Booking Strategy Frequent Flyer

Starwood Offers Members-Only Discounts

Starwood this week began offering discounts of up to 10 percent to members of its Preferred Guest program. The discount scheme is off to a rocky start, however.

Starwood this week began offering discounts of up to 10 percent to members of its Preferred Guest program.

Everybody loves a discount, right? And signing up for a hotel’s loyalty program, if you’re not already a member, is a pretty low hurdle.

There is, however, one additional requirement to be eligible for the SPG discount: You must book the stay directly with Starwood. In other words, banish all thoughts of booking on Expedia, or, or other channels that might offer better prices, more convenient terms, or a heftier loyalty-program payout.

Now, about that discount. Here’s the claim, in Starwood’s own words: “Save up to 10% on our lowest available rates at select hotels.” There’s a lot of wiggle room there. But it would appear to promise that if there is an SPG rate displayed for a particular hotel on a particular night—and there might not be—then SPG members can at least be confident that it reflects a discount of some magnitude.

In my own test bookings, that turned out not to be true.

For example, a weekend night at the Chicago W hotel may be booked for $195 at the AAA rate, typically a good proxy for the lowest available rate. The SPG Member Exclusive rate for the same room on the same night? $195 as well. So, no discount. And with the AAA rate, there’s no penalty for changes or cancellations, and there’s no deposit required. Whereas with the SPG rate, there is a penalty for changes and cancellations, and a deposit is required.

So, in this and other cases, the SPG Member Exclusive Rate not only wasn’t the lowest, it was also a notably worse deal due to its more onerous terms and conditions.

This is a newly launched pricing initiative for Starwood, so it’s possible that these disconnects are anomalous bugs that will be squashed in the coming days or weeks.

In the meantime: Trust, but verify. Or, better: Be skeptical, and keep price-shopping.

Reader Reality Check

Do you normally book on the hotels’ own websites, or through online travel agencies? Will members-only discounts change your preference?

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By Tim Winship

After 20 years working in the travel industry, and 15 years writing about it, Tim Winship knows a thing or two about travel. Follow him on Twitter @twinship.