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The future of Starwood (and its popular SPG program) has been up in the air since the acquisition battle between Anbang and Marriott unfolded over the last few months. Now that a merger with Marriott’s been approved, award-travel enthusiasts can make some educated guesses about what the move will mean for Starwood Preferred Guest — in the long term, for instance, Marriott said it envisions a combined program rather than two separate ones.
While this means Starpoints won’t likely be around for decades to come, for now they remain one of the most useful loyalty program currencies, regularly topping my monthly valuations at 2.5 cents apiece. I value Starpoints so highly because of the great value you can get from them, through hotel award night redemptions, transfers to more than 30 airline partners and one-of-a-kind events and experiences via SPG Moments.
Whether you decide to continue earning Starpoints in light of the impending merger with Marriott will likely depend on your travel plans and goals in the short to medium term. If you’re already feeling skittish and looking toward banking your loyalty with another hotel program, though, it’s good to know that your current stash of Starpoints can be put to use with the program’s wide variety of transfer partners. Following up on our series looking at transfer times for American Express Membership Rewards points, Chase Ultimate Rewards points and Citi ThankYou Rewards points, today I’ll take a look at the time it takes to move SPG points to all partners. Settle in, because this is a lengthy list!
To come up with the data below, the TPG team and I performed sample Starpoint transfers to each of the program’s airline partners. (Note that Amtrak is also a transfer partner but wasn’t included in our test.) As you’ll see below, there were a few glitches — though the majority of transfers were successful.
|Program||Transfer Time||Transfer Rate|
|Aegean Airlines Miles&Bonus||10 days||1:1|
|Aeromexico Club Premier||1.5 days||1:1|
|Air Canada Aeroplan||5 days||1:1|
|Air Berlin topbonus||7 days||1:1|
|Air China Phoenix Miles||Less than 24 hours||1:1|
|Air France/KLM Flying Blue||1 day||1:1|
|Air New Zealand Airpoints||2 days||65:1|
|Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan||2 days||1:1|
|Alitalia MilleMiglia||Transfer error||1:1|
|ANA Mileage Club||7 days||1:1|
|American Airlines AAdvantage||2 days||1:1|
|Cathay Pacific Asia Miles||2 days||1:1|
|British Airways Executive Club||5 days||1:1|
|China Eastern (Eastern Miles)||Transfer error||1:1|
|China Southern Sky Pearl Club||3 days||1:1|
|Delta SkyMiles||1.5 days||1:1|
|Emirates Skywards||4 days||1:1|
|Etihad Guest||5 days||1:1|
|GOL Smiles||Transfer error||2:1|
|Hainan Airlines Fortune Wings Club||7 days||1:1|
|Hawaiian Airlines HawaiianMiles||2 days||1:1|
|JAL Mileage Bank||7 days||1:1|
|Jet Airways Jet Privilege||Still pending||1:1|
|Korean Air SKYPASS||7 days||1:1|
|LAN LANPASS||2 days||1:1.5|
|Miles & More||4 days||1:1|
|Qatar Airways Privilege Club||3 weeks||1:1|
|Saudia Alfursan||Transfer error||1:1|
|Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer||7 days||1:1|
|Thai Airways Royal Orchid Plus||10 days||1:1|
|United MileagePlus||2 days||2:1|
|Virgin Atlantic Flying Club||Less than 24 hours||1:1|
|Virgin Australia Velocity||2 days||1:1|
Note that the transfer times listed above reflect our experience and shouldn’t be taken as hard and fast rules. That said, it’s clear that Starwood Preferred Guest point transfers tend to take a bit longer, especially compared to our Chase Ultimate Rewards test, which yielded six instantaneous transfers. There were no automatic transfers here, though two programs — Air China and Virgin Atlantic — registered the transfers in less than a day.
As you can see, a handful of airlines registered “transfer errors,” meaning the TPG team was not able to successfully move points to these programs even after calling SPG and asking for assistance. We’ve confirmed that all these airlines are indeed still SPG partners so you shouldn’t write Starpoints off completely as a transfer option — but you’ll want to give yourself plenty of time to troubleshoot if you’re even thinking about transferring points to Alitalia, China Eastern, GOL or Saudia.
Finally, one transfer is still pending. We’ve been trying to move Starpoints to Jet Airways’ Jet Privilege program for more than a month (starting on March 8, 2016), but the transfer has yet to be completed. Luckily this carrier isn’t one of the most in-demand transfer partners, but it’s still annoying that the process is taking so unreasonably long.
So while the Starwood Preferred Guest program leads the pack when it comes to selection of airline transfer partners, it falls far behind when it comes to processing transfers in a timely manner. Especially considering that transfers are irreversible, you’ll want to be completely sure before you move your Starpoints to any partner — and definitely budget in the extra time to ensure you don’t end up stuck with miles you don’t need. Here are some tips to avoid that dreaded situation:
1. Put your award reservation on hold prior to transferring. Not all programs allow you to do this, but those that do make things much easier. For example, Singapore KrisFlyer allows you to hold an award reservation so long as you have 50% of the necessary miles in your account.
2. Choose flights that have more than 1 available award seat. This is helpful in case someone else books before your miles show up. Use tools like ExpertFlyer or KVS to find how many award seats are available on a flight. You can also do a single search for three or four passengers – that way, you can determine precisely how many seats are available.
3. Select uncommon routes. You can improve your chances by flying along routes that are less popular or originate from non-hubs, since those often have better award availability. For a transpacific flight, check out ANA’s flight from San Jose to Tokyo-Narita, for example.
4. Let the availability determine your destination. If you have some flexibility and your original itinerary is no longer an option because availability has dried up, one solution is to choose your destination based on which awards are still bookable. If you want to fly six people in business to Hawaii for Christmas, I’d keep in mind the difficulty of that task and search for other destinations with availability — perhaps finding a diamond in the rough.
If your original flights have disappeared, don’t panic. Keep in mind that award availability changes frequently and can increase dramatically as you get closer to your departure date. Check regularly and be ready to act quickly when seats do open up.
Best Ways to Earn and Best Transfer Options
You have two credit card options for earning Starpoints that can be transferred to the above airline partners: the Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card from American Express and the Starwood Preferred Guest Business Credit Card from American Express. Both earn you 2 points per dollar on eligible Starwood purchases — on top of the 2 or 3 points you’ll earn depending on your SPG elite status. Both cards recently offered all-time-high sign-up bonuses of 35,000 Starpoints for meeting the spending requirements, but even with their lower 25,000-point offer these products could be worth considering if you want to earn points for free nights or flight awards with one of the program’s many partners.
Note that Starwood sweetens the deal by giving you an extra 5,000 miles for every 20,000 Starpoints you transfer, so you can cut down on the rewards needed to book a free flight. This makes the overall disappointing transfer times a little easier to accept, though it’s still not ideal that moving points to American took a full week to go through!
As for the best redemption options, thanks to SPG’s long list of transfer partners, there are quite a few. Here are some standouts:
- 60,000 Starpoints to Alaska Mileage Plan to fly one-way North America-Asia in Cathay Pacific first class.
- 80,000 Starpoints to JAL to fly round-trip New York-Milan in Emirates A380 first class.
- 45,000 Starpoints to Singapore KrisFlyer to fly one-way Singapore-Tokyo on the A380 in a suite.
Remember to check the transfer rate for specific partners — for example, United may seem like a good option, but the transfer ratio is just 2:1. Most airline partners, including Cathay Pacific and Singapore Airlines, have a more favorable ratio of 1:1, though.
Again, note that the transfer times listed above are based on what we saw; your experiences may vary. Make sure to give yourself plenty of time to account for the sometimes-sluggish process, and enjoy taking advantage of the SPG program’s wide network of airline partners!
Please share your favorite SPG transfer option in the comments below!
Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express
|Intro APR||Regular APR||Annual Fee||Foreign Transaction Fee||Credit Rating|
|N/A||15.49%-19.49% Variable||$0 introductory annual fee for the first year, then $95.||0%||Excellent Credit|