Maximizing Starwood Preferred Guest Points: Cash and Points Awards

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Update: The offers mentioned below for the Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Cards from American Express has expired. View the current offers here – personal, business.

Offer expired September 3, 2013.

I’ve earned hundreds of thousands of Starpoints over the years and my favorite way to use them is with Cash & Points awards. I generally feel like it gives you the most bang for your buck – especially when staying at higher end properties in Europe.

The great thing about Cash & Points is that the cash value is pegged in dollars and most taxes and fees are included.

Key things to understand about these rewards:
-The fifth night free option does not apply to Cash & Points.
-The “no blackout” date rule does not apply – these are capacity controlled, though I’ve been able to book many C+P awards by being persistent and flexible with my plans.
– You do not earn elite status when redeeming Cash & Points (though Platinum members do still get the amenity and all other elite benefits do apply).
– There is a C+P calendar, so you can search for date that have availability. Just click the “Browse Dates/Rates” button on the search and select Cash & Points and you’ll be able to scan by month for C+P availability.
– Often hotels don’t load C+P availability for the entire next year. You’ll see in the example below that the entire month of January is blocked out. Clearly January is not a peak time for Pittsburgh – it’s just a matter of the hotel not loading the inventory.

The C+P calendar view … as you can see many hotels don’t load availability for the next year, so you need to keep checking until its loaded (or contact the hotel and ask them to load it for you)

To see if Cash & Points makes sense for you, I always recommend doing a cost/benefit analysis. With C+P I’d expect at least 3 cents per point in value. For example, let’s check out a high end and lower end example.
Westin Paris for a random date in March: Lowest rate, 395 Euros ($565) or 20,000 SPG or 8,000 SPG and $150 under C+P:

Westin Paris rate options

If we used 20,000 points to save $565, we’d be getting 2.8 cents in value.
If we did Cash & Points, we’d pay $150, so 8,000 points would save us $415 ($565-$150), 5.2 cents in value.
You need to take into account that you don’t earn points or elite status on award stays, but for the sake of these examples, we won’t try to factor in that “lost value” into the examples.

On the other end of the spectrum let’s check out the LAX Sheraton, which is a category 2 hotel: Lowest rate, $119 or 3,000 SPG or 1,600 SPG and $30 under C+P
If we used 3,000 points to save $135 (amount of the room after taxes), we’d be getting 4.5 cents in value.
If we did Cash & Points, we’d pay $30, so 1,600 points would save us $105 ($135-$30) 6.6 cents in value.

Either way, C+P beats out regular points redemptions. This isn’t always the case, but it has been my experience over the years.

These are just two isolated examples, but you can see why serious points enthusiasts love Starwood points. For me, the ability to pay a measly $150 for a world class hotel like the Westin Paris is the reason why I’m in the points game – it opens doors I’d never normally be able to walk through.

Hopefully these examples will help you craft an entry in my 100,000 Starpoints giveaway which ends this Saturday, so submit your entry now!

I also hope this makes you think about the potential value of the 30,000 Starwood American Express limited time offer, which ends August 22, 2011. Those 30,000 points would equal $1,980 if you redeemed them at the C+P rate at the Sheraton LAX!


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