For my family’s annual post-xmas-but-before-school-resumes trip I was planning Cape Town, South Africa (previously discussed here and here). That trip fell through. We had intended to visit a friend who lives in Cape Town but she won’t be available during our vacation. Plus, while I originally thought that we had almost two weeks available, I’ve since learned that we really only have one. Cape Town can wait.
Instead of Cape Town, we considered other warm weather destinations that would be a bit easier to get to: Florida Keys, Central or South America, Caribbean Islands, or even Hawaii. Even though Hawaii is the furthest afield, we’ve loved every trip we’ve taken there and are always eager to return.
St Regis Princeville
When considering our vacation options a few months ago, I looked into award night availability at the St. Regis Princeville. It’s an ultra deluxe property on our favorite of the Hawaiian islands: Kauai. Award nights at the St. Regis go for a jaw dropping 35,000 Starpoints per night. By staying 5 nights, though, the average rate would drop to 28,000 points per night thanks to Starwood’s 5th Night Free awards.
Regular rooms weren’t available for our dates of interest, but I called and found that I could book 5 nights in a deluxe ocean view room for 151,000 points. That comes to 30,200 points per night. Only 2,100 extra points per night for a confirmed ocean view upgrade? Sounds good to me.
Even though I had no idea if we’d really pick Hawaii for our destination, I went ahead and booked the stay. I have up until mid-November to cancel for free. I put a few reminders in my calendar to consider cancelling as that date comes near.
The SPG Platinum Hope
I had read reports that the St. Regis offers free breakfast and room upgrades to Starwood Platinum members. Given that breakfasts at this hotel are surely crazy expensive, that alone would be a huge perk.
But, at the time I didn’t have Platinum status and I didn’t really have any chance of acquiring it in time for the trip. I did have one long-shot hope though. I hoped that through the Marriott / Starwood merger, my Marriott Platinum status would translate to Platinum benefits at the St. Regis. If you had asked me to bet on it, though, I would have said no way, shared benefits would not happen that fast.
Marriott SPG comes through
Last week, the Marriott SPG merger was approved and the new combined company stunned us all by announcing immediate availability of status matches and point transfers. Simply by linking accounts, your highest level of status in either program would become your status in both programs. Gold = Gold; Platinum = Platinum. See: Marriott SPG Complete Guide to Sweet Opportunities.
Out of nowhere, I was suddenly SPG Platinum!
The Marriott Alternative
You might think that my upgrade to Platinum status sealed the deal. Now we’ll go to Hawaii and stay at the St. Regis for sure and enjoy those platinum perks… Right?
Not so fast… The merger brought with it another benefit: the ability to transfer points from SPG to Marriott at a 1 to 3 ratio. In other words, 1,000 SPG Starpoints becomes 3,000 Marriott Rewards points. Or, to give an example more relevant to my St. Regis reservations, 151,000 Starpoints equals 453,000 Marriott Rewards points.
Now lets look at Marriott’s award charts:
And, then there’s the Ritz Carlton chart (Ritz properties can be booked with Marriott points):
45,000 is the top of the Marriott award chart, and 70,000 is the top of the top of the Ritz award chart. And, like SPG, Marriott/Ritz offers 5th Night Free awards. So, the most expensive (in points) Marriott properties in the world would cost 45,000 x 4 = 180,000 points for a 5 night stay. And the most expensive (in points) Ritz properties in the world would cost 70,000 x 4 = 280,000 points for a 5 night stay.
In other words, those same 151,000 SPG points, which now equal 453,000 Marriott Rewards points, could very nearly get me a 5 night stay in the most expensive Marriott property in the world plus a 5 night stay in the most expensive Ritz property in the world!
Or, I could buy a Hotel + Air package and settle for 7 nights at a top-tier Marriott property. If I bought a package for 390,000 Marriott Rewards points I would also get 120,000 airline miles of my choice (or 132,000 United miles). If I bought this package at the beginning of a calendar year and selected Southwest points, I would also get a companion pass good for unlimited flights for the rest of that year and all of the next! And I would still have 63,000 Marriott Rewards points left over.
The devilish details
On the surface it appears to be a no-brainer. I would get so much more value from 3X Marriott Rewards points than Starwood points that I shouldn’t even consider the St. Regis.
There are, though, a few important details to note…
- The Marriott and Ritz award prices detailed above are for standard rooms only.
- Upgrades with points to better rooms via Marriott tend to be much more expensive than with Starwood at top properties. Marriott claims that upgrades cost only 5,000 points per night, but hotels are allowed to require multiple upgrades per night if they want to. And they often do.
- Marriott resorts are not required to offer free breakfast to Platinum members. Most do not.
- Ritz Carlton properties do not offer any breakfast or club benefits to Platinum members at all.
- In my experience, Marriott standard awards tend to be harder to find than Starwood awards.
A Marriott Example
I searched Marriott’s website for my dates of travel to see if any decent Hawaii properties were available for award stays during our holiday break. The only options included a number of Courtyard properties, the Waikiki Beach Marriott Resort & Spa, and the Wailea Beach Marriott Resort & Spa. Courtyard properties are usually mid-tier hotels — not even remotely comparable to a stay at the St. Regis. And, I’m no fan of Waikiki (too spring-break-ish). So, I looked at award availability at the Wailea Beach Marriott Resort & Spa. It’s on the island of Maui which is almost as awesome as Kaui, so it’s well worth a look:
Here were the available room awards for a 5 night stay:
The room that on the surface appears to be most comparable to what I booked at the St. Regis is the Deluxe ocean view room which would cost 335,000 points for the stay. That’s far more than the Marriott “top tier” rate of 180,000 points for 5 nights.
Still, 335,000 points is considerably less than the 453,000 points I’d spend at the St. Regis. But what about Platinum perks? Check out this FlyerTalk thread which keeps track of Marriott properties that offer free breakfast and/or club access to Marriott elites. Here’s what it says about the Wailea Beach Marriott Resort & Spa:
Platinums can get a discounted breakfast for $24.50
And, a Trip Advisor review (found here) suggests that the discounted breakfast rate is per person.
So the Wailea Beach Marriott Resort & Spa would be cheaper in points than the St. Regis, but more expensive for breakfast. While its still arguably a better “deal” than the St. Regis, its not the slam dunk I expected.
A Ritz Example
I took a look at the Ritz Carlton Kapalua. They didn’t have the exact same dates available, but 5 nights were available if we checked in one day later.
Here was the result of the award search:
No ocean view rooms were available, but there was a resort view room available for only 240,000 points. Of course breakfast would not be included.
How about the Grand Hyatt Kauai?
If we really want to stay on the island of Kauai (and we do!), the Grand Hyatt is another great option. Award nights are available. At 25,000 points per night, the total would come to 125,000 points for 5 nights.
My wife still has Hyatt Diamond status thanks to last year’s brief but otherwise wide-open status match. By booking from her account we would have access to the Regency Club where we would get free breakfast and snacks. And, if the hotel isn’t too full, we may get a nice room upgrade as well.
Decision Time is Coming
My family and I have had the great fortune to vacation on each of Hawaii’s major islands. Except for Oahu, we loved each one. By a small margin, though, Kauai was our favorite thanks to its jaw dropping beauty at every turn. We stayed on the southern, sunny, tip of Kauai, in Poipu. That’s where the Grand Hyatt is. While Poipu itself was incredible, I’d love to try the north side of the island as well. And that’s where we’ll find the St. Regis.
Honestly, I don’t know yet what we’ll do. We’re in the fantastic situation of having more points than we know what to do with. If we want to, we can afford to drop 151,000 SPG points at the St. Regis. But, then again, those points can theoretically go so much further…