For almost every airline, hotel, and credit card program, there are myriad ways to earn and spend points. Some are much better than others. Over the next few months, I will be examining all of the major programs and posting the best ways to earn and spend points in each program.
Best use of Starpoints: Cash and Points awards
If you are looking to get the most value out of your points, by far the best use for Starpoints is on cash and points room awards. Cash and points awards almost always yield a value of 2.5 cents or more per Starpoint. As of this writing, it was not hard for me to find awards which yielded a value northward of 9 cents per Starpoint.
Cash and points awards are capacity-limited, so don’t expect to find many cash and points options in super-expensive markets. New York and San Francisco hotels seem to be particularly stingy with their cash and point awards, but there are still some truly great awards out there. I’ve have friends who recently redeemed cash and points to pay for their honeymoon at an all-inclusive resort hotel. The Westin Cape Town was probably my favorite cash and points redemption, in part because my Platinum status got me an upgrade to the Executive Suite. The Westin Cape Town still seems to be consistently available for 4000 Starpoints, plus $40.
Second best use of Starpoints: Standard Nights
In theory, Starwood has one of the best programs when it comes to using points for standard rooms. According to Starwood’s website, you can redeem points for a standard room with no black-out dates. Depending on what the normal cash rate is and the price in points is, you can score a very good deal on rooms at some very nice properties.
In practice, it seems that many hotels, especially hotels in generally more expensive markets (again, think: New York and San Francisco) classify many of their rooms as upgraded rooms, in order to block people from redeeming nights. This is likely what is happening when you see “Please contact us to redeem your Free Nights.”
Options you can safely ignore: Airfare, Partners, Auctions, Charity
Starpoints can be redeemed for gift cards at a number of retailers, for charitable donations and for airfare, but these options are almost guaranteed to earn you a mediocre return on your Starpoints. Don’t expect to get more than 1.5 cents per point through any of these redemption options.
Some people swear by the “experiences” that you can bid on in the auctions at Starwood’s website. Generally, the experiences offered are either so niche that they’re unlikely to appeal to a broad audience or so appealing that the auction will close for an insane number of Starpoints. You may find a diamond in the rough, but don’t count on it.
Interesting and strategically useful: Airline Transfer Programs, Amtrak Transfer program
Starpoints can be transferred to a host of airlines: Delta, American, United, US Airways, and premium carriers such as Emirates and Singapore Airlines. The full list or airline partners is available here. Most programs offer a 1:1 transfer ratio, but a few offer a dismal 2:1 (or worse) transfer ratio.
If your frequent flyer account is a few thousand miles short and you’re trying to redeem for an international business class award ticket, it may be worth using Starpoints to top of your mileage balance. Personally, I would not transfer large numbers of Starpoints to airline programs.
Useful for aspirational awards: Transferring to another member
If you need to amass a huge number of Starpoints for an aspirational award, such as a week at the W Retreat and Spa Maldives, Starwood allows your transfer Starpoints to anyone living at your same address. Note that this doesn’t have to be a spouse; it can be anyone living at your same address.
What do you think? What has been your best Starpoint redemption? How are you going to use your Starpoints?