Using a Starwood Credit Card to Earn Free Flights

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Most people do not realize that if your entire goal is to earn airline miles, then the Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express or Starwood Preferred Guest® Business Credit Card from American Express OPEN are in fact better than most airline specific credit cards. As strange as that sounds, it’s true! With the SPG credit card you earn 1 point for every dollar spent. With an airline specific credit card (i.e., AA, Delta, United, etc.) you also earn the same 1 mile for every dollar spent. This is of course for every day spend, not for purchases at Starwood or the specific airline directly.

Unlike other hotel programs, a decent redemption opportunity with Starwood is transferring your points to miles. With your Starwood points you can currently transfer to over 30 partner airlines! And, almost all of the partner airlines transfer at a 1:1 ratio (except a few which I will get into in a minute). Now, the kicker is for every 20,000 points you transfer you will receive of bonus of 5,000 miles – that is a 25% bonus! This is NOT a limited time promotion, but instead ALWAYS part of the Starwood program. However, to receive the bonus miles, you must transfer in increments of 20,000 points at a time. If you transfer, for example, 10k points one day and 10k points another day, you will not receive those extra 5k miles. Additionally, during various times throughout the year, there are sometimes transfer bonuses were you will receive even more points when transferring to a specific partner airline.

This transfer option makes Starwood  one of the most flexible loyalty programs, in my opinion. There is not one other hotel program that offers this flexibility, and even American Express Membership Rewards and Chase Ultimate Rewards do not have as many transfer options. You will not get the perks that come along with the airline specific credit cards, but if you are primarily in it for maximizing your points and love flexibility, earning points in this program is great! Of course there are always a few downsides to every program, and the biggest limitation is the length of time it takes when transferring your points. Points do not post immediately to the transferring airline, so if you are looking for a reward ticket immediately, this transfer opportunity will not benefit you. Additionally, if your airline of choice is United, you will only receive half the number of miles as you would transferring to other airlines – the redemption ratio is 2:1, where most of the other airlines is 1:1. If you are looking to accrue United miles then a Chase Ultimate Reward card is suggested as it has a 1:1 transfer option to United (the Chase Sapphire Preferred is limited on airline transfer options, but does include United, Southwest, Virgin Atlantic, Korean Airlines, and British Airways).

So let’s compare using an American Airlines credit card vs. the Starwood credit card for your every day spend. If you were to spend $20,000 on your credit card in a given year, the Starwood credit card would yield 25,000 AA miles, while the American Airlines card will yield 20,000 AA miles. Additionally, if your travel plans change and you prefer to instead use your points at a Starwood hotel or on another airline, that can be done easily. When earning points solely on AA there is no flexibility and the miles must be redeemed on AA or an AA partner airline.

Keep in mind though this card, along with other flexible credit cards, are only worthwhile if you can get more then 2 cents per point or mile on your redemption. If you typically redeem for less then a cash back credit card is the way to go.

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  1. I agree that the airline transfer bonus is great in theory, but whenever I’ve wanted to use my SPG points for airline transfers I have run into timing issues. The airline will typically hold an award reservation for 24 hours or so and SPG says it can take a few weeks for the points to transfer. I hate to transfer speculatively and thus have never been able to capitalize on this feature. I just wish SPG would change their system so the points would transfer instantly or even with 48 hours–that would make this option so much more usable for me! How have you been able to utilize this?

    • @Michelle – I agree that the timing is not ideal. A real-time transfer would be MUCH better. It is not good if you are trying to put an award on hold, but works if there are a bunch of open seats and you are flexible.

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