Wherever I travel in the world my preferred choice for hotels is Starwood hotels within the Starwood Group. (Next comes Relais Chateau. They happily co-exists as most of the time the locations for a Relais Chateau property are unique and there is no Starwood options). I have been a loyal member of the Starwood Preferred Guest (SPG) Program for a very long time.
In as such I have had lots of experience with using loyalty points for free room nights. I thought I would pass on a few pointers. I am sure these can apply to many major hotel chains, but these are my experiences with Starwood.
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Pay attention to offers in your email. Once you have booked a stay with points you will often receive emails from the property offering you upgrades for an additional charge. Look at those closely. These are often stellar deals.
Last May I used points to stay at the Westin Paris – Vendôme. This is a ritzy property with beautiful views of the Tuileries Garden among other iconic Parisian sites. After booking a stay I received an email to upgrade to a higher (in terms of location) room with a better view for $100 more a night plus breakfast for two each day during my stay. For me this was a special stay (as the amount per night is rather high) so I decided it was worth if to pay an additional $100 a night. My view was spectacular.
What was more spectacular was that the breakfast buffet at the Westin costs 48 Euros a person (a total rip-off, please don't eat breakfast in large chain hotels in Paris, you can get a far better breakfast in a brasserie or bar around the corner!). That is nearly 100 Euros a day I did not have to pay for because my deal included breakfast as well.
Always ask about additional availability. This past December I booked a room at the Westin in Key West using points. It was a standard room with a garden or pool view. When I booked it, it seemed fine, but when I arrived and saw that is was a corner room right under the stairs with not just a view of the pool, but practically in it, I was a bit disappointed. Added on top of that was the fact the door to the room did not lock and would have to be repaired.
Armed with this information and gold member status (now platinum as of 2012) I went back to the front desk to see what I could make happen. Knowing that it was Christmas I was not surprised when they said they had no other rooms available. I then asked about upgrading. There was limited availability but there was one option: a two bedroom suite was available for an additional supplement a day. We hadn't planned on having to pay anything, but decided it was for the best. The room was wonderful and had an amazing view. The extra space for 5 days and 4 nights made it worth it in the end. Without asking, it would have never been offered.
Sometimes the lesser room is not the lesser room. I have been to Moorea (French Polynesia) three times and for two of those visits I stayed at the Sheraton Moorea (sadly no longer a Starwood property, but if you are a Hilton loyalty member, its all yours now). The first time I arrived (paying by points) I was disappointed to learn that instead of one of those bungalows you always see in pictures where they are on top of the water, I would have a garden cottage. It was their standard offering when paying by points, which I completely understood, but I was disappointed all the same.
I had a wonderful time during my stay, the garden cottages were more private, bigger and it was more convenient to get to amenities, etc. On a subsequent shorter visit I had the opportunity to stay in one of the bungalows on the water, and by the second day I was over it. The room was smaller, it was a pain to get in and out of. It was longer to get to the beach, etc. Turns out that “standard” room was superior. So on my third stay I was all too happy to have a garden cottage again!
Just three tips I wanted to share as they have really helped define many of my hotel-stay-with-points experiences.
How about you? Have any others to add?