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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.

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)
Aeroplan/Air Canada 1:1
Air Berlin 1:1
Air China Companion 1:1
Air New Zealand & Air Points 65:1
Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan 1:1
Alitalia MilleMiglia 1:1
All Nippon Mileage Club 1:1
American Airlines AAdvantage 1:1
Asia Miles 1:1
Asiana Airlines 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
Emirates Skywards 1:1
Etihad Airways 1:1
Flying Blue 1:1
Hawaiian Airlines 1:1
Japan Airlines Mileage Bank 1:1
King Club Miles 1:1
LAN LANPASS 1:2
Mexicana Frecuenta 1:1
Miles and More 1:1
Qatar Airways 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
VARIG Smiles 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.)

  1. James Kunz said,

    I keep hearing about how great Starpoints are, but I just don’t figure out how you get them. You get 30k for the signup, but that’s not huge in this day and age. The hotel itself gives you a really crappy earning ratio, and the card seems far less lucrative than (say) a Sapphire. Where do you get so many?

  2. Ryan said,

    I personally got a lot of points from signup bonus referrals. I got friends and family to signup for the card. The card gives you 10K for first signing up, then 20K points after spend. My selling point was for 10K you could get a $100 amazon gift card. My family members liked that idea of getting a $100 amazon gift card for basically applying and buying a candy bar at the store. This was back when they offered 10K points for referrals (now it is only 5K). The other way is everyday spend and, well, other ways to rack up spend and get points with little or no out of pocket expense (read flyertalk, tons of ideas on there). And of course, get the business card (another 30K).

  3. Zz said,

    @James,
    1. Referrals, Gary gets 5k for each CC applicant using his link. 2. put spending on the credit card. 3 Churn the card (possible 1 year after you cancel the card). 4. Open a business CC’d. 5. When staying at the hotel, take advantage of the Best rate guarantee (pick 2k starpoints rather than 10% discount).

  4. Mike said,

    The value is in the volume of partners that one can transfer to, literally dozens of airline, not in easily accumulated points.

  5. TJ said,

    I don’t think you can book one-ways on LAN partners. IMHO you need to book a round-trip but the mileage needed you state is correct.

  6. Paul said,

    My wife and I are getting these cards even though we focus primarily on United miles because after we get our annual United bonus miles, getting 20k miles for $5k in spend is better than 1 mile per dollar. So we’ll probably church these cards as often as we can for that reason.

  7. Baggageinhall said,

    A potentially useful data point, it seems that with some airlines they do a weekly sweep of requests so with Emirates all requests are queued up and processed on a Sunday night / Monday morning EST.

  8. Gary Steiger said,

    I am waiting for U.S. Air to offer another bonus for transferring hotel points to its miles. I am surprised you haven’t mentioned that possibility. The last one resulted in almost 2 miles/point.

  9. nsx at FlyerTalk said,

    Bring back the transfer to Southwest Rapid Rewards!!

  10. nknight said,

    I was going to wait closer to the end of the year to shoot for this one; it IS on my list. However, I’ve been busy and the hard pulls on my credit report have taken a small toll. So I wanted to wait awhile …

    Is there any speculation on what the new offer might be? I believe I read that the “normal” offers are nowhere near the current points w/spend. I guess I’m trying to decide how much I lose by sticking to my original plan and going for this card around 1/1/2013.

    Any guesses?

    Thanks in advance.

  11. TD said,

    Long time reader, first time commenter here. Thanks for the great analysis. I would also add that for United and SPG, their award transfer charts seem to be misaligned. Any way you can influence them to at least set expectations correctly?

    Here United states 2 award miles (not points) earned/$1 spend, which would actually be the best deal if it were accurate:
    http://www.united.com/web/en-US/content/mileageplus/transfer/hotel.aspx#spg

    The conversion table at the link here indicates a 1:1 ratio for SPG points: United miles:
    http://www.spgpromos.com/moremiles

    And lastly the table here indicates the 2:1 ratio, which is the least advantageous for transfers, therefore the standard practice. :)
    http://www.starwoodhotels.com/preferredguest/account/starpoints/transfer/airline_partner_list.html

  12. 50% Bonus on American Express Membership Rewards Transfers to Starwood - View from the Wing said,

    [...] this does represent an opportunity with some devaluation to transfer points from American Express Membership Rewards to airline programs that Membership Rewards doesn’t partner with. Using this promotion, 40,000 Membership Rewards [...]

  13. Whose Beds for Your Head? Here’s the Best Strategy Now That Most Hotel Programs Are Devaluing - View from the Wing said,

    [...] link) remains a gold standard for earning valuable points through credit card spend, and they have the largest number of airline transfer partners as well so the points are especially flexible (though transfers are not [...]

  14. Matt said,

    Could I transfer SPG points from my wife’s account to my Krisflyer account? Or do I ned to transfer her SPG points to my SPG account, then from my SPG (now with her points in it) to my KrisFlyer?

  15. Gary said,

    @Matt – you need to transfer from her SPG to your SPG (you can move points between Starwood accounts at the same residential address) and on to your Krisflyer account

  16. Top 5 Rewards Cards from American Express - View from the Wing said,

    [...] had the personal version for more than a decade. The reason it’s great is because Starwood has the most number of airline points transfer partners where transfers are 1:1 into miles (or bette…. And there’s a built-in 25% transfer bonus: for every 20,000 miles you transfer points into [...]

  17. David said,

    So I have Chase points which I’d like to use. I have most of my miles with AA – is there a Chase partner I can utilize? Was thinking of United because I have Starwood but their conversion rate is terrible. Thanks.

  18. Gary said,

    @David — Chase partners with British Airways, and British AIrways points can be redeemed for American Airlines flights. Both programs offer one-way awards. So you could use American miles one-way, Chase points in the other direction. (Or use your American miles one-way, and use United miles transferred in from Chase the other…)

  19. Andrew said,

    Could anyone tell me, if I transfer my SPG points to my Miles&More or to my Flying Blue account as miles, will those transferred miles be status miles and are counted to reach Frequent Traveler status?

    I’ve been browsing around since a while but can not fond the answer.

  20. Evan G said,

    Just FYI: The Air New Zealand point system is different than the rest. A 65:1 conversion is actually decent. Their credit card offers have a $100/1 point conversion for most of them.

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