Starwood Preferred Guest is one of the better loyalty programs because it issues points that are not only very valuable but also very flexible. For example, many hotels let you use points to book hotel stays or transfer to airline partners, though usually at a poor rate. So I stick to hotel redemptions. Starwood tends to be the exception — either hotel or flight rewards can be a good value.
You can also buy points throughout the year, sometimes on sale, and combine points across multiple accounts if you live at the same address. That makes it easier to accumulate enough points for more expensive — and typically more valuable — awards.
Although free nights and airline transfers are two obvious uses, Nights & Flights packages can provide the best of both worlds. By agreeing to book a hotel award and transfer points to an airline at the same time, SPG will provide you a discount. The best part is you don’t need to use those airline miles right away for the same trip. As long as you know you’ll use the miles at some point this is probably a good way to redeem a few extra Starpoints on the side and top up your airline account. (Obviously, you do need to have plans for the hotel portion.)
Nights & Flights packages are only valid for Category 3 and 4 hotels. Either package provides 50,000 miles with one of several airline partners in addition to a five-night stay at the hotel.
|Category 3||Category 4|
|Cost of Nights & Flights Package||60,000 points||70,000 points|
|Typical Cost of 5 Free Nights||28,000 points||40,000 points|
|Typical Cost of 50,000 Miles||40,000 points||40,000 points|
|Total Savings||8,000 points||10,000 points|
As you can see from the above table, booking a Nights & Flights package can allow you to save thousands of Starpoints compared to booking a free night award and transferring points to an airline in separate transactions. These savings are in addition to the fifth free night on longer award stays and the 5,000 bonus miles when you transfer a block of 20,000 Starpoints. You’re really saving quite a bit.
One issue is that some of SPG’s airline partners are excluded from Nights & Flights. The program has many, many airline partners, most of which transfer at a 1:1 ratio. A few that don’t — United, Air New Zealand, GOL, and LAN — can’t be used with Night & Flights.
Even Better Discounts Depending on Perspective
I don’t know that I would always use the miles and the free nights for the same vacation, so another way of looking at the Nights & Flights package is the opportunity to get “discounted miles” while paying the normal rate for your hotel stay, or “discounted nights” while paying the normal rate for your miles.
For example, if you would normally transfer 40,000 points to get 50,000 miles, then really you’re getting a five-night stay for either 20,000 points (Category 3) or 30,000 points (Category 4). That averages to just 4,000 or 6,000 points per night; these hotels normally go for 7,000 or 10,000 points when booked for a single night. Assuming you value Starpoints at 2.2 cents each, any hotel rate that costs more than $88 or $132 is a better deal when booked with points. That’s a very low threshold.
For another example, if you would normally redeem points for a five-night stay, you’re getting 50,000 airline miles for just 32,000 points (Category 3 package) or 30,000 points (Category 4 package). Again, assuming you value Starpoints at 2.2 cents each, that means you’re effectively paying 1.41 cents or 1.32 cents per mile.
It’s usually possible to then redeem your miles at much greater value. I think American Airlines miles are worth about 1.7 cents, and Alaska Airlines miles are worth about 2 cents, so these packages let you “buy” them at a discount. Others worth considering are British Airways Avios, Singapore KrisFlyer, Aeroplan, and Virgin Atlantic.
Where to Stay with Nights & Flights
You won’t get the most luxurious award options, but that doesn’t mean you’re scraping the barrel with these inexpensive awards. There are some good Category 3 hotels in places like Asia, Central Europe, and South America. Even better options are available for Category 4 hotels in the same regions, as well as some urban centers in the U.S. and elsewhere. These include the Westin Grand Berlin, Le Meridien New Orleans, Walt Disney World Dolphin, Westin Siray Bay Phuket, and Sheraton Prague Charles Square.