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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 — though it’s important to note that the SPG cards have foreign transaction fees and shouldn’t be your designated plastic for overseas purchases.

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

American Express Starwood Credit Card
Apply Now

on American Express's
secure website

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.

The card has a $0 intro annual fee for the first year, then $65. There are foreign transaction fees of 2.7% — so it’s best reserved for your domestic travel.

Starwood Preferred Guest® Business Credit Card from American Express

American Express Starwood Preferred Guest Business Credit Card
Apply Now

on American Express's
secure website

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 Starpoints® bonus: Earn up to 25,000 bonus points.

The Starwood Preferred Guest® Business Credit Card from American Express has a $0 introductory annual fee for the first year, then $65. It has foreign transaction fees of 2.7%, like the Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express. As such, the Nerds recommend that you limit usage to domestic travel only.

Methodology

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.

  • Tony

    I am a little confused. Are Starwood points worth 1.25 cents per point or is is 1.25 points per cent.

    • http://www.nerdwallet.com Tim

      Hi Tony,
      You get a 5,000 mile bonus when you transfer 20,000 Starpoints to most domestic airlines. This is why we believe a Starpoint is worth 1.25 airline miles. Therefore if you assume an airline mile is worth 1 cent, a Starpoint is worth about 1.25 cents.

      However, redemption options at hotels are even better, therefore NerdWallet estimates a Starpoint to be worth 1.5 cents.

      • nerdwallet

        Update: We dug down a bit deeper and have determined these points to be worth closer to 2.3 cents on average

      • Sun W. Kim

        I guess I also like to think of points as the real-world cash value. To me, the value of the card is based on what kind of cash I can retrieve using a different credit card. Does anyone else see it this way? I know it complicates the matter, but to compare Starpoints to what the hotel charges seems to exclude the “real-world” value of those points.

        When I book a Starwood hotel for 10k points, I think of it as spending $100 USD based on having reward cards that give 1% back. Now, if I had a Perk Street debit rewards card that gives 2% back, I think of spending 10k point on Starwood as costing me $200 USD.

        • Franco Bijoux

          Hi…does anyone knows how many Starwood points doIi need to travel to Madrid, Spain. Also
          if I didn’t have sufficient points can I use points and cash. Thanks

  • Nick G

    I’ve had this card for years, and I don’t think much has changed — it’s still the best points card anywhere. While the cash cost of Starwoods Hotel rooms has gone down slightly, this might push hotel night redemption from 3-4 cents to maybe 2.5-3.5 cents, not much lower as indicated above. 3 of the last 4 hotel bookings I’ve done using the card were over 3 cents per point, based on the published cash rate for the room.

    Best points card available…. if you like Starwood Hotels.

  • http://www.boardingarea.com/blogs/loyaltytraveler Ric Garrido

    I do not really understand your graph and statement : "As a general rule of thumb, the more expensive the hotel room, the more points tend to be worth."

    How does this relate to SPG hotel reward categories?

    In my numerous analyses of Starwood Hotels, I generally find the more expensive the hotel's average rate, the higher the reward category.

    Starwood Hotels in the high category 6 (20,000 points for a free night) and category 7 (30,000 points for a free night) generally reduce the value of points compared to redeeming points for a category 2 weekend night (3,000 points per night) or a category 3 hotel (7000 points per night).

    • nerdwallet

      You're absolutely right Ric, my language is a bit imprecise. You can see in the table above that the points tend to align themselves in lines, and each of those lines actually corresponds with a given tier.

      Within each tier, the more expensive hotel rooms mean higher point values, but as you point out the absolute highest point values belong to the relatively cheaper Category 2 and Category 3 rooms, which can get as high as 5 cents or more.

      I will change the language to reflect this. Thanks again for bringing it to my attention!

  • 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/ Tim

      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/ Tim

          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.