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One of the best-known and most talked-about features of the Starwood Preferred Guest program is the ability to transfer points to over 30 airline partners at a 1:1 ratio, and the 5,000-mile bonus you get on transfers of 20,000 points, giving members a 25% bonus on their points.
But in light of the current (and soon-to-end!) 30,000-point bonus offers on both the SPG personal and business American Express cards, today I wanted to talk about another feature of the program that doesn’t receive quite so much coverage, the “Nights & Flights” redemption option.
In a nutshell, Nights & Flights lets you redeem your Starwood points for both free nights and airline miles, enabling members to book an entire trip package with just their Starwood points. While I still think Starwood’s Cash & Points option is the way to pull the most value from your points, if you’re flush with Starpoints and low on cash and need to get away, the Nights & Flights redemption method might be a good fit for you.
First, the major downside: Nights & Flights is only available on Category 3 and Category 4 properties, so you can’t use it on redemptions at either the very high end or low end properties within Starwood (remember, though, you can just redeem points for free nights, and for the airfare portion, transfer Starwood points to your airline program of choice).
Here are the two Nights & Flights redemption options:
1. 60,000 points: 5 free nights at a Category 3 property plus 50,000 airline miles. Normally, those 50,000 airline miles would require you to transfer 40,000 SPG points to your frequent flyer account, and a Category 3 property requires 7,000 points for free nights. Remember, though, you get your fifth night free on award redemptions with Starwood, so 5 nights would normally cost you 28,000 points. Your grand total would be 68,000 Starpoints, so this redemption method is saving you 8,000 points – enough for another free night at a Category 3 hotel, or to cover the points portion of a Cash & Points redemption at a Category 6 hotel like the Westin Paris.
2. 70,000 points: 5 free nights at a Category 4 property plus 50,000 airline miles. Category 4 hotels require 10,000 points for free-night redemptions, so your five nights here would cost you 40,000 points normally (with the fifth night free), and those 50,000 airline miles would also cost you 40,000 points if you just transferred directly. Your total would be 80,000 points with the two redemption options, so Nights & Flights saves you 10,000 points in Category 4. That’s enough for one more night at a Category 4 property.
These awards seem to be based on domestic trips and double occupancy since the airline miles portion of the award is 50,000 miles – enough for two standard domestic roundtrip award tickets.
Unlike free-night and Cash & Points redemptions, you can’t book Nights & Flights online – you have to call into SPG Customer Care, and Starwood won’t book the flight portion of your award for you – you have to find the availability and make the redemption yourself on the airline once your points transfer.
There are a few other rules to keep in mind:
1. Nights & Flights awards must be ordered at least 14 business days prior to the arrival date for a US Airline and at least 30 business days prior to the arrival date for a non-US airline to ensure timely processing for the air portion of the award.
2. The free night reservation and the Nights & Flights award must be ordered on the same day as the transfer of Starpoints to airline miles.
3. Nights & Flights awards are for five nights. Additional free nights must be ordered/redeemed separately. If you don’t want to stay all five nights, you don’t have to, but you will not be refunded any points, and should advise the hotel at check-in that you won’t be staying the whole time.
4. If hotel award availability changes, the Nights & Flights award nights can be changed.
5. If a Nights & Flights award is canceled, the SPG member will only receive a Starpoint credit of 20,000 points for a Category 3 property, and 30,000 points for a Category 4 property. The 40,000 points transferred to airline miles will not be refunded.
6. Guests do not receive Starpoints or airline miles for their Nights & Flights reservations, though award stays now count toward Starwood elite status.
Comparison to Marriott’s Hotel + Air Packages
Marriott Rewards offers a similar option to redeem points for both hotel rooms and a set amount of airline miles.
The first major difference from Starwood’s option is that Marriott Rewards members can opt for this redemption method in all of Marriott’s property categories, whereas with Starwood, the redemption is only available at Categories 3 and 4.
The second major difference is that these Marriott packages are for 7-night stays, so you’re committing to a week rather than just 5 days.
Here’s the basic Marriott breakdown:
-7 nights at a Category 1-5 and 50,000 airline miles: 200,000 Marriott Points
-7 nights at a Category 6 and 50,000 airline miles: 230,000 Marriott Points
-7 nights at a Category 7 and 50,000 airline miles: 260,000 Marriott Points
-7 nights at a Category 8 and 50,000 airline miles: 290,000 Marriott Points
You’re not getting extra value out of the hotel portion of these awards. Where the true value kicks in is being the airline portion, where 50,000 Marriott Rewards points get you 50,000 miles on the program’s airline partners: Aeromexico, Aeroplan (Air Canada), Alaska, British Airways, Delta Air Lines, Frontier Airlines, GOL/Varig, Hawaiian Airlines, United Airlines, US Airways, Virgin Atlantic – there are other airline partners including Southwest, JetBlue, Virgin America, Air France, ANA, Qantas, Singapore and more, but for the purposes of comparison, let’s keep it simple.
Normally, would take you 125,000 Marriott points to transfer to 50,000 airline miles, but with this option, it just requires 50,000 Marriott points, saving you 75,000 points on each of these redemptions. That’s more than enough for a free night at a top-level Tier 5 Ritz-Carlton property. Not a bad savings.
Then again, we’re talking about hundreds of thousands of points here, so you’ve got to have a pretty healthy points balance to even consider these options.
As always, whether Starwood’s Nights & Flights redemption is worth it really depends on your particular needs. If you’re looking for a five-night getaway at a mid-tier property and the airline awards you need to get there are plentiful and easy to book, you might as well save the extra 8,000 or 10,000 points.
Personally, I find I get a lot more value out of either free-night or Cash & Points redemptions with Starwood, and I like to have the flexibility of transferring points to miles (which I’ll cover in a future post) on my own timeframe for the exact awards I want. That’s just me, though – I have trouble committing to travel plans!
If yours are set and you can score a Nights & Flights redemption without any hassle or extra work, then you might as well save some points in the process.