Finally SPG Platinum, and my St. Regis dilemma

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

SPG Platinum at 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:

Marriott_Award_Chart.png

And, then there’s the Ritz Carlton chart (Ritz properties can be booked with Marriott points):

SPG points to miles

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…

  1. The Marriott and Ritz award prices detailed above are for standard rooms only.
  2. 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.
  3. Marriott resorts are not required to offer free breakfast to Platinum members. Most do not.
  4. Ritz Carlton properties do not offer any breakfast or club benefits to Platinum members at all.
  5. 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:

wailea-beach-marriott-resort-and-spa-outside-photo

Here were the available room awards for a 5 night stay:

marriott-wailea-beach-resort-spa

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.

ritz-carlton-kapalua

Here was the result of the award search:

ritz-carlton-kapalua-award-availability

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?

grand-hyatt-kaua-exteriori

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.

grand-hyatt-kauai

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…

About Greg The Frequent Miler

Greg is the owner, founder, and primary author of the Frequent Miler. He earns millions of points and miles each year, mostly without flying, and dedicates this blog to teaching others how to do the same.

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Comments

  1. It’s certainly a nice problem to have, and I can relate. Our churn team is sitting on over 1M Starpoints, and with SPG’s generous points-sharing rules, we can pool them all in one person’s account if we choose. Couple that with their incredible versatility and–sigh–with the Marriott merger there are now just so many amazing options! I just have to keep reminding myself that whatever option we choose, we’re going to have a lot of fun!

    • I still don’t understand how your team can churn over 1M Starpoints. Did your team do the churning before AMEX’s once-per-life-time bonus policy?

  2. The miles are there to be used Greg. For the average person I might not recommend burning that many star points but for you and the amount of manufactured spend you do you can earn them back easier than most. You will never forget the view from the St Regis Princeville so go for it.

    In your delima I would do GH as 2nd option and the ritz Kapalua is not a bad third option frankly.

    Good luck.

  3. Because Marriott has a “no blackout dates” policy rather than a “guaranteed award availability” policy, you may want to keep checking if there is a more desirable property that is showing unavailable. While SPG has to give you a standard room if it is available, Marriott only requires that hotels allocate a certain number of rooms to award availability every night, so there can easily be standard rooms available for cash that are not available for points. Those rooms may very well be released for points at a later date. I find this particularly true of IHG, but have also seen it at Marriotts.
    On the other hand, if you have a ready supply or large inventory of SPG points, I would take the place I really want and not worry about a cheaper alternative. Especially don’t revisit the original decision by bringing the Hyatt back into it. If you had really wanted the Hyatt, it was available when you booked the StR, so you would have booked it then.

  4. I’ve done both Princeville and Kapalua. Princeville is something quite special. It’s on the far side of Kauai away from everything and the property is phenomenal. I know the value isn’t necessarily there, but it is truly a once in a lifetime experience focused on relaxation. My understanding is the Grand Hyatt doesn’t even compare.

  5. I’ve stayed at all the hotels you’re considering and would recommend the St. Regis. I’ve gotten lucky with Platinum upgrades to a Jr Suite, from which the views are indeed unforgettable (this is coming from a Hawaii native). Hanalei is a great town, with more local authenticity than the resort areas of Poipu and Kapalua. The Grand Hyatt is nice but by no means a luxury hotel. The Ritz Kapalua is out of the way, but service there is solid.

  6. You and wife should get the Fairmont card and stay at the Fairmont wailea. It’s comes with suite upgrades and can be used with award nights. Pay cash for 5th night 🙂

  7. The St. Regis Princeville is amazing, however it’s on the wrong side of the island for the time of the year you’re going. The north is very rainy and windy in the winter, and the ocean will be very rough. The beautiful view that is shown in the picture was likely taken on a calm summer day, it probably won’t like quite like that with cloudy skies and rain in the winter.

  8. Oh how I love Kauai! For points rich people like yourself, I would just book what you really want, even if it costs more. For points poor people like me, I’d ignore the free breakfast value in my analysis, and purchase cereal and milk for the room fridge. Although I love luxury, its more about “getting to go,” so I have to make our points stretch.

    Love this analysis. I learn so much from you! Keep it coming.

  9. I agree with Tommy 100%. December/January are often rainy & windy even in Poipu, but definitely windy & cold with rough seas up in Princeville that time of year. I LOVE the GH Kauai, however, and would go there during any weather conditions.

  10. I’ve stayed at the Ritz Kapalua once and had a wonderful time (I am Marriott Plat). It can be rainy there occasionally, but the hotel is beyond solid. Prices for food weren’t terrible from what I remember either. Going off memory, I think even their non-ocean view rooms have a view of the ocean, just obstructed. I am a Marriott Platinum and was upgraded into a suite. I’m not sure if that was because it was lower season, but the hotel was sold out the two nights following our stay. We ended up booking a base room and were upgraded based on status to a two room suite with kitchenette which was fantastic. I want to say we also had a plate of fruit as a welcome gift in the room as well.

  11. I wouldn’t stay at Marriott in Wailea. Your kids will be sorely disapointed when they see the Grand Wailea pool next door and can’t go in. There is walkway that runs the entire length of the resorts from Marriott down to Four Seasons, that everyone uses there is no way they will miss it.

    Wailea is beautiful, and is my preferred area on Maui. But unless you burn some Hilton points to do a faux check-in and use the pools, I suspect your kids will riot.

  12. How is it we so often deny ourselves what we really want because we are consistently motivated to squeeze the utmost value out of every point? More than once in this piece I read how Kauai is your favorite island (mine, too). Plus, it’s a vacation trip (!) at Christmastime (!), and you have enough points to make it happen. Make yourself happy. Kauai! St. Regis! Book it! I imagine you’ll be able to replenish your points in no time. Life is short and Bali Hai is calling.

  13. The hands down, no doubt about it choice is the Grand Hyatt. Princeville is much wetter/cloudier and isolated. Traveling all that way in winter you want the most sun as possible which is in Poipu.

  14. Families into Volcanos shouldn’t forget about the Mauna Kea on the Big Island, either – Idyllic beach, and a steal at just under 10k Starpoints/night for a 5-night stay.

  15. Options are good, too many can be maddening, like looking at a multifaceted gem until you go blind.
    Consider Marriott platinums also get room upgrades (even in Hawaii). we did Waikoloa for a week on a air/room package just before the category was raised, they upgraded us to a large room that overlooked the pools and you could see A-bay beyond that. They also just added Mauna Kea to their big island properties, which is an excellent place from what I’ve read.
    You mention wanting to do a Kauai, if that is a priority then stay at st. regis. it is arguably the best hotel on the island. On Maui the ritz is not all that, resort fees, high food costs and forced valet parking, don’t make their small rooms much of a family value. You pay less points at the regular Marriott at wailea, it is a few doors down, just past Ulua beach.
    We prefer VRBO in Kehei and just visit the Wailea area for Ulua beach, darnnit now I have to go check flights for a Hawaii trip, thanks Greg.

  16. My son stayed at st Regis at xmas on his honeymoon 2 years ago. The weather was awful for an entire week. They stayed at the Hyatt the following 6 nights weather was perfect. Another son lives in Seattle goes to Hawaii 3 -4 x per year with friends. All can afford any hotel and they like top hotels . In the summer they stay at st regis. In winter four seasons on Maui.

    We stayed at Hyatt and will stay there next time we go. We loved it.

  17. I wanted to ask about this merger. We just received the Amex platinum card which gives us gold status with SPG. We need to merge our Marriott points with SPG. We have more Marriott points than SPG so should I transfer my SPG points to Marriott or Marriott points to SPG. Which way gets me Gold status at Marriott.
    Thanks for all your advise

  18. I am also planning for a trip to hawaii during thanks giving weekend. How is the grand hyatt in kauai ? i am planning to split 6 nights between maui and kauai. 4 in ritz and 2 in gh kauai. Is this good option or should i consider 3 +3 ? all are points stay.

    • Loved the Grand Hyatt.
      Will definitely stay there again.
      What hotel on Maui?
      We would easily do 6 nights at the Grand Hyatt. Then you don’t have to spend a day traveling in the middle of your vacation.
      The lounge is very good, you could even eat dinner there several nights, depending on the hot item. It was grilled shrimp one night, just made an entree out of it. Plenty of good salad and side type dishes. It’s worth paying the extra points if you are not Diamond. Good breakfast and water, coffee and soft drinks all day.

      • In maui planning to stay in Ritz carlton kapalua. So just finding hard to decide where to stay in maui( Marriott resort and spa or Ritz ) and how many days ( 3 or 4 days)? Any input would be appreciated . Do we have enough to spend on kauai for 3 days ?

    • After experiencing Hawaii in many ways previously, the wife and I did this exact itinerary for our 10th anniversary. You are spot on. Do the ritz for 5 days in Maui (Hawaiian Air 1st class to Kauai is only another 50 or so per person from a coach seat) then finish 5 days in Kauai. You are doing yourself a disservice if you don’t do an ocean view at the St. Regis. That vista is the last thing I want to see before I die. There’s nothing like it in the world. Also, the Princeville experience is far more “authentic” and restful Hawaii than the southern part of the island.

      For anyone looking for a less expensive point option, the Courtyard on coconut beach is a wonderful property, oceanside and inexpensive all around (for Hawaii)

  19. Thanks for the input everyone!
    Many of you had me convinced to stick with the St. Regis until a few piped in about how bad the weather is likely to be that time of year.

    We just learned, though, that my wife needs to be in Europe at the end of that week, so we might cross the Atlantic for our vacation rather than crossing the Pacific. Any recommendations for a nice vacation spot for that time of year? It doesn’t have to be swimming warm weather but preferably sweater-weather or warmer.

    By the way, our son will be 17 at the time so we don’t need kid activities

    • Sweater-weather or warmer at the end of December in Europe may limit you to the Canaries. Tenerife is probably the most “interesting” of the islands, and the Ritz-Carlton Abama property might be interesting for you. It’s definitely located on the sunnier south side of the island (especially compared to our house, located in Icod de los Vinos, which is unfortunately on the cloudier, colder north side of Tenerife! Darn!)

      Regularly scheduled flights to Tenerife (TCI, either TFS or TFN) from Europe.

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