Starwood Preferred Guest Starpoints are arguably the most valuable overall point currency. With a 1:1 transfer rate with a long list of airline partners plus a 5,000-point bonus for every 20,000 transferred, Starwood make trips possible that no other single points currency can. Nevertheless, there are some distinct pitfalls with Starwood that can be summed up in one word: speed.
An Award Expert client was looking for peak-season December award space to Israel. She had 500K Starwood points so there was more than enough points for the three one-way tickets, but with so many potential options it would have been foolish to make a preemptive transfer.
Space opened on KLM, so we set up a Flying Blue account, put the reservation on a 48-hour hold, and asked her to transfer in points. Three tickets at 62,500 miles each comes to 187,500 miles. Starwood limits transfers to 79,999 points per day, though, and because the 5,000 mile bonus applies only in increments of 20,000 miles, transferring in 60,000 miles per day is the preferred course (i.e. 60,000 Starwood = 75,000 airline miles while 79,999 Starwood = 94,999 airline miles).
We ran the options by the client and she elected to transfer in the 79,999 the first day and 77,501 the next day in order to avoid having to transfer for a third day. 48 hours later, the first 94,999 points hit. Problem: the held reservation was expiring that evening and Flying Blue would not extend the hold.
The second batch of miles hit overnight, but the reservation had expired. Worse, we had stayed up until the reservation expired but the award space did not return to inventory.
So now she had the points but the space had tripled in price. Instead of being able to purchase three tickets, now she could only purchase one.
The Problem with Starwood Points: Time
While Starwood points are incredibly versatile, unless you can transfer to an airline partner that allows extended holds (like American Airlines or Korean Air), you risk losing your chosen award space and orphaning your points in an unwanted place.
If you know what carrier will open space, you can transfer in points in advance and be ready to pounce on it, but that’s like betting on stocks. Sure, there are trends and analysis that will suggest this route will open while this route will not, but you never know.
So go into any Starwood transfer with eyes wide open: the transfer is not instant and you may lose your space while you wait. I once had an Aeroplan transfer take 21 days. Typically, it will only take 24-48 hours for the space to show up.
Marriott has the same issue, so I do not expect any post-merger improvements.
Make Lemonade Out of Lemons
My story has a happy ending. After a couple day the space returned to inventory and we were able to book the client on her originally desired flights. But even if the space had not reopened, we would have found another solution. Maybe it would have included going to another city to start. Perhaps an extra connection. But whatever the case, with some flexibility and sleuthing you can usually find a workable solution.
Starwood points are great not just for hotels stays, but for airline transfers. Nevertheless, be aware that transfers are not instant and so that space you want to book may be gone by the time the transfer is complete.