I’ve written about the Starwood Preferred Guest (SPG) program in the past, both in the context of the SPG American Express credit card and also in the context of their elite benefits. TravelSort has also written about when it is worthwhile to buy Starpoints and how to transfer Starwood points to another account. I haven’t explicitly written about what I find to be the best uses of their points, though.
What’s so valuable about SPG points is that they can be used efficiently for both flights and hotels. While most airline and hotel loyalty programs nowadays let you redeem your points for both flights and hotels, the redemption values for one of those categories is usually not efficient. That’s to say that if you’re using airline miles and redeeming for hotels, you’re usually not getting a very good value. The same is true the other way around, that you’re typically not getting a good value if you’re redeeming hotel points for flights.
But the SPG program is the major exception to that. So I figured I’d share what I consider to be the four best redemption values of SPG points, in no particular order:
Cash & Points:
While a lot of hotel chains let you pay for a stay through a combination of cash and points nowadays, Starwood pioneered this and still maintains the best value in this category. Instead of just giving you an okay redemption level, the value is spectacular… if you can find a hotel that has Cash & Points available.
The cost of nights through Cash & Points ranges from 1,200 SPG points plus $25 per night at select category 1 hotels (compared to 2,000-3,000 points per night), to 8,000 SPG points plus $150 per night at category 6 hotels (compared to 20,000-25,000 points per night).
There’s a slight catch, though — while award nights are not capacity controlled (meaning if there’s a standard room available, you can book it using points), nights booked through Cash & Points are. Given the extraordinary value of the redemption, many hotels will only release the space either way in advance (to lock in some bookings), very close to the date (since rooms may go empty), or during off peak periods.
Therefore I’ll often plan the timing of my trips around the availability of Cash & Points at the hotels I’m looking at. Fortunately there’s an easy way to search for Cash & Points availability. Once you go to spg.com and enter your destination you’ll see a results page, which displays the revenue rate and also the availability of award nights and Cash & Points nights.
At the bottom simply click on “Browse Dates/Rates,” and it will give you a calendar display of available dates for Cash & Points.
I'm thinking of going to Stockholm next summer, and I see plenty of availability at the Sheraton for Cash & Points, while the revenue rate is $400+ per night.
Some people have even had success calling the hotel when Cash & Points wasn't available and having them open up inventory, if they weren't too full.
One last thing to note – don’t always be tempted by the incredibly low redemption costs through cash and points. Keep in mind that these nights are not eligible for points accrual and don’t count as stay credits. So while a night for 2,800 SPG points and $45 sounds tempting, be sure that the rate isn’t only marginally more expensive than the cash component, in which case you might be better off just booking a revenue rate and earning points and stay credits.
Recommended Cash & Point properties: Westin Palace Madrid, Westin Rome, Westin Rome, St. Regis Bangkok, Sheraton Stockholm, Moana Surfrider, W Montreal
Redeeming points for mid-range hotels:
As stated above, unfortunately Cash & Points isn’t always available for the dates you’re looking at, so consider outright points redemptions, which have no capacity controls as long as a standard room is available. Generally speaking (and this is a huge generalization because it comes down to the specific hotel) you’re going to get the best value when redeeming for category 4 (10,000 points/night) and category 5 (12,000-16,000 points/night) hotels. This is especially true with the weak dollar if you’re traveling to Europe, for example, where you’ll find plenty of truly nice hotels available for 10,000-16,000 points per night, while the revenue rate would be over 400 Euros.
Take, for example, the Westin Venice for next summer, where the cheapest rate is 430 Euros per night, which converts to about $620USD. While they don’t have Cash & Points availability, it is available for 12,000 points per night, which is an absolute bargain.
Also keep in mind that Starwood offers the fifth night free on free night award redemptions, so if you redeem points for four nights, your fifth night is free. In the example above that would mean that five nights at the Westin Venice would cost you 48,000 points, or 9,600 SPG points per night – an amazing 6.5 cents of value per point.
Generally speaking you'll find that you'll get the best value out of your points if redeeming for European hotels, as they're usually quite expensive, especially during summer. Hotels in Asia can often be cheap, at least outside the major cities, so sometimes it makes more sense to pay cash there. For example, I stayed at the Westin Siray Bay in Phuket not too long ago and while Cash & Points and standard points redemption rooms were available, the rate was only a little over $100USD, so I couldn't bring myself to redeem points.
Recommended Mid-Range Redemptions: Westin Venice, Westin Sydney, Le Meridien Vienna, Le Meridien
Nights & Flights:
If you’re into staying for five nights at a single hotel, this option might just be for you. Through Starwood’s Nights & Flights option, you can redeem points for 50,000 airline miles and five nights at a category 3 or 4 hotel.
The category 3 option costs 60,000 points. Like I said above you also get 50,000 miles with your airline of choice, which would usually cost you 40,000 SPG points (which is also a great value). In other words, you end up essentially paying 20,000 SPG points for five nights at a category 3 hotel, or about 4,000 points per night. Usually a category 3 hotel would cost you 7,000 points per night, though for a five night stay you would only pay for the first four nights, since the fifth night is free. So while five nights would usually cost you 28,000 points, you’re instead only paying 20,000 points – a savings of 8,000 points.
For category 4 hotels the cost is 70,000 points for the package. You still get 50,000 airline miles, which would usually cost you 40,000 SPG points, bringing the cost of the five free nights to 30,000 points. Usually a free night at a category 4 hotel costs 10,000 points with the fifth night free, for a total of 40,000 points for five nights. This is compared to the 30,000 points you pay through this package, meaning you save 10,000 points.
Of course this assumes that you want airline miles and that you want to stay at a category 3 or 4 hotel for five nights. If that sounds like something you’d want, this deal is great. Otherwise it’s probably not worth the points savings to plan a trip that doesn’t meet your exact specifications.
Transferring to airline miles:
Ultimately the ability to Turn SPG Points into Airline Miles is what makes SPG much better than any other hotel program when it comes to the variety of things you can efficiently redeem points for. Starwood lets you transfer your points to literally dozens of airlines at a 1:1 ratio, and for every 20,000 points you transfer you earn a 5,000-point bonus. That means you’re essentially earning 1.25 miles per Starwood point, assuming you’re transferring in the right increments.
The challenge, however, is that the transfer aren’t instant, but instead take anywhere from a few days to two weeks. Therefore all miles transfers have to be “speculative” – meaning you can’t transfer points with a specific redemption in mind and hold the ticket in the meantime, since it could take a while to transfer points.
Still, to sweeten the pot even further, there are occasionally additional transfer bonuses above the 5,000 points for every 20,000 points transferred. For example, last year American offered a 35% transfer bonus and US Airways offered a 50% transfer bonus, earning you almost two miles per SPG point. So if you can transfer to an airline during a promotion, by all means do!
It's worth noting that this is a much better deal than Starwood's “Redeem for Flights” option, which bases the cost of a ticket in points on the revenue cost, meaning you can't really get more than 1.5 cents per point in value. Compare that to mileage transfers, where you can book $20,000 first class tickets with only 120,000 miles.
Before I finish up I should also mention “SPG50s,” at least in passing. Starwood allows you to redeem 1,000 points for what they call an “SPG50,” which is a certificate for 50% off the rack rate of a Starwood stay. The catch is that there's often a huge price difference between the rack rate and best available rate. Most of the time you'll find that the rack rate is more than double the normal rate, in which case it's not worth it. Other times, in high season, you may find that the rack rate isn't all that much more than the best available rate, so you can save hundreds of dollars by using an SPG50. This is a fairly complex subject so I'll save a more thorough explanation for a future post, but you can typically find out the “SPG50” rate by calling Starwood, as there's no way to reseach it online. It's also worth noting that it's capacity controlled, so it doesn't even always work. But if it can save you hundreds of dollars, it might just be the best 1,000 points you ever spend.
There you have it, those are my picks for the best redemptions. Ultimately there’s no formula for figuring out what’s a good redemption and what isn’t. We all have different points balances and bank account balances. If you have a million SPG points but are short on cash, you’re probably best off using points regardless of what the cost is. The opposite is true as well.
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