Starwood Adds Virgin America as a Transfer Partner at Fantastic Rate, Means Amazing Partner Redemptions

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Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express

Starwood’s Starpoints are already the most valuable loyalty program currency by which I mean that one Starpoint is worth more than one of any other loyalty currency.

They have the most airline transfer partners where points transfer 1:1 and of course when you move Starwood points into 20,000 miles you get 5000 bonus miles. That gets you effectively a 1:1.25 transfer ratio with most airline partners.

Now, Starwood has added a new transfer partner: Virgin America Elevate.

Several things here impress me:

  1. Starwood continues to add airline transfer partners, even already having the widest array of 1:1 partners as it is. Last year they added fantastic partners in Korean Air and Aegean.

  2. They continue to improve the program for members even as Starwood is being acquired by Marriott.

  3. They’re bringing on Virgin America as that carrier is being acquired by Alaska Airlines (which is also a Starwood transfer partner).

My rule of thumb is that Virgin America’s points are deflated, that one Virgin America point is worth about 2 points in a European airline frequent flyer program.

You can use the points for about 2.2 cents apiece towards travel on Virgin America, or for fixed-point redemptions on their partners. Their points are reasonably good for redeeming on partners (with fuel surcharges). Transferring to Virgin America to redeem on Virgin America doesn’t get great value.

Where this does get a little bit interesting is partner redemptions. They do have partners, none of which offer out of this world value but some of which can be strategically useful, for instance:

  • Emirates. New York – Dubai roundtrip on Emirates is 100,000 points plus ~ $1410 in taxes/fees. New York-Milan roundtrip on Emirates is 55,000 points and ~ $1090 in taxes/fees. One-way awards are permitted.
  • Virgin Atlantic. JFK-London in Virgin Upper Class is 35,000 points roundtrip plus ~ $1150 in taxes/fees.
  • Virgin Australia. Los Angeles – Sydney is 80,000 points roundtrip in business class plus ~ $130 in taxes/fees (compare to 190,000 Delta miles). Short-haul business class within Australia is quite reasonable.
  • Singapore Airlines. Short-haul regional business class on Singapore can be quite attractive, eg. Singapore – Bangkok roundtrip is 13,000 points and ~ $51 in taxes/fees
  • Hawaiian. Hawaiian Airlines West Coast – Hawaii is 20,000 points roundtrip in coach. First class is 50,000 points. And no fuel surcharges apply.

These prices are at first blush too cheap, until you realize that 1 Virgin America point is normally like 2 airline miles.

American Express Membership Rewards transfer at 2:1 into Virgin America. They regularly run transfer bonuses and occasionally up to 50%. Those are moderately tempting. But this is 1:1 transfer (a built-in 100% bonus compared to Membership Rewards) every day and that’s before you get Starwood’s bonus of 5000 miles when you transfer points into 20,000 miles.

I value a Starpoint at 2.3 cents. But I value a Virgin America mile at 2 cents — and with the transfer bonus for moving points into 20,000 miles I’ll get 25,000 Virgin America miles. That’s a value of 2.5 cents a Starpoint. Just from this one partner. I may need to revise up the value of Starwood points.

Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Almost feels like part of an effort to establish a 1:1 conversation ratio of VX to AS before the merger…

  2. Thanks for alerting us to this redemption opportunity. As savvy as I feel as a points and miles redeemer my weakness has always been maximizing partner redemptions. I had to read this post several times to believe the numbers. It looks as if there are some great options.

  3. Gary – Would you consider speculatively transferring SPG points to Virgin in order to take advantage of a possible merging of Alaska and Virgin America ff programs in the future?

  4. (It’s VX actually.) You can’t book partner awards online at all; you have to call. The agents have been friendly and efficient when I’ve tried. I’ve always found out availability in advance some other way though, like searching for Emirates availability on Alaska’s site.

  5. I don’t see Elevate, either. It’s gone.

    One the other hand, it’s always good to see that US Airways Dividend Miles is available. That’s a great redemption partner.

  6. I recently redeemed 3600 elevate points + $50 for oneway ticket on singapore air from bali to singapore. That’s a$400+ ticket, making for 10.2 cents per point value. I did have to call it in and it took about 30 minutes over the phone.

  7. Some of those fuel surcharges as just absurd. Over $1000 in “airline fees” (ie not government taxes) on a free ticket is just over the top.

  8. With such low fares to Rio/Sao Paulo (and my love for Brazil), I’ve already taken advantage of the no YQ several times. I’ve noticed the Emirates business class fare is 100k GRU-DXB, but still comes with $600 taxes/fees RT ($320 OW). That’s cheaper than the $1100 out of NYC, and enough to make it worthwhile. But, where’s that tax coming from?

  9. “Starwood’s Starpoints are already the most valuable loyalty program currency by which I mean that one Starpoint is worth more than one of any other loyalty currency.”

    It should be illegal for people, like the host of this site, who understand very little about the “Value” of loyalty points to pontificate endlessly on the topic.

    The claim is that starpoints are worth on average 2.4 cents or so, which is a bigger number than for any other loyalty point, therefore. starpoints are the “most valuable points currency.” I already showed how that claim is misleading by comparing starpoints earned through the SPG AMEX and UA miles earned through the Chase United Club visa. It was not even a close contest.

    Now, there seems to be more nuance, with the claim being about the higher numerical value of starpoints compared to other points. The problem is that the value ~2.4 cents does not mean what bloggers think it means. The way it is obtained or approximated is by simply calculating the average of room rate in $$ divide by the cost of the same room in points, across all room types and categories (someone did it online!). That is it. That being the case, the fact that starpoints are worth on average 2.4 cents (a) is as completely arbitrary as the scale on which SPG chose to express their points, and (b) reflects the exorbitantly high room cost at Starwood properties. The numerator [room cost in $$] is a big number and the denominator [room cost in starpoints] is a small [and arbitrary] number so the that ratio is an arbitrarily big, which says nothing about the purported metaphysically “high value” of starpoints.

    Bottom line: It is mindless to conclude from the numerically higher value of starpoints that they the “most valuable” currency. Au contraire, it is a reflection of the ridiculously high cost of Starwood hotels, which may have contributed to company’s demise.

    Also contributing to the demise of Sarwood was this very claim about how valuable UNBONUSED starpoints earned through the SPG AMEX are, which caused gold rush to earn starpoints without ever setting foot in Starwood hotel, depressing growth. The rest, as they say, is history.

    Cheers from Prague, where I checked in at Hilton Prague Old Town last evening and scored a complimentary suite upgrade a King Executive Suite!

  10. Oh look it’s Marco “DCS” Rubio scurrying above-ground for Yet Another SPG bash…such a one trick pony.

    Interesting that he never posts in the Hilton-related threads…

  11. DCS it’s pretty simple. I fly virgin America all the time and pay cash for tickets. But each SPG point gets 1.25 virgin miles, which are worth 2.2 cents each. So that makes an SPG point worth 2.7 cents.

  12. @DCS the value of a Starpoint is not derived from the price of a room. If it was, the value would be much higher.

    If you’d bother to read and comprehend I walk through the methodology extensively in the linked-to post.

    Tellingly you have never been willing to state which currency you believe is more valuable, since you disagree with my assessment.

  13. @DCS “it should be illegal….”

    I would suggest you find whoever told you about the law and call him a mean name for making you look stupid.

    Note: This is #6 in my list of 100 best internet insults. Only $9.95. (as soon as i finish it)
    And , um, yeah, I’m aware DCS didn;t make a claim about the law, but stay with me….I’m just getting started here.

  14. @Gary — LOL how silly is the notion that you can “walk anyone through” estimating the value of points when you constantly state how subjective your valuations are?!!!

    What I stated above is how the AVERAGE value of hotel loyalty points can be best estimated. Take the of room rates in $$ for room types and all hotel categories and divide that by the corresponding rates in points. That would me it. What bloggers do is to try to shroud in mystery that simple but tedious calculation. You will, in fact, find that for SPG values higher than 3 cents are achieved at low end hotels, whereas at the very high end values of less than 2 cents are achieved. Overall, it comes out to around 2.5 cents. Any other claim would simply confirm what I said at the outset: stop pontificating nonstop about things that you are not sure about.

  15. Gary. I’m mad at you know for destroying the 1:1 VX transfer option with your post.

    Do you think #11 fits?:11) Why? Why did you murder all those words for nothing? Why?!?

  16. @Gary – yes, DCS is an idiot, we all know that.

    Some of the best SPG redemption rates are at the high end – he ignored the point I made about getting 5 CPM at a StR a few weeks back. 20-30K points maybe “a lot” for a StR / W / LC, but when those rates go for $600 (cat 6) or $800 (cat 7) or higher, 3 CPM+ is fairly easy.

    When your SNAs clear (note: no FDC berating needed!) those upgraded rooms can easily be 5-7 CPM.

  17. Friends, don’t encourage him by engaging. He is a pompous idiot and yes, definitely a one trick pony.
    We should all just ignore him and pretend his posts don’t exist. On occasion, one of we regulars should post a comment like this so that the new readers don’t follow him down his delusional rabbit hole. (And then we all need to like the comment to show support.)
    Oh, and Gary, thanks for a great and very useful post!

  18. @Gary saying something like “@DCS You really have no idea what you are talking about” is akin to his waving the white towel because it is not much of push back, is it?

    Anyway. I am still enjoying Prague (and my Executive Suite upgrade at Hilton Prague Old Town) to keep up with the postings here, but I stand by my method of how loyalty point values are estimated. Just saying: “@DCS You really have no idea what you are talking about” is not very illuminating, is it?

    Tell us how you estimate the value of HOTEL loyalty points, without referring people to your usual gobbledygook that makes little sense, since it is all so subjective!!!

    Praha is one of my absolutely most favored cities in the world!


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