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6 Best Ways to Use Starpoints from the SPG Amex Cards

March 09, 2016
9 min read
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6 Best Ways to Use Starpoints from the SPG Amex Cards
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If you jumped on the limited-time increased sign-up bonus for the Starwood Preferred Guest Amex — or if you're simply sitting on a huge stash of points — you might be wondering how to redeem them. Below, TPG Senior Points & Miles Contributor Nick Ewen shares some of the best options for putting those Starpoints to work.

American Express recently announced a limited-time increased sign-up bonus on both the Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card from American Express and the Starwood Preferred Guest Business Credit Card from American Express. From now until March 30, you can earn 35,000 bonus Starpoints when you spend $3,000 or $5,000 in the first three months on the personal and business cards, respectively.

This is a fantastic opportunity to take home a bunch of very valuable points ahead of the Marriott and SPG merger, and my last post gave some specific suggestions for how you could utilize 35,000 Starpoints to make the most of this sign-up bonus. Today, however, I want to shift gears and speak a bit more generally about the program as I answer the following question: What are the best ways to use SPG points?

1. Low-Category Stays

The rooftop pool at the Aloft in Kuala Lumpur makes the hotel feel like a steal at just 4,000 points per night!
You don't have to sacrifice luxury when staying at lower-tier properties (like the Aloft Kuala Lumpur, a Category 2 hotel).

While many of us love to splurge on aspirational redemptions like the St. Regis Bal Harbour, the best values in a program's award chart sometimes come at the bottom end of the category spectrum, and Starwood Preferred Guest is no exception. The two lowest categories require a very modest amount of points for a free night, and those rates actually drop for weekend nights! Here are the details:

  • Category 1: 3,000 points per weekday night and 2,000 points per weekend night
  • Category 2: 4,000 points per weekday night and 3,000 points per weekend night

Now keep in mind that these properties tend to fall into the chain's less luxurious brands like Four Points by Sheraton (roughly 40% of Category 1-2 properties), but even with a room rate of just $100 per night, your redemption value will be at least 2.5 cents per point and can easily jump significantly at the right hotel. For some examples of these redemptions, be sure to check out my post, 9 Low-Level Starwood Properties that Make for Awesome Awards (keeping in mind that some may have changed categories as of March 1).

2. Fifth Night Free

The St. Regis Deer Valley is a terrific use of SPG points (in the winter, at least).
Though you'll need to spend more points, higher-category properties like the St. Regis Deer Valley also give you the fifth night free on award stays.

If you aren't into the low-category properties, another great use of SPG points is on stays of five nights or longer at Category 3-7 properties. When you redeem points for these stays, you'll automatically get the fifth night free. As a result, it never makes sense to redeem Starpoints for a four-night stay at these locations (especially when you could pay for that stay and take advantage of the 4th Night Free benefit on the Citi Prestige Card).

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This drops your redemption rates to the following amounts for a stay of exactly five nights (note that the ranges for Category 5-7 are based on whether your stay is during low or high season for the individual property):

  • Category 3: 28,000 points
  • Category 4: 40,000 points
  • Category 5: 48,000 - 64,000 points
  • Category 6: 80,000 - 100,000 points
  • Category 7: 120,000 - 140,000 points

3. Transfer to Airline Miles

Both Alaska and Japan Airlines are transfer partners with SPG, giving you a couple of great options for booking Emirates award flights.

A third great use of Starpoints is to transfer them to one of 35 airline partners (Aegean was the most recent addition). For every 20,000 points you transfer, you'll get a 5,000-mile bonus. One of the best aspects of this option is that you have several unique partners that aren't connected to any other transferable point currency, including American, Alaska and Lufthansa's Miles & More program.

One particularly lucrative partner is Japan Airlines and its Mileage Bank program. The carrier uses a distance-based award chart, and one of the best options for using these miles is for redemptions on Emirates. You can have up to 6 segments and two stopovers, and the number of miles you'd need depends on the total distance you travel. Here are some sample itineraries for both business class and first class:

  • New York-JFK to Milan (round-trip): 63,000 miles in business, 100,000 miles in first
  • New York-JFK to Dubai (round-trip): 85,000 miles in business, 135,000 miles in first
  • New York-JFK to Milan to Dubai (stopover) to Bangkok (destination) to Dubai to New York-JFK: 100,000 miles in business, 155,000 miles in first

The taxes and fees you'll pay on these tickets are also quite reasonable, so it's a terrific way to book Emirates first class. Just remember to factor in the transfer bonus when figuring out how many Starpoints to convert. To get 100,000 JAL miles, you'd only need 80,000 Starpoints (since you'd get four 5,000-mile bonuses).

4. SPG Moments

As a lifelong Cubs fan, I've always been intrigued by the different packages offered through SPG Moments.

If travel isn't your cup of tea, another terrific redemption option for your Starpoints is to book a package through SPG Moments. This program gives you an array of unique experiences covering music, sports, the performing arts and even culinary adventures, all of which are available using points. While some are auction-style (like last year's bidding for two tickets on Emirates' inaugural flight from Orlando to Dubai), others are flat redemption amounts. TPG utilized the SPG Moments program for possibly his favorite use of points ever: VIP tickets to a New York Knicks game with his dad, including access to the SPG luxury suite.

It just so happens that there are several similar packages for the Staples Center currently available over the next few months. You'd need to shell out 30,000 Starpoints for two seats and suite access at Clippers games (like the April 10th contest with the Dallas Mavericks) or 35,000 points for a similar package at Lakers games (like the March 27th game against the Washington Wizards).

5. Cash & Points Stays

The Westin Excelsior in Florence
Cash & Points redemptions can be a great value at properties like the Westin Excelsior in Florence, where room rates regularly top $500 per night.

If you want to extend the value of your points and don't mind shelling out a bit of cash to do so, another great redemption is SPG's Cash & Points awards. Here's a breakdown of the requirements for a standard room using this option:

  • Category 1: 1,500 points + $30
  • Category 2: 2,000 points + $35
  • Category 3: 3,500 points + $55
  • Category 4: 5,000 points + $75
  • Category 5: 6,000 points + $110
  • Category 6: 10,000 points + $180
  • Category 7: 15,000 points + $275

Unfortunately, these are subject to blackout dates, so hotels can decide when to make these awards available. In addition, you won't see a fifth night free discount for longer stays. However, the point requirements above are consistent regardless of whether you are staying during high or low season, so if you can find Cash & Points availability at a Category 5 property during peak season (for example), you'd get even more value out of your points.

6. Nights + Flights Packages

Alaska is rebranding in 2016.
Booking a Nights and Flights package can be a great way to boost your Alaska account balance and enjoy a five-night hotel stay.

A final option for your hard-earned Starpoints is the program's Nights & Flights packages. These redemptions allow you to redeem points for a five-night stay in a Category 3 or a Category 4 hotel and earn 50,000 airline miles. I analyzed these packages in-depth back in November, and they typically represent a great option for the more valuable point currencies out there (such as Alaska Mileage Plan miles). I only wish they extended to some of the higher categories!

Bottom Line

The SPG program has a plethora of terrific redemption options, and the new sign-up bonuses on both the Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card from American Express and the Starwood Preferred Guest Business Credit Card from American Express make this a great time to think about how you could utilize this haul of Starpoints. While everyone has their own way of identifying the "best" way to redeem a given currency, I hope this post has given you some inspiration for making the most of your next SPG redemption.

For more details on the cards and the SPG program in general, be sure to check out the following links:

What's your favorite way to use Starpoints?

Featured image by TOOTEN PHOTOGRAPHY CO.
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.