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Update: Some offers mentioned below are no longer available. View the current offers here – Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express, Starwood Preferred Guest® Business Credit Card from American Express
Even though the future of Starwood (and its popular SPG program) has been up in the air since its merger with Marriott, it remains a popular destination for many award travel enthusiasts’ points thanks to a wealth of redemption options. 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 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||2 days||1:1|
|Air Canada Aeroplan||5 days||1:1|
|Air China Phoenix Miles||Less than 24 hours||1:1|
|Air France/KLM Flying Blue||4 days||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||4 days||1:1|
|American Airlines AAdvantage||2 days||1:1|
|Avianca LifeMiles||1 day||1:1|
|British Airways Executive Club||4 days||1:1|
|Cathay Pacific Asia Miles||3 days||1:1|
|China Eastern (Eastern Miles)||Transfer error||1:1|
|Delta SkyMiles||1.5 days||1:1|
|Emirates Skywards||2 days||1:1|
|Etihad Guest||8 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|
|Iberia Plus||1 day||1:1|
|JAL Mileage Bank||4 days||1:1|
|Jet Airways Jet Privilege||5 days||1:1|
|Korean Air SkyPass||7 days||1:1|
|LATAM Airlines LATAM Pass||2 days||1:1.5|
|Miles & More||4 days||1:1|
|Qatar Airways Privilege Club||2.5 days||1:1|
|Saudia Alfursan||Transfer error||1:1|
|Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer||4 days||1:1|
|Thai Airways Royal Orchid Plus||10 days||1:1|
|United MileagePlus||2 days||2:1|
|Virgin Atlantic Flying Club||1 day||1:1|
|Virgin Australia Velocity||1 day||1:1|
Note that the transfer times listed above reflect our experience and shouldn’t be taken as hard and fast rules. For example, while our latest Qatar transfer took less than three days, in the past it’s taken me as long as three weeks to move points over to that program.
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 nine instantaneous transfers. There were no automatic transfers here, though a handful of programs registered the transfers in about a day.
As you can see, a few 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 off Starpoints 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.
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 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 6 points per dollar on eligible Starwood and Marriott purchases — on top of the 2 or 3 points you’ll earn depending on your SPG elite status. Both the consumer and business cards are currently offering a $100 statement credit after you spend $1,000 in purchases in the first three months. Plus, an additional $100 statement credit after your first purchase at participating SPG or Marriott Rewards hotels in the first six months. There’s a $95 fee for each card that’s waived the first year, and neither card charges foreign transaction fees.
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 from North America to Asia in Cathay Pacific first class (with 5,000 extra Alaska miles leftover from the transfer).
- 80,000 Starpoints to JAL to fly round-trip from New York to Milan in Emirates A380 first class (though surcharges are now added).
- 61,000 Starpoints to Singapore KrisFlyer to fly one-way Singapore-Frankfurt 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!