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While I’ve long used Starwood points for hotel stays — the Starwood program has more top-end properties that I’d want to stay at than any other chain — often the best value can be obtained through airline mileage transfers.
I’ve carried the Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express since 2001 because they have the most full value airline mileage transfer partners and because when you transfer points into 20,000 airline miles, you get 5000 additional bonus miles. Since most airline partners transfer at a 1:1 ratio, that’s like earning 1.25 miles per dollar spent on the card for all spend.
Al Maha Desert Resort — Starpoints Are Good for Hotel Stays Too
Starwood has a huge array of points transfer options. The value here is being able to move points to wherever you need them, when you need them.
Decide Where You Want the Points to Go Later, Based on the Award You Want to Redeem. You can accumulate points in one program — Starwood — and then figure out what you want to do with them later. For instance, if you decide you want to go to South America then no frequent flyer program offers you better availability than American (because premium cabin award space on American flights is excellent to South America, and there are tons of flights, and also because they are a partner of LAN). If you decide you want to go to Asia or Europe then it may make sense to move the points to a Star Alliance airline for great business class options.
Top Off an Account to Have Enough Points for Redemption. Platinum members have no minimum point transfer, they can literally transfer just 1 point to most frequent flyer program partners, which is a great way to keep an airline mileage account from expiring. It’s also a great way to have ‘partner transaction activity’ when an airline runs a promotion that requires you to have activity with various hotel partners in order to earn bonus miles. Gold members can move as few as 1500 points to an airline program, and non-status members can move 2500 Starpoints at a minimum.
Move Points into Family Member Frequent Flyer Accounts. Since Starwood will allow you to move points between accounts at the same residential mailing address, you can put your Starwood points into, say, a spouse’s account and then move them to your spouse’s frequent flyer program account.
Here’s the full list of airline mileage transfer partners, updated since Starwood has since added the fantastic Star Alliance program Aegean and the excellent Skyteam option Korean, while losing Virgin Amerca as a result of its acquisition by Alaska since I wrote extensively about transfers last.
|Frequent Flyer Program||Exchange Ratio (Starpoints : Miles)|
|Aeromexico Club Premier||1:1|
|Air China Companion||1:1|
|Air New Zealand & Air Points||65:1|
|Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan||1:1|
|All Nippon Mileage Club||1:1|
|American Airlines AAdvantage||1:1|
|British Airways Executive Club||1:1|
|China Eastern Airlines||1:1|
|China Southern SkyPearl Club||1:1|
|Delta Air Lines SkyMiles||1:1|
|Japan Airlines Mileage Bank||1:1|
|Korean Air Skypass||1:1|
|Miles and More||1:1|
|Saudi Arabian Airlines Alfursan||1:1|
|Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer||1:1|
|Thai Airways RoyalOrchidPlus||1:1|
|United Mileage Plus||2:1|
|Velocity Frequent Flyer||1:1|
|Virgin Atlantic Flying Club||1:1|
My Favorite Mileage Transfer Options
The transfer partners I like the most are American Airlines, Aeroplan, Alaska Airlines, Japan Airlines, Morean, Aegean, and Singapore Airlines.
- American. What a wonderful demonstration of how much better the Starwood card is than an airline co-brand. You’re effectively earning more miles than the airline’s card (1.25 miles per dollar with transfer bonus rather than just 1) in addition to having the flexibility to transfer to the program of your choice. American offers 5 day holds on awards, and transfers generally take less than that — so you can often secure your award before you even initiate a transfer. My favorite redemption is the Etihad A380 First Class Apartment.
Etihad First Apartment, with Divider Down Between Seats 3A/4A
- Alaska. Again you’re earning more miles with the Starwood card than if you were spending on Alaska’s card. Alaska offers a free stopover even on their one-way awards. And they have diverse partners like Hainan Airlines, Icelandair and Cathay Pacific.
- Singapore Airlines. I really like having having Singapore Airlines as a transfer partner since they offer their own members much better premium cabin award space on Singapore flights than other Star Alliance frequent flyer program members get. Similarly, Miles&More can be a useful transfer partner, because Miles&More members have access to better reward availability on Lufthansa and Swiss than other Star Alliance programs do. The ability to move Starpoints to those frequent flyer programs can be really useful.
Singapore A380 Suites Class
- Japan Airlines. They have a reasonable award chart and partnerships even outside oneworld like Bangkok Airways and Emirates.
Emirates A380 First Class Shower
- Korean Air. They have the most first class award space between the US and Asia. They serve 11 US cities. Business class awards between the US and Europe on their Skyteam partners cost only 40,000 miles each way (plus fuel surcharges). And Hawaii awards on their partners Hawaiian Airlines and Alaska Airlines are just 30,000 miles roundtrip in economy and 60,000 in first class.
Korean Air First Class
- Aegean. Star Alliance awards, with only one connection permitted, has some great values like 90,000 miles roundtrip for US-Europe business class (and North Africa is included in Europe). First class is 120,000 miles roundtrip. It’s 110,000 miles roundtrip for US-Middle East business class and 110,000 miles roundtrip for US-Africa business class. One-way awards are available at half these prices.
Starwood is not great for transfers to United MileagePlus. The transfer ratio is 2 Starpoints to 1 mile. If you want United miles, points from the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card transfer 1:1 and instantaneously.
Transfer in the Right Blocks. The most points you can transfer in a 24 hour period is 79,999. You wouldn’t want to do that, since transferring 80,000 points would get you the next 5000 mile bonus. So you usually want to transfer 60,000 points in a day instead, to maximize bonuses. Then wait until the next day to move more points over.
Transfers Aren’t Instantaneous. The biggest drawback to points transfers is that points don’t post over to airline in real-time. With both Chase Ultimate Rewards and American Express Membership Rewards, you get ‘live’ transfers to several partners (hit transfer and the points show up). Starwood, on the other hand, can take longer. So when points show up award space may already have been taken or pulled. Instead it can be wise to determine your strategy, transfer points, and then secure award space (or transfer when you know you have multiple options in case one is gone when you are able to book).