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Nov 11

Starwood: Small hotel program, big innovation

While it’s not the largest chain, only 1/2-1/3 the size of some of its global competitors, Starwood Hotels (Westin, Sheraton, W Hotels, among others) has proven itself to be among the most innovative over time.  It is my primary hotel chain (although my wife is a Hilton woman; always diversify your portfolio) and what it lacks in size is more than made up for in its other attributes.

Recently, Starwood has launched a number of initiatives which I thought were worthy of mention.  These initiatives go beyond creature comforts, such as Westin’s Heavenly Bed (which is so comfortable that I have bought two of them.  Not at the same time.).  Instead, it has focused on making the total hotel experience easier.  And while that terminology sounds hokey, they’ve done a pretty good job.

Partnerships: As hotels and airlines compete for customers, it became natural for them to look for partnerships.  Marriott established one with United.  Hyatt created one for MGM Resorts.  Starwood has three.

  1. First, Starwood’s loyalty program, Preferred Guest (SPG), partnered with Delta.  The program is only for elite members in either program, which should drive traffic and share for the pair.  All SPG elite members earn one point per dollar spent on Delta flights.  Top-tier Platinum members also get Delta elite benefits such as a free checked bag; priority check-in and boarding; and the possibility of upgrades.  Delta members get one mile per dollar spent at Starwood properties, and Platinum/Diamond Delta travelers also get benefits such as priority check-in, late checkout and preferred rooms.
  2. Starwood used to own casinos as well, but legend has it that they divested the properties when a high-roller destroyed their quarterly earnings on the last day of the quarter.  Whatever the reason, for several years after, members used to be able to earn points at certain non-Starwood Las Vegas hotels.  That went away for a while, but are getting back in the game through a partnership with Caesars Entertainment, the owner of the Harrah’s chain.  Now, Starwood members earn two points per dollar spent at Caesars and get elite credit for room nights, up to 10 nights per year.  Harrah’s members can get the same at Starwood hotels.
  3. And now, Starwood has announced a partnership with Emirates Skywards.  It makes sense for both: Starwood is trying to get more global recognition, while Emirates is doing more flying to Europe and the United States.  The partnership will be similar to the one with Delta: Starwood elite members get one point per dollar spent on Emirates, with Platinum members getting check-in and boarding privileges.  Emirates elite members will earn points on stays at Starwood, with the highest elite members receiving late check-out and priority check-in.

Keyless Check-in and Entry

Sure, a lot of hotels are doing mobile check-in, but Starwood is now starting to offer keyless entry, as well.  You’ll be able to use an app to check-in, get a room assigned and then get into your room.  The product is only offered at 10 hotels now but will be rolled out through several brands next year.  There are, of course, benefits for both the hotel and the customers.  It will cut down on labor costs for hotels, while saving check-in time for customers (not to mention saving the embarrassment when I can’t get that stupid plastic swipe key to work and my 5-year olds can).  I can’t wait for the day when they can just implant a chip in my arm and I can scan that.


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