Starwood Cash and Points Math Mishaps: Don’t Forget the Tax Factor

When planning Starwood hotel stays, I often try and figure out if it’s best to use points outright or to use cash and points.  At one point, I concluded that cash and points is always a more valuable use of points.  I no longer think that is necessarily true, as it depends on the tax rate and other fees of the place you are visiting and if you are traveling during a weekend or weekday.

The problem with most cash and points analyses is that they don’t properly account for taxes.  I know that when we stayed in Kuala Lumpur and Buenos Aires, we paid about $20 extra per day in taxes when we paid with cash and points.  That is money we didn’t anticipate paying.

Starwood Cash and Points

I’ll use a recent stay in Washington DC as an example.

I had two separate stays at the Aloft Dulles North.  I thought I booked both rooms as points only, but I guess I was wrong.  For one night, I used all points, and for another I used cash and points.  The good news is that I can show you the true cost comparison.

The Aloft Dulles North is a Category 2 hotel.

  • All points weekday night = 4,000 points
  • All points weekend night = 3,000 points
  • Cash and points weekend or weekday = 2,000 + $35.00.

So what is the best way to use your Starwood points?

First of all, we need to remember we don’t have all the information necessary to do the math.  Below, I’ll show you how to figure out the taxes, but in this case, it was an extra $3.50 for taxes. (I know this is a small amount, but see below for other examples.)

Thus, the actual numbers:

  • All points weekday night = 4,000 points
  • All points weekend night = 3,000 points
  • Cash and points weekend or weekday = 2,000 + $48.49 (with taxes and fees).

The extra costs:

  • Room occupancy tax = $1.75
  • State Sales tax = $1.75
  • Room Charge SPG Awards = $9.09
  • Room Occupancy Tax = .45
  • State Sales Tax = .45

Total taxes and fees = $13.49

Assuming the hotel costs $75 per weekend night and $85 per week night, then here’s how the math works out:

  • All points weekday night = 2.125 cents per point value
  • All points weekend night = 2.5 cents per point value
  • Cash and points weekend or weekday = 1.1325 cents per point value

The most valuable use of the points is using all points during a weekend stay.

Before staying at a Starwood property, it’s important to figure out the math to see what is the best way to use your points.

How to calculate the Starwood tax rate (in Canada and US):

From the Starwood Hotels page, search for hotels in your desired destination.  Find the hotel where you’re interested in staying, and click on “book now”.  Now scroll down and click on “select your rate”.  The total charge should be hyperlinked so you can click on it (see image below).  In the image below, I’ll show the rates for the same Aloft hotel in Dulles.


When you click on the hyperlinked total price, it will show you a price breakdown (as shown below)


As you can see, the taxes are minimal (5%) so you can expect your taxes to be around $3.75 per night.  Honestly, it all depends on what rate they choose to use to asses your taxes.  I know when I stayed at this hotel the taxes were $3.50.

Unfortunately, you can’t always get the taxes online for overseas destinations.  If you’re staying at a hotel overseas, you’ll need to call the hotel to confirm the tax estimate.

Remember, there may also be a “Room Charge SPG Awards”.  In the case of my recent stay it was $9.09 for one night.  Not sure what that charge is for, but I don’t like it :).

Now, this doesn’t look like a big deal, but the taxes make a much bigger difference depending on where your staying.

Here are a few examples:

  • The Sheraton Center Toronto hotel will add about $19 per night in taxes.
  • The Nines in Portland will add about $29 per night in taxes.
  • In Buenos Aires, we paid about $23 per night in taxes.
  • The W Boston will add about $29 per night in taxes
  • In San Juan at the Sheraton Hotel and Casino, you’ll pay about $30 extra in taxes.

These numbers are significant and can certainly skew your math results if you don’t factor them into your stay.

Moral of the story: Your cash and points value must always include a calculation of the taxes and fees.  Otherwise, you probably won’t get near the value out of your Starwood points as you think you’re getting.


  1. Chiara says

    Hi Craig thank you for your post,I need an help because I’m new with SPG program, but I booked 3 place for next august and I’m wondering how many points I can obtain from them.
    The points you earn are on total price included taxes or price tax exclude?

    Thank you!

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