Maximize Starpoints Before Marriott and SPG Combine in August
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The Summertime Blues. The dog days. Call it what you want, but as the calendar turns to August, melancholy often sets in. Maybe it’s the memories of long-lost friends or an old summer fling a la Danny & Sandy. But this year, that empty feeling of August is likely caused by the end of the Starwood Preferred Guest (SPG) program as we know it.
The Value of Starpoints
SPG Starpoints have been a pillar of stability for points and mileage enthusiasts. In fact, Starpoints consistently rank as the most valuable program in TPG’s monthly points valuations. While other programs slashed value and eliminated user-friendly nuances in recent years, Starpoints have arguably become more valuable and user-friendly:
- SPG offers a variety of high-value options to redeem Starpoints, including a generous 25% bonus on transfers of 20,000 Starpoints to any of its airline partners. None of the major credit card issuers offer partner transfers at such a generous rate.
- SPG’s list of airline transfer partners is unrivaled, allowing Starpoints to be exchanged for miles with over 30 airline programs. In fact, the SPG airline partner list is arguably more inclusive than American Express, Chase, and Citibank transfer partners combined. Transferring Starpoints at such a favorable rate to partner airlines including Alaska Airlines, Asiana and Japan Airlines can allow for some incredible redemption opportunities.
- Prior to this upcoming August, the SPG-Marriott merger has given great deference to the value of Starpoints, as they were given triple the value of Marriott Rewards points. The ease of transferring points from SPG to Marriott at a favorable 1:3 ratio has been a boon for savvy redemptions across both programs.
The Combined Marriott and Starwood Program
Unfortunately, good things don’t always last forever. In August the SPG program will officially merge with Marriott Rewards and stays at SPG properties will earn points in Marriott’s new program instead of Starpoints. Around the same time, the earning structure on the Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express diminished. Instead of earning one Starpoint per dollar on non-bonus categories (currently equivalent to 3 Marriott Rewards points), the new earning rate on the SPG credit card is two Marriott points per dollar. This works out to a 33% decrease in the value of points earned on the SPG credit cards.
Fortunately, the new Marriott program will allow transfers to a generous list of airline partners. With a rate of 60,000 Marriott points to 25,000 airline miles, the transfer ratio will technically be the same, but the 33% loss of earning power on non-bonus credit card spend means the value we know and love from current Starpoints takes a hit.
A Long Goodbye: Maximize Starpoints While You Can
Goodbyes are hard, but this is no time to sulk. The clock is ticking on your final opportunities to earn enough Starpoints for those last sweet redemptions. You’ll thank yourself later when you snag a seat on an Emirates First Class flight courtesy of those final few Starpoints.
How can you maximize your Starpoints balance between now and August? Here are six tips to boost your stash before the imminent devaluation:
1. Reach for the purple card
If you’re not already doing so, consider making the SPG Amex your default credit card. While you may not want to give up category bonuses such as 3x multipliers on travel and restaurants or 5x multipliers on flights, the SPG card should be your workhorse for one final billing cycle.
2. Pay upcoming bills
Do you have any large payments coming due in the foreseeable future? By using your SPG credit card to make advance payments on large expenses (e.g., vehicle registration, insurance, tuition or home improvements projects), you can earn loads of Starpoints in short order.
3. Pre-pay taxes
On September 17, 2018, quarterly estimated taxes come due for the June 1-August 31 quarter, and you can pay your taxes via credit card for a nominal fee. Short of offering tax advice, it’s fair to say that the IRS isn’t known to punish folks for submitting a tax payment too early.
4. Give yourself the gift of gift cards
Stop by your local grocery store or office supply store to stock up on gift cards for upcoming purchases. You can top off your Amazon and Starbucks balances, or purchase fuel and grocery cards for foreseeable expenses that may come after the August merger.
5. Pay your bills with Plastiq
Plastiq is a bill payment platform that allows you to pay many bills with a credit card. While Plastiq limits American Express payments to specific categories, there may still be some lucrative opportunities to use your SPG credit card to earn more Starpoints on upcoming expenses.
6. Buy Starpoints
Until July 20, 2018, SPG is selling Starpoints at a 35% discount when you purchase at least 5,000 Starpoints. Keep in mind that you’re limited to purchasing 30,000 Starpoints per year, but to maximize your Starpoints balance during this promo, you can purchase 30,000 Starpoints for $682.50 (normally $1,050.00). SPG also allows members of the same household to transfer Starpoints to one another without a fee, so some households may be able to surpass 30,000 Starpoints by a significant margin. While purchasing points is not always a cost effective proposition, this sale on Starpoints presents the one of the best last opportunities to quickly top off your Starpoints balance.
Looking Ahead: Expect the Unexpected
Marriott and SPG have been slowly releasing information about the merger since 2016. While many details are now available, we still don’t know quite everything about the newly combined program. So before you start spending money to earn Starpoints, beware of these potential pitfalls that could thwart your well-conceived Starpoints plans:
- Pay attention to your SPG credit card’s statement closing date. The devaluation of Starpoints applies to all Starpoints accrued on or after the new program launches in August. However, neither American Express, SPG or Marriott have given definitive information on how points accrued on purchases occurring prior to the August launch but closing on a billing statement dated after that will be treated. To avoid this potential risk, you may consider calling American Express and requesting that the billing cycle date on your SPG card is adjusted to later in the month of July.
- Time your redemption correctly. If you have a specific redemption in mind, the timing of your booking could impact the number of points required. Redemption rates are changing for many hotels, so don’t get caught off-guard by a redemption that could significantly increase in price come August.
- Uncertainty is the only certainty. The Marriott-SPG merger is a massive, complicated undertaking. Marriott has been mindful of giving notice and not alienating loyal SPG members during the transition. But as the eleventh hour of the merger is upon us, expect the unexpected. Websites will inevitably be under construction, deals and promos may disappear and reappear without warning, and Marriott and SPG’s call centers will be inundated with last minute requests. Yes, some of the surprises might be positive, like the ability to book SPG’s all-suite properties for just 60,000 Marriott points — or 20,000 Starpoints — per night starting in August. But it won’t all be good news, so plan ahead and don’t procrastinate, because even a smooth transition in August will inevitably come with unpredictable surprises.
Starwood Starpoints are the most valuable points currency available — the existing program allows for incredible flexibility and value on hotel and flight bookings. You still have time to earn Starpoints and book redemptions prior to the August merger with Marriott, so take advantage while you can. And enjoy what’s left of your final summer fling with Starpoints. Come August, it’s going to be so hard to say goodbye.
Featured image of the St. Regis Macau by Zach Honig / The Points Guy.