Last month I broke the news that Starwood would be introducing choices for Platinum members in lieu of ‘Suite Night Awards’ for those members who prefer a different rewards upon reaching 50 nights.
I speculated that those new choices would include bonus points and award redemption discounts. But Starwood’s Senior Vice President for SPG and Digital Chris Holdren let me know that those weren’t the direction they were going.
So last week I had the chance to talk to Chris about what the new choices are going to be for Platinum members who spend at least 50 nights a year with Starwood.
What Are Suite Night Awards?
For the past 3 years Starwood has offered (10) ‘Suite Night Awards’ — an opportunity to confirm an upgrade up to 5 nights prior to arrival, rather than at check-in.
Extreme Wow Suite at the W San Diego
These aren’t confirmed upgrades in the sense that Hyatt offers them to Diamonds. They aren’t confirmed at booking, where you get to guarantee them at the time you make a reservation. These should be thought of as ‘an opportunity to express a preference for when you get upgraded’, ten nights a year where you get to have priority for your upgrades.
The problem seems to be that many members express priority at the same times, because while no doubt there are members making great use of these many have also been frustrated with their use. At the end of 2013 Starwood even extended unused suite night awards to give members a better opportunity to use them.
The thing that is revolutionary about the Suite Night Award process is that it’s managed by SPG based on published inventory from the hotel, so their algorithms determine who gets the upgrade instead of the vagaries of an individual property (choosing not to upgrade members) or check-in agent. No doubt there are hotels that play games with their inventory, but centralizing the actual assignment is an improvement for most.
What Are the Limitations of Suite Night Awards?
The concept of letting members express when they value their upgrades the most is terrific. And building a system that takes the upgrade process out of the hands of the individual hotels is actually pretty revolutionary. The biggest risk for a hotel program delivering benefits is that they’re so often relying on the individual who happens to be at the check-in desk. The Suite Night Awards setup removes much of the discretion even from hotel management.
Suite at the Sheraton Saigon Hotel & Towers
But I think even Starwood Preferred Guest would agree that the execution isn’t yet where they’d want it to be.
I asked Holdren what he saw as the biggest challenges in delivering a great Suite Night Award experience. He noted two.
- Suite night awards were introduced just as the hotel industry was beginning to do really well, “occupancies are high, the suite inventory available has been limited” so they brought Suite Night Awards to members at precisely the time that suites are in shortest supply.
- Everyone wants to redeem at the same resorts and top urban hotels, the “number of properties where people concentrate requests, when we look at global suite inventory you can get to one answer [about ability to deliver suites to members] but when you see where members want to use them they’re concentrated” at places like the Westin Maui and W San Francisco.
These Are the New Choices for 50 Night Platinums
Starting week of March 9, Starwood will offer a choice of benefits to Platinums who reach the 50 night threshold.
- 10 Suite Night Awards, as present
- (4) free rides with Uber up to $25 each
- Gift Gold status to friend or family member
- TSA PreCheck (Starwood covers the fee)
- $100 Amazon gift card
- Donate $100 to UNICEF (Checkout for Children)
For Uber, Amazon, and TSA PreCheck you’re redeeming for a promo code — to add to your account or to add to your PreCheck application.
Chris Holdren explained they wanted to “find the right number of choices, the ability to gift to someone, to obtain merchandise, for there to be something that would resonate with the broadest number of members.”
They did research with members, and Holdren notes that “gifting gold status one of the top requests from platinum members today, they want to share some of the recognition they receive with someone close to them.”
It strikes me that the alternatives to Suite Night Awards are all face value $85 – $100, though most will likely cost Starwood less. The TSA is anxious to sign up more customers for PreCheck and likely discounts the $85 fee. Starwood, with its new Uber tie-in and since the rides are ‘up to’ $25 each likely buys these at a discount.
But for folks who don’t want the Suite Night Awards, they’re an alternative. The benchmark it seems to me is the $100 Amazon credit, that’s spendable almost like cash for someone with Prime shipping especially.
Gold is nice to be able to give, though now that Starwood gives free internet to everyone booking rooms through their channels the need for Gold is somewhat reduced (Holdren notes that Gold now gets premium internet, not just regular internet, where available. He also points out that many of the enhancements of late to the program benefit golds — Gold members earn with Uber at a premium during stays, and benefit from Crossover Rewards with Delta and Your World Rewards with Emirates.)
Personally, I’ll be continuing to choose Suite Nights.