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Maximizing Starwood’s Unique Airline Transfer Options: Part 1

by on June 6, 2014 · 29 comments

in Points Guy Pointers, Starwood, TPG Contributors, Uncategorized

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TPG contributor Jason Steele returns today to talk about maximizing Starwood Preferred Guest points when transferring to airline partners.

American Express is currently offering their Starwood Preferred Guest card with a 30,000 points sign-up bonus for a limited time on both personal and business cards. While these points can be quite valuable for award nights at Starwood hotels (think Sheraton, Westins, W and St. Regis, for example) it is also one of the three major point loyalty programs that offer to transfer points to airline miles at 1:1 ratios or better. In fact, Starwood members receive a 5,000 point bonus when they transfer 20,000 points to most airline transfer partners, so the transfer rate is effectively 1:1.25 for a majority of the 32 airline partners.

What can you do with Starwood points that can’t do with Membership Rewards or Ultimate Rewards?

Of the 32 different airline transfer partners,, 13 of them are also transfer partners of American Express Membership Rewards, Chase Ultimate Rewards, or both. That leaves 19 programs that are unique to the Starwood program. Here is a rundown of 9 of those programs and whether or not there are sweet spot redemptions that might make sense for you.

SPG airline transfer partners

SPG airline transfer partners

Air Berlin. Air Berlin is a member of the Oneworld alliance but awards on flights operated Air Berlin can be fewer miles than when using American miles, such as flights between North America and Europe for 80,000 miles round-trip in business class vs. 100,000 with American. The Air Berlin partner award chart is generally less generous than American’s, but there are occasionally situations where a destination is classified in a different zone with Air Berlin than it is with American, allowing you to possibly save a few points on an award. Otherwise, another good use of these points is for their topbonus Topdeal tickets that offer discounts on their standard award prices. Also, this program offers an economy class companion ticket for 50% of the miles, but only on flights operated by Air Berlin and its partner Air NIKI. Keep in mind that Air Berlin does add fuel surcharges (so call to confirm what they’ll be before you transfer any points) to most awards, so think of this as an option for those who are just short of the mileage needed for an award with AA or US. Finally, topbonus features non-alliance partners Bangkok Airways and Etihad.

Air China Phoenix Miles. This is another foreign program that uses kilometers and therefore has higher prices than other mileage based programs. I would only recommend transferring points to this program in order to top off an existing account balance.

Air New Zealand & Air Points. Starpoints transfer to Air New Zealand AirPoints at the unusual rate of 65:1. Therefore, you need to multiply the figures on their partner award chart by 65 to get the equivalent number of Starpoints (not including the 5,000 point bonus for transferring 20,000 points at once).  Frankly, there are not many good deals here, which is compounded by the fact that Air New Zealand tends not to offer very many award seats anyways. So this is another program that you might only use to top off an account.

Emirates first class via Alaska Airlines

Emirates first class via Alaska Airlines

Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan. This program is clearly one of the most valuable transfer partners exclusive to the Starwood program, so it is difficult to single out a handful of the best possibilities. Awards to Asia, Africa, India, and the Middle East on Cathay Pacific are 70,000 miles each way in first class, but finding award space can be can be challenging. Business class is still decent at 50,000 miles one way to Asia, 62,500 to Africa/India/Middle East, and 60,000 to Australia.

Link: List of Alaska partners

Business class awards for flights on Emirates are 72,500 from the U.S. to India/Middle East, 75,000 to Europe and Asia, and 77,500 to Africa. Go in first class and you are looking at 90,000 to India/Middle East (like TPG did back in November) and 100,000 each way anywhere else.

45,000 miles are all that is needed for one-way flights to South America on LAN. As with all of their partner awards, stopovers are allowed on each one-way leg, so two stopovers total on a round-trip, plus your destination. This can work great on carriers like LAN that have multiple hubs throughout South America.

American Airlines AAdvantage. 100,000 miles used to be the going rate for booking a business class ticket to Europe, but now Delta and United charge substantially more, making American seem like a bargain again (though you’ll be slammed with fees if the award is on British Airways or Iberia). American is also a great option for booking international first class awards on their partners, which costs a prohibitive amount of miles on United and isn’t even possible with Delta miles. Other great awards include 10,000 mile one-ways within Europe, and their off peoak awards. These include  20,000 mile off-peak awards to southern South America and Europe, and 25,000 miles to Asia Zone 1 (Japan, Korea, Mongolia).

Asiana Airlines. Asiana just changed their award redemption policies to essentially prohibit free stopovers. Now, each time you stay more than 24 hours, the next leg is considered another award. So even though this is a distance based award chart, there are not many good values here when you consider fuel surcharges.

China Eastern may not have the fanciest business class..

China Eastern may not have the fanciest business class..

China Eastern Airlines. I can’t find any value in this chart, which appears to require about twice as many miles for a comparable award as its fellow SkyTeam carriers. So here is another case of a program that is best used only to top off an existing account balance.

China Southern Airlines’ Sky Pearl Club. The best deal I could find on their SkyTeam award chart is to fly from the U.S. to North Africa in Business class for 129,000 miles round-trip (kilometers actually). This compares favorably to the Delta chart at 140,000.

Etihad Airways. Rather than publishing an award chart (that would be too easy), Etihad has a mileage calculator that allows you to determine the mileage required for awards between various points. This is a pure distance based chart, and first class awards appear to cost approximately 16.15 miles for each mile flown, business is about 12.88, and economy awards are around 9.09.

Therefore, the best values here are in shorter flights that cross traditional award zones. For example, from Abu Dhabi to Cairo is 13,359 Etihad miles each way in economy, but it would require 30,000 American Airlines miles for a one-way award between the Middle East and Africa. Etihad also offers an Air Berlin award chart, but there isn’t much value there.

How do you use these Starwood point transfer options? Are there any other great values that you have discovered?

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

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  • Tiffany

    Do Starwood points ever expire? I’m thinking of signing up for this card (my first travel-related card) simply because of the flexibility it offers as to where you can spend your points.

  • Ill. M.
  • Jason Steele

    Starwood points expire after 12 months of inactivity. Of course, having the card means you will have activity any month you make a charge or pay the annual fee. Also, you can transfer starpoints for free between household members, which counts as activity.

  • Cheapblackdad

    Jason, curious your thoughts here. Everyone and their affiliate linking brother thinks this card is one of the best. However, at the moment my wife and I are not trying to hit any minimum spend, and it’s been very interesting to see what we have been grabbing out of our wallets when minimum spend is not an issue and just plain earning points is. I’ve been grabbing the Arrival that gives me 2X, or a UR card that I can use for bonus spend either through a portal or in specific categories.

    The problem with the SPG is every time I use it, I only get 1 point. Every. Single. Time. Maybe that’s what makes bonuses like this so valuable. Between the spend, the increased bonus, the transfer bonus, and the referral, my wife and I would have 45,000 Starwood points waiting to be used for a trip so I may pull the trigger. But is the reason these cards are considered to be so good simply because they can be transferred to so many airlines to top off an account or because there aren’t great credit card bonuses linked with some of the programs Starwood points can transfer to?

  • Josh

    Getting the SPG card would be a no-brainer for me if there was a hotel-related perk, such as automatic Gold status. If I can get Gold status just for being a AmEx Platinum card holder, why can’t I get for having SPGs own card. The nice thing about using airline cards is the other travel perks, like Priority Access boarding and lines with AA. If SPG could just add another perk or two like that I would sign up immediately.

  • shay peleg

    Are we forgetting Singapore airlines ?

  • MYRflyer

    I believe Jason was focusing on the airlines not covered by Chase UR or American Express MR.

  • Jason Steele

    I have always thought this card was one of the best, long before this offer came around, Yes, its value is in the number of transfer partners, especially the unique ones not available to other point transfer programs (UR and MR). I can’t tell you how many times I used Starpoints to top off an existing balance and book an award so I think of this card as a kind of Swiss Army knife to get me out of my award planning jams. The 5k bonus for 20k redemptions also makes this card earn an effective 1.25 miles per dollar, better than the airline cards themselves.

    Beyond that, I frequently receive well over two cents in value per point redeemed at their hotels, especially with the fifth night free. For example, my next stay at an airport Sheraton in Europe is returning 2.47 cents per point. Remember to add in the price room taxes, which you usually don’t pay on awards.

    Finally, I usually hit the 30k annual spend and get Starwood gold. Barclaycard Arrival is a great card, but Starwood has some unique uses. Look beyond the number of points offered and focus on the value of each one.

  • Jason Steele

    Correct, Singapore is now a transfer partner of Starwood, UR, and MR.

  • Darren

    The card does offer “preferred guest plus” status, which is better than just being a member, but not as good as gold. It offers possible upgrades and 4 pm check out if available

  • Steven

    So if I transfer 100,000 amex points to starpoints at 1:1 ratio then transfer those to United at a 2:1 ration I am getting double the miles when I transfer?

  • delionita

    I imagine that once you transfer those points to an airline they’re yours to keep, even if you cancel the card? I know, everyone recommends to keep that card and pay the annual feel.

  • thepointsguy

    Yes they are yours

  • thepointsguy

    No you’re getting half. 10,000 star points = 5,000 united

  • Ben

    What’s the transfer time in general and specifically for Delta. If I transfer today, when would they be in my Delta account?

  • Leon R

    I have never been able to justify getting this card. Except for a very few airlines, I can book any of these airlines with my UR points now, albeit perhaps at a higher amount of miles. But I would rather book Cathay Pacific for 100,000 avios vs using 70K starpoints because UR points are so much easily more attainable with Ink and Sapphire. The only major benefit I could see is that I could transfer SPG to Miles & More which would allow me to book LH F class with much more availability and more than 14 days before my trip, something I cant do with any other points prorgram

  • Jasmine

    Can take almost 3 weeks to show into transfer account. This is not for the last minute award redemption redeemers. That’s the benefit of amex and URL its instant. If looking to accumulate miles into one specific program this is the way to go

  • Rebecca D.

    How about Turkish Airlines? I’m trying to figure out the best SPG partner to transfer my points to to book business class for a Boston to Istanbul RT in June 2015.

  • JM

    SPG points were incredibly valuable when I booked hotel stays at Aloft Kuala Lumpur and 4 Points Sheraton Lankgawi (3-4K/night for both properties). While the two properties were miles apart in every aspect, they were great, free stays while on my SE Asia tour with my girlfriend. We stayed a total of 7 nights, and still had points left over from just 1 credit card sign up. That was at least $1000 worth of hotel stays that I wouldn’t have paid for out of pocket.

  • Jason Steele

    Unfortunately, Turkish is not an SPG transfer partner

  • Rebecca D.

    Sorry, thought it was. Which partner would you recommend transferring to to get the best award redemption to fly either on Turkish from BOS-IST or to Turkey from NA? Thanks!

  • Jason Steele

    Air Canada charges 105k r/t in business class without fuel surcharges.

  • Rebecca D.

    Thanks so much!

  • Rich

    AMEX SPG is my go to card. I constantly redeem my SPG points
    for hotel stays for well over 2 cents in value per point. For example, this 4th
    of July weekend I redeemed a hotel stay at the Anaheim Sheraton Hotel Resort on
    club level floor for 8K SPG points and the room is going for a little over $300
    a night, getting well over 3 cents per value! There generous airline transfer
    is another amazing value. I transferred over 60K airline miles to British
    Airway for a total of 75K Avios, then used the Avios to book a round trip award
    ticket for 3 on American Airlines from LAX to Hawaii. Those tickets were
    selling for $757! SPG coupled with Chase UR, especially the category bonuses
    make a great credit card tag team!

  • Rich

    Use Chase to transfer to United they issue the United Explorer Credit Card so naturally they are going to make there deal better. You lose value transferring SPG points to United at a 2:1 ratio

  • rich

    You can book a United flight using Singapore Kris Fkyer miles!

  • rich

    I just transferred SPG points to BA, it took 48hrs. That is one thing that I wish they can improve on, why not make it instant like Chase?

  • Jeff Surdyk

    I have a Starwood AMX and a Miles & More Lufth

  • Jeff Surdyk

    ansa Mastercharge in addition too flight miles I have for previous overseas trips. I am booked (already paid) to fly to Germany Dec. 13. Is their a number I can call and get help in using any of the above to get upgraded to Business class?

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