Starwood Extends Expiration of Misunderstood Suite Night Awards (and Why the Program Remains Revolutionary)

One of the major improvements in elite benefits that Starwood rolled out at the beginning of 2012 was the introduction of “Suite Night Awards” for Platinum members who stay 50 nights in a year or more.

Ten nights are awarded in suites, which are confirmable up to 5 days in advance of arrival.

Lucky notes that instead of expiring at the end of the year, any unused suite upgrades will not expire until April 30th — giving Platinum members an extra four months to redeem them.

Loyalty Lobby says that instead of extending their validity, Starwood:

should do the right thing and scrap these crappy SNA’s altogether or make the suites confirmable at the time of making the reservation. In their current form the SNA’s are useless.

I think that misunderstands the point and the value of Starwood’s Suite Night Awards. They are not at all useless, they just do not do what Loyalty Lobby wants them to do (but to a large approximation, they weren’t intended to).

Here are his complaints:

– Can only be confirmed 5 days in advance

– Properties are not required to make all select standard suites available for SNA’s (they must for space available Platinum upgrades at the time of checking in)

– Doesn’t create any more upgrade inventory compared to space available upgrades

– SPG’s system for applying SNA’s is buggy

– Some properties may be hesitant to upgrade unless you have used a SNA

– Allow upgrading max 20% of your nights

Hyatt allows its Diamond members to confirm a suite at booking (4) times per year on any paid night that is eligible for elite credit. Those confirmed suite upgrades are valid on stays of up to 7 nights apiece. So a Hyatt Diamond might confirm at booking any number of nights, from 4 to 28, using these certificates. Award nights are not eligible. And all Hyatt Diamonds get the certs (even those on a Diamond status ‘challenge’ or who qualify on stays and not just nights).

Hyatt’s suite upgrade program — largely because they can be confirmed any time there’s availability after booking — is the absolute gold standard in loyalty. But no other major program offers confirmed at booking suites, so Starwood’s failure to do so hardly makes their offerings ‘useless’… it merely makes them ‘not as good as Hyatt’.

I’m also not sure how ‘only upgrading 20% of the time’ using certificates is a complaint, since there’s no benchmark about what would be reasonable or desirable. These upgrades are valid on award nights (Hyatt’s aren’t) and can be applied one night at a time.

That the program “Doesn’t create any more upgrade inventory compared to space available upgrades” is actually the point. To Loyalty Lobby they might as well just do upgrades at check-in, since the same number of upgrades might be offered (although this is not necessarily true).

The problem here is the marketing of suite night awards, or at least the perception, that these are “confirmed upgrades.”

Really they should be understood as an effort to do two things:

  1. Offer upgrade priority so a member gets an upgrade when they want it most. It’s not about more upgrades, or even really earlier upgrades, it’s about increasing the likelihood that a given member gets the upgrade when it matters to them. A qualifying Platinum member can slap down a suite night upgrade to say that they are on a given stay where the upgrade is important, and they are prioritized over members who could take or leave the upgrade relatively speaking. Suite Night Awards are an upgrade rationing tool so that the upgrade go where they are most highly valued. On a given business stay a member may not care about the suite, but traveling with their family it could be very important. Upgrades on availability at check-in treats all members equally, Suite Night Awards are a more efficient way to assign upgrades.
  2. Better enforce upgrade rules by taking the process out of the hands of hotels. Individual properties still manage their inventory, and that’s one reason the process isn’t perfect, but instead of depending on the vagaries of hotel check-in clerks or recalcitrant properties the Suite Night Award program centralizes upgrade processing — Starwood’s computers do it based on live inventory. While there remains work to be done even after nearly two years of this program, this remains potentially revolutionary since one of the biggest failure points in benefit delivery comes from individual hotels and hotel employees who don’t deliver on program promises.

The key here is not to think of this program as a competitor to Hyatt’s confirmed suites. Instead, it’s a way to prioritize upgrades and to reduce (though not eliminate) upgrade failures through hotel discretion. And towards those ends the program is an improvement over Starwood’s previous offers, and is certainly better than the upgrade programs of Marriott, Hilton, or Priority Club.

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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. I received the same email from Starwood extending my SNAs a few months. I think this is fantastic.

    On a side note, I hate it when people try to compare these to Hyatt’s suite upgrades for Diamond members. In my opinion, Starwood’s suite upgrades are much better. I travel every week for work. Almost all of my paid stays are for work when I don’t care if I am in a suite or not. The times when I want a suite are when I am taking that vacation (on points) and the Hyatt suite upgrades can’t be used. I have 4 Hyatt suite upgrades that will expire this year for that very reason…

  2. I’m going with JohnO on this. The SNAs are a crappy value proposition for 75+ night Platinums. There’s no additional ‘give’ to us as we stay more and more. Plus many properties have done a good job of ‘manipulating’ the system to keep SNAs at bay. Either by lowering the upgrade category (hello upgraded view standard room on SNA) or massaging inventory before the sweep runs. Finally have had issues where SNAs are rescinded and SPG blaimed

  3. I’m with @HangingChad. In general I couldn’t *care less* if I’m upgraded to a suite when I traveling on business. I’ve actually turned down suites that didn’t have a desk/Ethernet setup as good as the regular rooms even though they were bigger. When I’m by myself that’s all I want.

    When traveling for vacation, almost always on points, I’ve done well with those SPG upgrades. I got the second biggest room at the Sheraton Black Rock in MAUI with an absolutely gigantic deck right next to Black Rock that my family and I spent substantial time on. It was A-M-A-Z-I-N-G. Like HangingChad my Hyatt upgrades are sitting unused since I can’t use them on bonus stays.

  4. Totally agree with John O. These are absolutely crap and a waste of time. In fact they caused me MORE frustration with SPG to the extent I actually stopped using SPG altogether. I actually never got one of these stupid things to clear, almost never got upgrades in US properties and just gave up on the program that most consistently over-promises and under-delivers

  5. The Concept to simulate the airline upgrade wait list was brilliant
    The suite upgrades may seem like they are out of the hotels hands buy trust me they are not
    In one case I called the hotel two days before check in when it hadn’t cleared they confirmed the suite manually because we knew someone in common
    right before they did the upgrade I cancelled the suite upgrade award
    Starwood has far to many hotels that hate the volume of Platinums and routinely says there are just to many of you
    That includes the st Regis
    The greatest program historically has been ruined by over priced awards and far too many hotels that no longer get loyalty if they ever will
    This company was once the most promising hotel company on the planet years ago
    I find Marriott and bite my tongue Hilton more interesting even with crappy least the value for revenue can be there
    Yes SPG has some exception hotels that get loyalty but it keeps on getting worse not better
    I nearly use SPG at all now unless transferring points to airline miles
    It’s as if I forgot they were once good to earn and redeem for hotel nights
    Isn’t this also once the program that ran great promotions?
    SPG became a yawn over the years
    To many levels of platinum with too little hard reward
    All smoke and mirrors

  6. I LOVE suite night awards. Without a doubt the best SPG benefit out there. I’ve yet to have one that hasn’t cleared the full five days in advance, and I’ve always gotten fantastic rooms. I love that I’m able to pick the room I want when applying for the night.

    These things have singlehandedly turned great vacations into awesome vacations for me and my wife over the past couple years.

  7. +1 to Hanging Chad’s post. I love them.

    On most of the times the SNAs didn’t go through, I still got an upgrade the day of! I get to use them on award stays, and have had great suites confirmed.

    Hyatt’s confirmed upgrades is way overrated because of the type of upgrades at Park Hyatt Vendome and other top places. With SNAs, you actually get to see the suite you are putting in for. I’ve gotten some amazing suites at high category hotels.

  8. I love the SNA, I have been cleared on almost every request. Although I have one in for this weekend at the W hotel Times Sq which has yet to be cleared. I got my SNA early enough in the year I got to use several but I have some would have expired although I did not know about this until Lucky’s post. One negative I noticed, I want to use my 75 nights 24 hour award and I in writing it looks like the 24 hour request cancels the SNA request. I need to call today for clarification. Good News though on the extension.

  9. I was looking forward to this benefit and have been greatly disappointed. Batting 0 for 6 in attempts. This has about as much value as the “possible” Hilton suite upgrade which as a Diamond I am 1 for 36.

    In both cases there needs to be some incentive or pressure on the local properties to make these benefits work. As they stand now properties can easily ignore them

  10. I love mine! They tend to work about 75% of the time for me. When you are upgraded to a $3400 a night 1500sq/ft apartment on 5th Ave @ The St. Regis, using an award stay, it is pretty hard to complain about the system!!! Not many of us are ever going to spend 10 grand on a long weekend in NY, but it truly is an amazing experience. I used all 10 of my awards last year and remain completely loyal to Starwood. They have earned my 90 stays a year IMHO

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