How to Maximize Domestic Award Redemptions: Starpoints (SPG)

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Let’s talk about transferring Starpoints to airline partners for redeeming on domestic awards. This is part three in a series that will allow you to master redeeming awards within the United States, no matter what kind of points or miles you might have.

For those of you that have already read the first three posts in this series, you will notice repeat information because some of the airline partners overlap between transferrable points programs. 

“How to Maximize Domestic Award Redemptions” Series Index

Starwood Preferred Guest Starpoints can be transferred to 35 airline loyalty programs, over 30 over those at a 1:1 ratio:

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 Airpoints 65:1
Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan 1:1
Alitalia MileMiglia 1:1
All Nippon Airways (ANA) 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 Airlines Sky Pearl 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 (JAL) Mileage Bank 1:1
Jet Airways 1:1
Korean Air 1:1
LATAM Airlines LATAM Pass 1:1.5
Miles and More 1:1
Qatar Airways 1:1
Saudi Arabian Airlines 1:1
Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer 1:1
Thai Airways International Royal Orchid Plus 1:1
United Mileage Plus 2:1
Virgin America Elevate 1:1
Virgin Atlantic Flying Club 1:1
Virgin Australia 1:1

 

Perhaps the most unique and awesome thing about SPG points is that when transferred to an airline partner program in increments of 20,000, they earn a 5,000 mile bonus in that program (as long as it’s a 1:1 transfer partner). For example, 20,000 SPG Points = 25,000 Singapore Krisflyer miles.

Aside from transferring to airline loyalty program, you can also redeem SPG points on any Sheraton, W, Westin, Le Meridien, Aloft, Four Points, St. Regis, Element, or Luxury Collection Hotel.

Now let’s get into some of the higher value redemption options on awards within the United States when transferring your SPG points to one of their partner airline programs.

Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan

Here are the prices for booking Alaska Airlines flights:Screen Shot 2016-08-18 at 9.52.45 AM Screen Shot 2016-08-18 at 9.53.00 AM

The two biggest strengths in using Alaska miles domestically:

  1. Alaska Airlines domestic awards can have one stopover per one way as long as all segments are flown on Alaska Airlines planes. This is a very valuable and unique feature not offered by other programs.
  2. Alaska is considered to be the same region as the other contiguous 48 U.S. states, which is usually not the case. So you can book a flight from anywhere on the mainland United States to Alaska for 12,500 each way in economy or 25,000 in two cabin First Class.

You can also use Alaska miles to book American Airlines and Delta award space as they are partners, but price wise you’re better off transferring SPG points to their own programs to book their respective award space.

What’s Money & Miles? You can get $100 off the base fare of a revenue ticket for paying 10,000 Alaska miles, or $200 off the base fare for 20,000 Alaska miles, which is like buying them for 1 cent each. This does not represent a good deal to me since I value Alaska miles much higher than that (although you do earn 100% of the miles flown when booking with Money & Miles).

American Airlines AAdvantage

Domestically, American Airlines miles can be redeemed on American Airlines and Alaska Airlines flights. Award space on both airlines is searchable on aa.com. American miles can book all the exact same award space that Alaska opens up to its own members at the Saver level.

Below are the one way prices within the contiguous 48 U.S. states (first row) and Canada & Alaska (second row):

Screen Shot 2016-08-18 at 9.04.12 AM

50,000 and 55,000 miles prices are charged for three-cabin aircraft that are only operated by American Airlines on certain flagship routes (the American Airlines A321T between New York and Los Angeles/San Francisco and a few 777s between Los Angeles and Miami).

For direct flights only on American Airlines planes that fly a distance less than or equal to 500 miles within the continental 48 U.S. states and Canada, the following prices apply:

  • 7,500 miles each way in economy
  • 15,000 miles each way in First Class on a two-cabin aircraft (almost all aircraft) and in Business Class on three-cabin aircraft

Every two months, American Airlines publishes a list of new destinations in the United States and Canada eligible for discounted awards if you are an AAdvantage card holder. Be sure to check those out as you can get up to a 30% discount. 

For even more details read Redeem American Airlines Miles: Part 6 — Domestic and Transcontinental Awards.

Asiana Flying Club

Asiana is a part of Star Alliance with United. You can fly United airlines for only 12,500 Asiana miles each way in economy or 22,500 miles each way in (two-cabin) First Class between the contiguous 48 U.S. states and Alaska. That’s just as good as Alaska’s prices in economy and better than Alaska’s prices flying Business.

You can also fly cheaply to Hawaii on United with Asiana miles, it only costs:

  • 27,500 Asiana miles each way in (two-cabin) First Class
  • 17,500 Asiana miles each way in economy (same price Singapore charges for flying United)

Asiana doesn’t collect fuel surcharges on United flights.

British Airways Avios

I love that British Airways Avios has a distance-based award chart. They also do not charge fuel surcharges on American Airlines nor Alaska Flights within the western hemisphere.

Here is the chart for award bookings of flights that touch the United States (all values represent thousands of Avios):Screen-Shot-2015-10-28-at-2.50.49-PM

For perspective, American Airlines charges 7,500 American Airlines miles for direct flights of 500 miles or less, and United charges 10,000 United miles for flights of 700 miles or less. So you can see that the strength in British Airways chart lies in short distance redemptions.

I also love that for 25,000 Avios and $11, you can fly roundtrip on American Airlines or Alaska Airlines planes from the West Coast to Hawaii. Here are the possible routes.

Screen Shot 2015-12-03 at 6.21.15 PM

Watch out for SPG to British Airways Avios transfer bonuses as they are frequent and will increase the value of your redemptions, like this 35% transfer bonus last June.

Delta SkyMiles

Delta is one of the three American legacy carriers, so obviously their miles are useful in the sense that they grant access to a good deal of domestic award space. Delta doesn’t publish their award charts online anymore, so the only way to really know the price of a Delta award is to look it up on delta.com.

Here are some examples I just searched for varying distances:

Screen Shot 2016-08-18 at 11.46.25 AM

Screen Shot 2016-08-18 at 11.47.50 AM

Screen Shot 2016-08-18 at 11.45.35 AM

Note that the above prices may be influenced by the domestic “award sale” Delta is running right now through September 30. It seems they run these sales quite often, like this one last month. I say “award sale” with quotation marks as I don’t see how you can have a sale when you don’t have published prices; not to mention when your sale appears to be a state of being rather than an actual discount.

Either way, Delta has some very cheap domestic award prices comparatively, so search delta.com when comparing your options. If you want to fly Delta One, look to book it with Virgin Atlantic miles instead. More on that in the Virgin Atlantic section below.

Etihad Guest

Etihad Guest’s award chart for redeeming Etihad miles on American Airlines makes it appear that you cannot redeem Etihad miles on American Airlines flights within North America. However The Points Guy claims that you can book First Class on American Airlines A321T for transcontinental service (three cabin First Class), and that an agent quoted him only 25,000 miles and $92.45 to book the ticket, which is just half of what American Airlines’ charges for it (50,000 AA miles).

Screen Shot 2016-08-18 at 11.20.12 AM

I haven’t tested this myself, but if any of you have done it, let us know in the comments.

Flying Blue

Both Flying Blue (Air France/KLM) and Delta are part of the Skyteam Alliance. It costs 30,000 Flying Blue miles + standard taxes/fees (no fuel surcharges) to fly roundtrip in Delta economy between the mainland United States and Hawaii. You can also book one way Flying Blue Awards for half the price of a roundtrip (in this case, 15,000 Flying Blue miles).

Screen Shot 2016-07-19 at 9.14.13 PM

Delta charges 45,000 miles roundtrip between the mainland United States and Hawaii.

Stopovers are not allowed on one way Classic Flying Blue Awards. It is not clear how may stopovers you can have on a roundtrip, but definitely at least one. Travel is Free also reported that you have to call Flying Blue (1 800 375 8723) if you’d like to include stopovers as a part of your roundtrip award.

**BONUS**

There is currently a glitch with Flying Blue’s award prices between the mainland United States and Kauai (LIH) specifically. While it should be priced at 15,000 Flying Blue miles, it’s actually priced at 12,500.

Screen-Shot-2016-07-14-at-10.17.30-PM

Read Flying Blue Glitch: 12,500 Miles to Kauai to learn more.

Korean Air 

Korean miles can book a roundtrip in Delta economy from anywhere in the United States to any of the four major Hawaiian islands for 25,000 Korean miles. A roundtrip and one way is the same price, so only book roundtrips. Korean awards allow a stopover en route an open jaw at the destination though, so consideration that your consolation prize for having to book roundtrip. Screen-Shot-2016-03-23-at-7.27.01-PM

A roundtrip between the United States and Hawaii in Delta One is 45,000 Korean miles, which is much cheaper than using Delta miles to fly their own premium cabin (80,000 Delta miles roundtrip).

Korean does not collect fuel surchrages on awards flying Delta, only the standard taxes apply.

To learn more about finding award space and booking this award, read my guide to booking Delta flights to Hawaii with Korean miles.

Korean miles can also book Alaska Airlines and Hawaiian Airlines Saver award space, but the price is higher: 30k/60k Korean miles roundtrip in economy/First.

Singapore Krisflyer

Singapore Airlines and United are fellow members of Star Alliance. You can redeem Singapore Krisflyer miles between the continental United States and Hawaii on United flights for 17,500 miles each way in economy and 30,000 miles in First with no fuel surcharges. United charges 22,500 and 40,000 miles respectively for the same flights! (Get the flat bed in first!)

Screen Shot 2016-07-19 at 10.05.59 PM

You can also fly within the United States on United Business Class for 20,000 Krisflyer miles each way (10,000 miles cheaper than redeeming United miles on their own Business Class).

Virgin America Elevate

Elevate Points are redeemed differently depending on whether you use them to book a flight on Virgin America Flights or one of its five partners.

  • If redeeming on a Virgin America flight, the required amount of points is tied to the revenue cost of the ticket. This means that you don’t have to search for specific award space, as any flight that is available on virginamerica.com can also be booked with Elevate points (ie no blackout dates.) Elevate points are on average worth about two cents a piece, but that’s not accounting for the loss when you transfer from Membership Rewards without a bonus). Cheap, short domestic flights or airfare sales would be the best case scenarios in which to use Elevate Points.
  • For flying partners, the award pricing is fixed. There is no traditional chart like other loyalty programs often use, but you can price out awards (including taxes, fees and fuel surcharges) with the award calculator tool on Virgin America’s website.
    • Potential sweetspots on partner charts:
      • 20,000 Virgin America Elevate Points is a roundtrip in Economy between the western United States and Hawaii on Hawaiian Airlines
      • 3,000 Virgin America Elevate Points is a one way economy interisland flight on Hawaiian Airlines

Virgin Atlantic

Virgin Atlantic doesn’t have flights within the United States, but they are partners with Delta.

For 45,000 Virgin Atlantic miles you can fly Delta One roundtrip within the United States, which is 5,000 miles less than what Delta normally charges for it. It must be booked as a roundtrip however, as Virgin Atlantic partner redemptions will cost the roundtrip price even if you book a one way.

You can redeem Virgin Atlantic miles on Hawaiian or Delta flights to Hawaii from the mainland as well, but there are better deals redeeming British Airways Avios, Singapore Krisflyer, or Flying Blue miles (which are all SPG transfer partners).

Virgin Atlantic won’t collect fuel surcharges if the partner airline that you fly doesn’t.

Virgin Australia

Virgin Australia is partners with Virgin America and Delta, and the award prices for redeeming on those airlines is distance based. Virgin Australia does not collect fuel surcharges flying either.

Screen Shot 2016-08-18 at 11.55.13 AM

Like British Airways Avios distance-based chart, the strengths in Virgin Australia’s chart for redeeming on Delta and Virgin America is short, direct flights.

For example, this Delta flight between New York City and Washington, D.C. would cost 12,500 Delta miles…

Screen Shot 2016-08-18 at 12.05.28 PM

…and only 7,800 Virgin Australia miles as the flight distance is 214 miles.

Bottom Line

Starwood Preferred Guest has more transfer partners than any of the other transferrable point  currencies, which is a big reason why I value them more highly than any of the others. You also have a variety of different types of miles and points so that you can utilize depending on whether you want to take a short hop to a nearby state or a transcontinental flight to Alaska.

  • Use Alaska miles if you want to a build in a free stopover on a domestic award, or for some of the cheapest award prices to Alaska
  • American Airlines miles obviously open you up to a large amount of domestic award space. Prices are pretty standard, but you can also get 7,500 mile awards for short, direct flights.
  • British Airways Avios are some of the most useful for short haul flights as well as to Hawaii. In the same vein, Virgin Australia miles can be valuable for short flights as their award prices are also distance-based.
  • Apparently you can book three cabin First Class on American Airlines A321T for transcontinental service with half the amount of Etihad miles as it would cost using American’s own miles.
  • Redeem Singapore miles on United Business Class within the 48 contiguous United States.
  • Flying Blue and Asiana miles are great deals to Hawaii.
  • Delta often has cheap domestic awards whose prices aren’t published, so you’ll have to check those on delta.com.
  • Virgin America is also one you’ll need to check by hand as the prices of their awards are tied to the revenue cost of the ticket
  • Use Virgin Atlantic miles to book Delta One.

And don’t forget the biggest perk. Starpoints transferred in 20,000 point increments to airline partner earn a 5,000 mile bonus.


Editorial Disclaimer: The editorial content is not provided or commissioned by the credit card issuers. Opinions expressed here are author’s alone, not those of the credit card issuers, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the credit card issuers.

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