Maximizing Starwood’s Unique Airline Transfer Options: Part 1

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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?

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