now you are a tired old thing, not even competitive with other programs. Without stupendous bonus opportunities, our own Ric G. (Loyalty Traveler) has proven that the you require the highest spend for a free night among most other chains. Please take a good hard look in the mirror and think about finding a way to rejunivate yourself and make us proud to be loyal members of Starwood Preferred Guest! Go back to being the leader that you are so we can love you again.

    -David
     
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  2. gleff
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    gleff Co-founder

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    There has been a transition.

    Starwood was #1, by a mile. No capacity controls on standard room awards, points that were the gold standard of value, upgrades to suites which other chains didn't offer as a feature of their programs.

    Two things happened.

    1. Starwood gradually slid. Starwood stopped giving points and stay credit for rates booked from outside channels like Expedia, they wanted to get back control of their booking channels. But it was the beginning of a mindset shift, you were no longer the Starwood Preferred Guest, it was instead a Preferred Rate program. They introduced higher and higher award categories, and category creep eroded the value of points. The consistent quality of Platinum concierges eroded. They got complacent, they chipped away at their gold standard value proposition. And perhaps not entirely their fault in a few cases, but some of those valuable airline transfers disappeared or were gutted as well.

    2. Other chains caught up. Hilton matched Starwood on the redemption availability side. Then Hyatt did. Hyatt led the way with free internet, though Starwood was quick to match (Hyatt did it for all elites..!). And though your preference here really depends on your region and hotels you stay.. if you're in Asia you may like Starwood's system because of how well properties treat their Platinums for the most part... but Hyatt's introduction of confirmed suite upgrades seems to me a much stronger benefit. No more nervous check-ins, hoping for table scraps. The benefit you want the most, when you most want it, guaranteed. Albeit a limited number of times per year.

    I keep expecting Starwood to do something big, to get back in the game. There was a ton of buildup a couple of years ago that they were going to offer a game changer, and what did we get? SPG Flights. Hah!

    It's still a good program because it does offer suites as upgrades to Platinums. Remember that Marriott wrote that benefit specifically out of its T&C around 2005. Hilton doesn't offer suites as a feature of its program. Priority Club doesn't either. Only Hyatt and Intercontinental Royall Ambassador. Someitmes you get suites from other programs, but it's not a defined benefit. So Starwood may not longer be legions ahead of the competition, but they aren't behind.

    They are still good on redemptions. And redemption options, such as confirmed upgraded rooms for additional points. And cash + points is a good offering.

    Mostly though Starwood has some of the very best, most aspirational properties. Places you actually WANT to stay, places you muse over as you think about how you'll spend your points. Many of those places are out of reach, as Starwood has some of the most expensive redemptions.. category 7 as a new higher price, peak season premiums are back, and 'all-suite' hotels charging double even though the fact that they are all suites drives their room rates to be in the higher category in the first place. When Bora Bora Nui moved over to Hilton, it's redemption cost became a fraction of what it was as a Starwood property..

    So we're waiting. Hoping they'll recapture their early days, even by playing catchup. I do have to give them credit for reacting quickly on Hyatt's free internet move. Maybe they've just been lulling us into complacency. Now if they make a big move it'll be a shock and seem even bigger!
     
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  3. Jasper2009
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    Jasper2009 Silver Member

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    As someone who almost exclusively travels for pleasure I did consider earning status with SPG a while ago as they have some really nice properties, but finally decided against it due to two main reasons:

    1) no confirmed room/suite upgrades
    2) totally ridiculous redemption rates for their high-end properties

    1) is easy to fix if they wanted to, they could follow Hyatt and offer x confirmed suite upgrade certs

    2) probably is slightly more difficult to "fix" (unless they want to cut the number of points required in half), but the following may work:
    a) Plats receive a 50% off cert for 1-2 redemptions per year
    b) free night cert after every x nights for Elites/Plats only
     
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  4. singtx
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    singtx Silver Member

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    Agree with this 100%. We have stayed at some great properties over the years and the fact they have C&P, has allowed us to stay at various properties and create longer stays.
     
  5. RicGarrido
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    RicGarrido Silver Member

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    Starwood could also follow the example of goldpoints plus and reduce the points requirement on their top tier categories. Goldpoints reduced their category 4, 5 and 6 hotels by as much as 33%.

    I did an analysis recently for Feb 2011 InsideFlyer Scaling Peaks of High Category Hotel Awards showing how SPG category 5, 6 and 7 awards are outliers compared to the base hotel spend needed for the highest category awards in other programs.

    Hilton HHonors Category 7 = 50,000 points.
    $3,333 base spend Points & Points earner = 50,000 points.
    $5,000 base spend Points & Miles earner = 50,000 points.

    HHonors Waldorf Astoria Hawaii peak season = 80,000 points.
    $5,333 base spend Points & Points earner = 50,000 points.
    $8,000 base spend Points & Miles earner = 50,000 points.

    Marriott Rewards Category 8 = 40,000 points.
    Marriott Rewards = $4,000 (excluding Residence Inn and TownePlace Suites).

    Marriott Rewards Ritz Carlton Central Park NY = 70,000 points.
    $7,000 base spend earns 70,000 points.

    Hyatt Gold Passport category 6 = 22,000 points.
    $4,400 base spend earns 22,000 points.

    IHG Priority Club high tier InterContinental Hotels = 40,000 points.
    $4,000 base spend earns 40,000 points (excluding Staybridge Suites and Candlewood Suites).

    Now compare to hotel spend needed for top category awards with
    Starwood Preferred Guest:

    SPG category 5 = 12,000 points ($6,000) or peak season 16,000 points ($8,000).
    SPG category 6 = 20,000 points ($10,000) or peak season 25,000 points ($12,500).
    SPG category 7 = 30,000 points ($15,000) or peak season 35,000 points ($17,500).
    SPG category 7 all-suites = 60,000 points ($30,000) to 140,000 points ($70,000).

    SPG is an outlier in the hotel spend needed for upper tier hotel awards.
     
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  6. Not only that, but the gifts and bonus' have gradually declined. I still have my SPG Clock from 10 years ago and the good personalized luggage tags with metal twist cords. Free weekends was less stays and better redemption.

    This year they sent me a book.. that 1) I don't want or need.. and 2) was very unenviromental for reason 1. Its more
    of a promotional item, than a Platinum gift. The free Cat 5 night from 2 years back to a cheesy book... nice..


    As others have mentioned, the biggest issue it seems is the lack of control. SPG hotels can do as they wish, and at the end of the day our only recourse is to complain to customer service. I grew tired of that long ago, and haven't bothered to write in for a LONG TIME (years) cause it didn't really matter.

    The whole thing has me apathetic.
     
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  7. Not to mention the resort fee nonsense..

    I'm in Hawaii for 2 weeks in May. Starwood nights? 1.
    The rest booked elsewhere due to the resort fee nonsense.

    You're driving me away Starwood.. after 11 years as Plat. WHY?
     
  8. Pizzaman
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    Pizzaman Co-founder

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    No question that SPG has priced the upper tier awards at an exorbitant rate. I still consider SPG the most valuable point to acquire, mostly because of the 25% bonus on airline transfers and the flexibility to transfer points to multiple airlines.

    But, there's no question that the value of an SPG point for aspirational rooms has decreased noticeably.
     
  9. IMGone
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    IMGone Silver Member

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    I last earned SPG Gold a few years back and had horrible experiences, with absolutely no room recognition - including one room assignment the size of a coat closet next to an elevator bank (kid you not) in NY. After that, i was pretty much done with focusing on the program. I'm now Gold via the AMEX for those times I do stay at an SPG property and that's fine.

    At the same time, I earned PC Platinum annually (it was just so easy), last year had HH Platinum (client selected hotel, not my choice), Hyatt Plat (thanks to a dbl promo), Accor Plat (promo), etc.
     
  10. giggs
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    giggs Silver Member

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    I agree on the SPG slowly dropping. I do like the flexibility of SPG points, but am concerned with the higher cost of gaining and using them.

    They do, in my case have a couple of great hotels in PDX that I like to use alot (The Nines and Westin). I try to book them whenever they are priced reasonably well.

    Seems like the earning potential is much more difficult with Starwood.
     
  11. From NYC
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    From NYC Gold Member

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    Also agree that the program is slipping. Have been a long-time Platinum member, and I've used points to put friends up in hotels. But I do find the upper range of categories way over the top in terms of points needed to stay there, and I think the program's become a follower rather than a leader.

    Issues:
    1 - i'm told no suite's available when I check in, but there're plenty showing online;
    2 - No breakfast for top elites if there's no lounge; SPG is way behind on this one;
    3 - No lifetime status based on history, though there's that teaser in you account area;
    4 - Resort fees being charged to Plats that include things wee already get, and inconsistent alternative offerings.
     
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  12. I am since years Platinum Member with SPG and i spend normally betwenn 75 and 100 nights in SPG Hotels !
    I always book the cheapest room and get at least an upgrade to an executive room, free breakfast, lounge access, free internet and 80% I get an upgrade to a suite.

    What else do I want ? The earned points I transfer to Miles & More account where I get 25000 miles for 20'000 points.
    I use then the miles for FIRST CLASS Tickets so that 20'000 Starpoints for me have a value of EURO 1'000 or $ 1'300 ! Where do you get this ?
     
  13. sealiz
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    sealiz Silver Member

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    After being a Platinum member for over 12 years I have gone away from Starwood. The main reason is their lack of customer service. This is where they used to shine. Nothing was a problem, nothing was an issue, it was all about the customer and ensuring the stay was a positive one. I understand about being a commodity, but I look at the two hotel chains who now get 95% of my business and see that the main difference is not about getting upgrades but rather that I am made to feel like they care that I am their customer. Always having a response of "The Terms & Conditions state. . ." gets old after awhile.

    Starwood really went away from their core and now it appears their entire culture is one of where the customer is a bother rather than the way in which their business survives.
     
  14. Rambuster
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    Rambuster Silver Member

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    I'm quite happy with SPG and my suite upgrades are close to 100%, but that may be because I stay mainly in Asia and all properties there treat Platinums very well.
     
  15. LarryU
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    LarryU Silver Member

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    +1

    Indeed, I have a trip planned to Hawaii in mid April and I have no SPG stays planned at all. I refuse to stay at any property that charges a resort fee. Not even if its the last resort. [​IMG]
     
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  16. tommy777
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    tommy777 Co-founder

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    You don't get free breakfast as a Platinum member. Only a handful hotels offer this.
     
  17. Chad
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    Chad Silver Member

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    As the bulk of my stays are in Asia, The South Pacific & Europe - I'm pretty happy - however North America is currently the weak link in the Starwood family.

    My main gripe is that it can be to easy for hotels to deny upgrades by claiming things like the room isn't clean etc. I'm also worried by the growing trend of hotels opting out of promotions. I appreciate the free internet, however I don't give much credit when it is basically a "catch up" to Starwood's competitors.

    Perhaps Starwood should give a free "full" breakfast for plats if no room upgrade is given - although I fear that would quickly morph into "we gave you breakfast, we don't have to upgrade you". The fact that the overwhelming majority of Asian properties give breakfast - suggest it is a lack of competition that allows Starwood to get away with no breakfast in other territories.

    Given the lack of the availability of cash & points rates, I transfer my points across as Airline miles.
     
  18. In USA I always book "W" Hotels which I love very much......
     
  19. Simon
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    Simon Milepoint Guide

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    I agree with how they should offer Platinums breakfast in lieu of when the club lounge either does not exist or is closed like Hilton does.

    Maybe a bigger bonus points for Platinums (bigger than Gold) would solve a lot of problems too.

    The one thing we all forget is that in the end it's all about making a profit and whilst all these ideas might effect us, the bulk of people might not even care the slightest. Just a thought.
     
  20. Here in Hongkong SHERATON you get free breakfast in the Cafe because their is no breakfast lounge for Platinum
     
  21. Simon
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    Simon Milepoint Guide

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    Yes some hotels already have this policy in place but it is not shared worldwide and up to the individual hotel to decide if they want to offer it.
     
  22. Flews
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    Flews Silver Member

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    The thing about hotel loyalty programs is what works for some may not work for others. So what some may feel is the "best" may be at odds with what others feel is "best". It's what works best for each of us.

    For me, SPG is by far the "best" program. It offers the features I want, at properties I really like, in locations I need.

    Can it be better? Of course. Even for me. I wholeheartedly agree with many of gleff's points above. This is one of the reasons I post on travel forums, and give SPG/*wood direct feedback on a regular basis.

    Still, all in all, this program is a great one for me, and far superior to the others I have tried & researched.

    Cheers,

    Flews
     
  23. Flews
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    Flews Silver Member

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    Actually, pretty well every *wood property that has a lounge, which is quite a few (way more than a handful, that is), offers a free breakfast of some sort. And access to lounges is obviously an SPG Plat benefit.

    It is certainly true, though, free breakfast is not a stated Platinum benefit.

    Cheers,

    Flews
     
  24. tommy777
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    tommy777 Co-founder

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    Most Sheraton's do, but the rest of the properties and brands don't. And there sure are some crappy Sheraton club lounges around..

    I'm a happy Starwood Platinum customer, but if there were comparable Hyatt and SPG properties in the same city, I will always choose Hyatt because you receive so much more as a Diamond.

    G offers fills up the account quickly, better bonus than Platinum, Gold and Platinum with SPG gets the same amount of points minus the 500/250 amenity at most properties.

    And when it's time to redeem, the highest number at any time (no peak restrictions) with Hyatt is 22K points, and we are talking some world class properties here, while SPG has some out of control redemption levels at the properties you really want to stay at, so you end up never redeeming your hard earned points for something really nice.

    The breakfast is another factor. You are guaranteed a great breakfast without restriction at all properties without a club. Is the club closed, you get food AND points as compensation. If a SPG lounge is closed, they will usually give you a very limited voucher, but no other compensation.

    Also, the 4 confirmed Hyatt upgrades are fabulous. When you are going on vacation, the time you need the suites confirmed the most, that's all taken care of. No sketchy front desk made up policies, no properties with excuses. It's all taken care of in advance.

    I will still keep status with both, I will choose my favorite properties around and that will decide, but again, from a guy that has both, I have to say that Hyatt has become a lot better than my previous favorite.
     
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  25. SC Flier
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    SC Flier Gold Member

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    I already read your article, and I generally appreciate your writings. But this article has no basis for how things really work out with elite bonuses, promos, etc.

    Last week, for instance, I spent 3 nights in 2 different Starwoods. My total base spend was $324 including a $35 meal for 2. My total base Starpoints earned was only 648. But my grand total of all Starpoints earned last week was 6,018 thanks to various promos, a BRG claim, the SPG Amex bonus, and elite benefits.
    648 base Starpoints
    324 elite 50% bonus
    648 SPG Amex
    750 Plat welcome amenities
    1148 Great Weeks / Grand Weekends current promo
    2000 Best Rate Guarantee (BRG)
    500 special bonus incentive offer for my corporate rate

    While a good portion of these things are special offers which can't regularly be counted on, even the routine elite and Amex additions make for a very different picture from what you presented in your article.
    648 Starpoints (base points only)
    2370 Starpoints (base + elite + Amex)
    6018 Starpoints (base + elite + Amex + BRG + special bonuses)

    As far as comparing one brand's top-tier awards to another, I don't believe that there's any simple way to do it. I've never stayed at one of SPG's Cat7 hotels, and they aren't even on my list of aspirational places. They are anomalies that I pretty much just ignore altogether. But their categorization is based on their cash prices, and they are very expensive properties. Some of the other brands don't have any properties in the same price range.

    I do believe that most SPG properties are categorized fairly based on their cash prices. There are a few properties such as Mystique and Santa Marina that I think are badly miscategorized, but my arguments against them have so far fallen on deaf ears.

    As for the OP's questions, I think that other brands have caught up with SPG more than SPG has slipped. I think that SPG slipped by closing many Club Lounges in Westins. They lagged behind with free internet access. And they have failed to address customers' requests for transparency in the distribution of upgrades. But they must handle a delicate balance between making their hotels give more benefits vs. those properties leaving for another brand with lower costs.
     
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