In On Points, Brian Kelly, founder of The Points Guy,shares his strategies for getting the most out of your points and miles.

By Brian Kelly
January 21, 2017
Courtesy of Hotel Imperial Vienna

Starwood has been a fickle lover. First it was going to pair up with Hyatt. Then it was tying the knot with Marriott. A Chinese suitor swooped in, was fended off, and just returned.  

All the while, the fate of the beloved Starwood Preferred Guest program is still up in the air. Will it go away? Will it be folded into Marriott’s program? We don’t know—and you shouldn’t wait to use your Starpoints, because the changes may not advantage members. SPG points are currently the most valuable currency out there—according to the valuations we run at The Points Guy, each point is currently worth about 2.5 cents. I recommend earning as many points as possible and spending them before the program changes.

The first thing you should do is sign up for the Starwood Preferred Guest Card from American Express. If you open an account before March 30, you get a record 35,000 bonus points for spending $3,000 within the first three months. I don’t think the bonus will ever be higher—and the card may be discontinued in the upcoming merger since Marriott uses Chase for its co-branded credit cards.

Here are four ways to get the most value out of your SPG points:

Free nights

Starwood has a no-black-out-dates policy: whenever a property has a standard room available, you can redeem points for it. This year I’ve used SPG points for trips to SXSW and Coachella. At SXSW, the W Austin was 27,500 points per night (or $1,195 plus tax per night in cash). For Coachella I booked a room at Le Parker Meridien Palm Springs for 20,000 points per night rather than pay $1,877 per night. Always do the math when determining whether you should pay or redeem points—you should aim to get at least 2.5 cents per point in value. On these two stays I’m getting over 4.7 cents per point in value. You can get even more value by booking a stay of at least five nights (at any category 3-7 property) because you the 5th night is free.

SPG Moments

SPG members can bid or simply redeem Starpoints for special-access experiences at concerts, plays, sporting eventsVegas shows, and more. I recently redeemed 50,000 points for two seats in the SPG Luxury Suite at the O2 in London to see Adele; back in December I took my dad and brothers to see the Knicks play at Madison Square Garden for 17,500 points per ticket. To put it in perspective, seats in the same section at the Adele concert are about $260 per ticket, but with SPG Moments you get dinner, drinks, and access to the Starwood private suite.

Airline transfers

Not only can you transfer SPG points to 34 airlines—you receive a 25% bonus for every 20,000 points you transfer. One of my favorite redemptions ever was using 90,000 miles and $51 to book a one-way ticket on Emirates first class from New York to Dubai. I used Alaska Airlines miles, but SPG points would have worked too—and cost just 80,000 points thanks to the bonus. In cash that flight would cost more than $9,300.

SPG transfer partners include: Aegean, Aeromexico, Aeroplan, Air Berlin, Air China, Air New Zealand, Alaska, Alitalia, ANA, American, Asia Miles, British Airways, China Eastern, China Southern, Delta, Emirates, Etihad, Flying Blue, Gol Smiles, Hainan Airlines, Hawaiian, Japan Airlines, Jet Airways, Korean, LAN, Lufthansa, Qatar, Saudi, Singapore, Thai, United, Virgin Atlantic, and Virgin Australia. SPG transfer points to all partners at a 1:1 ratio except for Air New Zealand (65:1), Gol Smiles (2:1), LAN (1:1.5), and United (2:1).

SPG Nights and Flights

This program lets you redeem points for a five-night stay in a Category 3 or 4 SPG property (like the Le Meridien Versailles or the Le Meridien New Orleans) and then get 50,000 airline miles back to cover your travel. The packages can offer big savings compared with separately booking a hotel and transferring SPG points to an airline. They are only valid for airlines with a 1:1 transfer ratio, so that excludes Air New Zealand, Gol Smiles, LAN, and United.

Free nights at Category 3 properties typically cost 7,000 points per night;  Category 4 hotels are 10,000 points per night. So a Category 3 Nights and Flights package costs 60,000 SPG points, but you get five free nights (worth 28,000 points because of that 5th night free benefit) and earning 50,000 airline miles. For a Category 4 package you redeem 70,000 points and get five nights (worth 40,000 points) plus the 50,000 airline miles.  Be sure to crunch the numbers before deciding which package makes the most sense. It would be nice if these were eventually expanded to higher categories, but there are more than 650 properties to choose from within Categories 3 and 4.