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Starwood Points: Getting Your Money’s Worth

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Starwood Points: Getting Your Money's Worth

SPG Starpoints: The basics

Starwood Preferred Guest (SPG) Starpoints can be redeemed for several different rewards — including hotel stays and gift cards — or transferred to one of almost 30 frequent flier partner programs. The value of Starpoints varies based on  your chosen redemption method, but overall, they’re among the highest valued rewards in the hotel credit cards industry.

You can reach two Elite levels with the SPG program: Gold Preferred Guest and Platinum Preferred Guest. Gold status can be reached after completing 10 eligible stays or 25 eligible nights in a calendar year. Platinum status can be reached after completing 25 eligible stays or 50 eligible nights in a calendar year.

You’ll get plenty of perks with Gold or Platinum status. As a Gold Preferred Guest, you’ll receive a 50% points bonus over standard Preferred status, late checkout, room upgrades, welcome gifts, free Wi-Fi and more.

As a Platinum Preferred Guest, you’ll also enjoy complimentary health-club, Club-level and Executive-level access, as well as better upgrades and guaranteed room availability if you book 72 hours before your stay.

Cards that earn SPG Starpoints

Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express

  • Up to 5 Starpoints on every eligible dollar you spend on SPG hotels and resorts — 2 Starpoints as a cardmember, and 2 or 3 Starpoints you may be eligible for as an SPG member
  • 1 Starpoint per dollar spent on all other purchases

Starwood Preferred Guest® Business Credit Card from American Express

  • Up to 5 Starpoints on every eligible dollar you spend on SPG hotels and resorts — 2 Starpoints as a cardmember, and 2 or 3 Starpoints you may be eligible for as an SPG member
  • 1 Starpoint per dollar spent on all other purchases

How to get more SPG Starpoints

There are many ways to earn additional Starpoints:

  • Earn one extra Starpoint per dollar spent on Delta flights if you’re: a) registered for Crossover Rewards and, b) an SPG Gold or Platinum Preferred Guest.
  • Earn extra Starpoints on Broadway ticket purchases through the Audience Rewards website.
  • Earn 50 Starpoints per day for qualifying car rentals through Avis, or 250 Starpoints for eligible rentals with SIXT.
  • Earn 500 Starpoints each day you decline housekeeping during your stay at a participating Westin or Sheraton location through the Green Choice program. This benefit isn’t available on checkout day.
  • Earn 2 to 4 Starpoints per dollar spent on Uber rides while staying at an SPG location. Or earn 1 Starpoint per dollar spent when you aren’t staying at an SPG location, but you do meet these two criteria: a) you’ve had at least one qualifying stay within the calendar year, and b) you’ve logged on to your SPG account online and linked it to your Uber account.
  • Earn 5,000 Starpoints (up to 55,000 Starpoints each calendar year) when you refer your friends to the Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express.

You can purchase Starpoints at a rate of 3.5 cents per point. Before you purchase, though, keep in mind that the Nerds value Starpoints at 2.4 cents each when redeemed for free hotel stays. Purchasing Starpoints may be worth it if you can get a better value out of your stay, but the cost of Starpoints is greater than the value you’ll typically get out of them.

How to redeem SPG Starpoints

Good redemption options

In general, Starpoints are worth more than your average 1 cent per point. To get the best value for your points, you should probably use them to book hotel stays at SPG locations. The Nerds estimate the value of Starpoints at 2.4 cents each when booked for free nights at hotels. You’ll get the best redemption value for international weekday stays — at a rate of 2.6 cents each — and you won’t be charged foreign transaction fees.

If you don’t want to redeem your Starpoints for international weekday hotel stays, you can still get a great value out of your points. Here are the other redemption values for free nights:

  • Domestic weekday stays: 2.3 cents per point
  • Domestic weekend stays: 2.2 cents per point
  • International weekend stays: 2.4 cents per point

If you redeem for the free-nights option for five consecutive nights at a hotel in SPG Category 3 through 7, you’ll get the fifth night free. So if your hotel costs 10,000 points per night, five nights will set you back 40,000 points, instead of 50,000, giving you a better value for your Starpoints.

Another potentially great redemption option is “Cash & Points,” where you pay for hotel stays with a combination of — you guessed it — cash and Starpoints. We estimate the value of this redemption option at 2 cents per point, more for weekdays and less for weekends:

  • Domestic weekday stays: 2.5 cents per point
  • Domestic weekend stays: 1.2 cents per point
  • International weekday stays: 2.4 cents per point
  • International weekend stays: 1.7 cents per point

As you can see, weekday stays are typically the best option. This is because weekday stays are often more expensive than weekend stays, but the cash and points options for both remain constant based on category of hotel. The higher the regular price of your hotel, the better the value you’ll get from this option.

Bad redemption options

While Starpoints tend to have a better value than most hotel card rewards, there are some lower value redemption options. You can redeem for whichever rewards are most valuable to you, but from a mathematical standpoint, these options aren’t ideal:

  • Rental car certificates for Avis and SIXT: 1.43 cents per point
  • Charitable donation: 1.25 cents per point
  • Gift cards: 0.89 to 1.07 cents per point
  • Audience rewards: less than 1.5 cents per point on average

Other options

SPG also has a few redemption options that aren’t so easily quantifiable, like SPG Flights, SPG Moments and “Nights & Flights.” The value of using Starpoints for SPG Flights will depend on your trip dates and the airline you choose. SPG Moments are VIP experiences that you bid on with Starpoints.

For the “Nights & Flights” option, you redeem 60,000 or 70,000 Starpoints for five free nights at a Category 3 or Category 4 hotel and 50,000 airline miles at the same time. This can save you 18,000 Starpoints if you opt for a Category 3 hotel, or 20,000 Starpoints if you opt for a Category 4 hotel. The value of this redemption option will vary based on the cost of the hotel, the airline you transfer your Starpoints to, and other factors.

Nerd tip: Before you redeem for one of these rewards options, check to see how far your Starpoints will go. As a general rule, you should aim for a Starpoints value of 2 cents or more. See the methodology section below for information on how to value redemption options.

Transfer partners

Starpoints can be — typically at a rate of 1 Starpoint for 1 mile — to almost 30 frequent flier programs. The current partner programs are listed below. Each has a transfer rate of 1:1 unless specified otherwise.

  • Aeromexico Club Premier
  • Aeroplan/Air Canada
  • Air Berlin
  • Air China Companion
  • Air New Zealand & Air Points (65 points to 1 mile transfer rate)
  • Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan
  • Alitalia MileMiglia
  • All Nippon Airways (ANA) Mileage Club
  • American Airlines AAdvantage
  • Asia Miles
  • Asiana Airlines
  • British Airways Executive Club
  • China Eastern Airlines
  • China Southern Airlines Sky Pearl Club
  • Delta Airlines SkyMiles
  • Emirates Skywards
  • Etihad Airways
  • Flying Blue
  • Gol Smiles (2 Starpoints to 1 mile transfer rate)
  • Hainan Airlines
  • Hawaiian Airlines
  • Japan Airline (JAL) Mileage Bank
  • Jet Airways
  • LAN Airlines LANPASS Kms (1 Starpoint to 1.5 miles transfer rate)
  • Miles and More
  • Qatar Airways
  • Saudi Arabian Airlines
  • Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer
  • Thai Airways International Royal Orchid Plus
  • United Mileage Plus (2 Starpoints to 1 mile transfer rate)
  • Velocity Frequent Flier
  • Virgin Atlantic Flying Club

If possible, you should hold off on transferring until you have 20,000 Starpoints or more. When you transfer 20,000 Starpoints at one time, you’ll receive an additional 5,000 Starpoints.

Not into flying? Travelers who prefer taking the train can transfer Starpoints to Amtrak Guest Rewards at a ratio of 1:1, starting at 5,000 Starpoints.

Fine print

Starpoints earned on your SPG credit card won’t expire unless you fall out of good standing or don’t use your account (you need one transaction per year on your card to keep it active).

Top cards that earn SPG Starpoints

Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express

The Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express has a signup bonus worth writing home about: Limited Time Offer: Earn 30,000 bonus Starpoints® after you use your new Card to make $3,000 in purchases within the first 3 months. Compared with some other hotel signup bonuses, this may seem low. But due to the potentially high value of Starpoints, it’s actually among the best in the business.

Starwood Preferred Guest® Business Credit Card from American Express

For business travelers, the Starwood Preferred Guest® Business Credit Card from American Express is a great option. Along with its rewards (as detailed above), it has a LIMITED TIME OFFER: Earn 30,000 bonus Starpoints® after you use your Card to make $5,000 in purchases within the first 3 months. Offer expires 9/14/2015.

Because American Express is not as widely accepted abroad, it may be best to save these cards for domestic use.

Methodology

The calculated value of these points is based on an estimated redemption rate, not a credit card rewards earn rate. Therefore, you may notice that these numbers don’t match the rewards rates on our credit card finder tool. Read on for how we estimated these points values.

Free nights

We tested 10 popular cities — five domestic and five international — to determine the value of a Starpoint when redeemed for free nights. These are the cities we used for our estimations:

  • Los Angeles
  • Orlando
  • New York
  • Dallas
  • Las Vegas
  • Toronto
  • Mexico City
  • London
  • Paris
  • Tokyo

For domestic stays, the Starpoints value ranged from 1.2 to 3.7 cents each for weekday stays, 1 to 3.4 cents each for weekend stays. For international stays, the Starpoints value ranged from 1.1 to 4.2 cents each for weekday stays, 1.1 to 3.5 cents each for weekend stays.

To determine the value of your points for specific hotel stays, divide the cash value of the hotel stay by the number of Starpoints required. So if a night at your hotel of choice would cost either $200 or 15,000 points, the math would be as follows:

$200 / 15,000 = 0.013, or 1.3 cents per point

Cash & Points

We tested 10 popular cities — five domestic and five international — to determine the value of a Starpoint when redeemed for the “Cash & Points” option. These are the cities we used for our estimations:

  • Los Angeles
  • Orlando
  • New York City
  • Dallas
  • Las Vegas
  • Toronto
  • Mexico City
  • Madrid
  • Dubai
  • Tokyo

For domestic stays, the Starpoints value ranged from 0.8 to 4.1 cents each for weekday stays, 0.3 to 2.9 cents each for weekend stays. For international stays, the Starpoints value ranged from 0.6 to 4.8 cents each for weekday stays, 1 to 4.8 cents each for weekend stays.

Nerd note: You’ll notice that the value of Starpoints when used for “Cash & Points” varies widely compared with the free-nights option. Our valuations are averages based on several test cities, but understand that to get the best value out of your points, you’ll need to crunch the numbers for your particular trip. See the calculation below if you want to value Starpoints based on your upcoming hotel stay.

To determine the value of your points for specific hotel stays using the “Cash & Points” option, divide the cash value of the hotel stay (less the cash you’ll owe with the “Cash & Points” redemption option) by the number of Starpoints required. So if a night at your hotel of choice would cost either $200, or 5,000 points + $100, the math would be as follows:

($200 – $100) / 5,000 = 0.02, or 2 cents per point

Nights & Flights

Nights & Flights will cost you either 60,000 Starpoints if you choose a Category 3 hotel, or 70,000 Starpoints if you choose a Category 4 hotel. Since you’ll get 50,000 frequent flier miles with this option, this means you’re redeeming five nights for either 10,000 or 20,000 Starpoints. Factoring in the fifth night free offered when you redeem for five nights at a Category 3–7 hotel, you’ll save between 18,000 and 20,000 Starpoints this way.

Category 3 hotels generally cost 7,000 Starpoints per night. Here’s how the savings works out:

(7,000 * 4 nights) + (7,000 * 1 night * 0) = 28,000 Starpoints – 10,000 Starpoints = 18,000 points saved

Category 4 hotels generally cost 10,000 Starpoints per night. Here’s how the savings works out:

(10,000 * 4 nights) + (10,000 * 1 night * 0) = 40,000 Starpoints – 20,000 Starpoints = 20,000 points saved

Last updated on April 17, 2015

Erin El Issa is a staff writer covering personal finance for NerdWallet. Follow her on Twitter @Erin_Lindsay17 and on Google+.


Image via iStock.

  • Tyler S.

    WARNING: Despite their marketing, “free nights” do not apply to resorts. Even if you use a lot of points on these resorts, you still have to pay a mandatory nightly resort fee! Avoid if you’d like to use points on vacations, such as at the Westin Maui Resort.