Transferring the Most Valuable Flexible Points to Miles: Best Choices & Hidden Pitfalls

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While I’ve long used Starwood points for hotel stays — the Starwood program has more top-end properties that I’d want to stay at than any other chain — often the best value can be obtained through airline mileage transfers.

I’ve carried the Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express since 2001 because they have the most full value airline mileage transfer partners and because when you transfer points into 20,000 airline miles, you get 5000 additional bonus miles. Since most airline partners transfer at a 1:1 ratio, that’s like earning 1.25 miles per dollar spent on the card for all spend.

Starwood has a huge array of points transfer options. The value here is being able to move points to wherever you need them, when you need them.

Decide Where You Want the Points to Go Later, Based on the Award You Want to Redeem. You can accumulate points in one program — Starwood — and then figure out what you want to do with them later. For instance, if you decide you want to go to South America then no frequent flyer program offers you better availability than American (because premium cabin award space on American flights is excellent to South America, and there are tons of flights, and also because they are a partner of LAN). If you decide you want to go to Asia or Europe then it may make sense to move the points to a Star Alliance airline for great business class options.

Top Off an Account to Have Enough Points for Redemption. Platinum members have no minimum point transfer, they can literally transfer just 1 point to a frequent flyer program, which is a great way to keep an airline mileage account from expiring. It’s also a great way to have ‘partner transaction activity’ when an airline runs a promotion that requires you to have activity with various hotel partners in order to earn bonus miles. Gold members can move as few as 1500 points to an airline program, and non-status members can move 2500 Starpoints at a minimum.

Move Points into Family Member Frequent Flyer Accounts. Since Starwood will allow you to move points between accounts at the same residential mailing address, you can put your Starwood points into, say, a spouse’s account and then move them to your spouse’s frequent flyer program account.

Here’s the full list of airline mileage transfer partners:

Frequent Flyer Program Exchange Ratio (Starpoints : Miles)
Aegean Airlines 1:1
Aeromexico Club Premier 1:1
Aeroplan/Air Canada 1:1
Air Berlin 1:1
Air China Companion 1:1
Air New Zealand & Air Points 65:1
Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan 1:1
Alitalia MilleMiglia 1:1
All Nippon Mileage Club 1:1
American Airlines AAdvantage 1:1
Asia Miles 1:1
Asiana Airlines 1:1
British Airways Executive Club 1:1
China Eastern Airlines 1:1
China Southern SkyPearl Club 1:1
Delta Air Lines SkyMiles 1:1
Emirates Skywards 1:1
Etihad Airways 1:1
Flying Blue 1:1
Gol Smiles 2:1
Hainan Airlines 1:1
Hawaiian Airlines 1:1
Japan Airlines Mileage Bank 1:1
Jet Airways 1:1
Korean Air Skypass 1:1
Miles and More 1:1
Qatar Airways 1:1
Saudi Arabian Airlines Alfursan 1:1
Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer 1:1
Thai Airways RoyalOrchidPlus 1:1
United Mileage Plus 2:1
Velocity Frequent Flyer 1:1
Virgin America Elevate 1:1
Virgin Atlantic Flying Club 1:1

My Favorite Mileage Transfer Options

The transfer partners I like the most are American Airlines, Aeroplan, Alaska Airlines, Japan Airlines, and Singapore Airlines.

  • American. What a wonderful demonstration of how much better the Starwood card is than an airline co-brand. You’re effectively earning more miles than the airline’s card (1.25 miles per dollar with transfer bonus rather than just 1) in addition to having the flexibility to transfer to the program of your choice. American offers 5 day holds on awards, and transfers generally take less than that — so you can often secure your award before you even initiate a transfer.

  • Alaska. Again you’re earning more miles with the Starwood card than if you were spending on Alaska’s card. Alaska offers a free stopover even on their one-way awards. And they have diverse partners like Emirates (suites with showers!) and Cathay Pacific.

    Emirates A380 First Class Shower

  • Singapore Airlines. I really like having having Singapore Airlines as a transfer partner since they offer their own members much better premium cabin award space on Singapore flights than other Star Alliance frequent flyer program members get. Similarly, Miles&More can be a useful transfer partner, because Miles&More members have access to better reward availability on Lufthansa and Swiss than other Star Alliance programs do. The ability to move Starpoints to those frequent flyer programs can be really useful.

    Singapore A380 Suites Class

  • Japan Airlines. They have a reasonable award chart and partnerships even outside oneworld like Bangkok Airways and Emirates.

  • Korean Air. They have the most first class award space between the US and Asia. They serve 11 US cities. Business class awards between the US and Europe on their Skyteam partners cost only 40,000 miles each way (plus fuel surcharges). And Hawaii awards on their partners Hawaiian Airlines and Alaska Airlines are just 30,000 miles roundtrip in economy and 60,000 in first class.

    Korean Air First Class

Starwood is not great for transfers to United MileagePlus. The transfer ratio is 2 Starpoints to 1 mile.

Transfer in the Right Blocks. The most points you can transfer in a 24 hour period is 79,999. You wouldn’t want to do that, since transferring 80,000 points would get you the next 5000 mile bonus. So you usually want to transfer 60,000 points in a day instead, to maximize bonuses. Then wait until the next day to move more points over.

Transfers Aren’t Instantaneous. The biggest drawback to points transfers is that points don’t post over to airline in real-time. With both Chase Ultimate Rewards and American Express Membership Rewards, you get ‘live’ transfers to several partners (hit transfer and the points show up). Starwood, on the other hand, can take longer. So when points show up award space may already have been taken or pulled. Instead it can be wise to determine your strategy, transfer points, and then secure award space (or transfer when you know you have multiple options in case one is gone when you are able to book).

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. Can you expand on how you move starpoints between family member’s accounts living at the same address? Is this option available online or by call-in? Thx

  2. Please, Gary, if you’re mentioning using points for awards also mention whether there’d be fuel charges when redeeming points. Maybe just an asterisk when YQ is charged would be easier for you to implement.

  3. Shaun, on the SPG website under “Transfer Points” you can transfer points between any SPG accounts that have the same address. Doesn’t necessarily have to be family members as long as their accounts have the same address. Just keep in mind that the transfer usually takes at least one week to happen.

  4. This article is another example of Gary Leff bringing a lot of information to readers . The timing is most fortunate as I wanted to learn more about Starwood today . I am trying to assess the value (for me ) of various credit cards . Now I have better information about Starwood . Thank You !

  5. Again, nowhere is the degree of difficulty in earning starpoints in the first place mentioned!

    Transferring 20K starpoints to AA gets you a 25,000 miles, good for a RT domestic economy ticket. But to earn the 20K starpoints @ 1/$, one must spend $20K in real money somewhere…and then to trade those points for a domestic economy ticket that can cost as little as $200 does not seem like a good “value” to me…

    With this sudden focus of this co-branded card, is AMEX giving extra commission for signing up for folks for their SPG cards?

  6. Why do you suppose the transfers to United only end up at half the value? Do you still get the 5000 extra points (divided by 2 in the end)? Has this always been the case? I didn’t remember this from past experience, but maybe I never tried to transfer to United.

  7. @Maestra K — The transfers to UA miles are not as favorable because UA is in bed with Chase.

    You get one UA mile for every 2 starpoints that you transfer, so even if you get the 5K miles extra, it might require that you transfer 40K starpoints to get 20K UA miles + 5000 bonus. An awful deal…

  8. DCS, – Where did Gary suggest you burn 25,000 miles on a $200 ticket? Most people (in the miles game anyway) know that you are obviously far better off waiting until you have 80,000 SPG to transfer to 100,000 miles in order to redeem for a $5,000 business class ticket or similar. But I assume you already knew that.

    That said, I’m also curious why you even visit this blog since you seem to spend most of your time criticizing.

  9. @Mike D — You clearly missed the point. I did not attribute anything to Gary. I was simply providing an obvious scenario based on the simple facts of how SPG points are earned and then transferred, whether one transfers 20K points or slogs away to get 80K points,1 point/$ at the tune of $80k, before transferring. The value proposition simply ain’t apparent. The whole transferability of starpoints thing sounds great. But before one can transfer points, one must earn them, which is a hard slog when it comes to starpoints, and this invariably gets conveniently ignored when their purported high metaphysical “value” is touted.

    Spending most of my time criticizing is your erroneous perception. Check out how many posts Gary puts out daily and count the ones in which I criticized anything. See how erroneous? More to the points is that I would have thought that in a public discussion of this type, one would welcome a variety of opinions. If Gary wanted to hear only from people who agree with him all the time, he would have made this into a subscription blog into which only died-hard believer in his gospel would pay to enter…

    I suspect that @Gary welcomes dissenting voices, apparently more than you do… 😉


  10. @DCS – I kind of agree with you as far as transferring to an airline is concerned. Unless you have massive spend the SPG card is only really valuable for hotel stays.

  11. Hmm. Just finding this blog and read through the thread. I will say that I have about 400,000 Starpoints so one can acquire quite a lot of them and does not really feel like a slog.

    A) You get 20,000 or so every time you sign up for a few credit card linked to Starwood and that goes for a business one as well as personal ones.

    B) If refer people you get 5,000 to 10,000 points.

    C) We do use Starwood card as primary household card and also use one for business per above so rack up 10,000+ points a month on that.

    D) When Platinum you get good multipliers on each hotel stay and also a bonus so often 4,000 or so there.

    Sure this is covered elsewhere so sorry if repeating lots of other info but did not seem to be covered on this run

  12. “Transferring 20K starpoints to AA gets you a 25,000 miles, good for a RT domestic economy ticket. But to earn the 20K starpoints @ 1/$, one must spend $20K in real money somewhere”

    But isn’t that true for any travel card? Unless you are talking about one of the cards that gives you 2/$ — but then those have fewer airlines they connect to which can be a real bother.

    I’ve been on sites all day trying to learn how this works. My biggest hangup with the starwood is the delay. The only reason I would use points for travel (instead of just shopping around for a cheap flight) is if I needed to travel last minute — and then the starwood delay would make it nearly impossible to fly any closer than 10-14 days out.

  13. The best use of points to me is international business or first class. Using 25k points for a domestic flight doesn’t sound very appealing to me so I usually will buy those with cash and put the spend on a CC that bonuses flights.

    If you don’t have status that waives the close-in ticketing fee that can also be a great use of points, even for domestic economy.

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