Design Hotels Soft Launches as New Starwood Brand Today: Here’s What You Need to Know

Less than two weeks after news broke that Design Hotels would become Starwood’s 11th brand, Design Hotels is already being brought into Starwood Preferred Guest.

Starwood first acquired a stake in Design hotels almost four years ago, though that was a minority relatively passive interest. Bringing them into the broader portfolio is a big ‘get’ and a strong boost especially for their European presence. It’s a third brand of independent hotels along with the new Tribute Portfolio and long-standing Luxury Collection. I’m not sure what the difference is necessarily across the brands. But there are a fantastic number of hotels in this portfolio that I actually want to stay at which is exciting. More nice hotels that are part of a good loyalty program is a good thing.

Ion Luxury Adventure Hotel, Iceland

Today is the soft launch for the effort to bring Design Hotels into the Starwood Preferred Guest program. Only 5 of the 287 Design Hotels properties are live with SPG so far. They are:

And right now there’s just an earning relationship and modest benefits.

  • Starwood Preferred Guest members will earn at these properties the same as they would earn at other Starwood hotels (and Starwood co-brand credit cards earn double points when used there).

  • Members earn stay and night credit towards status plus free high-speed internet and bottled water

  • Elites receive bonus points as their welcome gift.

Rockhouse Hotel, Jamaica

In other words, there’s no upgrade benefit and no amenity choice (thus no Platinum breakfast). The relationship is new enough and this is rolling out in phases that I suspect they’re figuring things out quickly, bringing these hotels into Starwood as quickly as they can, and we may see them revisit what benefits look like.

Free Night redemption is expected in early 2016. (I’ve seen references on the SPG website to March 2016, but Starwood execs are talking about ‘early’ 2016 so that leads me to think they’re trying to underpromise and overdeliver with that date.) So, clearly they’re working on it. But I have to give them credit for getting things up and running quickly.

As more Design Hotels go live with SPG, they’ll be updated on the Starwood website.

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. Good info and the hotels look like great places to stay every once in a while. Unless the elite benefits are standardized, though, I’d generally avoid these properties as I presently avoid Aloft and Element.

  2. It certainly is interesting how all the chains feel the need to have so many different hotel brands. I consider myself very knowledgeable about travel, but even I’m often confused by the “difference” between the many sub-brands. And if I don’t understand the difference, I’m sure 99%+ of their customers are also confused. But that confusion must not hurt profitability, or we wouldn’t be seeing this differentiation.

    The problem with adding “unique” properties, though, is that they ARE unique. The real benefit of a chain is predictability: when I stay at a Holiday Inn Express or a full service Marriott, I pretty much know what I’m going to be getting. If I stay at a “Design Hotel,” I’m going to have to read the reviews to see what the heck this thing is all about. And, since my loyalty program membership probably isn’t going to get me many perks at the property — or a free room at a redemption level I’m willing to pay — I’m not sure what being part of a big chain is going to do for me as a consumer. If I’m interested in such hotels (and I am) I can easily find them using one of the meta travel search engines. When they look like they offer good value, I already consider stay there. Being part of SPG won’t really change that equation.

  3. @iahphx: I realize that you may believe that “the real benefit of a chain is predictability,” but that is not true for all customers. Adding extra “unique” hotel options as Starwood has done with LuxColl, Tribute, and now Design doesn’t take away the predictability of the other Starwood chains like St. Regis, W, Westin, Four Points, Element, and Aloft (and some Sheratons, particularly abroad). It isn’t a zero sum game whereby Starwood adding unique hotel groups/brands somehow diminishes the predictability for the other hotel groups/brands. They simply offer additional choices for the customers who appreciate the more unique hotel settings offered,

    The success of Kimpton demonstrated in the US the appeal for the more boutique hotel experience for many customers–which is why IHG acquired Kimpton. The success of LuxColl demonstrated the appeal for SPG guests in having unique properties of 4-5 star quality. The introduction of Tribute and Design simply extends the unique property segment for SPG customers into the 3-4 star quality range, perhaps expanding the SPG customer base. Certainly, Marriott introduced Autograph and Hilton introduced Curio in order to compete with this approach.

    For those who appreciate and/or prefer unique hotels, SPG is something special–since it offers a wide ranging group of brands with consistency and predictability as you indicate, while at the same time offers a wider range of unique hotel properties for this growing customer base that seems to prefer and/or appreciate them. SPG already has a more affluent customer base on average than any of the bigger chains, except possibly for Hyatt, and so it’s not surprising that SPG would be the one with the most authentically original and unique hotel properties in its portfolio.

    What does it do for you as a consumer? Well, not having unique properties doesn’t hurt you….but having unique properties offers appeal to the consumers who clearly prefer such unique/authentic properties. That expands the customer base, no matter how you look at it.

  4. FYI: Gary — This is what you need to know:

    ” Other on-property benefits such as upgrades, late checkout, Your24 or Suite Night Awards will not be available at participating hotels.”

    In addition, point redemption will not begin until March 2016.

  5. @Horace I make clear I think in the post what benefits aren’t available. And I mention March 2016 but that they are actually targeting earlier. Read the post 😉

  6. So you did!

    Gotta get that cup of Joe before posting!

    Thanks for the correction and for providing full upfront content of this development.

    Gary — Any word from SPG whether they will be offering most or all of the Design hotels eventually, or will there be significant omissions from the final roll out?

  7. @Horace honestly I don’t think they know yet what the final picture will look like. I do think they get most hotels eventually in, but I wouldn’t be surprised by significant omissions. I give them credit for moving fast, getting some in on a rolling basis and some benefits, rather than waiting until the whole piece is done. that’s good for the hotels too because ti’ll drive incremental business their way.

  8. Gary – Thanks for the prompt reply.

    What is your best guess as to the reason for this decision by Design hotels to formally affiliate with SPG?

    Oft cited slowdown in the future economy? Increasing reach of Major chains with Autograph, Tribute, Curio, Kimpton, etc? Effect of Air Bnb?

    After all, there only was a small investment by SPG into the group and landing them is a prize, especially since SPG’s future is itself questionable.

  9. I appreciate the added value, but I tend to agree with those who say “if you are spg, BE spg.” In other words, I really, really dislike the idea that I might book one of these assuming I get points and status perks, and when I don’t get those, it would leave quite a bad taste in my mouth.

  10. “Here’s What You Need to Know”

    Actually Gary, there is some info that is nice to have but I don’t find what I need to know. Timelines for all of the hotels joining, redemption levels, complete run down of SPG benefits and earnings, and so on and so on. At least you stopped short of saying something more silly like “your complete guide to design hotels” but still, this is more like “partial information that is nice to have.”

  11. Huge win. Even without redemption or elite benefits, if they get most of them in, just point earning and stay/night credit is major for me. I’ve stayed at a handful of Design Hotels, all just lovely. This opens up better neighborhoods in cities where SPG already has a presence, and of course some desirable new cities as well. Not to mention some destination properties. And unlike, tribute portfolio, this isn’t a completely standardless conversion brand. All of these that I’ve stayed at or considered have or are reputed to have fantastic service. Tribute, OTOH, lost my business for the indefinite future after two unbelievably bad stays.

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