My Recent Difficulties With SPG

I love the Starwood Preferred Guest Program. I’ve been a Platinum for the last few years and have always been treated well as a top-tier elite. Their points are the most valuable points currency that exists (in my opinion at least) and their customer service is generally top notch. With that being said, I’ve had some interesting situations come up the last few months that I figure might be worth noting in case others run into similar situations.

Note that I’m not looking for any sympathy – I just want to explain how I see things and how SPG responded.

Situation 1

I needed 2 mattress runs last year in order to re-qualify for Platinum status. I booked the mattress runs at a nearby hotel on points since SPG Reward stays count towards elite status and since it was only 3K points for the night. I booked the nights a month in advance since I knew I needed it. One was for 12/21 and the other for 12/29.

Unfortunately I had a really busy day on December 21st and I completely forgot about the mattress run I’d booked. I didn’t remember it until I woke up on the 22nd at 10am. I initially thought to myself “CRAP!”, but then I realized that check-out time isn’t until 11am. I jumped out of bed and raced to the hotel, which was a 20 minute drive away, and told them I’d booked a room for the night before and wanted to check in. The front desk agent looked at me funny, not entirely understanding what’s going on. She checked with her Manager in the back, came back to clarify, and then checked me in. Phew! I went upstairs to the room, jumped up and down on the bed a couple of times, grabbed the bath amenities, and took off.

December 30th came and I still hadn’t received credit for the stays and therefore my account didn’t show that I reached Platinum status again. I contacted SPG on Twitter to ask them to look into it and to confirm that I’d receive Platinum status, and here’s what they said and my response:

 

SPG DMs

 

What they said was essentially that a half day stay does not count as a stay for the purposes of elite credit. I immediately went to read the Terms and Conditions of the SPG program and nowhere does it say that a half day stay isn’t considered a stay for elite purposes, so I mentioned that to them. Here was their response:

 

SPG DMs 2

 

Awesome! It was a close one, but I got credit for the stay. I wouldn’t have if I didn’t follow up with them and didn’t know (or review) the rules of the program, so keep that in mind for future stays in case this ever happens to you.

 

Situation 2

The last few years, Starwood has given Platinums a gift: a choice of either double Starpoints for any month they choose OR 35% off an award stay for up to 5 nights at Category 1-6 hotels. This can be a very valuable coupon if you choose the 35% off as I intended. A 5 night stay at a Category 6 hotel in peak season would normally cost 100K SPG points (remember the 5th night is free on reward redemptions). This coupon would save me 35K SPG points, bringing the price down to just 65K for the 5 nights.

 

SPG Platinums receive a gift via email.

SPG Platinums receive a gift via email.

 

Because of the confusion caused by Situation 1 above, my gift came a little late on 1/15/14. I read the email and read the Terms and Conditions along with it and saw that there wasn’t an expiration date – the only condition was that if I pick the 35% off coupon, I have to use it within 6 months. So I let it sit in my email inbox for a few months until I’d decided how I wanted to use it.

Fast forward to early April and I’ve finally decided where I wanted to use it. I picked a Category 6 hotel during low season, so the price would have been 80K points minus the coupon, which would save me 28K SPG points. I opened the email, clicked on the link, and was greeted with this page:

 

Not what I was hoping to see!

Not what I was hoping to see!

 

Alright, no big deal. I waited a while so maybe the page is simply gone. I reached out to SPG again via Twitter and they asked me to forward the “gift” email to them to review. I did, and they got back to me quickly with the following response:

 

SPG's response.

SPG’s response.

 

Here’s the key points from the email: 1) I was supposed to choose my gift in 2013; 2) It was extended to January 10, 2014 for people that received the email late; 3) They can’t reinstate the coupon but will give me 1K SPG points as compensation.

That’s not cool. First of all, I couldn’t have chosen my gift in 2013 because I qualified on 12/30 and my account didn’t reflect it until early January. Second, they said the selection date was extended to January 10, 2014…but I didn’t even receive the email until January 15. Third, in the email and Terms and Conditions, there’s absolutely no mention of a expiration or “must choose by” date. Fourth, 1K SPG Points?! I was gonna save A LOT more than that with the coupon, which in my mind I deserved. So I responded with the following:

 

My measured response.

My measured response.

 

I could have used a more stern tone, but in my experience that doesn’t get you anywhere. I replied in what I consider to be a calm but clear way of saying “I followed your rules, please give me what I was told I’d receive.” Here was their final response (which came from a different person than responded initially btw):

 

Ouch.

Ouch.

 

If there’s one thing I hate most about pretty much ALL Terms and Conditions pages, it’s the line that essentially says “We reserve the right to do whatever we want.” Starwood pulled that card on me, even though I followed all the rules they laid out. They explained that since it was a “gift” and not a stated benefit, they don’t have to provide it if they don’t want to.

That’s where the conversation ended, and I’m still pretty upset by it. Yes, SPG has the right to deny me the gift. But their reasoning was completely flawed, and when I pointed it out to them, they pulled the “We reserve the right” line on me. That itself is a bit of a victory because at least I know I was right and found that they don’t have a reasonable response to validate their position.

This year is actually a decision year for me. I can either re-up as SPG Platinum or take the Hyatt Diamond challenge and try that program. I’ll see how my travel shakes out the next few months, but I have no problem jumping ship to Hyatt now, whereas before it would have been a slam dunk for me to stay with SPG.

I’d love to know your thoughts on this one. What would you have done? Was I wrong, or was SPG right?

Comments

  1. That’s pretty lame of SPG. They used to have such great customer service, but since the devaluation last year, they haven’t been as good. I barely stay at SPG anymore. I think SPG gold is pretty good and that comes free with AMEX Platinum.

    • Travel Summary says:

      I haven’t had to deal with SPG customer service very often so I didn’t notice a measurable drop in the service. I personally think SPG Gold is barely worth having (I’ll take it if it’s free of course), but I’d rather go with Hilton for mid-tier because of the breakfast benefit.

      I’d be interested to hear if anyone else has noticed a drop in customer service.

  2. It’s as if they’re looking for any reason to take things away from you. I can vouch for Hyatt Diamond!

    • Travel Summary says:

      I’ve heard many wonderful things about Hyatt and seen how they treat their Diamond members. If I make the switch, the only thing I’ll likely miss is the number of hotels available around the world.

  3. That is pretty lame of SPG, I stayed at a W last night and the Checkin girl didn’t even acknowledge my Platinum status. Had to let her know which benefit I wanted.

    If I were you I would jump ship in a heart beat. Hyatt challenge here you come. Only bad thing is that Hyatt doesnt count full points stays for Status, SPG does which is nice.

    • Travel Summary says:

      The thing that’s really enticing me to jump to Hyatt is that cash & points now count towards elite stay. I fully plan on doing the challenge but am hoping it’s extended beyond April as I have several Hyatt stays planned for May/June.

  4. planejaneLA says:

    I had the same thing happen to me in situation 2 and they didn’t even offer me the 1k points. They told me that they had the right to do whatever they wanted after I pointed out the T&C and lack of an expiration date. Instead, they told me that they would hope to welcome me on my 2 planned future stays. I was pretty disappointed. I may switch to Hyatt…

    • Travel Summary says:

      That’s too bad. I think it’s bad form for SPG to pull something like this, especially with their top-tier elites.

  5. Sorry, I feel for you, but in case (a) I would have assumed I wouldn’t get credit at all honestly, and (b) seems to be your own fault. Since there was no mention at all of an expiration date you assumed you could wait for years to decide and then you’d have 6 months to redeem the 35% award? Sorry, no. You should have confirmed your understanding at the time you received the award. I do agree that SPG should make the language more clear, but they certainly are in the right to their understanding here.

  6. Sharona says:

    Is the expectation that everyone should requalify by mid year? Why did they even send the email for a promo that was already expired? Have you escalated this? It would definitely send me running to Hyatt. Just reading about them doing that to a top tier elite makes me less likely to try to rise above my lowly gold status.

    • Travel Summary says:

      The expectation is definitely not mid-year…it is calendar year. As to your last two questions, I have no idea! Everyone keeps saying wonderful things about Hyatt so I may do just that.

  7. Patty Sodaro says:

    My experience with Starwood has been that they are very firm. If they make an exception for one guest then they would be obligated to make it to everyone else. I tried to get additional bonus points offered but had expired before hand when we purchased A TON of Starpoints. We have spent many thousands of dollars in timeshare purchases with them and are Platinum members. They didn’t budge and I spoke to the manager or some other person with authority. No chance. By the way, we never receive the “gifts” you have been offered. Good luck to you in the future.

  8. Switch to Hyatt. I’m currently at the Park Hyatt Dubai as a Diamond and enjoying my suite upgrade for a week on a points and cash stay. Free breakfast buffet and anything from the menu each morning as well as complimentary mini bar refilled twice a day.

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