Starwood Hotels: Redeeming Starwood Points (2/5)

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The following is the second article of a five part series covering points earned for Starwood Preferred Guest (SPG) hotels. The following was written by my brother, an avid travel hacker who has qualified for Platinum Elite Status in the SPG program.


FI Fighter has asked me to share some of my Travel Hacking tips for hotels! I have extensive experience with staying in Starwood Properties: AloftElementFour PointsLe MeridienSheratonWestinWSt. Regis, and The Luxury Collection.

I’ll cover the following:

  1. Earning Starwood Points
  2. Redeeming Starwood Points
  3. The Value of a Starwood Point
  4. Starwood Elite Status
  5. My Starwood Strategy

Redeeming Starwood Points

You can redeem Starwood points at StarwoodHotels.

Free Nights:

Starwood has 7 different categories for their hotels.

The sweet spot for me is the Category 4 and 5 in North America. These 3 to 4 star hotels are usually located in good locations for tourists. For example, Times Square in NYC or Millennium Park in Chicago.

Category 1 hotels are pretty much nonexistent in North America.

Category 2 and 3 are typically near the airport, or far away from downtown.

Category 6 and 7 are the fancy 5 star hotels which cost far too many Starwood points for me to justify staying in.

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Fifth Night Free:

One great way to redeem points is for the Fifth Night Free.

For Category 3 – 7 hotels, you can get a 5th night free, when redeeming for five nights. That’s a 20% savings per night.

Normally, if you stay at a Category 4 hotel for 4 nights, it would cost 40,000 Starwood points.

But, this is also the same amount of Starwood points if you were to stay 5 nights!

So why not stay for another night? 😉


My favorite way to spend Starwood points is to use Cash+Points!

These award nights cost 50% less Starwood points than with Free Nights awards, but does include a cash component.

This is the best way to stretch your hard earned Starwood points, and save money.

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Again, I think the best bang for the buck is at Categories 4 and 5.

Free Nights vs. Cash+Points:

If there is a standard room available at a hotel, then you can redeem it for a Free Nights award. There are No Blackout Dates.

However, Cash+Points are capacity controlled, and may not be available for the dates you want. But, I’m usually pretty lucky with Cash+Points awards when I book a few months out.

In addition, hotels typically charge taxes on paid reservations.

However, if you redeem points for Free Night awards, you don’t pay any of these taxes!

Although, some resorts do have “Resort Fees” that can’t be avoided.

In contrast, Cash+Points are still subject to taxes.

Hotel Cancellations:

Another great value play when redeeming Starwood points for free nights is that you can typically cancel the reservations up to 24 hours before check-in. However, some hotels do require 48 hours prior.

This gives me extreme flexibility when planning a trip, since I can make hotel bookings without requiring a solid itinerary. Therefore, I can book speculatively, and simply cancel later with no penalty.

In contrast, if I were to book with cash at the lowest standard rate, these reservations would be nonrefundable!

Is It Worth It?

Sheraton Senggigi Beach Resort:

This Beach Resort in Lombok, Indonesia, is a Category 1 hotel.

If you had 30,000 Starwood Points:

With Free Night Awards, you could stay ~10 days

With Cash+Points, you could stay ~20 days and spend roughly ~$780 (Tax/Fees not included).

(20 days x $30) = $600

(60 gift cards x $3) = $180

Total = $780

The St. Regis Bora Bora Resort:

This Beach resort in Bora Bora, French Polynesia, is a Category 7 hotel.

If you had 30,000 Starwood Points:

With Free Night Awards, you could stay 1 day.

With Cash+Points, you could stay 2 days and spend roughly ~$730 (Tax/Fees not included).

(2 days x $275) = $550

(60 gift cards x $3) = $180

Total = $730

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Depending on your situation, you can opt to spend your Starwood points for many stays at a lower Category hotel, or use the Starwood points for shorter, once in a lifetime experiences, like the St. Regis!

It all comes down to personal preference, but don’t stress out, you’re coming out way ahead in this game! Enjoy the memories!

Breakeven Point:

Here is table for Free Night Awards which breaks down the out of pocket costs when buying Starwood points at .6 cents.

Since you bought Starwood points at .6 cents, this is typically the breakeven point.

Basically, check the lowest standard rate at StarwoodHotels, for the hotel you want to stay in, and if the rate is higher than the column in gray below, then you will be saving lots of $$$$.

Imagine staying in an expensive city like NYC where a hotel typically costs $300 per night! But instead, you would only be paying $72 for a category 5 hotel in NYC.

Points Only:

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For the most part, hotel prices fluctuate every day, but when using Starwood points to redeem for free nights, the amount of Starwood points remains the same for each hotel category. This is valuable when booking last minute, as hotels will charge the most cash for these last minute bookings. So instead, redeem with Starwood points, and save the extra cash!

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Living Proof

Living Proof is an avid real estate investor with a strong case of Wanderlust. He enjoys talking about his crazy lifestyle of collecting frequent flyer miles and hotel points. Within the next year, he hopes to declare early FI and to travel the world!
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FI Pilgrim
6 years ago

Wow, y’all make travel hacking look easy and attractive. Great write-up for us beginners!

6 years ago

Thank you for the details. I will try to remember this page for future use.


[…] Starwood Hotels: Redeeming Starpoints – This isn’t a travel hacking blog, but one that focuses on personal finance. Reader Tony is currently contributing a series on the Starwood program, which is a great read for newbies. […]

Living At Home
6 years ago

Great pointers! Thanks for sharing.


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