Instant Starwood Points Transfers: The Weekly Wish

Oct 2, 2014

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In the world of award travel, there’s little more frustrating than hunting down the perfect itinerary and locking in on scarce award availability only to have your plans undone by a delay in transferring points from one program to another. Today TPG Contributor Nick Ewen calls out one notoriously slow transferable points program, and explains why it would be in their own best interest to pick up the pace.

Among loyalty programs, those that offer transferable points tend to be the most valuable. Rather than sitting on a glut of miles in a single program that may suddenly and viciously devalue (ahem, Delta/United/Hilton, I’m looking at you), transferable points give you the flexibility to wait until you have a specific redemption in mind before transferring to your airline or hotel of choice. Unfortunately, your best laid plans can be spoiled when transfers don’t happen instantaneously, since award availability can disappear before you have time to close the deal. That brings us to today’s Weekly Wish: that Starwood Preferred Guest transfers to airline miles would happen immediately.

British Airways's 747-400
British Airways is one of three loyalty programs that partners with Membership Rewards, Ultimate Rewards, and Starwood Preferred Guest. Just don’t expect those Starwood transfers to happen quickly!

When it comes to timing, SPG transfers fall far behind those of American Express and Chase. (For the purposes of this post, I compared SPG to Membership Rewards and Ultimate Rewards, but not to Citi ThankYou Rewards, since the transfer program is new and hard data isn’t as plentiful.) The table below offers a rundown of how many transfer partners in each program are instantaneous:

Transferable points programs and instantaneous transfer partners

In other words, while both Membership Rewards and Ultimate Rewards points transfer to over half of their partners immediately, SPG gives you exactly zero that happen in the same time frame. If you compare programs that are common across two (or even all three) of these programs, the differences are even more apparent. The following table shows the breakdown of such programs and their published transfer rates:


Membership Rewards

Ultimate Rewards SPG
AeroMexico Up to 14 days X Up to 5 days
Aeroplan Instantly X Up to 5 days
Alitalia Instantly X 15-20 days
ANA 2-4 days X 10-14 days
Asia Miles 3-7 days X 15-20 days
British Airways Instantly Instantly 10-14 days
Delta Instantly X 5 days
Emirates Instantly X 10-14 days
Flying Blue Instantly X 10-14 days
Hawaiian Instantly X 10-14 days
Singapore 3 days 2 days 10-14 days
United X Instantly 10-14 days
Virgin Atlantic 24-48 hours Instantly 7-10 days

Of these 13 shared partners, SPG beats the Ultimate Rewards and Membership Rewards on just one: AeroMexico. For the three airlines that are common to all three programs (British Airways, Singapore, and Virgin Atlantic), transfers to SPG are much slower.

It’s important to note that these are all published time frames, and as TPG found back in 2012, SPG transfers do tend to happen more quickly than they claim. I at least give them credit for admitting this, much as I give credit to a restaurant host/hostess for overestimating the wait time for a table. Even the “instant” transfers with Membership Rewards include the following disclaimer:

“In rare instances, please allow up to 48 hours for the transfer to be completed.”

However, TPG’s test was fascinating, as it highlighted the lengthy (and inconsistent) delays in finalizing SPG transfers. In some cases, the same airline had different time frames in different weeks. ANA, for example, took 3 days to post in the first week (transfer initiated on a Monday), but 6 days to post in the second week (transfer initiated on a Tuesday). How maddening! While none of the 14 airlines included in his trial fell outside the published time frames, only Delta posted the transfer by the next day. As anyone who has ever searched for award availability using SkyMiles knows, that may be a day too late.

I believe that fixing this issue wouldn’t just provide added convenience and peace of mind to points & miles enthusiasts. I believe it would directly impact the value of SPG points. Last week, TPG posted his September valuations of various currencies, and SPG continues to lead the pack at 2.3 cents/point. If they were to make points transfers instantaneous, I would hazard a guess that Starpoints would be at least 10% more valuable (or roughly 2.5 cents/point). In addition, I believe that enabling immediate transfers of points to their airline partners would increase the number of members using this option, thus chipping away at traditional redemptions that can cost the SPG program serious money. Finally, it would encourage even more SPG members to think about using the Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card from American Express, since the points earned would be even more valuable.

SPG still offers great value when transferring points, especially when you take advantage of the 5,000 mile bonus offered for transfers of 20,000 points, but improving transfer times is definitely an area where there’s room for improvement.

Have you “lost” an award redemption while waiting for your SPG points transfer to transfer? Would instantaneous transfers make you more likely to use Starpoints? Please share your thoughts in the comments below!

Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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