Full Analysis of Current AA/SPG Transfer Bonus

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Overnight, I wrote about the current Starwood/American Airlines promotion: for all of July, 20,000 Starpoints will transfer to 30,000 American Airlines miles.

I gave the facts in this post, but I was called out in the comments for not analyzing the promotion. Said DH:

“Is this offer an indication there’s an AA devaluation right around the corner? If so, is this transfer still a good idea? Starwood points are really valuable, and I doubt devalued AA miles would be anywhere close. It’d be nice if you could discuss a bit about the merits and drawbacks/risks of the transfer instead of just saying the offer is available. It’s usually your analysis of an offer that sets this site apart. Thanks.”

DH is totally right that I want this site to stand apart because I don’t just say there is a promotion, I analyze it.

In my defense, I was coming back from a night out in Brazil celebrating the USA’s World Cup run, so I wasn’t up to the analysis. But I am now, and there’s 1,500 words of it below!

  • Should you transfer Starpoints to AAdvantage miles speculatively this month?
  • What are the 30+ airline partners of Starpoints?
  • What are the 10+ to which I’d transfer?
  • What are the three best?
  • What are the strengths of those three airline programs?
  • What is my forecast for upcoming devaluations?
  • What are four other great uses of Starpoints besides airline transfers?
  • Will I transfer?
  • Should you?

Should You Transfer Speculatively?

If you don’t have an American Airlines redemption in mind, it might still be a good idea to transfer Starpoints to American Airlines miles. Let’s look at your Starpoint options.

Airline Transfers

There are more than 30 airline transfer options for Starpoints, and my favorites are American Airlines, Alaska Airlines, and US Airways.

There are also times to transfer to Delta, British Airways, Singapore, Lufthansa, Aeroplan, Hawaiian, and Air France/KLM Flying Blue. But every airline on this second list except Lufthansa is a partner of American Express Membership Rewards, and some are also partners of Chase Ultimate Rewards. Those points are so much easier to get than Starpoints that transfers here should be extremely rare from your sacrosanct SPG balance!

American, Alaska, and US Airways have no other transfer partners and more broadly excellent award charts than all the other more niche programs listed.

Between the programs, there are big differences:

American is great for ultra-luxury redemptions on oneworld partners like Cathay Pacific and Qantas and non-oneworld partners like Etihad.

American is fantastic for allowing one way redemptions.

American’s generous off peak award chart is unmatched. You can fly to Europe for 20,000 miles each way from October 15 to May 15 on any partner airline. The same 20,000 miles each way gets you to Southern South America for much of the year. See off peak dates on the American Airlines chart.

Alaska is great for a few specific partners. You can use Alaska to book Emirates First Class on an A380 with no fuel surcharges. You can pay only 70,000 Alaska miles one way for Cathay Pacific First Class to Hong Kong and Johannesburg with time in both places.

Alaska allows one way awards, stopovers on one way awards, and even partners with American Airlines and mirrors American’s off peak awards on awards on American Airlines flights.

US Airways is great for its cheap award chart and lax routing rules. While US Airways and American share most partners, US Airways has a cheaper award chart to most, but not all, places. Plus it allows a stopover unlike American and some routings like India via Asia that American doesn’t allow.

US Airways and American Airlines partners do not fully overlap. US Airways has some old Star Alliance partners still, and American has Etihad, Alaska, and Hawaiian.

US Airways does not allow one way redemptions.

Look at all three programs to see which meets your travel goals better, but also keep in mind the likelihood of upcoming devaluations.

Upcoming Devaluations

We know that American Airlines and US Airways’ loyalty programs are combining in early 2015. At that time, your miles in each account will be merged, and the new program will have one award chart instead of the separate charts currently maintained by American and US Airways.

We can certainly hope that combined chart is simply one of the current awesome charts, but that is totally unrealistic since the New American’s two biggest competitors–Delta and United–announced big award chart devaluations in 2013.

I expect the New American’s chart to be in line with those devalued charts, though hopefully not as terrible as United’s for partner First Class redemptions. That would be a big devaluation of American Airlines miles, so I wouldn’t speculatively transfer SPG points to AAdvantage miles during this promo unless you think you can use them up for bookings by early 2015 for travel into early 2016.

By the way, I don’t think we have as specific of a timeline for Alaska, but I think we have to expect a devaluation of the top awards like Cathay Pacific First Class and maybe even Emirates First Class at some point in the next year or two.

Other Top Uses of Starpoints

Free Nights

Starwood has a cheap chart for free hotel nights, starting at 2,000 points for weekend nights at Category 1 properties.

Here is the Free Night Awards chart:

Book a four-night award at Category 3-7 hotels and get a 5th night free. Here are the total prices for five nights:

I almost never value a free night in a hotel at its retail price because hotels are expensive, and I’m usually just as comfortable in cheaper accommodations like hostels and couchsurfing.

I can probably get about 2 cents of value from Free Nights. If you value hotel nights at retail, you can get more value.

Cash & Points

Cash & Points awards are a way to stretch your cash and your Starpoints. You’ll generally get even more value from your Starpoints through these awards though they are capacity controlled. Here is the Cash & Points chart:

As you’ll notice, a Cash & Points night requires half the Starpoints of a free night plus a cash co-pay.

Unless I were taking advantage of the 5th Night Free with Free Night Awards, a discounted weekend night, or I was cash poor at the moment, I would look to choose a Cash & Points award over a Free Night.

But even so, I can’t imagine getting more than about 2.2 cents of value from a Cash & Points redemption. If you value hotels at retail price, you can get 3, 4, or even 5+ cents of value from Starpoints with Cash & Points stays.

Nights & Flights

  • For 60,000 Starpoints: you get 50,000 American Airlines, US Airways, Delta, or other 1:1 SPG airline partner miles plus five free nights in a Category 3 hotel
  • For 70,000 Starpoints: you get the 50k airline miles plus five free nights at a Category 4 hotel.

Normally 50k airline miles would require 40k Starpoints, since 20k Starpoints transfer to 25k miles with several major airlines.

That means that for an extra 20k or 30k Starpoints, you get five nights free at some fantastic hotels.

Obviously this is a tremendous deal, made even more tremendous if you can find an “under-categoried” hotel that is a bargain within its own category. Any Category 3 or 4 hotel is a possible destination for the vacation.

This can be an absurdly generous deal where I could see myself getting 2.5+ cents of value per Starpoint if I really wanted a five-night hotel stay somewhere, but that doesn’t happen very often.

If that’s your ideal stay length, this may be your best Starpoints option.

Moments

Starwood has some auctions for unique experience where you bid in Starpoints. I picked up a meet-and-greet for two, plus a reception, plus two concert tickets to a Capital Cities concert in Buenos Aires for only 6,000 Starpoints.

There are other concert and sports packages available to suit many tastes.

I definitely expect to get about 5 cents worth of value from my auction win, but that will be hard to replicate, so I would mostly ignore Moments when considering whether to speculatively transfer Starpoints to AAdvantage miles or hold onto my Starpoints.

My Plan

For me, I want to get to 170,000 Alaska Airlines miles, so that I have enough for one way in Emirates First Class to anywhere in the world and one way in Cathay Pacific First Class to South Africa via Hong Kong. Those two trips get me on Alaska’s two best partners on the routings that let me enjoy the most flying.

To get there, I’d need to transfer 25,000 Starpoints to 30,000 Alaska miles. For that reason, I have been keeping 25,000 Starpoints in reserve that I won’t touch. (Why not transfer it now to Alaska? Why would I transfer it! The transfer only takes a few days, and if my plans change, I’d rather have the more flexible Starpoints.)

Most of the rest of my Starpoints will probably be earmarked to US Airways or American Airlines miles one day.

Hotels stays, Nights & Flights, and Moments are all great options, but I can do hotel stays with other easier-to-get points, and a perfect Moments auction will be rare.

While ordinarily, I value US Airways miles a bit more than American Airlines miles, this 20% bonus to 30,000 AAdvantage miles per 20,000 Starpoints is much better than 25,000 Dividend Miles.

I plan to speculatively send all but about 45,000 Starpoints to AAdvantage miles. The 45,000 points I keep are for the future Alaska transfer and incidental uses or another airline transfer when I need it.

I am doing this because I fully expect to burn my AAdvantage miles in early 2015 if a new, terrible chart is announced.

Your Plan

Factor in everything I’ve discussed plus your relative balances and ease of getting more miles in all programs.

For instance, if you have a ton of AAdvantage miles from multiple Executive Card sign up bonuses, don’t send valuable Starpoints to your American Airlines account that you won’t be able to use before early 2015.

If you are short on AAdvantage miles and can’t meet the Executive Card’s minimum spending requirement, then you might want to pad your American Airlines account this month.

Mostly though, this promo comes down to how you planned to use your Starpoints. If they’re set aside for hotel stays, the 20% bonus might not move the needle. If they were already earmarked for airline miles, this might tip the scales to send them to American Airlines now.

Will you transfer your Starpoints speculatively to American Airlines miles?


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12 COMMENTS

  1. I just received an email from US Airways also showing the same 20% bonus in transferred SPG points. This might even be a better option for some. I’m not sure if this is a targeted bonus or not.

    Here is the verbage in my email:

    The Dividend Miles® and Starwood Preferred Guest® programs are offering you an opportunity to earn more miles towards your next trip.

    Now through July 31, 2014, when you convert your Starpoints® to Dividend Miles you will earn a 20% bonus.

    As always, for every 20,000 Starpoints transferred within the same transaction, SPG® will add another 5,000 miles making your Dividend Miles balance grow even faster.

    Convert today and plan your trip tomorrow.

  2. I need to move 70k Amex points b/c my husband is closing his card. I’m thinking SPG is the best option because of the nights & flights as well as other transfer partners that Amex doesn’t have.

  3. Does the 20% bonus combine with the nights & flights option? If I go with Nights & Flights 2, would I get 5x cat 4 nights + 60k AA miles or just the normal 50k for my 70k SPG outlay?

    • I wonder. I really wonder. It doesn’t say either way, but I would guess yes because I doubt AA/US would know how you caused SPG to send 50k miles to your AA/US account.

    • Never seen one before. I’ve seen BA and Aeroplan run promotions for all hotel point conversions at once.

  4. I love this blog, and find that it usually provides great advice on a variety of issues, but I don’t understand the mentality of accumulating miles for what seems like an unnatural obsession with flying long distances in premium seats (e.g., using 170,000 Alaska Airlines miles on routes that “let me enjoy the most flying”). Especially when coupled with the idea of living like a hobo and sleeping on other people’s couches when you reach your destination. Maybe it’s just me, but I’d prefer to pick a vacation spot that I really want to go to, and I’d be happy even if the flight there was a few hours shorter than to someplace else. I also like using points to stay in nice hotels while I’m traveling, but to each his/her own. If all you care about is flying long distances in first class, for a similar investment of miles, you could get 2 round-trip flights on United between IAD-HNL, which would total about 39 hours of flying time in what appears to be very nice accommodations.

    • To each his own. Flying Cathay and Emirates First were both really fun, and I want to repeat those flights.

  5. Thanks Scott for a great analysis! Richard and I were trying to figure out what to do with our points, and this gave a great analysis on what we should do (not just notifying us of the existence of this promo).

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