The One Thing That Would Make Starpoints the Single Most Valuable Currency, or How SPG Slows You Down in the Internet Age

I love Starwood Preferred Guest points. In many ways, Starpoints are the single most valuable currency. They transfer one-to-one into more airline mileage currencies than any other program, and they add 5000 bonus miles with the transfer when moving Starpoints into 20,000 mile increments. That’s incredible flexibility. Oh, and they can be used for hotels too!

But the one knock on the points, and the reason I ultimately value Starpoints less than I do Chase Ultimate Rewards, is how long they take to transfer to mileage programs.

Whereas Chase is ‘live’ with most of its partners — meaning that points show up in the mileage accounts instantly when you make the transfer — Starwood takes several days to up to a month to put points into a mileage account.

That means you cannot just find award seats and then make your transfer. The award seats could be gone by the time the points show up in your account to secure the seats.

Fewer and fewer airlines allow you to hold award seats than in the past. Delta just eliminated holds altogether.

And hold times have been shortened otherwise, over years United went from 30 days to 14 days to 3 days and now only holds if you don’t have sufficient miles in your account for an award or if you use tricks like pay by phone (when available) or pay by paypal to create a reservation.

Thank goodness US Airways still offers three days and American offers five! Very customer friendly, and American’s hold time is generally long enough to work within Starwood’s transfer times. American transfers from Starwood have actually gotten faster, they now transfer more than once a week.

In other ways, Starwood has slowed processes down. Starwood lets you combine points between member accounts for free when those accounts are registered at the same mailing address. But they’ve imposed a rule that the accounts have to be at the same address for 30 days, so that you can’t just use accounts for manufacturing and combining points and to discourage using Starwood as a means of trading or selling points (change my account to your address to give you points). In other words, they’re trying to combat what they would view as fraud on the program. Unfortunately they’re ‘combating fraud’ by ‘inconveniencing members’. (Aside: Travel with Grant managed to make the transfers between accounts after 26 and 27 rather than a full 30 days)

There’s no fundamental reason that transferring points to miles needs to take so long, perhaps it’s not reasonable to expect that transfers to some of their more obscure partners would be live (remember, they have more transfer partners than others do) but certainly to their bigger partners it should either be live or as frequent a process as it’s become with American. Waiting 14 to 30 days is simply unreasonable.

Years ago, probably sometime in the middle of the last decade, I had been told the transfer process took so long on purpose, also to combat fraud but specifically to combat internal fraud (Starwood employees transferring points out to mileage accounts they controlled). Whether this was a primary reason or a secondary benefit I cannot confirm, and it may even be that this reason has been lost over the years and that the processes in place are there for legacy reasons.

But the one change in Starwood program I would love to see — more than any other — is going live with its transfer partners. That would catapult Starpoints into the clear number one position of most valuable points currencies I think.

Are you satisfied with how long it takes to transfer Starwood points to miles? What s your number one wish for the Starwood program?

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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. I generally agree with you: the ability to transfer points from Chase Rewards is a huge benefit to me. Just this week, I was short a few thousand miles for an Avios award I wanted, and I used Chase to instantly “top it off.”

    I generally don’t use my Starwood account in the same way: I use it (gasp) mostly for hotel stays. I have transferred some points in the past to airlines like LAN and, obviously, the delay was annoying. You basically had to pre-plan the redemption. But with the devaluation of the “cash and points” option this year, I find SPG points less useful for hotel stays. So I might transfer more points to the airlines if the process was speedier. But would Starwood WANT to encourage me to do that?

  2. for me, i’d be that ridiculous rule on charging double points for hotels that don’t have standard rooms.

    ALL hotels should have standard rooms. that really ires me to no end

  3. Well, Starpoints indeed do not convert instantly, but I still love the program. Instead, I just deal with this fact, and transfer in anticipation of awards and to keep ample points/miles in ennough programs that I can pounce on any opportunities as they come along, ever applying the different “currencies” to their best and highest uses.

    My wish for SPG would be for them to expand their nights and miles to higher categories – not just 3 and 4.

  4. I can hardly conceive of ever transferring Starpoints to an airline when they are so valuable for hotel stays…especially when points stays count for status.
    About the only transfer to an airline I would consider would be to get an Emirates First Class ticket. I did one flight and took the shower on the A380…I may want to do that again.

  5. I love starpoints. Only wish I had known their power earlier in my travel days. I’ve been to 35 countries, and I would have spent far less time in huts. lol I use CSP for airmiles, and Starpoints for hotels mostly.

  6. @jay that is my #2 beef — since the type of accommodations offered is a substantial part of what drives the room rates that make the hotels such a high category to begin with! So members get double penalized.

  7. No, I am not satisfied with how long it takes to transfer Starwood points to miles.
    My number one wish for the Starwood program is the ability to transfer more than 60k points per day (79,999 does not count).

  8. This summer I redeemed Chase UR points for UA and immediately “bought” first-class award tickets for travel the next day. These awards often only appear 24 hours or less before the flight. Instant transfer from points to miles is an essential feature to redeem for international F travel.

    Starwood should do this, making its points so valuable that they require an immediate devaluation to offset the new benefit. 😛

  9. The problem you have with SPG is their concerns about account security on every single issue
    I’m not sure they could trust their team members or customers to instant transfers even if their partners agreed to it
    To be fair they have had fraud from their customers and team members over the years.
    They are fearful of everything and not trusting of their team members or customers at this point
    The changes can clearly be seen in everyway from when they first opened in 1999
    The problems over the past decade has disappointed customer relationships in every way.
    Missing welcome amenity points wait while they run it through their private security dept (days later they post)
    Need to transfer points between accounts wait till it passes security.

    From insiders that work for SPG Delta sucks to business with sometimes taking over a month for points to transfer
    Hotel programs on the other hand aren’t banks and their partnership agreements are quite different
    I doubt will see any changes but one can hope!

    Most of my friends and business colleagues don’t stay with SPG as much as the good old days as the program has seriously been devalued
    The upper category properties are so expensive it seems like a revenue based program plus premium to redeem
    Its become the ultimate airline mile redemption program
    Oh you can also buy revenue rooms and redeem points for free nights.I forgot you can do that 😉
    Like why bother anymore 🙂

  10. Thanks for the link to Gary. I didn’t state this in my post nor did you address it in this post, but I believe once you have the same address with SPG, you can transfer between family members much quicker. I will have to do another transfer to verify.

  11. I never transfer points as I value the hotel redemptions more. And with churning, I always have plenty of airline miles.

    I wish that the wouldn’t charge double for the suites property.

  12. My number one wish for the Starwood program is that they go down to the OLD Cash + Points prices. They’ve raised that cost so much that it’s questionable if it is really more valuable than points alone, while simultaneously NOT increasing the availability, which was their argument for raising the cost. Higher cost has NOT led to greater availability, and has in effect killed much of the value proposition when it is even is available.

    Hence, my #1 wish is to have the old Cash + Points prices.

  13. Had my eye on LX F via a transfer to Miles & More, before I got cold feet and pulled the trigger on a Oneworld Explorer Award.

    But in light of the recent changes (restrictions) for LX F redemption, I am now trying to pluck up the courage to transfer 85k to M&M to take advantage of possibly the only opportunity I will ever have to fly LX F.

    I think it’s the risk of (the delay) transferring to M&M and the award availability disappearing in the meantime which is putting me off.

    Anyone else considering a crack at LX F before the windows closes?

  14. I actually talked a relative out of opening a Starwood Amex card recently because of the long delay in transferring points to miles. He wanted to use that feature a lot. Instead I convinced him he was better off to get a regular Amex card with Membership Rewards, which offers instant transfers in most cases.

  15. I would disagree with the statement that “starpoints are the most valuable currency”.

    A dollar is worth 100 yens. That doesn’t mean american currency is more valuable than Japanese currency, or Americans are 100 times richer than the Japanese.

    Let’s see. SPG members earn 2 starpoints per dollar spent, but Marriott members earn 10 points per dollar spent. 10 marriott points can exchange for a minimum of 3.33 miles and a maximum of 10 miles, whereas 2 starpoints can exchange for 2.25 miles max. In that sense, Marriott points are far more valuable currency than starpoints…

  16. There is not even consistency. I did a number of EK transfers recently and can confirm that they always happen on Saturday, irrespective of the day you trigger it.

    However, a LH transfer took 30 DAYS! Beyond a joke.

  17. @AI I believe you are mixing up the value earned for hotel stays (which I’ve dealt with, and Starwood is poor for in-hotel earn) and the value of points once accrued. That takes into account their usefulness, what they can get you, and also likelihood of devaluation in the near-term. Normalizing for inflated currency numbers, Starpoints get you a whole lot more than Marriott Rewards points — both because Starwood has much nicer properties to redeem at and because they have more airline transfer partners and a given hotel redemption’s worth of points transfer to miles at a more generous rate (even taking account of Marriott travel packages).

  18. I wonder if Amex and SPG have analyzed how much swipes would go up on the card but for the problem that transfers take so long. I assume they must analyze stuff like that n a frequent basis. and it can’t be negligible. If SPG were to change this feature of its program, I have little doubt Amex would be buying lots more points. I have to believe that for the travel rewards segment of credit card spending, Chase is putting a major dent in Amex swipes. So far, Amex seems disintersted in trying to recapture it with the SPG card. In fact, other than bonus categories on the Amex Gold, Amex seems largely to have abdicated in the swipe war. Their fee Hilton card has been overtaken by citi, and their other cards cannot compete with Chase any more with respect to spending. Amex offers great benefits that make their cards worth having for an annual fee, but they seem disinterested in having them actually used by the travel reward community. Putting pressure on SPG to speed up transfers sure would make my forex fee no bonus category SPG Amex a card I reached for for spending. I keep it for my five free status nights, but I sure would use it more if points transferred quickly.

  19. I would add two things that are very frustrating to me besides what you mention:

    The insistence of AMEX of still charging a “foreign transaction fee” on the SPG card. I do not use my SPG card anymore overseas, even for staying at SPG properties. Better use a Chase Ink or Saphire which still gives you 2 points per $ but no transaction fee.

    I would like to see some bonus categories while spending on the SPG Amex card. I find myself using the chase cards for Gas (Freedom this period at 5X, Ink at 2X) or restaurants (Saphire at 2x). I have had this cards (regular and businnes) and besides the “OPEN” discounts, I dont think I have ever seen a bonus category. Plus they got rid of the referral bonus. Definitively losing to Chase.

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