Earlier in the month I outlined how to make the most of Starwood points for hotel stays. The Starwood program has more top-end properties that I’d want to stay at than any other chain, and while I don’t find the program all that rewarding for earning points from the money I spend at their hotels, there’s little question that it’s the most valuable hotel program for money spent on a credit card. And their cash and points awards really stretch the value of those points.
The Starwood American Express cards offer up to 25,000 points as a signup offer and no fee the first year ($65 thereafter, which is lower than most airline co-branded cards.
In this post I intend to explain the value of Starwood points for airline mileage transfers which are in many ways the most lucrative option.
The primary thing to know is that when you transfer points into 20,000 airline miles, you get 5000 additional bonus miles. Since most airline partners transfer at a 1:1 ratio, that’s like earning 1.25 miles per dollar spent on the card for all spend.
Starwood has a huge array of points transfer options. The value here is being able to move points to wherever you need them, when you need them. You can accumulate points in one program — Starwood — and then figure out what you want to do with them later. For instance, if you decide you want to go to South America then no frequent flyer program offers you better availability than American (because premium cabin award space on American flights is excellent to South America, and there are tons of flights, and also because they are a partner of LAN). If you decide you want to go to Asia or Europe then it may make sense to move the points to US Airways for great Star Alliance business class options, without fuel surcharges.
And you can top off an account. Platinum members have no minimum point transfer, they can literally transfer just 1 point to a frequent flyer program, which is a great way to keep an airline mileage account from expiring. It’s also a great way to have ‘partner transaction activity’ when an airline runs a promotion that requires you to have activity with various hotel partners in order to earn bonus miles. (US Airways caught on in recent iterations of their ‘Grand Slam’ and began setting a minimum transfer amount to qualify for their promotion.) Gold members can move as few as 1500 points to an airline program, and non-status members can move 2500 Starpoints at a minimum.
Finally, you can put points into family member frequent flyer accounts — since Starwood will allow you to move points between accounts at the same residential mailing address, you can put your Starwood points into, say, a spouse’s account and then move them to your spouse’s frequent flyer program account.
Here’s the full list of airline mileage transfer partners:
|Frequent Flyer Program||Exchange Ratio (Starpoints : Miles)|
|Air China Companion||1:1|
|Air New Zealand & Air Points||65:1|
|Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan||1:1|
|All Nippon Mileage Club||1:1|
|American Airlines AAdvantage||1:1|
|British Airways Executive Club||1:1|
|China Eastern Airlines||1:1|
|China Southern SkyPearl Club||1:1|
|Delta Air Lines SkyMiles||1:1|
|Japan Airlines Mileage Bank||1:1|
|King Club Miles||1:1|
|Miles and More||1:1|
|Saudi Arabian Airlines Alfursan||1:1|
|Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer||1:1|
|Thai Airways RoyalOrchidPlus||1:1|
|US Airways Dividend Miles||1:1|
|United Mileage Plus||2:1|
|Virgin Atlantic Flying Club||1:1|
The transfer partners I’ve used most often are American and US Airways, followed by All Nippon and Alaska Airlines.
Starwood is not great for transfers to United MileagePlus. The transfer ratio is 2 Starpoints to 1 mile. That’s an outlier, remember that Chase bank which issues the United co-branded Visa holds huge sway with MileagePlus, since the issuer of the co-branded credit card provided both debtor-in-possession and exit financing for United’s bankruptcy and pre-purchased half a billion dollars worth of miles to provide extra liquidity. Chase clearly wouldn’t like it if the Starwood card was better for earning United miles than its own products. But if you want United – or other Star Alliance – flights you can transfer to US Airways (or to other Star partners).
For non-stop short-distance flights there are few options anywhere as good as transferring Starwood points to LAN. Starpoints transfer at 1:2. It only takes 20,000 points to earn 50,000 LAN kilometers (remember, for every 20,000 points posted to an airline program you get 5000 bonus points). And the LAN chart is great for short distances. This post illustrates how short distance non-stops can be so inexpensive. For instance New York-Boston on American AIrlines would be just 2400 Starpoints one-way. New York-Miami would be just 5600 points one-way.
Some of these are sort of strange. It’s amazing that Mexicana Frecuenta remains listed as a partner even though the airline ceased operations in August 2010 (it remains listed on the oneworld website as a member there, as well). And Varig Smiles is now Gol Smiles.
I really like having Miles&More as a transfer partner, because Miles&More members have access to better reward availability on Lufthansa and Swiss than other Star Alliance programs do. Similarly, Singapore Airlines offers its own members much better premium cabin award space on Singapore flights than other Star Alliance frequent flyer program members get. So the ability to move Starpoints to those frequent flyer programs can be really useful.
I also especially like having Japan Airlines as a partner. They’re updating their award chart on October 1, and long-distance partner awards become much cheaper. For instance, Japan Airlines is a partner of Emirates, and redeeming for Emirates first class on the Airbus A380 (onboard showers!) New York – Dubai would run 135,000 points under the new scheme. That’s 110,000 Starpoints. Emirates first class is really hard to get because they have to few mileage partners, and using Emirates’ own points the award would be much costlier. (Alaska Airlines, also a Starwood transfer partner, is a new Emirates partner and is coming out with its redemption chart soon.) Emirates in general has pretty good award availability and plenty of premium routes, this opens up much of the world connecting through the Middle East.
The most points you can transfer in a 24 hour period is 79,999. You wouldn’t want to do that, since transferring 80,000 points would get you the next 5000 mile bonus. So you usually want to transfer 60,000 points in a day instead. Then wait until the next day to move more points over.
The biggest drawback to points transfers is that points don’t post over to airline in real-time. With Chase Ultimate Rewards, the program is ‘live’ with several of their transfer programs. Hit transfer and the points show up. This is certainly how it works with United and Hyatt, my two favorite Chase transfer partnrs. The same is true with American Express Membership Rewards, where transfers to Aeroplan, Delta, and British Airways happen instantaneously (but can take a few days for Singapore Airlines and All Nippon).
Starwood, on the other hand, can take longer — in my experience points transferred to American by end of the business week show up the following Wednesday. That does make it hard, with programs that permit award holds, to set up an award reservation and then transfer points. So there’s always a risk of transferring and finding the space you had your eye on is no longer available. You just have to craft your general strategy, e.g. “American miles for an award to South America” then transfer points and book the award when those points post.
(The links to the Starwood Preferred Guest American Express card and Starwood Preferred Guest Business American Express card offer a referral credit to me, they also represent the best currently-available offer. I appreciate your applying through those links very much.)