Is Membership Rewards a Good Replacement for Starwood?

In my post about the best mileage earning credit cards, reader Stan commented:

    Gary, Great blog. I check it every day. I was wondering what your take is on Membership Rewards. Is it worth using? I recently tried converting Starwood points to United (the 2:1 conversion was a killer, but I didn’t have a choice) and the 3-week wait took too long for me to make my trip work. I understand that MR offers instant conversion — are there downsides I need to worry about?

Stan, first as another reader observed in the comments you can get around the poor conversion rate (2:1) of Starwood points into United miles by moving the Starwood points to Continental, then to Amtrak, and on to United.

You can only do this for 20,000 Starwood points (once each year) but that will yield 25,000 United miles. Unfortunately if you were in a hurry for the miles that wouldn’t have solved your problem.

American Express Membership Rewards points certainly post quickly to some mileage accounts (almost instantly for USAirways and Delta, for instance) and less quickly for other programs (4-5 days for Continental).

Unfortunately Membership Rewards has limited partnerships. You can’t, for instance, transfer points directly into United or American. And they’ve just introduced a small conversion fee on top of their annual membership fee which is separate from the annual fee you may be paying for the Amex card itself.

I use Amex Membership Rewards, and have several hundred thousand, but I don’t consider them a replacement for Starwood.

Finally, it’s worth noting that Starwood will allow you to pay extra miles as an expedite fee to move points more quickly if you really need it done within a few days.

Admittedly from memory I believe that the cost is 3,500 Starpoints, and that the expedite service is available for British Airways Executive Club, United Airlines Mileage Plus and American Airlines AAdvantage.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community Milepoint.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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