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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 in many ways — including for hotel stays, charitable contributions or gift cards — or transferred to one of about 30 frequent flier partner programs. The value of Starpoints varies based on your chosen redemption method, but overall, they’re among the highest-value rewards in the hotel credit cards industry.

The SPG program has three levels: Preferred Guest, 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 Guest 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 an average of 2.3 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 cash 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 standard 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 2.3 cents each when booked for free nights at hotels. You’ll get the best redemption value for domestic weekday stays, but good value is available on other booking options, too. Here are the redemption values for free nights:

  • Domestic weekday stays: 2.7 cents per point
  • Domestic weekend stays: 2.4 cents per point
  • International weekday stays: 2.2 cents per point
  • International weekend stays: 1.9 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 an average of 2.9 cents per point:

  • Domestic weekday stays: 3.7 cents per point
  • Domestic weekend stays: 3 cents per point
  • International weekday stays: 2.5 cents per point
  • International weekend stays: 2.2 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, including 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 transferred — typically at a rate of 1 Starpoint for 1 mile — to about 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: Earn 25,000 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 also has a sign-up bonus: Earn 25,000 bonus Starpoints® after you use your Card to make $5,000 in purchases within the first 3 months.

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 4 cents each for weekday stays, 1.3 to 3.7 cents each for weekend stays. For international stays, the Starpoints value ranged from 1 to 2.6 cents each for weekday stays, 1.4 to 2.3 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 0.5 to 8.4 cents each for weekday stays, 1 to 5.7 cents each for weekend stays. For international stays, the Starpoints value ranged from 0.9 to 3.2 cents each for weekday stays, 0.8 to 3 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 September 23, 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.

  • LCS

    I think the statement about expiration is a little misleading. As long as you’re a cardmemember (with an annual fee), the points don’t expire. But if you’re no longer a cardmember and you don’t have a paid stay at a Starwood hotel, you get deactivated and your points disappear. So if you cancel the card and then wait a year before planning to redeem the points, they might not be there anymore. That happened to me and SPG did replace them after I called, but I think that’s a critical point. Other activity, such as redeeming for airline miles or buying something from a partner (which isn’t much of an option with SPG anway) doesn’t save the miles, it has to be a paid hotel stay at least once a year to keep you active if you don’t have the credit card.

    • http://www.nerdwallet.com/ NerdWallet

      Thanks for the note LCS. According to Starwood’s and AmEx’s terms and conditions, points don’t expire as long as you have any SPG account activity within a 12 month period. So it has more to do with whether you are still an active SPG member, not on whether you still have a Starwood credit card.
      How long ago did you have this problem? Maybe the terms have changed since?

      I’m glad to hear they made you whole once you pointed out the issue.

      • LCS

        This was a few years ago, but it’s still the rule. You’re right, it’s in the terms for being an active SPG member, where you have to have a paid hotel stay once a year for your points to not be deleted, unless you are an SPG AmEx cardholder. Here’s the text from the T&C: “You will be considered an “Active Member” so long as (a) your Membership has not been cancelled (by you or us), and (b) you have had an Eligible Stay at a Participating Property within the previous 12 months, or (c) you have earned Starpoints by using a Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card during the previous 12 months. Starpoints resulting from transfers or earnings from Program affiliates do not count toward active status.”

        So effectively, you have to stay a cardmember (w/annual fee) or have at least one paid hotel stay per year to keep your points. To me, that devalues the points compared to other programs that have free ways of maintaining active status, such as Hilton HHonors (through the shopping mall, any other partner, donating points to charity, or the Citibank HHonors card that has no annual fee). SPG doesn’t allow any free way of maintaining your status, since point redemption doesn’t count (has to be an eligible, i.e., paid,s stay).

        • http://www.nerdwallet.com/ NerdWallet

          Hm, good to know!

  • das

    Your estimate of the value of a Starwood point for hotel redemption seems too low, and I suspect it’s because you have neglected the “cash & points” redemption option, which is by far the most efficient redemption option. For instance, I just used cash & points to stay at Le Meridien in Philadelphia, which is a category 4 hotel that would have cost $229 + taxes/fees (total of approx. $269), for $60 and 4000 Starpoints. When you back out the cash, you see that I netted about 5 cents per point, and this is typical of a cash & points redemption. Since you haven’t explicitly addressed this option, I assume it has not been factored in to your calculations?

    • http://www.nerdwallet.com/ NerdWallet

      Hi there,
      Thanks for letting us know about the program! We ran the numbers on 9 hotels in the San Francisco and New York City areas, and found that redemption rates ran from 1 cent per point to 6 cents per point – so pretty much the same as other hotel redemption options, the value is contingent on how you use them. If you can find the highest dollar nightly rate in the same category, you’ll get a high redemption value. Generally (very generally), low categories (2-3) tended to deliver the highest redemption rate. But keep in mind that the points and cash option does have blackout dates.

      We’ll be sure to add this!

      • das

        Thanks for your quick response. That is true about the blackout dates, though I have found that black-out dates are few and far between. I have done quite a bit of reading about the cash & points option, and the overwhelming consensus seems to be that it is by far the best use of Starwoods points. That said, most of the articles out there are anecdotal (as was my post), so I’ll be very curious to see the value of each point quantified based upon your sampling. Great site, keep up the good work!

  • Starwood new user

    what kind of gift cards do you mention above? are these Star wood hotel gift cards only?

    • http://www.nerdwallet.com/ NerdWallet

      You can get gift cards at a number of retailers, including Amazon.com and Nordstrom’s.

      • Elliott D

        Where?

  • Elliott D

    I still don’t understand how this “saves” anyone money. It’s contingent upon paying “face value” for hotel rooms that are overpriced…. even at a low rate of 100/night=2-600points…. you pay 100×4 get a night free = spent 400 dollars/5 nights or $80/ night. I can get 3 star and 4 star hotels on priceline for 45-60 dollars and never deal with points and still save money–while hand picking hotels out of 100’s of more choices with lots of real-time photos and reviews. Why would I participate? Buying spg points means 17.50 for 500 so…. 3,000p / 500…6 and 6 x 17.50 you just spent 105 a night on an average, no breakfast, pay amenities 3 star hotel. Why? Only 1100 properties to redeem from? Why? Cash+ points analysis: $60 + 4000 points= 165/night. Now, if I can buy 14,000 @ $150… and redeem them all at once that’d be 4 nights at a 3000 for 37.50/night…. Can I do that? Otherwise it’s really just about overpaying in the first place. I like spg hotels. I just don’t understand who participates in this that’s a not a business traveler.

    • Tim N

      Elliott, SPG has a “Best Rate Guarantee” that will either award you with a substantial amount of points just for FINDING a better rate or give you the better rate plus a percentage of the cost. The idea here is not to BUY Starpoints, it is to EARN them and then use them in the smartest and most valuable way. If you travel a lot (business or otherwise) you can understand this. But if you can find a 4-star hotel for cheaper than a motel 6, as stated above, than by all means…

  • Elliott D

    Why would I join this program? Math doesn’t pan out.

  • Jerome

    Elliot – I have been participating in the program actively since 2010, and now i’m at the SPG Platinum-level. You certainly can find better “deals” online for cheap rooms, however I feel there has been a great value in the program.
    As Platinum100 i currently receive:
    – free upgrades at almost every hotel i check-in to – some are upgrades to a better room but in many circumstances i have received some of the best suites in that property
    – free premium wifi
    – complimentary breakfast (sometimes its full course western style, sometimes continental)
    – if i am travelling with friends & family they also do their best in upgrading their own room(s)
    – in many circumstances there are gifts of chocolates, wine, champagne, with a personalized note from a senior member of the hotel

    Also, you are able to redeem SPG points as “Cash & Points” for stays, you get the rooms at a reduced rate and the stay still counts towards your earnings status (same applies if you pay in full using points only). I dont know of another program that provides this benefit like SPG

    Furthermore, if you accumulate your points instead of cashing them in, you have the ability to use them in the SPG “Moments” program where you can redeem them for special concerts, sports events, and other activites for dirt cheap. For example, i redeemed 10,000 SPG points and was given a VIP tour of the Mercedes-Benz HQ in Stuttgart, along with 1 night stay at Le Meridien, catered lunch in the museum, as well as 1 hour on the Mercedes-Benz test track with a fleet of their vehicles. Last year, i redeemed 10,000 points for 2 VIP tickets to the Forumla 1 race in Montreal.

    Granted, this program may not be suitable to everyone however there are many benefits to be had, especially if you travel alot (irrespective if its for business or pleasure)

  • 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.

  • Presley Hi

    Is the fifth night free benefit linked with having the credit card? Do you only get it if you have the credit card?

    • http://www.nerdwallet.com/ NerdWallet

      Hi Presley, thanks for reaching out! As of 10/30/15, the 5th night free benefit is open to all Starwood Preferred Guest members. However, it only applies to stays that you’ve “paid for” with points, and the property must be category 3-7.