Should you invest in Starpoints now?

Starwood is once again offering 35% off on the purchase of SPG Starpoints through July 20th. This means that it’s possible to buy Starpoints for 2.275 cents each.  And, since Starpoints convert to Marriott Rewards points 1 to 3, that’s equivalent to buying Marriott Rewards points for 0.75 cents each.  Considering that Marriott sells points for 1.25 cents each, this is a relative bargain.

But…

The fact that Starpoints / Marriott Rewards points are available for purchase at a very low relative price does not mean that it makes sense to buy them.  Whether or not buying points makes sense depends entirely upon how you plan to use them.

Let’s look at various uses for Starpoints & Marriott Rewards points to see whether this is really a good deal…

Domestic Round Trip for $455

Many airline programs charge 25,000 miles for a domestic round-trip economy award.  Given that Starpoints transfer to airline miles at a rate of 20K Starpoints to 25K miles, we can estimate the cost to buy a round trip ticket as follows:

  • Buy 20K Starpoints for $455
  • Convert 20K Starpoints to 25K miles
  • Result: Round trip economy ticket for $455

Verdict: Bad Deal

Why: Round trip domestic economy awards are usually available for 25K miles only when the flight is far from full.  When that’s true, it is usually possible to get a good cash price for the same flights.  Last minute flights can be an exception.

Top Tier SPG or Ritz hotel for $455

Mystique, a Luxury Collection Hotel, Santorini

In August, Starpoints will automatically be converted 1 to 3 to rewards points.  And, from August to early 2019, the newly combined Marriott / SPG / Ritz award chart will top out at 60,000 points per night.  This means that during that window it will be possible to book the most expensive SPG and Ritz properties for the equivalent of 20,000 Starpoints per night.  Via this promotion, each free night will cost you $455.  Or, if you take advantage of 5th night free awards, you can average $364 per night for a 5 night stay.

  • Buy 20K Starpoints for $455
  • In August, 20K Starpoints automatically convert to 60K rewards points
  • Between August and early 2019, book top tier hotels for 60K rewards points per night
  • If you have enough points, take advantage of 5th night free awards

Verdict: Bad Deal*

Why: Many top tier properties are routinely available for under $500 per night, especially if you watch for sales.  If you buy Starpoints now with the hope of booking a top tier property that is usually much more than $500, this can offer very good savings, but it still locks you into having to finalize your travel plans before early 2019.

* This would be a good deal if you have specific plans to stay at a hotel that costs much more than $455 per night and if standard rooms are available during your travel dates.

Mid Tier Hotel for $273 per night

Residence Inn New York Central Park

When Marriott unveiled future award pricing for New York City and a few other markets, we were surprised to see that a number of New York City hotels will be available for only 35,000 rewards points per night.  That’s equivalent to 11,667 Starpoints per night.  With the current promotion, you could buy 12,000 Starpoints for $273 and have a few points left over.

  • Buy 12K Starpoints for $273
  • In August, 12K Starpoints automatically convert to 36K rewards points
  • When programs merge in August, book mid tier hotels for 35K rewards points per night
  • If you have enough points, take advantage of 5th night free awards

Verdict: Bad Deal*

Why: Many mid tier properties are routinely available for under $300 per night, especially if you watch for sales.  If you buy Starpoints now with the hope of booking a mid tier property that is usually much more than $300, this can offer very good savings, but only if you don’t come across a better sale before your stay.

* This would be a good deal if you have specific plans to stay at a hotel that costs much more than $273 per night and if standard rooms are available during your travel dates.

Bottom Tier Hotel, 5 Nights for $227.50 ($45.50 per night)

TownePlace Suites Jacksonville NC. Currently a category 1 Marriott hotel

Currently, category 1 and 2 SPG hotels do not qualify for 5th Night Free awards.  But, when the Marriott and SPG programs merge in August, all hotels will be eligible for 5th Night Free awards.  And the lowest category hotels will be available for 7,500 points per night:

If you book 5 nights under the new award chart, you’ll pay 7,500 x 4 = 30,000 rewards points (10,000 Starpoints) for 5 nights.

  • Buy 10K Starpoints for $227.50
  • 10K Starpoints convert to 30K rewards points
  • Book 5 nights at a category 1 hotel for 30K points
    • Before August, this is only possible at category 1 Marriott hotels.
    • When the programs merge in August, this will be possible at category 1 SPG hotels as well
  • Average cost per night: $45.50

Verdict: Good Deal

Why: If you have a real need or desire to stay in a category 1 hotel for 5 nights, chances are good that the paid rate alternative will be quite a bit higher than $45.50 per night after taxes and fees.  Alternatively, for those chasing elite status, this is a fairly low cost way to earn 5 elite nights.

One-Way International First Class for $1,365

Cathay Pacific first class

SPG offers point transfers to airline miles at a rate of 20K Starpoints to 25K miles.  If you buy enough Starpoints, you could use the resulting miles to buy first class flights:

  • Buy 60K Starpoints for $682.50 x 2 = $1,365 (See: How to buy more than 30K SPG points)
  • Convert 60K Starpoints to 75K airline miles
  • Many international first class awards are available for 75K miles one-way or less (see this post for examples)
  • Result: One-Way International First Class for $1,365 plus taxes & fees.

Verdict: Good Deal*

Why: A good international First Class flight often costs $8,000 or more round-trip.  Using points in this way would likely represent significant savings, even after accounting for fuel surcharges imposed by many carriers.  Caveat: Finding available first class awards when and where you want them can be tough.

* Even though this is a good deal, investing in travel packages can be a better deal.  See the section two below on round trip flights plus 7 night stays for details.

One-Way International Business Class for $1,365 (with points left over)

ANA Business Class

  • Buy 60K Starpoints for $682.50 x 2 = $1,365 (See: How to buy more than 30K SPG points)
  • Convert 60K Starpoints to 75K airline miles
  • Many international business class awards are available for 60K miles one-way or less (see this post for examples)
  • Result: One-Way International Business Class for $1,365 plus taxes & fees, with points left over for other uses

Verdict: Bad Deal

Why: It is often possible to find round-trip international business class fares for less than $3,000 (i.e. less than $1,500 each way).

Round Trip International Biz or 1st Class, plus 7 Night Hotel Stay for $2,047.50

Qantas Business Class

Marriott Travel Packages offer an intriguing alternative to using Starpoints directly:

  • Buy 90K Starpoints for $682.50 x 3 = $2,047.50 (See: How to buy more than 30K SPG points)
  • Convert 90K Starpoints to 270K Marriott Rewards points
  • Use 270K Marriott Rewards points to book a 7 night category 1-5 travel package resulting in 120K airline miles of various sorts, or 132K United miles plus a 7 night stay certificate.
  • Many round-trip international business class awards, and some round-trip international first class awards, are available for 120K miles or less. See this post for examples.
  • Result: Round-Trip premium international flight plus 7 night hotel stay for $2,047.50 plus taxes and fees.

Verdict: Great Deal

Why: While it’s possible to find similarly priced premium flights, this option gives you the option of flying some of the most luxurious premium cabins in the world.  For example, with Virgin Atlantic miles you could book ANA first class from the US to Tokyo for 110K or 120K miles.  Or, use Alaska miles to book Qantas or Fiji business class to Australia for 110K miles or Cathay Pacific for 120K miles.  Or, use Alaska miles to fly business class to Asia for 100K round-trip on Cathay Pacific or Hainan, or 120K round-trip on JAL.  United charges 140K round-trip (8K more than the miles you would get from the package) for partner business class to Europe, and less for their own flights.  And, significantly, United does not pass along fuel surcharges.  Caveat: Finding available business or first class awards when and where you want them can be tough.

If you need the miles, this deal is good even if you don’t have use for the 7 night stay certificate.  If you can find good use for the 7 night stay, then obviously the deal becomes way better.  For more about Marriott travel packages, see these posts:

Caveats to all of the above

#1: Whether or not something is a good or bad deal depends on your circumstances

I tried my best to indicate above whether or not I think each option is a good or bad deal, but your circumstances are undoubtedly different from those that I imagined.  Please use your own judgment to decide.

#2: Investing in points or miles is never a good idea without a plan for how to use them

Some of the flight options I described above sound amazing and are undoubtedly a great deal if you actually take advantage of them.  In reality, though, maybe you won’t.  If you’re thinking that you might try one of these award flights someday, but you don’t know when someday might be, I’d recommend against buying the points.  Chances are good that the miles will devalue before you go, or you might have other better options when the time comes.

#3 There are cheaper ways to get the needed points and miles

Buying points and miles at a discount is probably best for those who live outside of the US or for those who are unable to qualify for good credit card signup offers in the US.  For those in the US with good credit, a few credit card welcome bonuses could easily get you all of the points you need.

For example, here are the currently available Marriott point offers (click on any card link to go to a detailed Frequent Miler page about that card):

Chase Marriott Rewards® Premier Business
75K points
75K after $3K spend in 3 months

No Annual Fee First Year, Then $99

Recent better offer: 100K after $5K spend. (Last reported 7/2016)

Chase Marriott Rewards® Premier Plus
75K points
75K after $3K spend in 3 months

$95 Annual Fee

Recent better offer: 100K after $5K spend in 3 months

Chase Ritz Carlton Rewards Visa Infinite
2 Free Nights + 10K
2 Free Tier 1-4 night stays after $4K spend in first three months + 10K points for adding an authorized user.

$450 Annual Fee

Recent better offer: 3 Free Tier 1-4 nights after $5K spend in first three months + 10K points for adding an authorized user.

And here are the top transferable points offers (press Next for more). Click on any card link to go to a detailed Frequent Miler page about that card:

Card Offer
Chase Ink Business Preferred Card
80K points
80K after $5K spend in 3 months

$95 Annual Fee

Recent better offer: This is the best public offer we've seen. A 100K offer is sometimes available in-branch through a Business Relationship Manager.

The Business Platinum® Card from American Express OPEN
100K points
Up to 100K: 50K after $10K spend + 50K after additional $15K spend in 3 months.

$450 Annual Fee

Recent better offer: 150K after $20K Spend (Targeted)

Chase Sapphire Preferred Card
55K points
55K: 50K after $4K spend in the first 3 months + 5K after adding an AU and making a purchase

No Annual Fee First Year, Then $95

Chase Ink Business Unlimited
50K points
50K after $3K spend in 3 months

$0 Annual Fee

Chase Ink Business Cash Credit Card
50K points
50K after $3K spend in 3 months

$0 Annual Fee

Recent better offer: None. This is the best we've seen.

Citi ThankYou Premier Card
50K points
50K after $4K spend in 3 months

No Annual Fee First Year, Then $95

Recent better offer: None

The Business Gold Rewards Card from American Express OPEN
50K points
50K after $5K spend in 3 months (You may be eligible for a bigger signup offer. Call Amex to ask)

No Annual Fee First Year, Then $175

Alternate offer: Some have been targeted for a 75K offer. See this post for more info.

Recent better offer: 75K after $5K spend, targeted -- call to ask for offer. (last reported 2/25/16)

Chase Sapphire Reserve Card
50K points
50K after $4K spend in 3 months

$450 Annual Fee

Recent better offer: 100K after $4K spend in 3 months, last seen 3/11/2017 in-branch

The Platinum Card® from American Express
60K points
60K after $5K spend in 3 months

$550 Annual Fee

Recent better offer: 100K after $3K spend direct link (last reported 5/10/16)

Premier Rewards Gold Card from American Express
25K points
25K after $2K spend in 3 months

No Annual Fee First Year, Then $195

Recent better offer: 50K after $1K spend targeted via CardMatch Tool (last reported 2/11/16)

Citi Business ThankYou Card
20K miles
20K after $2K spend in 3 months

$0 Annual Fee

Chase Freedom Unlimited
Up to 17.5K points
17.5K: 15K after $500 spend in 3 months + 2.5K for adding authorized user

$0 Annual Fee

Chase Freedom®
Up to 17.5K points
17.5K: 15K after $500 spend in 3 months + 2.5K for adding authorized user

$0 Annual Fee

Starwood Preferred Guest® Business Credit Card from American Express
Up to $200
$100 statement credit after $1,000 in purchases in the first 3 months + $100 statement credit after your first purchase at participating SPG and Marriott hotels.

No Annual Fee First Year, Then $95

Recent better offer: 35K after $7K spend in first 3 months (Expired 3/28/18)

Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express
Up to $200
$100 after spending $1,000 in the first 3 months + $100 statement credit after first SPG / Marriott purchase in 3 months

No Annual Fee First Year, Then $95

Platinum Card® from American Express for Ameriprise Financial
Free First Year
No first year annual fee for you and up to 3 authorized cardholders

No Annual Fee First Year, Then $550

AT&T Access Card
10K points
10K ThankYou Points after $1K Spend in 3 Months

$0 Annual Fee

The Blue Business℠ Plus Credit Card
None
This card does not currently feature a welcome bonus.

$0 Annual Fee

Recent better offer: 20K after $3K spend in 3 months (Expired 6/21/17)

Citi ThankYou Prestige Card

Currently there is no signup bonus for this card. One option is to sign up for the Citi Premier card instead and later product change to the Prestige card.

$450 Annual Fee

Recent better offer: 75K after $7.5K spend in 3 months

And here are the top airline miles offers. Click on any card link to go to a detailed Frequent Miler page about that card:

Card Offer
Platinum Delta SkyMiles® Business Credit Card from American Express
Up to 70K miles + 5K MQMs + $100
35K miles + 5K MQMs after $1K spend in first 3 months + $100 statement credit after Delta purchase in 1st 3 months. Plus earn 5x on eligible purchases for the first 6 months, up to 35K bonus miles. Offer expires 7/31/18. Terms and limitations apply.

$195 Annual Fee

Recent better offer: 70K miles + 10K MQMs after $3K spend in first 3 months + $100 statement credit after Delta purchase in 1st 3 months. (Expired 4/11/18)

CitiBusiness AAdvantage Platinum Select World MasterCard
70K miles
70K after $4K spend in 4 months

No Annual Fee First Year, Then $95

Virgin Atlantic World Elite Mastercard
75K miles
75K: 20K after first purchase + 50K after $12K spend in 6 months + 5K for adding 2 authorized users

$90 Annual Fee

Citi AAdvantage Platinum Select World Elite Mastercard
60K miles
60K after $3K spend in 3 months

No Annual Fee First Year, Then $99

Chase Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards® Premier Business Card
60K miles
60K after $3K spend in 3 months

$99 Annual Fee

Recent better offer: None. This is the highest public offer we've seen.

Chase Iberia Visa Signature® Card
100K Avios
100K:
-50K after $3K spend in 3 months
-Additional 25K after $10K total spend in 1st year and a further 25K after $20K total spend in 1st year

$95 Annual Fee

Recent better offer: None. This is the highest public offer we've seen.

Chase Aer Lingus Visa Signature® Card
100K Avios
100K:
-50K after $3K spend in 3 months
-Additional 25K after $10K total spend in 1st year and a further 25K after $20K total spend in 1st year

$95 Annual Fee

Recent better offer: None. This is the highest public offer we've seen.

Chase British Airways Visa Signature® Card
100K Avios
100K:
-50K after $3K spend in 3 months
-Additional 25K after $10K total spend in 1st year, additional 25K more after $20K total spend in 1st year

$95 Annual Fee

Avianca Vuela Visa Card
60K miles
60K after first purchase with promo code LM17WB

$149 Annual Fee

Chase Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards Priority Credit Card
Up to 65K miles
Up to 65K: 40K after $1K spend in 3 months; additional 15K after spending $15K total in first year

$149 Annual Fee

Chase United Explorer Card
Up to 55K miles
50K after $3K spend in 3 months + 5K for adding an authorized user

No Annual Fee First Year, Then $95

Recent better offer: 70K + $100 statement credit (targeted)

50K after $3K spend in 3 months + 5K for adding an authorized user + $100 statement credit after first purchase (Expired 3/15/18)

Chase United MileagePlus® Explorer Business
50K miles
50K after $3K spend in 3 months

No Annual Fee First Year, Then $95

Recent better offer: 50K after $2K spend. (Last reported in 4/2016)

Lufthansa Miles & More® Premier World MasterCard® issued by Barclays
50K miles
50K: 20K after first purchase & 30K after $5K spend in 90 days

$89 Annual Fee

Recent better offer: None. This is the best we've seen.

AAdvantage® AviatorTM Business MasterCard®
50K miles
50k miles after 1st purchase within 90 days and payment of the $95 AF

$95 Annual Fee

Recent better offer: None.

AAdvantage® AviatorTM Red World Elite MasterCard®
50K miles
50k miles after 1st purchase within 90 days and payment of the $95 AF

$95 Annual Fee

Recent better offer: 60K After first purchase in 3 months and payment of the $95 annual fee (Expired 2/18)

Avianca Vida Visa Card
40K miles
40K after first purchase with promo code LM17WB

$59 Annual Fee

Chase Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards® Plus Card
40K miles
40K after $1K spend in 3 months

$69 Annual Fee

Recent better offer: 60K after $2K spend in 3 months (Expired 10/9/17)

Chase Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards Premier Credit Card
40K miles
40K after $1K spend in 3 months

$99 Annual Fee

Recent better offer: 60K after $2K spend in 3 months (Expired 10/9/17)

JetBlue Business Card
40K miles
40K after $1K spend in 90 days

$99 Annual Fee

Recent better offer: None. This is the best we've seen.

Gold Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express
30K miles + $50
30K miles after $1K spend in the first 3 months + $50 statement credit after making a Delta purchase in the first 3 months. Terms apply.

No Annual Fee First Year, Then $95

Recent better offer: 60K miles + $50 statement credit: 50K miles after $2K spend in the first 3 months + $50 statement credit after making a Delta purchase in the first 3 months + 10K bonus miles after additional $1K spend in the first 6 months.(Expired 4/11/18)

Gold Delta SkyMiles® Business Credit Card from American Express
30K miles + $50
30K miles + $50 statement credit: 30K miles after $1K spend in the first 3 months + $50 statement credit after making a Delta purchase in the first 3 months. Terms and limitations apply.

No Annual Fee First Year, Then $95

Recent better offer: 60K miles + $50 statement credit: 50K miles after $2K spend in the first 3 months + $50 statement credit after making a Delta purchase in the first 3 months + 10K bonus miles after additional $1K spend in the first 6 months. (Expired 4/11/18)

Cathay Pacific Visa Signature card
35K miles
35K after $1,500 spend in 90 days

No Annual Fee First Year, Then $95

Recent better offer: 50K after $2,500 spend in 90 days

Delta Reserve Business Credit Card from American Express
40K miles + 10K MQMs
40K miles + 10K MQMs after $3K spend in the first 3 months. Terms apply.

$450 Annual Fee

Recent better offer: None.

BOA Alaska Airlines Visa Business Card
30K miles
30K after $1K spend in 3 months

$75 Annual Fee

Recent better offer: None

BOA Alaska Airlines Visa Signature
31K miles + Companion Ticket
31K + $0 (+ taxes/fees) companion fare after $1K spend in 3 months

$75 Annual Fee

Recent better offer: None recently

Citi® AAdvantage® Gold MasterCard®
25K miles
25K after $750 spend in 3 months

No Annual Fee First Year, Then $50

Frontier Airlines World MasterCard®
40K miles
40K after $500 spend in 90 days

$79 Annual Fee

Chase United MileagePlus® Club Card
50K miles
50K after $3K spend in 3 months

$450 Annual Fee

Recent better offer: It is common to receive a targeted offer with the first year fee waived

Citi AAdvantage® Executive World Elite MasterCard®
50K miles
50K after $5K spend in 3 months

$450 Annual Fee

Recent better offer: 75K after $7.5K spend in 3 months

Virgin Atlantic White Card
15K miles
15K: 12,500 miles after first purchase + 2,500 miles for adding 1 authorized user

$49 Annual Fee

Recent better offer: None

LATAM Visa Signature issued by US Bank
20K miles
20K miles after first use.

No Annual Fee First Year, Then $75

Blue Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express
10K miles
10K miles after $500 spend in the first 3 months. Terms apply.

$0 Annual Fee

Recent better offer: None.

Korean Air SKYPASS Visa issued by US Bank
15K miles
15K after first purchase

$80 Annual Fee

You may be able to earn 5K miles by referring a friend. Simply put the referring member's SkyPass number on the application in the applicable box

Recent better offer: 40K after $2.5K spend targeted (last reported 2/26/2016)

30K: 15K after first purchase + 15K after $2k spend in 90 days

25K: 15K after first purchase, 10K after $2K spend in first 3 months (expired 1/18)

Korean Air SKYPASS Select Visa issued by US Bank
30K miles
30K miles after $3K spend in 90 days

$450 Annual Fee

Korean Air SKYPASS Business Visa issued by US Bank
10K miles
10K miles after first purchase

$75 Annual Fee

You may be able to earn 5K miles by referring a friend. Simply put the referring member's SkyPass number on the application in the applicable box

Recent better offer: 45K after $3K spend targeted (last reported 3/1/2016)

30K: 15K after first purchase + 15K after $2k spend in 90 days

25K: 15K after first purchase, 10K after $2K spend in first 3 months (Expired 1/18)

AAdvantage® AviatorTM Silver World Elite MasterCard®

This card is currently available by invitation only.

$195 Annual Fee

About Greg The Frequent Miler

Greg is the owner, founder, and primary author of the Frequent Miler. He earns millions of points and miles each year, mostly without flying, and dedicates this blog to teaching others how to do the same.

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Nicholas
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Nicholas

I purchased SPG points at the tail end of the last sale because I saw a good redemption opportunity coming up and knew I’d get a good value out of them. Yesterday, I finalized flight arrangements and used the points to book 3 rooms for 3 nights at the Sheraton Miraflores in Lima, Peru for 33,000 points next May. The cash cost for all 3 rooms for 3 nights would have been $2,100+ after taxes, so I feel like I secured good value with the booking.

DSK
Guest
DSK

Great meeting you at FTU in NYC. Wanted to make sure you saw latest merger news which appears to answer a key question about LTPP in 2018 differently than you (and most others) surmised. From the wiki thread–“Starwood Lurker” is SPG’s social media specialist:

B8. Do Marriott members with 2MM uncombined lifetime MR points and with 750 combined lifetime MR nights and lifetime SPG nights qualify for LTPP?

Yes.This is confirmed at marriott.members.com under the Benefits and Lifetime tab where it specifically states, “You can also qualify for Lifetime status via the existing criteria for Rewards and SPG through December 31, 2018.” Existing legacy criteria for earning Lifetime Platinum Premier in MR/RCR is 750 Lifetime nights + 2MM Lifetime points. Also, in August, when members combine Rewards and SPG accounts, their lifetime nights across both programs count toward Lifetime Elite status in the new combined program. To be included in at previous thresholds for Rewards or SPG, members will have until December 31, 2018, to complete stays in order to achieve the Lifetime Elite status.

Jeffrey@MillionMileGuy
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Jeffrey@MillionMileGuy

This post took some time and thought. Nice post Greg, you do a great job.

PSL
Guest
PSL

Deciding whether to purchase points is for many of us contingent on Marriott actually publishing the new travel package rates by July 20. I’m not taking any bets on that one.

Al_R
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Al_R

Quality post. Thanks Greg.

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[…] Is it really worth buying these points? In the post “Should you invest in Starpoints now?” I argued that the answer depends on how you’ll use the points. For some purposes, it […]