A travel hacking sin

By Josh July 17, 2018

Sorry for the click-baity headline, but I truly committed a sin in the world of travel hacking earlier today: I bought POINTS with cash! To be more specific, I bought Starwood Preferred Group (SPG) Starpoints, and I used a card that will earn Chase Ultimate Rewards for the purchase today.

A little bit of backstory: SPG Starpoints are considered one of the most valuable travel rewards points/currencies in the game, for many reasons. First, they are difficult to obtain in large numbers, so they are relatively rare. Second, they are transferable at a 1:3 ratio with Marriott (which is absorbing/merging Starwood into the Marriott family of properties and closing down the SPG program completely on August 1). Third, and one of the most popular redemptions, SPG points can be transferred to several airline programs at a 1:1 ratio, but they will give you a 5k bonus in airline miles when you transfer your SPG points in bundles of 20k.

Since SPG is folding at the end of this month, I started to consider what I wanted to do with my Starpoints in terms of redemption. I started collecting Starpoints in February of 2017, when I signed up for the SPG personal card from American Express. It comes with a $95 annual fee, but I originally earned 35k Starpoints upon opening the card, and I called for a retention offer at the 1 year mark and they gave me another 7k Starpoints for spending $1,000 in 90 days. In addition to those 42k Starpoints, I also had earned some points by spending on non-bonus categories with the SPG card, earned a few points from stays at Marriott properties, and I completed the Sunday Twitter promotion with Marriott Rewards and the NFL last fall for 1,000 Marriott points per weekend.

But most recently, I have spent a total of 11 nights in Starwood properties (Sheraton Downtown Phoenix and Four Points by Sheraton San Diego – Sea World) for two work-related conferences. In addition to earning Starpoints for my stays, I earned Starpoints for participating in the Green Choice program, which offered 250 or 500 points per night for declining room cleaning services. I also signed up for a double-dip promotion that Starwood and Delta Airlines has had for the past couple years, and I chose to be awarded extra Starpoints. The sum total of these actions left me with 76,101 Starpoints when I woke up this morning. Remember that Starpoints are worth 3x as many Marriott reward points, so that means I had the equivalent of 228,303 Marriott points.

So why did I commit the cardinal sin of buying points? SPG is currently running a 35% off sale on Starpoints purchased between now and July 20th (THIS FRIDAY), if you purchase more than 5k Starpoints. I ended up buying 14,000 Starpoints for $318.50 (regular price $490) so that I could bring my total up to 90,000 Starpoints. By transferring my 90,000 Starpoints to Marriott this morning, I was able to bring my Marriott total to 270,000. WHY 270,000?? That happens to be the price of a “hotel & flight package” that will reward me most handsomely with a certificate good for a 7-night stay in any Marriott Category 1-5 property PLUS 120,000 Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards points. Marriott has several of these packages available, with a couple dozen airlines, and different redemption values if you want a smaller amount of airline miles/Avios, or if you want a fancier hotel. My main goal was to get a “good” redemption for my Starpoints, while maximizing my Southwest miles.

So the math comes out like this: $0.022 per Starpoint, which is actually less than the value “The Points Guy” places on them at $0.027, so the sale is worth it from the start. If I had made the Marriott hotel and flight package redemption with only my 228,303 point balance from before the purchase, I would have received 70,000 Southwest RR miles. By buying those 14k Starpoints (equivalent to 42k Marriott points) I was able to get an additional 50,000 Rapid Rewards. The Points Guy values Southwest Rapid Rewards at $0.015 per mile, so I gained an additional $750 in value of Rapid Rewards for paying $318.50 to Starwood this morning. A great deal, if you can find a valuable redemption like I found.

A big warning to anyone who reads this: The SPG program is folding on August 1, 2018, as I mentioned at the top. Marriott has released the category charts for hotels as of August 1, and they will be adding additional categories and “off-peak” and “peak” pricing as time goes along. They also recently released the news that the hotel and flight packages are getting more expensive, and/or you won’t receive as many airline miles. That was the sole cause of my rush to use these Starpoints before August 1.

6 thoughts on “A travel hacking sin”

  1. Cool beans, I decided I’m buying the points, too, because it will be really hard to earn SPG points after. I couldn’t find a way to redeem the packages, but I’d like to take advantage of the category 8 hotels being priced at category 7. I just need to book them before 2019 rolls around. Five star hotels, here I come!

    My only beef is all of this stuff is up in the air! They keep saying August, but won’t commit to a date. So who knows exactly when all of this will go into effect?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. From my understanding, August 1 is when SPG disappears. Your Starpoints will transfer automatically to Marriott and you’ll have 3x as many, but no extra “value”. I just knew all along I was going to redeem them for a big flight package to top off my RR account. Are you thinking Category 8 for a shorter stay than the 7 night package?

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    1. It was a really great program for its flexibility in redemptions, but the points were so hard to accumulate unless you stayed in a lot of Starwood/Marriott hotels or had multiple cards (such as SPG personal and business, Marriott personal and business).

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Hahaha thanks! It’s definitely difficult to explain. And I kept going back and forth, but Starpoints are worth 3 times as much as Marriott points, so it takes three times as many Marriott points to create the same value.

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