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Starwood’s Starpoints are already the most valuable loyalty program currency by which I mean that one Starpoint is worth more than one of any other loyalty currency.
They have the most airline transfer partners where points transfer 1:1 and of course when you move Starwood points into 20,000 miles you get 5000 bonus miles. That gets you effectively a 1:1.25 transfer ratio with most airline partners.
Now, Starwood has added a new transfer partner: Virgin America Elevate.
Several things here impress me:
- Starwood continues to add airline transfer partners, even already having the widest array of 1:1 partners as it is. Last year they added fantastic partners in Korean Air and Aegean.
- They continue to improve the program for members even as Starwood is being acquired by Marriott.
- They’re bringing on Virgin America as that carrier is being acquired by Alaska Airlines (which is also a Starwood transfer partner).
My rule of thumb is that Virgin America’s points are deflated, that one Virgin America point is worth about 2 points in a European airline frequent flyer program.
You can use the points for about 2.2 cents apiece towards travel on Virgin America, or for fixed-point redemptions on their partners. Their points are reasonably good for redeeming on partners (with fuel surcharges). Transferring to Virgin America to redeem on Virgin America doesn’t get great value.
Where this does get a little bit interesting is partner redemptions. They do have partners, none of which offer out of this world value but some of which can be strategically useful, for instance:
- Emirates. New York – Dubai roundtrip on Emirates is 100,000 points plus ~ $1410 in taxes/fees. New York-Milan roundtrip on Emirates is 55,000 points and ~ $1090 in taxes/fees. One-way awards are permitted.
- Virgin Atlantic. JFK-London in Virgin Upper Class is 35,000 points roundtrip plus ~ $1150 in taxes/fees.
- Virgin Australia. Los Angeles – Sydney is 80,000 points roundtrip in business class plus ~ $130 in taxes/fees (compare to 190,000 Delta miles). Short-haul business class within Australia is quite reasonable.
- Singapore Airlines. Short-haul regional business class on Singapore can be quite attractive, eg. Singapore – Bangkok roundtrip is 13,000 points and ~ $51 in taxes/fees
- Hawaiian. Hawaiian Airlines West Coast – Hawaii is 20,000 points roundtrip in coach. First class is 50,000 points. And no fuel surcharges apply.
These prices are at first blush too cheap, until you realize that 1 Virgin America point is normally like 2 airline miles.
American Express Membership Rewards transfer at 2:1 into Virgin America. They regularly run transfer bonuses and occasionally up to 50%. Those are moderately tempting. But this is 1:1 transfer (a built-in 100% bonus compared to Membership Rewards) every day and that’s before you get Starwood’s bonus of 5000 miles when you transfer points into 20,000 miles.
I value a Starpoint at 2.3 cents. But I value a Virgin America mile at 2 cents — and with the transfer bonus for moving points into 20,000 miles I’ll get 25,000 Virgin America miles. That’s a value of 2.5 cents a Starpoint. Just from this one partner. I may need to revise up the value of Starwood points.