As the merger between Starwood and Marriott nears its final close, Starwood appears to have been doing some looking back and reflecting on its 17+ years in existence. They’ve posted this great video.
I love this – it’s about how we choose hotels that reflect our personality, and how hotels are the setting for each of our individual stories. So, here’s mine.
When I check my SPG Dashboard, it tells me that I’ve spent 115 nights with Starwood since 1999, and have spent four years as an elite member. There are actually more nights than that, because there are some media comps that don’t show up at all, although that’s just a handful of stays.
I remember the exact moment when I signed up for Starwood Preferred Guest. I was with my high school choir group at the Sheraton Anaheim, which has recently been reflagged and left Starwood. I saw a placard on the front desk and signed up for the program. That would have been April of 1999. In June of 2000 I returned to a seasonal summer job I had at the front desk of the then-Westin Alyeska Prince Hotel in Girdwood, Alaska, and we were meant to enroll guests in Starwood Preferred Guest whenever possible, and we got great details about the program. During my previous summer there in 1998 the program had still been Westin Premier, and it was confusing.
Starwood Preferred Guest, at the time, seemed groundbreaking – no blackout dates, earn and burn across several Starwood brands, hotel categories which were easy to understand and remember, and the ability to earn Starpoints when dining, even if you weren’t a guest of the hotel, and instant redemption available at check-in for room upgrades. These are all legendary legendary facets of the SPG program today.
Back then, there were just five brands: Westin, Sheraton, Four Points by Sheraton, St. Regis, Luxury Collection, and W Hotels.
The program was a fantastic one for an aspiration kid like me who dreamed of staying in a gorgeous hotel like The St. Regis New York someday. I did my best to make sure all of the stays I had planned for college trips and the like were at Starwood properties. One of my earliest memories of earning was at the Sheraton Anchorage during a renovation of their lobby level restaurant. The entire restaurant with its reasonable pricing was moved to the top-floor Josephine’s which was a fancy dining establishment that by that time had been reduced to Sunday brunch only, but the interior was done in this wonderful Louis XIV style. So us high brow high school students would stop in for an early dinner and I’d earn Starpoints on the bill.
In 2001 I signed up for what was then the Sheraton Starpoints American Express card, then a white card with the Sheraton logo on it. Over the years the card turned from white, to silver, to red, to the current purple.
One of my favorite hotels in the system in those early years was the Sheraton Suites Le Soleil in Vancouver, British Columbia. The hotel had Biedermayer furniture in its rooms and I was a Gold Member, so I’d usually get my requested room 808 without any trouble – it was a corner room with two balconies. I once arrived at that property having driving from Anchorage, and it was such a joy to slip into a comfortable bed and enjoy all the finer points of a big city hotel after overnights in Whitehorse and Prince George in somewhat less-luxurious accommodations. That same trip also included an unscheduled stop at the Sheraton Seattle Hotel (& Towers, back then) when my car broke down just south of SeaTac, arriving a day late at the Sheraton Portland Airport, and still being upgraded into a spacious suite, a skipped stay due to the delay at the Westin St. Francis, which was ok because I’d already stayed there once before, and an ultra-luxurious stay at the St. Regis Los Angeles, which was closed and demolished a few years after that.
Speaking of closed hotels, I’ve stayed at my share of hotels that have left the Starwood system. My own Westin Alyeska Prince Hotel is no longer a Starwood, nor is the Sheraton Suites Le Soleil in Vancouver (neither property has since joined another major hotel brand). The St. Regis Monarch Beach, Sheraton Anaheim, Fairfax at Embassy Row, The Westin Trianon Palace, Sheraton San Marcos, and Sheraton Yankee Clipper have met similar fates, and the Sheraton Ft. Lauderdale is reflagging as another Starwood brand, Le Meridien.
I did, by the way, manage to get in a stay at the St. Regis New York using my Starpoints, although for some reason the hotel had the date correct, but for the wrong year. Luckily, I had a printed confirmation showing the correct date, and I was accommodated, and I ultimately got refunded the Starpoints I had used for the stay because of that and one or two other mix-ups. It’s almost always been made right in every situation.
There was the time I nursed my wounds at the Westin Portland after a bombed job interview. There was the nearly day-long wait after an early arrival into Honolulu that resulted in an upgrade to a gorgeous room with a view of Waikiki Beach and Diamond Head at the Sheraton Waikiki. There was the week-long stay in an ocean view room at the Moana Surfrider, a Westin Resort, after winning enough Starpoints for the entire stay one of Starwood’s sweepstakes. There was the memorable sharing of adjoining rooms in the historic building of the Westin St. Francis during a fraternity weekend getaway to San Francisco, and another time there was some much needed rest in one of the plus beds at The Palace Hotel, a Luxury Collection Hotel just down the street as a stopover after a flight from Hawai’i.
There was the time that, as a young child, long before the SPG program, my parents and I marveled at the immaculate pools with swim-up bars at the Sheraton Mirage Resort in Port Douglas, Australia. One of my earliest memories of any hotel was of the Sheraton logo imprinted on the butter balls at the Sheraton Maui. I remember tea, jet lag, and the full English breakfast at the Sheraton Park Lane, exhausted collapse into a Heavenly Bed after a day of walking at the Westin Times Square, unbeatable black bean soup at the Sheraton Old San Juan, and trying the legendary Bloody Marys from the St. Regis properties in New York, Osaka, Bangkok, Macau, Bora Bora, Princeville, and Aspen.
The Westin Casuarina in Las Vegas was my go-to in college when I needed a night if the dorms were closing down early for the semester and I couldn’t get a flight home until the next day; Element Summerlin was a haven during a wedding when I returned to the area some years later. The Sheraton Denver Tech Center is the only property where I’ve seen dedicated SPG Guest parking, and I spent Election Night 2008 at the Sheraton Chicago, which was conveniently walkable to President-Elect Barack Obama’s victory speech in the park. I first fell in love with Roy’s Restaurants at the Westin Seattle (long since moved out, although I still visit other Roy’s locations frequently), had rooftop drinks with old and new friends at the W Washington DC, and spent a cozy morning sipping coffee and looking out over Lake Ontario at the Westin Harbour Castle in Toronto.
I’ve had bibimbap tots from a food truck while rubbing shoulders with a famous author at the Westin Kaanapali Ocean Resort Villas, 100% Kona Coffee from my butler at the St. Regis Princeville, a killer tasting menu at the Westin Princeville Ocean Resort Villas, lurid sunset views at the Sheraton Kauai Resort, and most authentic Aloha at the Sheraton Kona Resort at Keauhou Bay. When I was ten, my Mother took me to the Royal Hawaiian Hotel for the first time, and I instantly fell in love with the Pink Palace of The Pacific. I think Mom liked it too, for that trip she bought herself a crystal jewelry box from the gift shop, and I make it a point to pick up a souvenir whenever I visit the hotel for mai tais at Mai Tai Bar on Waikīkī Beach. So far I’ve got a wooden jewelry box and a lovely wooden bookmark adorned with the hotel’s mid-century modern script and a silken pink tassel.
I’ve written about Starwood hotels, I’ve Instagrammed them, posted them to my Facebook group, complained when things haven’t been up to par, praised when I’ve been pleasantly surprised, been wowed, shocked, dismayed, inspired, frustrated, overjoyed, and comforted. I’ve fallen in love with artists I’ve seen featured on SPG TV, which has also given inspiration on new destinations, compelled a new follow on Twitter, and has sometimes just been a chatty companion while sipping morning coffee or as a desperate antidote to insomnia. I’ve evangelized and promoted, I’ve signed up friends for the SPG Amex, and the #spglife sometimes playfully gets uttered outside of social media in reference to something luxurious, playful, or dripping with personality.
It’s been a ride, and there are even more memories that I may or may not write about later. Starwood associates have so many reasons to be #StarwoodProud, and I’m glad there’s a hashtag out there that captures that feeling. In fact, after 17 years like the ones I’ve just described, I’m going to use it too.