Turning SPG Starpoints Into Airline Miles

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Turning SPG Starpoints Into Airline Miles
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Image courtesy: Starwood Preferred Group
 

Most hotel programs offer the ability to convert hotel points to airline miles. This feature is typically unremarkable for our purposes since the transfer ratios are consistently horrendous. For example, transfers of Hilton points to most airlines occur at a 10:1 rate, slashing your balance by 90% when shifting out of HHonors.

This is an area where Starwood’s SPG program shines.

Of course, it’s possible to use Starpoints to stay at a variety of Starwood properties worldwide. Starwood brands include Aloft, Element, Four Points, Le Méridien, Sheraton, St. Regis, W Hotels, Westin and a variety of unique properties included in The Luxury Collection.

Those redemptions can require anywhere from 2,000 to 35,000 Starpoints per night for a standard room, depending on location and time of year. However, today we’re going to focus on the ability to transfer Starpoints out to airline frequent flyer programs, given how much more viable SPG’s program is for this purpose than that of any other hotel chain.

Transferring SPG Starpoints To Airlines

SPG offers 1:1 transfers of Starpoints to all but four of its 30 airline partners. SPG’s airline relationships cover most of the world’s major airlines, including:

      • Aeromexico
      • Air Canada
      • Air Berlin
      • Air China
      • Air France / KLM
      • Alaska
      • Alitalia
      • ANA

      • American
      • Asiana
      • British Airways
      • Cathay Pacific
      • China Eastern
      • China Southern
      • Delta
      • Emirates

      • Etihad
      • Hawaiian
      • JAL
      • Lufthansa
      • Qatar
      • Saudi Arabian
      • Singapore
      • Thai
      • Virgin Atlantic

      All of these airline transfers occur at a 1:1 rate.

      Even for the outliers, the transfer ratio remains very fair:

      • Air New Zealand might convert Starpoints to miles at a 65:1 basis, but that’s because so few Air Points are required in their program for a redemption.
      • Transfers to LAN actually occur at a 1:1.5 rate, meaning 1,000 Starpoints would become 1,500 LANPASS Kilometers.
      • Only United and Gol offer truly less agreeable conversions at 2:1 a piece, still far beyond what other hotel conversions would yield.

      Sweetening the deal even further, SPG offers a bonus of 5,000 Starpoints for every 20,000 transferred at once. That means the actual exchange rate to most of these programs is 1 Starpoint to 1.25 Miles if you’re able to transfer them in bulk. 20,000 Starpoints become 25,000 miles!

      For this reason, many loyalty travelers consider SPG an essential tool in their points and miles arsenal. Even Ultimate Rewards and Membership Rewards fail to provide such advantageous transfer rates to so many programs, and SPG’s is the only loyalty program worldwide to offer transfers to American, Delta and United, as well as many other members of all three alliances. That allows you to transfer points to whichever program offers the best value for the specific trip you have in mind.

      Members are allowed to transfer up to 79,999 Starpoints per day, but should truly limit themselves to 60,000 in most cases in order to optimize the 5,000 point bonus that applies each time 20,000 points are transferred.

      Base level Preferred members must transfer a minimum of 2,500 Starpoints at a time. Gold members are limited to a minimum of 1,500 Starpoints per transfer, while Platinum members may transfer any amount they’d like with most airline partners. That’s a great benefit for travelers just a few hundred miles off from an award flight, who might otherwise be forced to pay the sticker price for enough extra miles to push their balance over the top.

      All airline transfers can be requested online or by calling 888.625.4988. Note that your SPG account and airline account must have identical member names in order to complete the request, so Starpoints aren’t a mechanism for gifting miles to friends and family. Transfers are one-way and not reversible, so be certain the award flight you’re after is available before making a transfer.

      The Fine Print

      SPG points expire after 12 months of inactivity, so be sure to make transfers before allowing your account to go dormant should you not plan to stay at SPG properties or earn more Starpoints in the next year.

      Points may also be transferred to Amtrak’s Guest Rewards program at a 1:1 rate in increments of 5,000 points. Unfortunately, the bonus for transferring 20,000 points does not apply to Amtrak transfers. Transfers to Amtrak can only be made by calling SPG.

      Earning Starpoints

      SPG Preferred members – those at the introductory tier of SPG’s program – earn 2 points per $1 on all expenses on property. That includes not only the cost of a room, but also incidentals like food, spa services and more.

      SPG Gold and Platinum members earn 3 points per $1 on property and have the option to select additional points as a welcome amenity for each stay.

      Starwood’s other partner relationships – and therefore opportunities to earn Starpoints outside of stays at SPG properties – are quite limited. This is far and away the greatest weakness of the program. Car rentals with Avis can earn 50 Starpoints per day, while SIXT bookings earn 250 Starpoints per rental. Booking Broadway tickets through AudienceRewards.com can also earn Starpoints, typically around 300 per ticket.

      It’s possible to buy or give Starpoints in increments of 500 at a typical cost of 3.5¢ per point. Up to 20,000 Starpoints may be purchased in a year.

      Credit Cards

      The Starwood Preferred Group American Express comes with a bonus of 10,000 Starpoints after your first purchase. You can earn 15,000 more Starpoints after making $5,000 in purchases within six months. The card’s $65 annual fee is waived for the first year.

      Purchases with the card at SPG hotels and resorts earn 2 Starpoints per $1, meaning that Gold or Platinum elites can earn a total of 5 Starpoints per $1 for on-property purchases. Cardholders earn 1 point per $1 on all other purchases.

      Cardholders receive elite status credit for five nights and two stays each year, which works out to 20% of the nights or stays necessary for SPG Gold status.

      American Express also offers a business version of the card. It offers the same earnings and sign-up bonus as the personal one. It’s possible to earn the sign-up bonus on both the personal and business cards.

      The SPG Business Card is a participant in the OPEN Savings program for small businesses, which offers a 5% discount at Hyatt properties, 10% off with Hertz and HP.com and 5% off with Carey Transportation, FedEx, BN.com and 1-800-Flowers. These discounts apply automatically when paying with your card.

      Wrapping Up

      Flexible mileage currencies allow you to pick the best program for your needs each time you plan a trip. They also protect you from sudden devaluations in any single program. For example, say Delta changes the number of miles needed for a flight. If you only have a SkyMiles account, you could be in trouble. If you store up points with SPG, though, you can still transfer your points out to dozens of other programs that might offer a better option.

      Without non-hotel category bonuses on SPG’s American Express cards and without a shopping portal or dining program, it can be a little harder to earn Starpoints than other mileage currencies. However, given their extraordinary versatility – and the 20,000-to-25,000 conversion bonus – they remain one of the best points programs available today, no matter where you’d like to stay or how you’d like to get there!

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Casey Ayers is a consultant and entrepreneur with a passion for travel. After amassing enough miles and points to travel anywhere in the world for almost free in less than six months, he developed PointsAway as a way to help others make travel dreams big and small come true.
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