Starwood Award Category Changes Effective March 2 — As Expected, Generally Good News

Starwood has announced new redemption categories for the coming year, effective March 2nd.

Each year Starwood recategorizes its hotels based on prior year average daily room rates, and the category that it places a hotel in determines the number of points required for redemption.

On the whole — as expected — more hotels went down in category than went up. Specifically, according to the Flyertalk thread on the subect, 82 went up in category and 156 went down in category.

Some of the more interesting ones to me, the Thailand properties appear not to change though I know that their occupancy is hurting tremendously. They were really hit late in the year with the occupation of the Suvarnabhumi airport, and their real downturn afterward likely came to late to sufficiently effect room rates for the whole year. Several Japanese hotels are going up in category, a reflection perhaps of the strong Yen (since average daily room rate is calculated in dollars).

I’m fortunate to be able to rebook the W Seoul as a category 4, since I currently have it reserved as a category 5. The changes go into effect on March 2, so I’ll be making my call on that day. It’s worth checking any of your upcoming award reservations, you can of course rebook future awards at a lower price point if the hotel has gone down in category.

Meanwhile, this is also a wonderful window of opportunity if you were planning to book any of the 82 going up in category — the increases don’t go into effect until March 2, so make your redemption plans now! (And I wouldn’t wait until March 1, it’s possible that the changes could begin rolling into place a day or two early, or at least my recollection is this has happened in the past.)

Several New York properties drop in category, with the Westin Times Square, W New York, and Le Parker Meridien falling from Category 6 to Category 5. (The Four Points SoHo even drops to Category 4.) The nice thing there is I was considering redeeming my platinum award gift of a free weekend night in New York, and this means I don’t have to stay at the Sheraton New York or even worse at the Sheraton Manhattan.

The other big change is that Starwood Preferred Guest is eliminating “peak season” extra points requirements (where category 5 hotels become 16,000 points instead of 12,000… category 6 become 25,000 instead of 20,000.. and category 7 become 35,000 instead of 30,000), except for the (3) Sardinia properties Cala di Volpe, Hotel Pitrizza, and Hotel Romazzino. They say peak season is eliminated for 2009 so one imagines it may be back when hotel rates generally recover, perhaps next year, although this remains to be seen.

Good news, as expected. Part of me thought the reductions would go further, given the overall condition of the hotel industry, but two factors are at play — first, the tremendous deterioration in hotel occupancy really took hold late in the year, perhaps too late to make such a big difference, and second, the specific average daily room rate levels that Starwood Preferred Guest uses for each category is proprietary and we don’t know whether it changes in any given year. I suspected that they altered the dollar figures for each category, pushing several hotels up in category as a result, a couple of years ago. I have no reason in particular to suspect this, but it’s possible that they’ve made some adjustments at the margin here again and that this would serve to keep several hotels in categories when they’d have otherwise fallen a level.

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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