Sep 4, 2008

Starwood points for no blackout date flights

Starwood introduced a new program called SPG Flights where one can redeem Starwood points for the cash value of any available airline ticket on required dates. While, it might seem a little pricier than the "so-called" free award ticket, it has the benefits of being free from blackout dates and capacity control restrictions. Additionally, it seems like you can redeem the points on several airlines.

I have not personally used this systerm yet, but I test drove the website and interface for multiple itineraries and compared with orbitz travel results side by side. I ran a weekend flight search from an obscure airport in Pennsylvania - State College (SCE) to San Francisco (SFO) on Sep 26 returning on Sep 29.
Sidestep returned lowest cost flights in the range of $475.

Starwood returned lowest points flights at 40,000 points. Considering that 40,000 points converts to 50,000 miles with most airlines with Starwood redemptions, this deal is very close to the assumed value of Starwood points (1.25 c = 1 point).

In fact based on the prices on sidestep, we can see that Starwood seems to be pegging the value at 1.18 c/point. The biggest benefit in my opinion is that you can pick another airline apart from the one where you plan to add your miles and redeem free flights. So essentially you get a lot of flexibility in flight timing choices, hubs etc. Also according to the FAQ listed on the Starwood site, frequent flier miles can still be earned on the flights taken.

However, if you were to compare this to the United "choices" program you cannot do any partial redemptions. At least I was not able to figure out such an option. A complete chart of the points to money value as of early Sep 2008 was this:

Starwood's site mentions the following as the biggest benefits:
You still have the option to transfer Starpoints to an airline and receive miles with Starwood Preferred Guest transfer partners; however, SPG Flights allows you to skip the transfer step, expands your flight options to include more airlines, and eliminates blackout dates and other restrictions found with airline mile redemption programs.
Once again, I cast my vote in favor of the Starwood American Express credit card as the only rewards card worth the annual fee! So if you are looking for a single rewards credit card that you plan to pay off on a monthly basis, one that offers a good buyer's protection program and an excellent car rental insurance program and other hotel related benefits, then I can shamelessly say that the Starwood Amex wins hands down.
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