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I’ve been digging into the Starwood hotel program because of the once-a-year up to 30,000 point bonus on the Starwood personal and business card. This offer ends on June 30, 2014.
How to Earn & Use Starwood Points:
- Part 1: Earning, Transferring, and Preventing Your Points From Expiring
- Part 2: 11 Ways to Use Your Starwood Points
- Part 3: The 9 Best Airline Transfer Partners
- Part 4: The Best Kept Secret of Nights & Flights
- Part 5: Starwood Elite Status
- Part 6: Regular Starwood Hotel Redemptions
- Part 7: Using Points for Upgrades
SPG Transfer Partners
One of the best uses of Starwood points is transferring them to airlines. There are ~30 SPG transfer partners, which is more than American Express Membership Rewards and Chase Ultimate Rewards.
Starwood points are the only way you can directly top-off your American Airlines, US Airways, Lufthansa, and other airline programs in a 1:1 transfer ratio. And if you transfer in increments of 20,000 points, you get 1.25 air miles for every 1 Starwood point.
You can get up to 30,000 Starwood points if you apply for the once-a-year 30,000 point Starwood personal or Starwood business card. That’s 35,000 airline miles!
Starwood transfer partners include many lesser known airline programs which can be very useful, like Lufthansa’s Miles and More program which allows 2 stopovers on a round-trip award. Or Japanese airline ANA and their distance based award chart.
But transfers aren’t instant, so this could be an issue if you want to put an award on hold and then transfer the miles to ticket the award. Transfer times vary and it can take up to 4 weeks for your points to transfer. In my experience, transfers take can take from 2 to 12 days to complete but it may be different for everyone
Most transfers to airlines are 1:1 transfers, with a few exceptions:
- United Airlines and Gol Smiles (a Brazilian airline) transfer at a 2:1 ratio which is NOT a good option
- Air New Zealand is 65:1 which is a terrible ratio
The one good exception is that transfers to LAN (a South American airline) are 1:1.5. This is partly because it’s a kilometer based program and 1 mile is 1.6 kilometers.
HOW THE 5,000 POINT BONUS WORKS
You get a 5,000 point bonus for every transfer of 20,000 or more Starwood points to airlines. This essentially means that you earn 1.25 air miles for every 1 Starwood point on most airline transfers (except the exceptions above) if you transfer your Starwood points in increments of 20,000 points.
You get the 5,000 extra points to transfer to airlines whether you transfer 20,000 points or if you transfer 35,000 points in one transaction. So it is better to transfer in increments of 20,000 Starwood points (20,000, 40,000 or 60,000 points) to get the 5,000 point bonus.
For example, you can transfer 35,000 Starwood points to airlines and get a 5,000 point bonus, giving you 40,000 airline miles (assuming a 1:1 transfer ratio). But transferring 5,000 more Starwood points (i.e. 40,000 Starwood points) would get you 50,000 airline miles (i.e 10,000 more miles) if you transferred 40,000 points.
For airlines that don’t have a 1:1 transfer ratio, such as United, your point bonus depends on the transfer ratio. United has a 2:1 transfer ratio so transferring 20,000 Starwood points to United would get you only 12,500 United miles [25,000 Starwood points (20,000 points + 5,000 bonus) divided by 2.]
You can transfer up to 79,999 points per airline within 24 hours.
But you shouldn’t transfer 79,999 points, because you will get more airline miles if you transfer in increments of 20,000 Starwood points and take advantage of the 5,000 point bonus. So you should transfer a maximum of 60,000 points each day and transfer more points the next day.
There are minimum transfer requirements:
- 2,500 Starwood points to airlines for regular members
- 1,500 Starwood points for Starwood Gold members
- 1 Starwood point (for most airlines) for Starwood Platinum members
If you don’t have enough points for the transfer, you can combine points from 1 Starwood account to another Starwood account (as long as they share the same address) into 1 account and then transfer.
9 Best Airline Transfers
Chase Ultimate Rewards are the best way to replenish your valuable United miles. But Starwood points are the the only way to replenish valuable American Airlines miles at a 1:1 or better transfer ratio.
American Airlines has access to some great partner airlines such as Cathay Pacific, Etihad and Malaysia Airlines and does not pass on fuel surcharges on those airlines.
I wouldn’t transfer them to United because you’d lose half your Starwood points.
I group Starwood hotel airline transfers in three categories:
- American Airlines or US Airways because of their valuable award charts
- Lesser known programs, such as Lufthansa, for specific valuable redemptions
- Topping-Off Accounts. When you’re only a few thousand points short for an award, transferring miles from Starwood beats paying for miles
1. American Airlines
Link: American Award Chart
Transferring Starwood points to American miles is the best way to earn American miles because you get 1.25 miles per $1 spent if you transfer in increments of 20,000 points. This makes the Starwood card BETTER than any of the official Citi American Airlines credit cards for earning American Airlines miles for your regular spending!
For example, you’d only have to spend $80,000 on your Starwood card (which transfers to 100,000 American Airlines miles) to earn a return business class ticket to Europe. In contrast, you’d have to spend $100,000 on your Citi American Airlines card to earn the 100,000 miles for the same business return trip to Europe!
Besides using American Airlines miles on domestic flights which start at 12,500 miles, you can also use your American miles for flights on on Cathay Pacific, Etihad, and other Oneworld airlines.
2. US Airways
Link: US Airways Award Chart
US Airways is a part of the oneworld Alliance now that it is merging with American Airlines. Starwood points transfer at a 1:1 ratio.
3. British Airways
British Airways Avios points are great for short distance redemptions. But they do charge fuel surcharges on most other long-distance redemptions (except for flights on Air Berlin and Aer Lingus).
But Avios points are great for short distance flights within the US on American Airlines. For example, it costs only 4,500 Avios points for a 1-way award from Kansas City to Chicago using Avios points for a flight on American Airlines.
I’d pay 12,500 miles if I redeemed American Airlines miles for the same flight!
It is only 25,000 Avios points (20,000 Starwood points) for a return flight, in coach, from the West Coast to Hawaii on American Airlines.
The Wandering Aramean Avios calculator is the best way to calculate how many Avios points you need for a flight.
4. Japan Airlines (JAL)
Japan Airlines has a mileage based chart and is a great option for booking flights on Emirates if you don’t have already have Alaska miles. That’s because Japan Air has a distance based award chart which could cost less for business class or first class on Emirates.
For example, flying from Los Angeles to Dubai is 16,678 miles roundtrip. This would fall under the “14,000 to 20,000” miles band on Japan Airlines award chart and would cost 100,000 miles (80,000 Starwood points) for Business Class and 155,000 miles (125,000 Starwood points) for First class.
But you can’t combine partners on Japan Airlines awards, so you’d have to get to the Emirates departure city in the US on your own.
Link: Alaska Asia Award Chart
You can also use your Alaska miles on a variety of partner airlines including Cathay Pacific and Emirates. But you can’t mix partners on an award, unless it is an Alaska Air flight. This means that you can’t book an award ticket where you fly Cathay Pacific on 1 segment and Emirates on another segment.
For example, it is only 100,000 Alaska Air miles (or 80,000 Starwood points) for a return-award to Asia from the US, in business class, on Cathay Pacific. And it is only 140,000 Alaska Air miles (or 115,000 Starwood points) for the same trip in First Class.
If you want to fly on Emirates and have an in-flight shower, it costs only 90,000 Alaska Air miles (75,000 Starwood points) to go to the Middle East or India in First Class on Emirates. This is the same amount of miles as a First Class award on American Airlines would cost.
You can enjoy your own First Class Private Suite in Emirates.
That said, you can’t book all Emirates routes with Alaska Air miles and using Japan Airlines (below) could save you some miles for long distance redemptions.
ANA (Japanese airline All Nippon Airlines) uses a mileage based award chart if you’re not flying on ANA planes, but on their Star Alliance partners such as United, Lufthansa etc.
One of the good values are round-trip flights from the East Coast to Europe which should fall into the “7,001 to 9,000 mile” band. This costs only 43,000 ANA miles in coach or 68,000 ANA miles in business class.
The same flights would cost 60,000 miles in coach and 115,000 miles in business class on United.
ANA does partner with Virgin Atlantic as well, but you will pay surcharges for most flights on ANA. ANA doesn’t charge fuel surcharges for most US Air flights and some United flights, though that could change anytime.
Link: Lufthansa Award Chart
Lufthansa is a 1:1 transfer partner (listed as Miles and More in the Starwood website) so you can top off your Lufthansa account if you got in on the limited time 50,000 mile Lufthansa offer.
Here’s a post on 18 ways to use Lufthansa miles.
Lufthansa miles are the best miles to use for First Class & Business Class awards to Europe, if you’re willing to pay higher taxes and fees ~$400+ each way!
You’ll find MORE availability on Lufthansa and Swiss flights in First Class and Business when using Lufthansa or Swiss miles. Using Lufthansa miles is virtually the only way to get Lufthansa and Swiss first class award seats because it is almost impossible to find Lufthansa award seats or Swiss First Class awards more than 15 days from departure if you use miles from another Star Alliance airline such as United.
For example, I found multiple flights with First Class award seats available even in the middle of summer when you use Lufthansa miles.
However, I wouldn’t redeem miles for coach flights on Lufthansa because they charge high fuel surcharges. Here’s my 10-part series on using Lufthansa miles.
8. Singapore Airlines
Singapore airlines is a Star Alliance airline which means that you can call their service center (213 -404-0301) and book United awards using Singapore Airline miles.
Singapore Airlines charges only 35,000 miles (30,000 Starwood points) for a return coach trip to Hawaii, while United charges 45,000 miles. Similarly, Singapore airlines charges 60,000 miles (50,000 Starwood points) for a return business class trip from the US to Hawaii, but United charges 80,000 miles!
If you find a low-level United award on United.com, you can call Singapore airlines to book the same award. However, Starwood point transfers to Singapore airlines aren’t instant, so the award could disappear while the points are being transferred.
You get access to more business and first class award seats on Singapore airlines when you use Singapore miles AND is the only way you can travel in a Singapore Suite. Sometimes you may be able to find Singapore Airlines Business Class award seats when you use other Star Alliance partners airlines’ miles (such as United), but I wouldn’t count on it.
One of the most glamorous award reductions is a Singapore Suite – a private cabin which features doors, window blinds, and full sized bed! Your best option for this award is to build up your Singapore miles, though you will pay fuel surcharges.
A Suite Class Saver award from New York to Singapore is 93,500 Singapore airline miles miles (after the 15% discount) or 78,500 Starwood points.
Singapore also has a mileage calculator on their website and you get a 15% discount on award redemptions when you book online.
9. Air France/ KLM or Flying Blue
A good use of Air France /KLM miles is to book 1-way awards on Delta within the US for 12,500 miles. Delta doesn’t let you book 1-way awards within the US, but you can book them with Air France / KLM miles on the Air France website. That said, low-level Delta awards (which are the only type which you can book with Air France/KLM miles) are hard to find!
Air France / KLM’s award chart usually has business class awards starting at 50,000 miles one-way.
But they also offer discounted award seats known as promo awards at 50% off the normal redemption rates on business class and economy. Promo awards are offered throughout the year but the departure cities change every few months.
Promo awards are a good deal but they are only for selected flights on Air France / KLM planes. So you couldn’t book a Delta flight using a promo award redemption.
Note that fuel surcharges and ticketing fees on Flying Blue award redemptions can easily add up to$400 to $500 in business class. Still, half price award tickets in business class ( ~60,000 Air France / KLM miles) could be a good value.
This is sometimes a good value for coach tickets because the fuel surcharges are lower on coach redemptions.
How to Transfer Starwood Hotel Points to Airlines
Here’s how to transfer Starwood points to airlines online.
Go the Starwood Airline Partner transfer page by clicking on this link.
Click “Transfer Now” and log into your Starwood account when prompted.
Select which airline you want to transfer Starwood points to and enter your frequent flyer account number.
Then click “Continue”
Enter the number of Starwood points you would like to transfer. If you transfer more than 20,000 points it will automatically add 5,000 Starwood points to your transfer. So you should transfer either 20,000, 40,000 or 60,000 Starwood points to make the most of the transfer bonus.
Then click “Continue.”
You’ll get one more chance to review your transfer. Click “Complete Transfer” and you’re done!
When WIll I Get My Miles?
Unfortunately, transfers to airlines are not instant.
Transfer times vary based on when you submit the transfer and can take up to 4 weeks. In my experience it takes anywhere from 2 to 12 days for transfers (depending on the airline) but it may be different for everyone.
You can transfer Starwood points to 30 different airlines. Most transfer are at a 1:1 ratio but a few airlines transfer at unfavorable ratios such as 2:1 with United and GOL and 65:1 with Air New Zealand.
You get a 5,000 point bonus when you transfer points in increments of 20,000. So, wherever possible, you should transfer Starwood points to airlines in increments of 20,000 point. However, the points don’t transfer instantly and can officially take up to 4 weeks, though most of my transfers have come through in ~12 days.
The Starwood card is regarded as the best everyday spending card because you earn 1.25 air miles for every $1 you spend, provided you’re a Big Spender who will transfer your Starwood points to airlines in increments of 20,000 miles.
If you’re not a Big Spender, you can transfer the points you earn from the sign-up bonus to airlines and take advantage of the 5,000 bonus points for transferring 20,000 Starwood points.