What Exciting New Platinum Benefits are Coming to Starwood Preferred Guest?

Barbara De Lollis reports on her conversation with Westin’s new brand chief and asks about elite recognition.

“We’re working closely with SPG to figure out how not only to deliver SPG awards, but a branded award as part of that,” Brian Povinelli, the newly named brand chief for the 179-location chain told me the other day.

“Mid-year 2011, we expect to roll out some new platinum amenities and preferred member amenities that will be more in a brand voice,” he says.

Now, Starwood definitely needs to improve their elite offerings. What was once a market leader has seen competitors catch up and even surpass them, while Starwood’s elite offerings have remained fairly constant for years.

Starwood Platinums do get good space available upgrades, best available room at checkin up to and including standard suites. Marriott and Hilton top tiers specifically exclude suites although hotels sometimes still deliver them. Of course Hyatt offers confirmed suites four times a year to Diamonds. But at hotels where Platinums don’t get a meaningful upgrade, and that have no lounge, there’s really no unique benefit to being a Platinum member other than the 500 point check-in amenity. (Ok, internet, but that’s quickly become standard across chains. And of course welcome amenities are common as well.)

So some new recognition is due. I was disappointed once I heard ‘more in a brand voice’ because I read that as ‘meaningless.’

Now, I could be wrong, but what clues Barbara does offer aren’t exactly encouraging.

While he declined to reveal specifics just yet, he did hint that one possibility might involve New Balance fitness gear.

This wasn’t exciting when Westin was “Powered by Reebok” and it isn’t exciting now. Hope they can get more thoughtful…

Truth be told, I still have faith, and I don’t think that what Westin has up its branded sleeve is the extent of what’s cooking up in White Plains. They currently have the most lucrative hotel promotion in the market, so they haven’t forgotten how to leverage their loyalty program. And they do know that the rest of the world has been catching up. It might just be basing expectations on hope over experience but I still expect something big out of Starwood and sooner rather than later.

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 InsideFlyer.com, 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. Just a general comment. It might be useful to tag people’s comments with the date.

    I know the articles are dated but sometimes people make comments on them much later and it can be harder to get a frame of reference as to when they made the comment.

  2. My wife read in a magazine that Westins allow guests to borrow New Balance running shoes with changeable inserts.

    I was somewhat surprised to learn of this through a magazine, but perhaps the editors jumped the gun and described this upcoming amenity.

    Never have I heard about Westins offering running shoes to guests, but I have to say it would be nice so I could save packing space.

  3. @Gary – as you know, we live in a business culture of bill payers and zero sum when it comes to additional costs, so if Starwood adds something substantial to their elite program, such as breakfast or better rewards, would there likely be an offset?

  4. @Carl, other programs have literally improved. Hyatt got great 2 years ago. Starwood has done takebacks on the award side gradually over the years. They’ve done little gestures at the margin, and sure they added free internet for Plats (after Hyatt introduced). But nothing big in years…

  5. @Gary – agreed and would love to see some more substantial upgrades to the program such as breakfast for Plats where there is no lounge and reasonable award pricing for aspirational properties. But I wonder if cost is driving their decision-making rather than the potential of sustaining and expanding their loyal customer base.

  6. What Starwood desperately needs is to offer their Platinums free breakfast! For example, I have never received free breakfast at any W hotel. When I go to Taipei in a few weeks, there are four downtown Starwood hotels. Le Meridien, Westin and Sheraton all offer free breakfast as well as free afternoon tea and evening cocktails to their Platinum members. Le Meridien even offers Platinums the full breakfast buffet in their main restaurant. Meanwhile the W offers a free upgrade, if you are lucky enough to get one. Does it make sense for that hotel’s Platinum benefits to be significantly weaker than the rest. When I inquired why the W Taipei does not offer free breakfast to their Platinums, they responded that they wish to offer a different type of experience… I guess that means an experience where they don’t have to give much for free!

    Some hotels that do offer free breakfast limit their breakfast offerings. For example, the Sheraton Hong Kong offers free breakfast buffet in their main restaurant, but only for the cold buffet section. If you want free hot breakfast, you must pay extra. I find this annoying. However, I find offering ZERO breakfast even worse.

    At the moment, I’m focusing on renewing my top tier status with SPG only because of their current promotion, but once it ends, I will probably switch to Hyatt because they are significantly more generous. Even Hilton offers free breakfast. SPG, why the lag?

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