One multiple-night stay or multiple one-night stays?

  I love walking Brickell Key while in Miami, but where to stay?

I love walking Brickell Key while in Miami, but where to stay?

As I have written, I was in Miami a few weeks ago for the Georgia Tech-Miami football game. My trip was a quick two-night stay - down Friday after work, back Sunday night. My hotel reservation would seem like a straightforward task - book a two-night stay, right? Yes and no. I actually wound up booking separate nights at two different hotels. Given that I was staying in the Miami-Fort Lauderdale area for the entire weekend and everything I was visiting was accessible from either hotel, why did I make this choice? It came down to a chance to achieve SPG Gold Preferred status in 2016 and the bonus point potential that brings.

When going to an area for a few days, most people will book a single hotel stay without much thought. This certainly makes sense and I do this at times. Staying in a hotel and moving on to another property the next night definitely carries non-financial costs. You have to pack all your things and you have to make arrangements for your luggage during the day. Unless you have the ability to check-in to the new property early, you have no landing spot during the day should you want to take a break or drop something off.

Many of my trips over the years have been road trips or included multiple cities. It is rare that I stay in a hotel for more a couple of nights and staying in a different property each night is not uncommon. I am used to the routine of packing up and leaving a hotel for good each morning. In fact, sometimes it feels odd to walk out of a room in the morning without luggage in tow! However, if the inconvenience is not too great, booking multiple stays in an area may be a good option to help you reach elite status in a hotel rewards program. That was the situation in which I found myself when planning my Miami weekend.

  SPG offered a promotion for double points or more on two and three nights stays in December

SPG offered a promotion for double points or more on two and three nights stays in December

When looking for hotels in Miami, I initially planned a two-night stay. I checked Hilton, IHG and Starwood with which I have significant points balances. My preferred choices were IHG, where I hoped my Spire Elite status would garner an upgraded room, or SPG due to its valuable and flexible points. Since I had signed up for Starwood Preferred Guest's promotion for double points on two-night stays, I decided to go with a Starwood property. While looking at my account page at SPG.com, I noticed I only needed three stays to reach SPG Gold Preferred for 2016. At that point, the question became what was more valuable: double points and perhaps missing gold next year or forgoing the points now in favor of potential benefits in 2016?

Night or stays?

Before considering whether I would come out better with bonus points now or extra points throughout 2016 from Gold status, let's look at why multiple stays can be advantageous for gaining elite status. This is not an exhaustive review of all hotel loyalty programs, just the programs with which I am active. Of the three chains I checked for this trip, two allow members to achieve elite status with stays as well as nights. (A stay is defined as the period from when you check into a property to when you check out. The legalese gets a little more specific for certain scenarios, but that is the gist.) Let's take a look at how Hilton HHonors, IHG Rewards Club and Starwood Preferred Guest compare.

Elite loyalty tiers for Hilton, IHG and Starwood (click to enlarge)

While IHG bases elite tiers only on nights or points (which are highly proportional to nights), Hilton and Starwood allow elite status to be obtained based on nights or stays completed. The ratio of nights to stay for each chain is 2.5 nights/stay for first tier elite and 2 nights/stay for second tier elite. (Hilton has a third tier elite that also has a 2 night/stay ratio.) If you typically stay at the same hotel for more than two to three nights per visit, the number of stays won't matter much to you. However, if you are like me and you have many single night stays each year, stays may be a much easier way to earn elite status. Since Starwood also counts award stays toward your total - and holding the American Express SPG credit card credits two stays and five nights to your SPG account - I can likely achieve Gold on stays while I would be unlikely to complete 25 nights at SPG properties in a year. So if I want to achieve SPG Gold Preferred in 2016, I would be better off changing to a second property for the Saturday of my visit. The question then came down to whether I would benefit more from double points now or the Gold tier benefits next year.

Points now or points deferred?

SPG Gold Preferred benefits (click to enlarge)

The benefits for SPG Gold Preferred are attractive. The biggest enhancement is a 3x SPG points per dollar spent versus 2x for base membership; that's a 50% gain right off the bat! Another tangible benefit is the welcome gift upon arrival - one option is bonus points, always a tempting choice! However, you could opt for premium in-room WiFi if you need higher speeds than are available with basic WiFi. However, if you book directly with an SPG digital channel (i.e., website or mobile app) you get premium WiFi anyway! Regardless, there is a significant value each time you stay as a Gold member at a Starwood property. Delta Crossover Rewards provides another points-earning opportunity: "SPG Gold and Platinum members earn 1 Starpoint for every dollar spent on eligible Delta flights." Living in Atlanta, the vast majority of my flights are paid on Delta so this benefit could earn me a few hundred more SPG points. (There similar crossover programs with Emirates and Uber.) Finally, the "soft benefits" of late checkout and a room upgrade at check-in are nice perks.

Crunching the numbers, double points on a two-night stay in Miami would have earned between 450 and 1,200 Starpoints depending on property. However, just based on my paid SPG stays since June -  I did not start staying with Starwood until I signed up for the Amex SPG card in June - I could earn an additional 2,000 to 3,000 points in 2016 if my stay pattern is similar to 2015. Throw in the Delta tie-in along with the room upgrade and booking two stays at different hotels for my trip was an easy choice. 

The takeaway is to think about all the potential benefits at stake when choosing your travel options. Don't be blinded by the shiny immediate offer and risk losing out on more benefits in the longer term. Granted, given the SPG/Marriott merger, Starwood Preferred Guest may not carry as much value after 2016, but, for the time being, going for the Gold is potentially more rewarding. If I can get the last stay I need for status, I will certainly be incented to stay at Starwood properties more often in 2016, and isn't that the point of loyalty programs?