SPG quick guide
The recently combined group of Starwood and Marriott saw the merging of the two rewards programs to create Starwood Preferred Guest, or SPG. Even though it is the worst program for the big five hotel groups in terms of paid nights needed before you earn a free night, it has a good exchange for airline points compared to other most other hotel groups (this can vary, depending on the airline). You get 1:1 for Velocity and Krisflyer, (Qantas is not part of the program), but transfers require a 2,500 minimum, with a 5,000 bonus if you transfer 20,000 points. Only IHG for stays within Australia offers a better deal, where the rate is three points per dollar spent. SPG also has a large range of options for earning points and status outside of staying at the hotels. We will cover them in a future article.

In brief
Points earned per dollar: 2 per US dollar, which is 1.5 per AUD (at $AUD1=$US0.75)

Points earned per $A300 night: 450

Points needed for free night at same hotel: 12,000

Number of nights needed: 27

Benefit as a percentage of spend on room: 3.8% benefit: 14% per night which equates to 2.7 free nights at $A300 per night and $324 in cash, or $1134 in total.

Advantages: free Wi-Fi, options to earn bonus points during promotions. A discount of 1-3% for booking directly at Options to earn status and points without staying at the hotel

Disadvantages: SPG points are calculated in US dollars. This effectively cuts the earn rate to 1.5 points per Australian dollar. Points expire if there is no activity in a calendar year. The SPG calendar year system for determining status may inhibit your ability to get higher status in the first year. See below*.

The SPG program has the highest number of stays required at 27 nights. The next tier, Gold, is earned after 10 stays or 25 nights in one calendar year. If you managed to have 10 separate stays, the bump in points earned is substantial at 3 Starpoints per US dollar or 2.25 points per Australian dollar. Assuming you did this as 10 separate nights during a calendar year, this would bring you down to 21 nights before you get a free night. As noted above, SPG has different ways to earn points and status without staying at the hotel, and that will be covered in a future article. Perhaps these extra points-earning options are why it is harder to gain both status and a free night by staying at the hotel.

*That's the catch with SPG, tiers are based on calendar years, not membership years. It's not an issue if you've been a member for 2 years and stay regularly, but if you join and start staying at hotels later in the calendar year, you'll have less time to earn status. For example if you were to join in late June and planned to stay to stay 10 times over the next 12 months, your first year as a member is only six months before it resets. So you could be in a situation in your first 12 month period where you stay and should qualify for the higher status by having 10 stays, but because half-way through on January 1, nights contributing to status will be reset. You might be at, for example, eight stays by December 31, with two more in January. In this case you won't qualify. Other hotel programs start your membership year when you join, so your first membership year is 12 months long. In this case, you would qualify as the 10 nights fall within the 12 month window.

For an overview of the major hotel rewards programs, and which offer the best value, see Which hotel loyalty program should you join?