How Very Unrewarding, Starwood

February 25, 2008

After months of trumpeting the Starwood Preferred Guest program and mere hours after reaffirming my preference for its Westin Hotels chain, I regrettably find myself doing a complete 180 as I declare a personal boycott of all Starwood properties.

According to the New York Post, Starwood – whose properties include the Westin, Sheraton, St. Regis, Le Meridien, and Four Points hotels – has reportedly notified affinity program members that it plans to dramatically raise the number of reward points needed to get a free night at more than 200 of its properties – in some cases by as much as 133%. I never got the email notice supposedly sent to members, so I’ll have to trust the Post on this one.

If it’s true, it’s a big disappointment. Unlike the major airlines, which almost never let me use my frequent flyer miles when I want to, I’ve had great experiences with the Starwood program. Rooms are almost always available where I want to stay and on my preferred night(s). I must have stayed at one of my favorite hotels in the country, the Westin on Market Street in San Francisco, using Starwood points more than a half dozen times in the last year. It would have been half a dozen and one times, but there was an occasion last summer when I was told the hotel was fully booked – even though I was able to subsequently get in by securing a room at the same hotel for the very same night via hotels.com. (Hmmmm… so much for no blackout dates, eh?)

As one blogger pointedly noted, it appears that the Starwood program has been incredibly successful and the company now wants to “steal back tons of Starpoints.” Having used my Starwood card almost exclusively since I received it more than a year ago, I feel cheated. If Starwood wants to change the rules of the game, I’m sure the fine print that came with the sign-up sheet gave the company the right to do so. What may be legally permissible, however, is not in this case customer service-wise. The latter would dictate that those of us who essentially invested in the company by using its co-branded American Express card should be permitted to continue redeeming existing points under the prevailing terms when we signed up for the card.

Assuming Starwood won’t be adding such a grandfather clause, I hope other disappointed program members join me in boycotting the company’s properties. As Starwood is certainly not alone in upping its point redemption requirements recently, I am not sure which, if any, major chain will become my new favorite. There are plenty of quality independent hotels to choose from; perhaps I’ll give some of them a go. Who knows – maybe I’ll even find some with the marketing smarts to offer special discounts for disgruntled Starwood refugees in need of a new hotel to call home.